Stephen Errity, GT Correspondent
Max Buhk and Dominik Baumann enjoyed another serene victory in the first of the weekend's two GT3 European Championship races at Portimao in Portugal. The Heico-Gravity-Charouz Mercedes SLS duo led the race from lights to flag, while their team-mates Max Nilsson and Mika Vahamaki made it a 1-2 for the outfit. But their race was far less straightforward, as Nilsson was spun by Gaetano Ardagna-Perez in the AF Corse Ferrari 458 at turn four on the first lap.
The incident put Nilsson to the back of the field, but he was undeterred and swiftly set about clawing back the lost ground and positions. Third-place starter David Mengsdorf, who had nearly surged his Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini Gallardo into the lead off the grid, now found himself defending second place from a determined Michael Lyons in the other AF Corse Ferrari. On lap four, the young Briton squeezed ahead at the exit of turn three, and would retain second position to hand over to his team-mate Stefano Gai at the pitstop.
Meanwhile, Perez was leading a train of cars in fourth. However, he soon had to make an unscheduled visit to the pit lane after stewards handed him a drive-through penalty for his clash with Nilsson. This promoted Ni Amorium's Team Novadriver Audi R8 to fourth and Miguel Toril's Russian Bears Racing Ferrari to fifth. But the charging Nilsson was soon on the tail of this group, and as he swept past both cars to take fourth on lap eight, Amorim lost a place to Toril.
Third-place Mengsdorf was the first of the leading group to pit, but his team-mate Harry Proczyk would emerge in fourth, after the Heico team pulled off a quicker driver change from Nilsson to Vahamaki. They came out third, and Vahamaki immediately set about pursuing Lyons' co-driver Gai for second. The pass was made at the end of the pit straight on lap 19, but that wasn't the end of Gai's woes. He had to surrender third to Procyzk in the closing stages when he ran wide on lap 26 with just 10 minutes to go, handing the final podium position to the Leipert Lamborghini duo.
Further back, Cesar Campanico, who'd taken over the Novadriver Audi from Amorim at the stops, had an epic final-lap battle with Gai, but just couldn't wrestle fourth place from the AF Corse driver. Campanico crossed the line fractions of a second behind in fifth, ahead of Gregory Guilvert in the Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 (sixth) and Sergei Ryabov in the Russian Bears Racing Ferrari 458 (seventh). Giuseppe Ciro was unable to do much about the deficit incurred by his co-driver Perez's drive-through penalty, so the second AF Corse Ferrari finished eighth.