as Orange1 FFF Racing takes first European victory
All-Italian duo triumphs on home turf with #563 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo
Chinese outfit FFF Racing takes memorable first European win
AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG on top in Silver Cup, AF Corse Ferrari takes Pro-Am, HB Racing Ferrari dominates Am Cup
Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli secured a first win on European soil for Orange1 FFF Racing with a masterful showing under the lights at Misano. In doing so, the all-Italian duo also secured local brand Lamborghini top honours on home turf in the weekends' opening Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe contest.
FFF’s victory continues a remarkable run of success for the Chinese squad, which has secured a string of podium finishes since graduating from a title-winning Blancpain GT Series Asia campaign. Now, at only the fifth event of the season, it has earned its maiden win.
The path to the top step was not simple, though neither driver looked likely to lose their composure once Saturday evening’s race was underway. Caldarelli took the start from second on the grid and immediately applied pressure to Charles Weerts (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT), who had earlier taken his maiden pole in the #2 Audi.
The teenager was equal to the experienced Italian for the opening two laps but, when the Lamborghini got alongside the Audi, Caldarelli was able to complete a clean pass. The FFF machine edged away at the head of the field, while Weerts maintained a consistent pace in second. Unfortunately the youngster's day ended early when he lost the rear of his car and spun into the gravel, calling time on what had been an impressive showing.
A safety car period followed as the stranded Audi was removed from the gravel, after which Caldarelli once again pulled clear. The Lamborghini was now followed by the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG of Luca Stolz and the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin driven by Ricky Collard.
Caldarelli elected to stop early in the pit window, handing over to Mapelli in a strong position at the head of the field. When the driver changes had played out the #563 Lamborghini remained in control, though it now had a new challenger.
The #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG had dropped as low as eighth on the opening lap, but Vince Abril quietly moved back up the order to run fourth by the time he made his stop. A rapid turnaround from the French squad ensured that the car was P2 when the second half of the race began, with a determined Raffaele Marciello now at the wheel.
The reigning Blancpain GT Series champion was some three seconds in arrears of Mapelli, but quickly showed his intent by setting purple sectors in the freshly-liveried red Mercedes-AMG. The race was then neutralised once again after the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi lost a rear wheel, leaving Markus Winkelhock stranded. Mapelli would surrender his advantage as the field bunched up, placing Marciello on his tail for the restart.
There was a little under 15 minutes of running left when the race went green again, ample time for Marciello to launch an attack. The AKKA ASP driver did so almost immediately, forcing Mapelli to apply defensive tactics at a number of corners.
But the Lamborghini ace was not flustered. He resisted Marciello's efforts and then managed to build a small advantage, edging almost a second clear at the head of the field. The Mercedes-AMG closed up again over the closing two laps but was not close enough to make a move, allowing Mapelli to capture a popular home victory.
Behind the leading duo, the #4 Mercedes-AMG completed the podium with Maro Engel at the wheel. The German kept Mapelli and Marciello in his sights throughout the second stint and ultimately secured further points for the championship-chasing crew. The #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin took fourth after Collard had handed over to Marvin Kirchoefer, while the #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG came home fifth.
The #90 crew of Timur Boguslavskiy and Fabian Schiller also took top honours in an ultra-competitive Silver Cup battle. The sister #89 Mercedes-AMG had initially looked set for victory in the hands of Nico Bastian, but Schiller moved into the lead during the second stint and secured a hard-fought class win.
The Pro-Am category was just as competitive. The pole-sitting #24 Sainteloc Racing Audi led the opening stint thanks to Nyls Stievenart, while the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari moved into P1 after the pit stop phase with David Perel at the wheel. The South African had enjoyed a useful advantage, but this was wiped out by the arrival of the safety car. This allowed Andrea Bertolini to take the #52 AF Corse Ferrari that he shares with Louis Machiels into the lead, after which the Italian ace held firm until the chequered flag.
The Am Cup battle was the most straightforward as the #444 HB Racing Ferrari of Florian Scholze and Wolfgang Thriller continued a dominant weekend with class victory. The squad took an excellent 18th overall to finish some way clear of the #13 GetSpeed Performance Mercedes-AMG.
Saturday evening’s contest represented the first of two Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe races scheduled for this weekend, with the second set to take place at 14.00 on Sunday. What’s more, with a fresh deal agreed this weekend between Misano and the sprint-format series, fans can look forward to at least another three years of international GT racing at the Italian venue.
Marco Mapelli, #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini Huracan: "Most of the job was done by Andrea and the team. We knew that we were struggling in the high temperatures during qualifying, but as it cooled down the car got better and I just had to do my job. At the end I didn't want to push too hard because it's easy to get a puncture here, so I took it easy for the first two laps after the restart. After that I tried to make a little gap and not do anything crazy."
Raffaele Marciello, #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG: "I thought I could pass Marco at the restart but I didn't want to risk too much as we've not had a great season so far. We've taken enough damage already and there isn't a big difference in points between first and second. We will have a good chance tomorrow. Starting from pole, we have to win."
Maro Engel, #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG: "Luca did a brilliant job in the first stint, moving the car up to second. We lost out a little bit during the pit window, but it was a good stop from the guys. At the end we just didn't quite have the pace to pressure the guys ahead. We'll take a third-place today and be happy with the result. On days like these we need to try to get the maximum and that's what we did."
Fabian Schiller, #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG: "Today was pretty fun. The sun was really low, so that made conditions very difficult. Nevertheless, we had some great racing. Finishing P5 overall from tenth on the grid and winning in the Silver Cup is a great result. Tomorrow we start from P4 overall so we'll go for the same kind of result."
Andrea Bertolini, #52 AF Corse Ferrari: "As usual this was a fun race with some tough fights. Louis did a really good start, passing one car, and then ran really close to the Lamborghini. We had a good restart after the safety car and then a perfect pit stop. The team did a magnificent job. I managed to avoid the Audi going off in front of me – I went to the right, the opposite of what I did at Brands Hatch, and this time it worked! I'm very happy for myself and for Louis. It's great to win again."
Florian Scholze, #444 HB Racing Ferrari: "Our race was pretty good. I had a good start and I was among the faster cars, but it was okay for me to manage. The big problem was the sun, which was so low, but I think the other drivers also had that problem. Apart from that, the rest of the race was very cool."