GT Open: Keen and Balfe take maiden win for Balfe Motorsport Ferrari

British pair conquer season-opener ahead of the Teo Martín BMW M6 of Monje-Yacamán and the Orange1 Lazarus Lambo of Crestani-BiagiWest-Estre (Garage59 McLaren) from 3rd to 4th after post-race penalty4 different brands in the top 4Triumph at home in GT Am for Silva-Coimbra (Sports&You Mercedes)

Phil Keen and Shaun Balfe brilliantly took the first win of the season for the Balfe Motorsport Ferrari F458 in a sunny afternoon at Estoril.

The British pair put a perfect performance to take their maiden GT Open win after 4 podium finishes last year. They beat the BMW Team Teo Martín BMW M6 of Fernando Monje-Gustavo Yacamán, with the Garage59 McLaren of Alexander West-Kevin Estre crossed the line in third, but was penalized after the race for the contact with the Audi of Saravia in the closing lap, sliding to fourth and leaving the final podium spot to the Orange1 Team Lazarus Lamborghini of Fabrizio Crestani-Thomas Biagi. This didn’t change the reality of four different brands represented in the top 4 of the race.

“A Portuguesa”, the Lusitanian anthem was played to the delight of local fans to celebrate the win of Luis Silva and António Coimbra in the GT-Am category with the new Mercedes AMG of Sports&You.

THE RACE – While the TF Sport Aston Martin is withdrawn from the event after Yoluc’s accident in qualifying, poleman Crestani takes a good start and controls first lap ahead of Keen, Tappy and Monje in full fight, and Campaniço. Abbott spins touching the tire wall. On top, Keen is pressing Crestani and starts to be threatening, which allows Tappy and Monje to join the fight. In lap 3, an aggressive Tappy takes the lead, with also Keen passing Crestani, while Monje slides back progressively. The quartet is 5 seconds ahead of the duo Ramos Campaniço, with the latter passing the former. Great battle also between West and Flohr, ahead of Silva, who leads in GT-Am.

In lap 18, opens the window, with Sdanewitsch, Ramos, West, Ramos, Barreiros and Flohr stopping first. The leading trio delays the stop, with Tappy first having pulled away a bit and Keen and Crestani still in fight. After the driver change, it’s Balfe leading, 19 seconds ahead of Benham, then a compact group formed by Yacamán, Saravia, Biagi, Estre, Rodriguez and Castellacci. In GT-Am, Coimbra keeps the advantage on Sijthoff and Lémeret.

With Balfe keeping stable his advantage of around 20 seconds, now over Yacamán as Benham loses ground, the battle in the final 15 minutes is for third, between Saravia, Biagi and Estre. The Frenchman passes the Lambo in lap 35, then attacks Saravia but touches him and the Audi ends spinning in the gravel. In a strong race finish, Castellacci crosses the line in fifth. It’s great battle also between Sijthoff and Lémeret for second in GT-Am behind solid leader Coimbra, but things will not change, while the Radical stops on track in the last lap.

The Winners’ Word

Shaun Balfe: “It’s a great feeling to be at last on the top of the podium and I must congratulate Phil, who did the biggest part of the job, with a fantastic qualifying and fantastic first stint. Most of the merit is his.”

Phil Keen: “The win is the result of a great team effort, also during the pit stop. We had a really good start of the weekend. Estoril is a circuit that we love and seems to suit our package, we are really happy.”

STANDINGS AFTER ROUND 1 OF 14

Overall: 1. Keen-Balfe, 22 points; 2. Yacamán-Monje, 18; 3. Crestani-Biagi, 14; 4. West-Estre, 10; 5. Flohr-Castellacci, 8; 6. Silva-Coimbra, 7; etc.

Pro-Am: 1. Keen-Balfe, 10 points; 2. Yacamán-Monje, 8; 3. Crestani-Biagi, 6; 4. West-Estre, 4; 5. Flohr-Castellacci, 38.

GT-Am: 1. Silva-Coimbra, 5 points; 2. Sijthoff-Barreiros, 4; 3. Lémeret-Sdanewitsch, 3.

Teams: 1. Balfe Motorsport, 10 points; 2. BMW Team Teo Martín, 8; 3. Garage59, 6; 4. Orange1 Team Lazarus, 4; 4. AF Corse, 3.