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Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup - Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya

26th - 29th September 2019

Event report and photos by Raymond Bonnello

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Bronze test

The Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup finale began in earnest Friday, 27th afternoon, with the Bronze Test representing the first official session at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

The hour-long run gave all bronze-graded drivers a chance to familiarise themselves with the Spanish venue ahead of this weekend's race.

Christoph Lenz (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 #29 - Raton Racing by Target) topped the times, with a 1m46.643s lap.

Next up was Steve Parrow Ferrari 488 GT3 #33 - Rinaldi Racing) with a 1m47.060s, followed by Leo Machitski Lamborghini Huracan GT3 #77 - Barwell Motorsport).

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Free practice

Local ace Alex Riberas (Audi R8 LMS GT3 2019 #2 - Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) posted the quickest effort around halfway through the 90-minute run at the wheel of the car he shares with Dries Vanthoor and Ezequiel Perez Companc, while Giacomo Altoe (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #519 - Orange 1 FFF Racing Team) recorded the second-best time in 1:45.328.

Third fastest was Raffaele Marciello (Mercedes-AMG GT3 #88- Mercedes-AMG Team Akka ASP) who was just 0.017s shy of Riberas' benchmark.

The narrow gaps at the head of the order were characteristic of a highly competitive session, with less than one second covering the top-24 runners at the end of free practice.

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The Silver Cup class was led Nico Bastian (Mercedes-AMG GT3 #90 - Akka ASP Team), in the car he shares with Felipe Fraga and Timur Boguslavisky, who is set to seal the Endurance title this weekend.

The German driver's best effort was good enough for fifth spot overall, though it was just 0.050s clear of class rival GPX Racing's #20 Porsche.

Among the Pro-Am runners, Tom Onslow-Cole (Mercedes-AMG GT3 #74 - RAM Racing) led the way , who will look to snatch the Endurance crown this weekend by overturning a 16-point deficit to the #97 Oman Racing by TF Sport Aston Martin.

Tom Onslow-Cole and teammate Remon Vos were classified seventh overall at the session's end.

Perhaps the most eye-catching lap of free practice came from Stefano Constantini (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 #29 - Raton Racing by Target), who set the 17th-best time overall to comfortably lead the Am Cup class, placing the #29 Lamborghini ahead of several all-pro line-ups.

The session began with two red flags in the opening 20 minutes for minor on-track incidents, but remained green for over an hour following the early interruptions.

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Pre-qualifying

Mathieu Jaminet (Porsche 911 GT3 R #98 - ROWE Racing) was quickest, with posting a best effort of 1m44.839s to establish an unmatchable benchmark.

Next up was Dries Vanthoor (Audi R8 LMS GT3 2019 #2 - Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) 0.112s shy of top spot.

Matt Campbell (Porsche 911 GT3 R #99 - ROWE Racing) completed the top-three, with recording a 1m45.156s to cap an excellent session for the German squad.

A pair of Mercedes-AMG cars rounded out the top-five, with the title-chasing #4 - Black Falcon machine leading the #88 - Akka ASP Team entry.

Both teams also showed well this morning, while the German marque has won at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in each of the past three seasons.

Sixth overall was the Silver Cup pace-setter, Michele Beretta (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #555 - Orange 1 FFF Racing Team), who posted a 1m45.476s.

Andrea Bertolini (Ferrari 488 GT3 #52 - AF Corse) led Pro-Am, with recording the 14th best time overall.

Miguel Ramos (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #77 - Barwell Motorsport) was quickest in the Am Cup class, but the session was far from trouble-free as Adrian Amstutz sustained damage that ended the British squad's participation early.

A total of 45 cars were on-track during the session, the exception being the Mercedes-AMG GT3 #74 - RAM Racing that led the Pro-Am class in the morning's free-practice.

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A single red flag during the opening stages was the sole interruption and resulted in only a short stoppage.

qualifying

Driven by Romain Dumas, Sven Muller and Mathieu Jaminet (Porsche 911 GT3 R #99 - ROWE Racing), the German squad did not top any of the three qualifying segments, posting the seventh best time in Q1 before going second fastest in each of the next two sessions.

This consistency was crucial to securing pole on the combined average, with the three drivers producing a 1m45.032s between them.

The Porsche was closely followed by the two overall Blancpain GT Series title contenders: the Mercedes-AMG GT3 #4 - Black Falcon and the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #563 - Orange 1 FFF Racing Team.

The Black Falcon car was 0.054s shy of pole, while the Orange 1 FFF Racing Team crew with a mere 0.001s behind their championship rivals.

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Both of these crews are also in contention for the Endurance Cup title and will fancy their chances a little more after the points-leading Ferrari 488 GT3 #72 - SMP Racing qualified down in 13th spot.

