Van Gisbergen wins epic Blancpain GT Series opener at Monza

| Photographer Credit: 2016 Blancpain GT Series

An epic fight between Shane Van Gisbergen in the #58 Garage 59 McLaren and Maxi Buhk in the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG decided the Monza round of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series. The two were all over each other during the final half an hour of the race, but Van Gisbergen managed to hold Buhk behind and cross the line with a mere three tenths of a second in hand.

It was a little bit frustrating with all the traffic, but we all had the same problem anyway,” said van Gisbergen. “The battle for the last 30 minutes was pretty cool. He had a couple of good goes there, but I really enjoyed it. It was pretty tense, I can tell you that. It’s a good thing that we come away with a win on a track where we thought we would not be strong.”

Third in the three-hour race went to the #8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental of Soucek, Reip and Soulet. The Pro-Am Cup was dominated by the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari, which finished in fifth overall as well. In the Am Cup, the #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG resisted the Italian Ferrari-Lamborghini opposition to take the win after a faultless race.

Sunny conditions, 22.000 fans in the grandstands, a massive grid of 57 powerful GT3 cars: the second round of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series – the first of the Endurance Cup – had the necessary elements to become a success. And all expectations were met.
After the traditional hectic Monza start, the race quickly settled into a fast-paced rhythm. In front, Dominik Baumann had converted the pole position of the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG into first place. But halfway through the first stint, the fastest of the Pro-Am drivers, Daniel Keilwitz in the #66 Black Pearl Racing Ferrari, managed to snatch the lead and to keep it until the first of the driver changes.

That first series of pitstops turned out in favour of the #58 Garage 59 McLaren. Rob Bell had been third when coming into pitlane, but when Jazeman Jaafar hit trouble when switching off the pitlane limiter on the HTP Mercedes – the car briefly stalled – Come Ledogar put the McLaren in first position, ahead of the Mercedes and the Black Pearl Racing Ferrari, now in the hands of Am-driver Steve Parrow.

The gap between the two leaders remained the same for most of the second stint and when Shane Van Gisbergen and Maxi Buhk started their run towards the chequered flag, the gap between the McLaren and the Mercedes-AMG was around ten seconds. Traffic played an important role in the outcome of the race however, and when ‘SVG’ hit a flock of cars that were fighting for top-15 positions, Maxi Buhk put his Mercedes under the rear wing of the McLaren.

What followed was GT racing of the highest level. For almost half an hour the duo fought for every inch of Italian tarmac, with Buhk getting alongside the McLaren on a couple of occasions, but the Kiwi driver kept his cool and crossed the line first, much to the joy of the recently-created Garage 59 team.

For Buhk and Baumann, second was still good enough to take the lead in the Blancpain GT Series driver standings, as Misano winners Laurens Vanthoor and Fred Vervisch had to settle for ninth in Monza, in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 they shared with Dries Vanthoor.

Behind the battling duo at the front, Bentley Boys Andy Soucek, Wolfgang Reip and Maxime Soulet produced a steady race to a podium finish. After a difficult start of the weekend. Soulet had put the Continental GT3 in P6 on the grid, which proved an excellent basis to gain some more places during the race.

The Pro-Am Cup was dominated by the Ferrari drivers. Giancarlo Fisichella had put the #53 AF Corse Ferrari on pole, but Ishikawa Motoaki was unable to keep the red car in front. After the first driver change, Alessandro Bonacini pushed the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari towards the front, overtaking the #44 Oman Racing Team Aston Martin and the #66 Black Pearl Racing Ferrari. Bonacini got the car up to fifth overall as well, and after a faultless stint from Andrea Rizzoli the Kessel Ferrari took the Pro-Am win, just as it did two weeks ago in Misano, at the end of the first Sprint Cup race of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series season.

Behind the leading Ferrari, Giancarlo Fisichella produced a near-phenomenal final stint, climbing from fourth in class (and well outside the top-15 overall) to second in Pro-Am and tenth overall. Driving the #53 AF Corse Ferrari the former F1 driver produced the fastest lap of the race as well.

In the Am Cup the #51 AF Corse Ferrari that started from pole quickly hit trouble during the opening stint, leaving the fight for the class lead to the #49 AF Corse Ferrari, the #488 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari and the #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG. When the AF Corse machine dropped back and the Rinaldi crew chose to do a three-stop race it was the AKKA ASP French trio of Jean-Luc Beaubelique, Maurice Ricci and Gilles Vannelet who took the chequered flag after a faultless drive.

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