It was Laurens (BEL) and Stephane Ortelli (MON) who took victory in the Qualifying Race this afternoon at Circuit Park Zandvoort, ahead of the third round of the 2013 FIA GT Series which takes place at the legendary Dutch seaside circuit tomorrow morning. The #11 Audi R8 LMS ultra led home a trio of Pro Cup cars separated by just over three seconds as they crossed the line. Sergei Afanasiev (RUS) and Andreas Simonsen (SWE) took victory in the Pro-Am Cup after a fightback following a drive-through penalty and Petr Charouz (CZE) and Jan Stovicek (CZE) capped a great day for HTP Gravity Charouz by taking the win in the Gentlemen Trophy.
Championship leaders Vanthoor and Ortelli started the race third on the grid, and it was the Belgian's quick start that helped propel the #11 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT entry into contention for the lead alongside the front row starters Simonsen and pole-sitter Alvaro Parente (PRT). The trio went three abreast into infamous first corner, Tarzan, and Parente, in the middle of the trio, lost out as each driver attempted to find a line for the corner. The result was significant damage to the front end of the McLaren MP4-12c which caused the Sebastien Loeb Racing driver to retire further up the circuit; for his part in the incident, Simonsen would later be given a drive through penalty. AF Corse's Fabio Onidi (ITA) was unfortunate to get caught in the slowing cars and lost several places as a result.
Drama continued on the second lap when at the fast right-hander Scheivlak, Matheus Stumpf's (BRA) ACL by Rodrive Lamborghini LP560-4 received contact from the car behind, the V8 Racing Corvette Z06 GT3 of Duncan Huisman. The pair spun, the Lamborghini to the left, the Corvette to the right. The #32 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of Wolfgang Reip (BEL) who was following closely had nowhere to go and the Belgian collided with the pair, following the Lamborghini into the gravel trap on the outside of the corner. Huisman got the V8 Racing Corvette going, but only as far as the next turn, the Lamborghini returned to the track aided by marshals but would eventually finish the race a distant fourteenth overall (sixth in class); the Nissan's damage prevented it from taking any further part in the 60-minute race.
A short Safety Car period restarted with Vanthoor leading, and Team WRT's Rene Rast (GER) second; the German driver had shown his pace in the earlier qualifying session and having passed Simonsen before the three-car incident at Scheivlak, Rast was closing in on his fellow Audi driver. Brazilian racer, Allan Khodair was fourth in his BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil BMW Z4 GT3, with Frank Stippler (DEU) and Carlos Viera (PRT) chasing hard in their respective WRT and Novadriver Audi R8 LMS ultras. Further back, the remaining RJN Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of Alex Buncombe (GBR) pitted from thirteenth with a puncture.
Before the pit window opened, Rast pounced on Vanthoor for the lead and pulled away from the young Belgian; at the same time, Simonsen came into the pits to take his drive-through penalty, promoting Khodair to third, Day fourth and a fast-looking Stippler fifth. Viera took over the lead of the Pro-Am Cup at this point, Ferrari driver Onidi and GRT Grasser Racing Team's Domink Baumann third, the latter two drivers would connect shortly afterwards on lap twelve. The AF Corse driver did work himself off the kerb eventually, but retired a lap later in the pits.
A fantastic pitstop by the WRT mechanics ensured the #13 Audi jumped the #1 HTP Gravity Charouz Mercedes, a moment that would prove important point later in the race. Maximilian Buhk (DEU) now in the Mercedes, set a blistering pace as he attempted to fight back from sixth after the pitstops, setting the fastest lap of the race in the process, a 1:40.214.
Rast waited until lap eighteen to pit and handover to team-mate Niki Mayr-Melnhof (AUT), the Austrian rejoined in the lead once more, but looming large in his mirrors was the #11 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of reigning Blancpain Endurance Series Champion, Stephane Ortelli (MCO). Ortelli chased Mayr-Melnhof hard and eventually got the better of his younger rival on lap 21.
