• Final race of the season won by Grasser Racing Lamborghini of Bortolotti, Ineichen and Engelhart• Garage 59 McLaren-drivers Bell, Ledogar and Van Gisbergen crowned 2016 Endurance Cup winners• Kessel Racing drivers Broniszewski, Bonacini and Rizzoli win Pro-Am Drivers Endurance Cup• Talbot, Zanuttini and Gitlin complete Kessel Racing success by taking the Am Drivers crown in the Endurance Cup• Garage 59 take the Teams’ Endurance Cup, with Kessel Racing taking the crown in the Pro-Am and Am Cups
The outcome of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup was only decided on the final lap of the final race at the Nürburgring. In the absence of Shane Van Gisbergen, Rob Bell and Côme Ledogar came to the Nürburgring as the leaders in the standings, but the duo, joined by Duncan Tappy for the occasion, had a horrible weekend. Qualifying did not go their way, and the #58 Garage 59 McLaren had to start from 21st. Rob Bell managed to climb up the order, but when he missed a braking point and made contact with another car, he was penalised with a drive-through. The McLaren dropped some places, but the possibility to finish in the points had not completely gone… until Tappy was hit from behind and had to limp back to the pitlane with a puncture. Taking the wheel when the car was outside the top-30, Côme Ledogar could only pray that their competitors did not manage to close the gap in the cup standings.
When the Frenchman took the wheel of the McLaren, he and Bell and the absent Van Gisbergen were still leading the virtual standings, thanks to a series of unpredictable events. At a certain point during the three-hour race, only one of the four title contenders was in the points.
The #99 ROWE Racing BMW of Eng and Sims, joined by Nick Catsburg this weekend, was never able to make among the frontrunners this weekend, finishing in a lowly tenth. During the first stint it looked as if the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental of Soucek, Reip and Soulet would form a dangerous threat for the McLaren drivers, but trouble during the first pit stop – one of the wheels got stuck and only three tyres were changed, meaning that it did not count as a mandatory stop, and forcing the team to make an additional stop.
That left one car in the way of the McLaren’s glory, namely the #84 AMG-Team HTP Motorsport Mercedes of Buhk, Baumann and Jaafar, but they had to finish on the podium to close the 15-point gap that separated them from the McLaren-drivers. The trio gave it their all, but had to settle for fourth, one place short of a Cup-winning position.
This did not mean that the McLaren’s worries were over. For at the front, two drivers were at it hammer and tongs, trying to claim their first endurance win of the season. For one of them, Christian Engelhart, it would be even his first win in the Blancpain GT Series, for the German made his Series debut at the Nürburgring. After a Safety Car intervention some 40 minutes from the end of the race, Engelhart had none other than Laurens Vanthoor under the back wing of his #16 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini. The 2014 Blancpain Endurance champion did his utmost to try and pass the green Lambo, because a win would give his Belgian Audi Club Team WRT the teams’ crown. A contact – and possible damage to one of the cars – could promote the Mercedes of Buhk, Baumann and Jaafar to the necessary third place.But both Engelhart and Vanthoor showed that GT racing on the edge can be fair, even if the stakes are high. Engelhart kept the Audi R8 behind, sharing Grasser Racing Team’s first win of 2016 with his teammates Mirko Bortolotti and Rolf Ineichen, who had set faultless and quick opening stints.Vanthoor had to settle for second, and that was also the position of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in the teams standings, where the squad ended up with 71 points, the exact same number as Bentley Team M-Sport (for which the #7 Continental finished in ninth after starting from the pitlane) and Garage 59 McLaren. But because the McLaren squad has won two races this year, they can claim the biggest cup.
Obviously, the most attention went to the winners of the Drivers Endurance Cup. Côme Ledogar burst into tears when he was radioed the good news, Rob Bell celebrated with the whole of the Garage 59 crew in the box and Shane Van Gisbergen, racing in Australia this weekend and watching the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup on the livestream, could stop chewing his fingernails and enjoy a well-deserved title. Garage 59 team manager Bas Leinders is the first team manager in the Blancpain GT Series history to claim the overall Endurance Cup with two different teams, having won it with the Marc VDS Racing team in 2013.
