Mercedes claim a one-two at Suzuka 10H
Claiming a one-two finish in the Suzuka 10 Hours, Mercedes-AMG took the Intercontinental GT Challenge championship lead. To win the inaugural edition of the Japanese race was GruppeM Racing’s trio formed by Raffaele Marciello, Maro Engel and Tristan Vautier, who lead 222 of 276 laps en route to a 31.6s victory over Strakka Racing’s Lewis Williamson, Alvaro Parente and Maxi Goetz.
Audi Sport Team Absolute Racing R8 LMS GT3 shared by Markus Winkelhock, Christopher Haase and Kelvin van der Linde completed the podium.
Audi Sport Team WRT’s crew formed by Christopher Mies, Dries Vanthoor and Frédéric Vervisch finished fourth and also limited some of the damage inflicted by Mercedes-AMG, which has turned a seven-point deficit into a nine-point lead ahead of the final round in California.
Thanks to the Robin Frijns absence, Vautier and Marciello leapfrog erstwhile leader at the top of the Drivers’ standings.
Nick Foster’s pole-sitting HubAuto Corsa Ferrari led the opening stint before a drive-through penalty for a grid infringement dropped the team’s #28 entry out of victory contention after just one hour. That handed the lead to GruppeM who duly led every lap thereafter apart from the inevitable to-ing and fro-ing either side of pitstops.
Strakka Racing’s #43 Mercedes-AMG moved into podium contention at the three-hour mark. Götz, Parente and Williamson remained within 10s of GruppeM until after the penultimate round of pitstops when Marciello was able to build his advantage. Instead, Williamson slipped back into the clutches of Absolute Racing and Team WRT whose Audis were a near permanent fixture inside the top-six all race long. Both closed right in on the Mercedes-AMG during the final stint but were unable to find a way past Strakka’s second Pro entry, which ensured neither Audi was ever close enough to challenge Williamson.
A thrilling fight for fifth between Mercedes-AMG Team Good Smile and Bentley Team M-Sport also literally illuminated the final hour. Maxime Soulet threw everything at the leading Super GT entrant whose driver, Tatsuya Kataoka. He eventually took the chequered flag 1.4s ahead of the chasing Continental GT3.
Strakka’s second Pro entry finished seventh, another of the Japanese squads – Audi Team Hitotsuyama – was eighth, and WRT’s other factory R8 LMS GT3 ninth.
On outright pace SunEnergy1 Racing’s Mercedes-AMG would have been an overall victory contender but ultimately settled for Pro/Am class honours in 10th. Mikael Grenier and Luca Stolz both ran at the front early on after the latter recovered from a poor start to lead by the end of the opening stint. A drive-through penalty for a pitstop timing infringement also set them back, but Kenny Habul still strengthened his bid for the Intercontinental GT Challenge Bronze Drivers’ title by claiming class honours after mixing it with the Pros.
Elsewhere, three setbacks in quick succession put paid to the #07 Bentley’s podium chances, while Craft-Bamboo Racing finished best of the Porsche entries in 11th after Dirk Werner’s late spin dropped Manthey-Racing’s 911 GT3 R out of the top-10.
Garage 59’s McLaren shared by Ben Barnicoat, Andrew Watson and Come Ledogar failed to make it beyond the third hour after crashing out in an incident that necessitated the race’s only Full Course Yellow and Safety Car period.
Both KCMG Nissans were also top-six contenders before reliability issues curtailed their involvement, while HubAuto’s victory hopes ended when its second, #27 Ferrari was hit by the #07 Bentley.
The final round of this season’s Intercontinental GT Challenge – the California 8 Hours – takes place at Laguna Seca on October 26-28.