Blancpain Nürburgring: Garage 59 McLaren claims maiden win

© DR

Rob Bell and Alvaro Parente took the #58 Garage 59 McLaren to its first win in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup, claiming victory at the main race on the Nürburgring. The #28 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 of René Rast and Will Stevens was only a couple of seconds behind, while Jules Szymkowiak and Bernd Schneider completed an impressive come-back by putting their #86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG on the third step of the podium.

For the third consecutive time, Pro-Am honours in the Sprint Cup went to Michal Broniszewski and Giacomo Piccini in the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari, while the #55 AF Corse Ferrari of Claudio Sdanewitsch and Stéphane Lémeret claimed its third win as well. Luca Stolz and Michele Beretta dominated the weekend in the Silver Cup, at the wheel of the #19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini.

Less than two hours before the start of the Nürburgring main race, the Eifel track was hit by a heavy shower of rain. Even though the race was declared wet by the race direction, most of the asphalt had dried sufficiently by the time the lights went to green. Rob Bell outbraked polesitter Enzo Ide into the first corner, and the McLaren driver quickly managed to pull out a gap towards the cars behind him. That chasing pack was briefly led by Ide in the #33 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8, but soon Will Stevens (#28 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8) and Jules Szymkowiak (#86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG) overtook the Belgian.

When the pit window opened, Bell enjoyed a four second-lead over Stevens, enough to hold on to first position after the mandatory driver changes. Alvaro Parente was now at the wheel of the #58 Garage 59 McLaren, and even though René Rast in the #28 Audi closed in on him rather quickly at the beginning of his stint, Parente managed to keep his head cool and re-open the gap later on. He eventually crossed the line with two seconds in hand, to take McLaren’s first win in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup.

Bernd Schneider kept the #86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG in third, completing a nice come-back, considering the car started the qualifying race in a lowly 24th position. Most of the hard work was done by claiming eighth in that Saturday race, and a perfect main race was rewarded by important championship points for Schneider-Szymkowiak. However, this round did see them drop a position in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup standings, while Rob Bell and Alvaro Parente jumped from fifth to first. The British-Portuguese duo now have a three-point lead over Enzo Ide and Christopher Mies, who finished in fourth at the ‘Ring.

In the overall Blancpain GT Series driver standings, Rob Bell has a much more overwhelming lead. By adding this first sprint win to his endurance victories of Monza and Le Castellet, the McLaren-driver now enjoys a 44-point lead over Mercedes-duo Buhk-Baumann, sixth at the Nürburgring.

In the Pro-Am Cup Michal Broniszewski continues his impressive winning streak by claiming his third Sprint Cup win with Giacomo Piccini, his fifth of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series season. Even though the Polish driver was involved in an incident in the opening lap of the race, Broniszewski retook the class lead in the sixth lap and after that the win for #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari-duo was never really in danger.

The Am Cup saw a nice scrap between the #55 AF Corse Ferrari and the #66 Black Pearl Racing Ferrari, with the latter leading the category during the opening first half of the race. Claudio Sdanewitsch managed to stay close to the Rinaldi machine however and once Stéphane Lémeret had taken over the wheel of the #55 Ferrari, the quick Belgian had little trouble in scoring a third class win in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup.

In the Silver Cup the Grasser Racing Team youngsters Luca Stolz and Michele Beretta had a perfect the weekend, claiming pole, qualifying race and main race wins. They also finished in a creditable 13th place overall, as first of the Lamborghini-drivers. Their lead in the Silver cup standings has now increased to 23 points.

Next round of the Blancpain GT Series is the Total 24 Hours of Spa, with the official testday for the Belgian endurance classic being held next Tuesday.

Drivers quotes
Rob Bell (#58 Garage 59 McLaren): « I had a fantastic start. When I looked at the footage afterwards, I could see that everybody went at the same time, but maybe not the poleman. It was one of those starts where you catch the rev range right, and you get a great punch when you put your foot to the floor. Our guys had practiced on the pitstops overnight and they definitely improved, which helped us in maintaining the lead after the pitstop. »

Will Stevens (#28 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8): « We’ve had good potential all year, but in qualifying there was always something that did not go our way. And when you start from behind it is always difficult to come through. This weekend qualifying went very well, and we could show how competitive we can be. I am sure we can carry on in that form. »

Bernd Schneider (#86 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG): « After qualifying, in which I did not perform very well, I never thought that we would finish on the podium today. Especially since it is very hard to overtake on this track. But we found a good set-up, the team did some great pitstops and Jules and I were able to gain some positions. »

Luca Stolz (#19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini): « We made some small mistakes today, but we are very happy to win again and to be the first of the Lamborghini cars. It was not the easiest track for the Huracan, but we fought hard and got the reward. »

Michal Broniszewski (#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari): « Normally we should be able to finish in the top-15 overall, but today it was a bit more difficult. Not in the least because I was pushed off at the start. After that it was hard to fight back, but we are obviously happy with another win in Pro-Am. »

Claudio Sdanewitsch (#55 AF Corse Ferrari): « Since I had some Pro drivers behind me at the start, I knew my main task was to stay out of trouble through the first couple of corners. I succeeded in doing so and after that I focused on staying close to the fast driver of our competitor. At the pitstop I was only a couple of seconds behind and after the driver change Stéphane could easily take the lead. After our mishap in free practice the team did an excellent job in giving us a great car again and finding a good set-up as well. »

Adelheid Terryn,