The Prospeed Porsche trio of Marc Hennerici, Xavier Maassen and Marc Goossens won a nail-biting fifth round of the Blancpain Endurance Series at the Nurburgring GP track today. The series' championship contenders WRT Audi and Marc VDS Racing had to take a back seat, as Prospeed and the German Black Falcon Mercedes team of Franky Cheng, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Mike Parisy went head-to-head in a battle for victory that went right down to the last lap. Vita4One's Frank Kechele, Greg Franchi and Mathias Lauda brought their BMW Z4 home in third place.
At the start, Hennerici shot to the front of the field from seventh on the grid, then robustly eased David Rigon (#71 Kessel Ferrari) aside through turn one to retain the position into the second corner. Crucially for the final outcome of the race, Cheng in the #18 Black Falcon Mercedes avoided going wide at the start like so much of the rest of the field did, and so held on to the car's second-place grid slot, which is where it would finish. But there was a lot of racing to come. As Rigon pitted his Ferrari with steering damage, polesitter Bas Leinders, who had held back at the start, got the #3 Marc VDS BMW up to third place. Luca Ludwig driving the #13 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 went in the other direction and was now running fourth having started second. Fifth was another fast starter: Jonathan Hirschi in the #40 Sainteloc Racing Audi.
Leinders was soon closing up on Cheng's Mercedes, but was himself having to deal with pressure from Ludwig behind him. The Marc VDS BMW got ahead of the Black Falcon Mercedes when Cheng ran wide on lap 12, but any further order changes were put on hold shortly afterwards when Marc Hayek crashed his Lamborghini heavily exiting the hairpin and the safety car was deployed while rescue crews extracted him. Before the safety car period, Hennerici had been leading from Cheng, with Leinders, Ludwig and Hirschi still in third, fourth and fifth. All elected to make their first stop while the race was neutralised. Harold Primat took over the Phoenix Audi and would later tumble down the order when the car stopped temporarily due to an unknown mechanical problem. As the rest rejoined and the safety car pulled in, the two DB Motorsport BMWs had managed to get among the leading group. Mike Parisy in the #18 Mercedes found himself battling with Simon Knap in the #37 DB car for third overall, but up ahead of them Greg Franchi had moved the #66 Vita4One BMW into the lead ahead of Jeroen den Boer in the other DB machine.
Parisy was driving like a man possessed in this stint, however, and he passed the both the pair of DB cars and Franchi's Vita4One entry in quick succession to put Black Falcon into the lead. Further back, Leinders had handed the Marc VDS BMW over to his Finnish co-driver Markus Palttala, who was now running sixth ahead of Sainteloc's Dino Lunardi. He in turn was fiercely contesting seventh with rapid Frenchman Olivier Pla in the SMG Challenge Porsche. But two of the top seven would shortly be eliminated. First, Den Boer had a coming together with Mike Wainwright's Gulf Racing McLaren while lapping it, leaving the BMW with race-ending suspension damage. Then, Lunardi hit the right-rear corner of Palttala's car, sending it spinning into a heavy front-end impact with the barriers. Replays suggested that Lunardi had been almost fully alongside Palttala when the Finn moved to the right to take the chicane, but the stewards decided neither driver deserved a penalty. Marc VDS' race was over, though, whereas Sainteloc continued.
The drama benefitted Xavier Maassen, who was now running fourth in the #75 Prospeed Porsche after it was delayed in the pits. The Dutchman soon passed Knap, who then lost the Pro-Am class lead to Maxime Soulet at the wheel of Proceeds’ other Porsche. Franchi was another BMW driver in trouble: he had ceded third place to Lunardi before the second round of pitstops came around. Black Falcon was in a strong position going into the stops, with Parisy having built up a healthy lead. But as cars on either side of their pit garage were also stopping, third driver Bleekemolen was delayed rejoining the race, handing the advantage back to the Prospeed car, which was now being driven by Belgian veteran Marc Goossens. Kechele took over the Vita4One BMW from Franchi, and they, too, benefitted from another car's slow stop – getting back ahead of the Sainteloc Audi and into third. A typically strong final stint from Kechele meant they held that position to the end.
The final result was in doubt right up until the chequered flag, as Bleekemolen chased down Goossens and spent much of the final 20 minutes or so almost glued to his rear bumper. “I knew Jeroen wouldn't make any mistakes, so there was a lot of pressure at the end,” said Goossens. It actually became easier once he had caught up to me and I could see him in my mirrors, as then I could judge where on the track he was fast and where I had the advantage.” Bleekemolen couldn't find a way past, though, and the delighted Prospeed team celebrated their first win of the year.
Earlier in the race, Christopher Mies and Christopher Haase had each driven solid but unremarkable stints lower down the top 10 in the championship-challenging #1 WRT Audi R8. Slick pitwork from the Belgian crew then got third driver Stephane Ortelli out in fourth place after the final round of stops. Finishing in that position, plus the effect of Marc VDS' non-score, means the WRT trio are now just three points behind their rivals going into the series' final race in Navarra next month.
Prospeed and Black Falcon also locked out the first two positions in the Pro-Am class, but here the order was reversed, with the Mercedes of Oliver Morley, Steve Jans and Sean Edwards passing Paul van Splunteren (who'd taken over the Prospeed car from Soulet) on lap 68 to take the win. Neither of the Pro-Am class championship-challenging Ferraris had a particularly good race: the #57 Vita4One Team Italy 458, with Giacomo Petrobelli aboard, sustained damage in a coming-together with the #51 AF Corse car, while the #52 of Andrea Bertolini, Niek Hommerson and Louis Machiels lost a rear wing early on, necessitating an unscheduled pitstop. Their championship battle will also be settled in Spain.
Story by: Stephen Errity