In the Pro-Am Cup and the Am Cup, things were much more straightforward, although the leaders in the standings went through some difficult moments as well. #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari drivers Michal Broniszewski, Alessandro Bonacini and Andrea Rizzoli looked set to claim the Pro-Am Cup, up until a Full Course Yellow-period at the end of the second hour played into the hands of their sole rivals, #74 ISR Audi drivers Giauque, Hassid and Perera. Rizzoli was quick to catch and pass the Audi however, keeping the Pro-Am Cups (both Teams’ and Drivers’) inside the Kessel Racing camp. Winning at the Nürburgring proved to be impossible though, because the #66 Black Pearl Racing Ferrari of Daniel Keilwitz and Alexander Matschull proved to be unbeatable. Matschull brought the immense challenge of doing a double stint to a good end and even claimed fifth overall in the end.
In the Am Cup Liam Talbot, Marco Zanuttini and Vadim Gitlin had enough with the points from seventh to claim the Am Cup, but with the trio of AKKA ASP drivers Beaubelique, Ricci and Vannelet dominating the race in the category they could not afford to make any mistakes. And while the French Mercedes-trio drove to a much deserved win – continuing their streak of podium finishes – the Kessel Racing drivers kept their head cool and crossed the line in sixth. After winning the category in the Le Castellet race and the Total 24 Hours of Spa, it was an excellent way to finish an excellent season.
Rob Bell (#58 Garage 59 McLaren): “I still can’t believe that we are the champions, certainly not after the way things went today. I have to thank the whole of the team, they worked very hard this season. I still can’t believe I made a small error, and I have to admit that at that point I thought it was all over. But somebody once said to me that sometimes you have to win ugly, and we won ugly today.”
Alessandro Bonacini (#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari): “I wanted to win this Cup very badly, because we came very close a couple of years ago and finished second. Now we did it, and this is a great sensation, because I can keep this feeling all through next year. It was hard though, and I could not believe my eyes when I saw the Audi in front of us at the beginning of the last stint. But Andrea did a perfect job in catching them again.”
Vadim Gitlin (#888 Kessel Racing Ferrari): “I had never raced at the Nürburgring before, so it was very difficult for me. I knew we had to keep seventh position to claim the Am Cup and that was exactly what I did. This is an important win for me, for it is the first time I win a championship. It has been a dramatic season, because we did not finish the first race and I had a tough stint in Monza. But I don’t know why, at that moment I became completely convinced that we would the Cup this year. And here we are.”
Christian Engelhart (#16 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini): “It’s been an awesome first race in the Blancpain GT Series for me, to start with a win is very special. I’ve been watching the Blancpain GT Series for years, it’s very competitive and it’s great to be here in this position. I had a tough fight with Laurens, who was pushing very hard, but I managed to keep him behind me and I am very happy about that.”
Laurens Vanthoor (#1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8): “I have to admit that I am a bit angry at myself that I was unable to get the win and get the Teams Endurance Cup for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT. But I also think that there was no way I could get past in a fair manner. I tried several times, but he did not make any mistakes and did a good job. We will just have to do a little bit better next time.”
Lucas Ordonez (#23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R): “It was quite good to be able to start from P11, because we had not been that high up this year. I quickly got to the front, the car behaved fantastic. I kept pushing, we had some excellent pitstops and Mitsu and Alex both did amazing jobs. I think we deserved this podium, we’ve had a tough season but this makes up for a lot.”
Alexander Matschull (#66 Black Pearl Racing Ferrari): “I was only told ten minutes before the start that I had to do a double stint. It was quite a challenge, and I was very relieved that there was a safety car intervention at the beginning of my second stint, so I could relax a bit. The team gave us a perfect car and Daniel did an excellent first stint, and I am very happy to win this one.”
Jean-Luc Beaubelique (#87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG): “Since we did not participate in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, we knew it would be difficult to fight for the title, but we did our best. We made no mistakes, had a great race and even managed to finish on the same lap as the overall winners. We finished every race we started on the podium, so that is not so bad.”