None of the Ferrari's three drivers were able to find a clean lap during qualifying, leaving Miguel Molina, Mikhail Aleshin and Davide Rigon with work to do in the afternoon's race.

The #72 car must finish at least eighth to be absolutely sure of the title.

However, Black Falcon or Orange 1 FFF Racing Team need to win if they are to overcome the Russian-backed squad's 22-point advantage.

The top-six was completed by the Audi R8 LMS GT3 2019 #2 - Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in fourth, the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #519 - Orange1 FFF Racing in fifth, and the Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 #76 - R-Motorsportin sixth.

The overall fastest lap of the session was set by Raffaele Marciello (Mercedes-AMG GT3 #88 - Mercedes-AMG Team Akka ASP), who posted a 1m44.598s in Q1.

The italian driver's teammates could not replicate his pace, however, and the car will start from eighth on the grid for the race.

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Silver Cup pole went to the 2019 Endurance Cup champions, Akka ASP Team, with their #90 Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Nico Bastian, Felipe Fraga and Timur Boguslavisky.

The crew will seek their third win of the season from 10th on the overall grid.

The Am Cup pole-sitter produced a superb qualifying effort, with the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #77 - Barwell Motorsport placing 29th overall and ahead of the entire Pro-Am class.

The crew has already secured its title and, like the Silver leaders, will look to complete the season in style.

The Mercedes-AMG GT3 #87 - Akka ASP Team will lead the Pro-Am class from 31st on the grid, with Jim Pla producing a particularly strong showing.

The French ace will chase the Blancpain GT Series title today and holds the advantage over the rival Ferrari 488 GT3 #52 - AF Corse.

The Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 #97 - Oman Racing by TF Sport crew, who currently lead the Endurance Cup championship, will start sixth in class.

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The race

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Orange1 FFF Racing captured a brace of Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup crowns when its Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #563 - Orange 1 FFF Racing Team took a sensational victory in the season-deciding race at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

This means that Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli have become the first drivers to hold three championships at once, having wrapped up Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe honours earlier this month in Hungary.

The Chinese outfit also ends a phenomenal 2019 campaign – its first in European competition – with both the Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup teams' titles, while ensuring that 12 different squads have triumphed from the past 12 races.

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The Italian duo were joined at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya by local ace Albert Costa, who substituted for the unwell Dennis Lind at the wheel of the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #563 - Orange 1 FFF Racing Team.

Costa made an instant impression, taking to the grass on the initial run to turn one as he dived past both the pole-sitting Porsche 911 GT3 R #98 - ROWE Racing and the Mercedes-AMG GT3 #4 - Black Falcon.

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The race was neutralised on the first lap following a number of incidents, including the Porsche 911 GT3 R #54 - Dinamic Motorsport Porsche making heavy contact with the barriers.

The Porsche would end the race on its roof, though driver Zaid Ashkanani was able to emerge from his car unharmed.

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Albert Costa was instructed to hand back the positions he gained at the start, having run with all four wheels off the circuit to complete the move.

Orange 1 FFF Racing Team's hopes had nevertheless been given a major boost in its pursuit of the Endurance Cup title as the rival Ferrari 488 GT3 #72 - SMP Racing limped into the pits with a puncture.

The Russian-backed squad led the drivers' standings comfortably ahead of the finale, but as they slipped to the rear of the field their chances began to fade.

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The Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #563 - Orange 1 FFF Racing Team still needed to win the race, however, with the Mercedes-AMG GT3 #4 - Black Falcon now in the lead and perfectly placed to capture both the Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup crowns.

Maro Engel looked comfortable out front once the action resumed and, when Luca Stolz took the wheel during the first round of pits stops, the Mercedes-AMG GT3 #4 - Black Falcon retained its advantage.

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But there had been a crucial change during the pit window, with the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #563 - Orange 1 FFF Racing Team emerging in second spot ahead of the Porsche 911 GT3 R #98 - ROWE Racing.

This placed Mapelli a few seconds behind Stolz, which became a few tenths when another safety car was deployed.

The battle for the race lead was now the deciding factor in both championships.

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At the restart Marco Mapelli got an excellent run on Luca Stolz and went to the outside as they headed for turn one.

Luca Stolz defended robustly and the pair went side by side through the opening sequence of corners.

With everything on the line, both sets of garages held their breath.

It was close, but Marco Mapelli made it stick.

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Once in clean air the Italian immediately showed better pace than Luca Stolz and was able to build a gap at the front.

The German was soon under pressure from Raffaele Marciello, who closed on to the rear of his fellow Mercedes-AMG driver but did not make a serious attempt to pass.

