Marciello, Meadows secure first win
Raffaele Marciello and Michael Meadows claimed their maiden Blancpain GT Series victory and the first of the season for AKKA ASP Team in treacherous conditions at the Hungaroring track.
Starting from the pole position in his Mercedes-AMG GT3, Marciello and Meadow led from start to finish, scoring important points that let the them to reach Alex Riberas and Christopher Mies at the top spot of the Sprint Cup standings as well as the Italian driver to take the overall lead.
When the green flag waved Marciello led away from Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Luca Stolz and had eked out an advantage of five seconds over the German driver by mid-race. The two Mercedes runners were in a class of their own at this stage, pulling some 18 seconds clear of third-placed Mirko Bortolotti in the Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracán GT3 car.
Behind the Italian driver there was a thrilling scrap between a pair of Audi R8 LMS machines. Mies did well to fend off Christopher Haase for a number of laps, but the Sainteloc racer was eventually able to muscle his way past after going door-to-door with his former teammate. Haase was the first of the front-runners to stop, handing the Audi over to Simon Gachet. A few laps later Marciello led the remainder of the leaders into the pits, with Stolz, Bortolotti and Mies following.
Mies handed over to Riberas, who was able to emerge ahead of Gachet. Otherwise the order remained unchanged, with Meadows now leading in his Mercedes from Hubert Haupt and Christian Engelhart in the. But there was drama just around the corner. First, Engelhart was hit with a drive-through penalty for an infraction during the Grasser Racing Team car’s pit stop, effectively ending the Lamborghini crew’s hopes of a top-three finish to back up Saturday race win.
Riberas then passed Haupt for second spot, with Meadows some distance up the road. His advantage would be short-lived, however, as the race was neutralised by a safety car period. While battling for the Pro/Am lead, the TP 12-Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Piti Bhirombhakdi spun and was briefly stranded in the gravel.
The final eight minutes of racing became a shootout between the two Sprint Cup title contenders. Meadows held his advantage at the restart, but Riberas remained in close contact behind him. Meanwhile, Gachet had fought his way past Haupt and into third position. When it was needed most, Meadows delivered a flawless performance. After initially coming under pressure from the Audi he began to pull away. Indeed, Riberas was soon under pressure himself as Gachet closed in.
The Frenchman was arguably the star of the race in his Sainteloc-Audi and made the pass to take the second place from Riberas. Meadows found just enough breathing space to complete the victory, the first for both himself and Marciello in the Blancpain GT Series. Gachet followed him across the line, but there was even more drama taking place in the Frenchman’s mirrors as Steijn Schothorsts’ Attempto Racing Audi dived past the #1 car to snatch a last-gasp podium.
The #66 Audi had started only 14th on the grid, but made early progress thanks to the good work of Kelvin van der Linde. Schothorst then took the car even further forward, sending the Attempto squad into raptures as he secured an unexpected podium finish. Riberas took fourth spot, meaning he and Mies are now level with Marciello and Meadows in the Sprint Cup standings. It sets up a thrilling final encounter at the Nürburgring in a fortnight.
The Silver Cup and Pro/Am categories were as hard to call as the overall result. In the former, Stolz and Haupt led for much of the contest and looked to be in an excellent position when Saturday’s class winner – the #87 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG – spun in the hands of Denis Bulatov. But the Russian set about making amends and brought the car back into contention before handing over to Nicolas Jamin. The French ace made quick progress and was able to pass Haupt for the class win with just two laps remaining, capping a perfect weekend for the #87 crew.
In the Pro-Am category, Carlo van Dam led early on despite a challenging stint in his Ferrari. But, during the second half of the race, Nyls Stievenart‘s Audi R8 LMS came to the fore and had passed the Ferrari before Bhirombhakdi’s spin. The teenager kept his head in extremely tricky conditions to secure a fourth class-win in the car he shares with Markus Winkelhock.
While the battle at the top of the standings is impossible to call ahead of the Nürburgring contest, the Pro-Am and Silver Cup titles will also go down to the wire at the German venue. A thrilling weekend is in prospect in the Eifel Mountains as the 2018 Sprint Cup champions are crowned.