Now with both Sandstrom and Mayr-Melnhof in view, Buhk pushed hard and passed the Swede on the Start/Finish straight for third, and eleven laps later overtook the second WRT Audi. This setup a fantastic final three laps as the HTP Gravity Charouz gave chase to race leader Ortelli. Try as he might, the German's pace in the middle of the circuit was not enough to aid his pursuit of Ortelli, who drove fantastically to the flag to extend his overall lead in the FIA GT Series standings. Mayr-Melnhof held off a late challenge from team-mate Sandstrom, and Brazilian racer, Bueno, finished a strong fifth for BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil, building on the earlier efforts of team-mate, Khodair.
Sixth overall was closely fought over for the entire length of the second half of the race; Andreas Zuber in the #10 Sebastien Loeb Racing McLaren beat the #2 HTP Gravity Charouz Mercedes of Sergei Afanasiev (RUS) to the flag, the Russian driver paying a price for a mistake early in his stint that let the McLaren past. However, Afanasiev had plenty to smile about, an impressive drive by himself and team-mate Simonsen after the earlier drive through saw them take the Pro-Am Cup victory.
Local driver Melroy Heemskerk and BMW Sports Trophy Team India by Team India team-mate Armaan Ebrahim took second in the Pro-Am Cup after strong consistency from both drivers. Third in the Pro-Am Cup was the GRT Grasser Racing Team GRT Lamborghini of Baumann and Hari Prozyck (CZE), followed by the Novadriver Audi R8 LMS ultra of Portuguese drivers Cesar Campanico and Viera; a distant fifth was the sole remaining RJN Nissan of Lucas Ordonez and Buncombe.
With a strong Dutch driver presence in the paddock and excellent weather ahead, the main race tomorrow should receive strong support from local motorsport fans. Track action begins with a 20-minute warm-up session at 9:35am CET, and the main race gets underway at 11:45am CET.
Stéphane Ortelli, Pro-Cup #11 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT – Audi R8 LMS “It is good that we are very competitive at WRT because we can help each other. The first laps were fine, I managed to pass Niki but then I started struggling a bit with the set up. It was really difficult for me to keep the pace so when I saw the Mercedes in my mirrors I was happy the race did not keep on for two more laps. It is a demanding track, it is my first time here in Zandvoort and I am very pleased to be here. I would like to dedicate this win to my dear friend Laurence Hugenholtz.”
Laurens Vanthoor, Pro-Cup #11 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT – Audi R8 LMS “I think I did a good start, I had René behind me and we were helping each other. But suddenly the McLaren came to the inside and I had nowhere to go. Then everything went fine but after the Safety Car I was struggling a lot. It was very difficult to drive. To be honest we did not have the pace to win so I am very happy that we won.”
Andreas Simonsen, Pro-Am Cup #2 HTP Gravity Charouz - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 “Concerning the collision at the start, I had no idea that the Audi was on the outside, I has just been told, I did not think that I was struggling with the McLaren so that felt weird when I had a drive through penalty… Otherwise it was fine, the team did a great job with the car, which suits this track very well.”
Sergei Afanasiev, Pro-Am Cup #2 HTP Gravity Charouz - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 “It was a funny race. We had the pace, it was a good fight and we had a great pit stop…The team did a very good job, they really improved their pit stop times since the beginning of the year. The fight with Andreas (Zuber) was fun because I shared a car with him last year so I know him well. But then I just calmed down because what really matters is to collect points.”
Jan Stovicek, Gentlemen Trophy #3 HTP Gravity Charouz - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 “It was a difficult race for us because at the beginning we had to avoid the accidents, and after the Safety Car there was some gravel on the track and the tyres were not working properly…so I did some small mistakes and then tried to catch the field again. I am glad we finished the race and we hope for a good race tomorrow.”
Petr Charouz, Gentlemen Trophy #3 HTP Gravity Charouz - Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 “When I arrived on the track, I was battling with the Lamborghini #7 at first, but it was a bit faster than me so I was soon on my own after that…but otherwise the race went fine.”