High Class Racing back to the top of Pro-Am battle
Michael Vergers and Aurelijus Rusteika return High Class Audi to the top of the Pro-Am podium
Three different race leaders in first encounter signals enthralling second season for the series
Henry Hassid put in a blistering debut Fanatec GT2 European Series performance to seize the first race honours of the 2022 season at Imola, claiming both the outright and Am class honours for LP Racing.
The experienced Frenchman came out on top of a thrilling first encounter of the season, where three different entrants led the field through the 50-minute race amid mixed weather conditions at the Italian circuit.
Lying third ahead of the pitstop window after a strong opening stint, Hassid punched in a blinding set of qualifying-paced laps with staggering consistency to regain ground. Clearing the team’s early race-leading #18 sister Am Audi as Michael Doppelmayr got up to speed exiting the pits, Hassid then hassled Gianluca Giorgi’s #7 Ebi Motors Porsche, finally making a decisive move to seize the lead with seven minutes remaining.
Whilst Giorgi managed to hold on to second in the closing stages, he came under pressure from the hard-charging Michael Vergers, who pushed the #5 High Class Racing Audi up the order to put the defending champion team back on the top step of the Pro-Am podium, and third overall.
Second Fanatec GT2 European Series series gets underway
The first race of the new Fanatec GT2 European Series season took place under stormy skies, with rain falling on half the circuit making for tricky starting conditions at Imola.
As the field roared away from the lights, it was the pole-sitting LP Racing Audi that took the early advantage. Although initially challenged by second fastest qualifier Nicolas Saelens in the #18 High Class Am Audi, Elias Erhart claimed the lead into Tamburello and made good his escape.
With Erhart soon extending a comfortable lead, Giorgi slotted his Porsche into second and looked like the only potential contender to try and claw back the leader on the drying track.
Behind them, the battle for fourth raged with Hassid heading the chasing pack, fending off Hubert Trunkenpolz in the #17 True Racing KTM and the #911 of Paul Ricard race winner, Gorini.
Whilst the Am field overhauled the #11 Pro-Am Audi, Saelens kept hold of the class lead ahead of the pursuing Audis of LP Racing’s Angelo Negro and High Class Racing’s Aurelijus Rusteika ahead of the pit stop window.
And the pit window would prove a pivotal turning point, with the Ebi Motors crew pulling off the quicker stop, leaving Giorgi to get the jump on the #18 Audi with 18 minutes to go. With Dopplemayr still building speed from the pit stop, Hassid followed suit to take second, triggering a stellar fight for the lead in the closing stages.
That battle ran right up until the final moments, an initial ambitious attempt leaving the #67 car skipping across the kerbs, before Hassid made a decisive move at Pinatella with seven minutes remaining.
The race battle was far from over, however. With the Pro drivers now installed in the Pro-Am entries, Bert Longin was coming under considerable pressure from Vergers, with Stienes Longin in the sister PK Carsport Audi also threatening to make it a three-way fight for the class lead.
Despite fending off the double attack for much of the second stint whilst catching the two Am cars up front, Vergers’ daring late-breaking move into the Tamburello snatched the Pro-Am lead with under five minutes to go. That left a PK Carsport inter-team battle for the final places on the class podium, Longin senior taking second ahead of son Stienes, fourth and fifth overall.
After a strong race start, Gorini held on to take third in Am, sixth overall, ahead of top KTM finisher, Klaus Angerhofer. Team owner-driver, Luca Pirri finished eighth in the #88 Audi ahead of a strong recovery charge from the Brabham Automotive Factory Racing BT63 GT2 Concept in the hands of 2021 champion, Anders Fjordbach. The early race-leading #18 Audi rounded out the top ten.
Fanatec GT2 European Series action resumes at Imola with race two at 10:30 CET today (Sunday)