The inaugural Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe season belongs to the history books. A little over four months after the campaign kicked off at Brands Hatch, the curtain fell on an exhilarating 2019 campaign with a pair of one-hour races at the Hungaroring.
Between the opening and closing events there were trips to Misano, Zandvoort and the Nürburgring, producing seven winning crews from 10 races. The overall champions were crowned in Hungary, as were class title-winners in Pro-Am and Silver Cup.
Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli emerged victorious at the top of the overall standings, with the #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini crew edging Luca Stolz and Maro Engel (#4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG) by the smallest possible margin. As has become the norm in sprint racing, the title remained in the balance until the chequered flag flew.
As the dust settles on the 2019 season, these are the final stats and facts from the Hungaroring.
It really couldn’t have been closer. At the conclusion of Sunday’s decider, Caldarelli and Mapelli were level on points with Stolz and Engel, but took the crown by dint of having two race wins to their rivals’ one. This represents the first time that an overall Blancpain GT Series drivers’ title has been decided on a countback. Previously, the closest finish was in 2016 when the Endurance championship was won by a single point.
Should he and Mapelli add the overall Blancpain GT Series crown later this month at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Caldarelli will join Laurens Vanthoor and Maxi Buhk in completing the « grand slam » of titles. The Italian took the Endurance Cup championship in 2017, as part of the Grasser Racing squad.
Caldarelli and Mapelli won’t have it easy, however, with the defeated #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG crew more determined than ever to clinch the overall crown after missing out on Sunday afternoon. Stolz and Engel lead the standings by just two points ahead of the finale, while both crews also retain a shot at the Endurance Cup crown.
FFF’s secret weapon was the incredible work of their pit crew, who frequently gained significant time for the #563 Lamborghini. Nowhere was this more obvious than in Hungary’s decider, where Mapelli was able to exit for the final stint ahead of a trio of quick cars. The team won the Pit Stop Challenge award for 2019 and, it’s fair to say, were a huge part of the overall title success.
Raffaele Marciello and Vincent Abril delivered a spectacular showing in Hungary. It was not enough to earn them the title – they had fallen out of contention at the Nürburgring – but a brace of pole-to-victory performances ensured the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG duo third in the standings. Their record of three wins is the most scored by any crew in 2019 and means that Marciello won more races this term than during his title-winning 2018 season. Caldarelli/Mapelli took two wins, while another five crews secured one apiece.
While the drivers’ crown was out of reach, a perfect weekend in Hungary did earn AKKA ASP the overall Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe teams’ title. The French outfit began the event 17 points shy of leaders Orange1 FFF Racing, but the #88 Mercedes-AMG’s star performance saw AKKA ASP score the maximum 35 points. This ends a six-year winning streak for Belgian Audi Club Team WRT.
The #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini took six podiums this term – four of them runner-up finishes – without winning a race. In fact, Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart were among the top-three finishers in five of the last six contests, helping to ensure that a Lamborghini crew stood on the podium 10 times from 10 races.
A total of 19 drivers finished on the overall podium this season. The odd number is explained by the fact that Dries Vanthoor took top-three finishes with both Charles Weerts (first, Misano race 2) and Ezequiel Perez Companc (third, Zandvoort race 2) aboard the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT machine.
A total of 341 racing laps were completed during the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe season. Six cars went the full distance: the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG; the #63 Grasser Lamborghini; the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin; the #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG; the #56 Attempto Audi; and the #519 FFF Lamborghini. The latter is particularly impressive as it competes in the Pro-Am class, where cars must meet a minimum pit stop time.
The #444 HB Ferrari finished every race this term and completed 336 laps over the course of the season. Driven by Florian Scholze and Wolfgang Triller, the Am Cup machine was on the lead lap in each of the final four races of the campaign.
There was just one retirement during the Hungaroring weekend, a record low for the season. This came on the opening lap of Sunday’s race, when David Perel was caught up in an incident that fired his #333 Rinaldi Ferrari into the barriers. Frederic Vervisch (#11 Phoenix Audi) was subsequently handed a 30-second time penalty and one behaviour warning point for triggering the crash.
Nico Bastian has now taken three Silver Cup titles during the past two seasons and will add a further two at the season-ending Endurance Cup race later this month. The AKKA ASP driver won the overall and Sprint Cup titles in 2018 and has added the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe crown this term. He will be confirmed as the overall and Endurance class champion by competing with his regular crew at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Saturday’s race saw Jim Pla and Jean-Luc Beaubelique secure a first Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe win of the season in the Pro-Am class, while also completing a trio of wins for AKKA ASP. Pla and Beaubelique also triumphed earlier this year in the Endurance Cup round at Paul Ricard, when Mauro Ricci joined them the #87 Mercedes-AMG.
AKKA ASP’s total haul for the weekend consisted of an overall teams’ title, the drivers’ and teams’ titles in Silver Cup, two overall wins, two Silver Cup wins and a Pro-Am win.
Dinamic Motorsport made its Blancpain GT World Challenge debut at the Hungaroring, ensuring that a Porsche was on the grid at a sprint-format race for the first time since the same event in 2017. The Stuttgart marque could become eligible for the global GT World Challenge title should it compete full-time in Europe next year, with programmes already running in America and Asia.
The overall fastest lap of the weekend was set by Vincent Abril, who posted a 1m42.994s to seal pole for race 2. The in-form Monegasque was the only driver to break the 1m43s barrier during the weekend. The #88 also set the best racing lap thanks to Raffaele Marciello, who circulated in 1m44.163s during a dominant run to victory on Sunday.
Mattia Drudi once again set the best time for a Silver Cup contender during the races with a 1m45.025s. Jim Pla paced the Pro-Am runners with a 1m45.593s, while Wolfgang Triller’s 1m46.568s was the best for a Am Cup runner.
The conclusion of the European campaign marks the first Blancpain GT World Challenge series to finish this year. The Asian category will wrap up its season next at Shanghai (27-28 September) while Blancpain GT World Challenge America ends next month at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (18-20 October).
The 2019 Blancpain GT Series will conclude with a final Endurance Cup contest at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. There are still plenty of titles to be decided at the Spanish venue, including the overall and Endurance championships for teams and drivers. The event will kick off with Friday’s bronze test, followed by free practice on Saturday and both qualifying and the three-hour race on Sunday afternoon.