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The final round of stops saw Marco Mapelli hand over to Andrea Caldarelli for what was potentially a one-hour run to glory.

Another safety car meant that the Mercedes-AMG GT3 #4 - Black Falcon, now being driven by Yelmer Buurman, was right on the Italian's tail at the beginning of the last stint and the experienced Dutchman made a serious charge into turn one, only to be repelled by Andrea Caldarelli.

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The Italian ace built a gap of more than five seconds over the closing laps.

A final safety car period put him under pressure from Yelmer Buurman once again with just four minutes on the clock, but the Italian judged the restart perfectly.

He was unchallenged over the final few kilometres, completing an incredible season for Orange 1 FFF Racing Team that puts the Lamborghini Huracan brand on top for the second time in three seasons.

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A frenetic closing phase saw the order behind Andrea Caldarelli change rapidly.

Yelmer Buurman was eliminated from contention by a collision with Dries Vanthoor (Audi R8 LMS GT3 2019 #2 - Belgian Audi Club Team WRT), which also cost the youngster his place at the front.

This allowed Jake Dennis (Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 #76 - R-Motorsport)to take second, completing an impressive weekend by the Swiss team.

Third place went to Jules Gounon, Jordan Pepper and Steven Kane (Bentley Continental GT3 #107 - Bentley Team M-Sport), who finished the season with a flourish after rising from 12th on the grid.

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The Silver Cup titles had been decided before the race, but the battle for class honours was still action-packed.

The title-winning Mercedes-AMG GT3 #90 - Akka ASP Team started from pole with Nico Bastian at the wheel but slipped back during the middle stages of the race as Timur Boguslavskiy hit problems, allowing the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #78 - Barwell Motorsport to take control at the head of the field.

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A late charge by Felipe Fraga at the wheel of the Mercedes-AMG GT3 #90 - Akka ASP Team set up the prospect of a thrilling late battle with Sandy Mitchell in the leading Akka ASP Team #78 - Barwell Motorsport.

It did not come to that, however, as the pit infringement penalty demoted the Barwell machine to the rear of the field.

Felipe Fraga was able to bring the AKKA ASP machine home to complete the win, ensuring a third victory from five Endurance Cup races for the season's standout Silver team and crew.

The Mercedes-AMG GT3 #90 - Akka ASP Team was ultimately classified fifth overall, while Nico Bastian also scoops the Blancpain GT Series title for his class.

The Mercedes-AMG GT3 #6 - Black Falcon and Ferrari 488 GT3 #333 Rinaldi Racing rounded out the podium.

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The Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup Pro-Am drivers' championships were on the line at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with both ultimately going to the crews that led ahead of the weekend.

The race was won by the Audi R8 LMS GT3 2019 #26 - Sainteloc Racing, which featured a revised line-up of Pierre Alexandre Jean and Edouard Cauhaupe alongside regular driver Pierre-Yves Paque.

This represented a superb debut for Pierre Alexandre Jean and Edouard Cauhaupe, as well as the ideal way for the French squad to close the 2019 campaign.

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Second on the road was more than enough to secure the class Endurance Cup crown for Oman Racing by TF Sport, whose #97 Aston Martin finished the job it had begun at the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

A dominant class win in the Ardennes ensured a 16-point advantage heading into the finale and the crew of Ahmad Al Harthy, Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood drove a measured race that was ultimately rewarded with the drivers’ and teams’ titles.

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The Blancpain GT Series crown went to AF Corse duo Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini after what proved to be a challenging race for their Ferrari 488 GT3 #52.

Endurance co-driver Niek Hommerson was in the gravel on lap one, but was able to return to the track during the safety car period.

With the Mercedes-AMG GT3 #87 - Akka ASP Team hitting problems during the thee-hour race the Ferrari was able to capture the title with a sixth-in-class finish, concluding a season that brought victories in the Endurance Cup and Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe.

The AF Corse crew had sewn up the teams’ championship ahead of the finale.

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The titles were settled in the Am Cup class, with race honours also looking set to go to Endurance Cup champions Barwell Motorsport.

The Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #77 - Barwell Motorsport led for much of the event, only to hit problems during the latter stages.

This was to the benefit of the Lamborghini Huracan GT3 2019 #29 Raton Racing by Target, which had been pushing the Barwell car hard for class honours.

The crew of Christoph Lenz, Stefano Constantini and Antonio Forne Tomas ultimately took the win ahead of the Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 #188 Garage 59 of Alexander West, Chris Harris and Chris Goodwin, which sealed the Am Cup runner-up spot for the Endurance championship.

The podium was completed by the Ferrari 488 GT3 #33 Rinaldi Racing.

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Looking back on 2019, Orange 1 FFF Racing Team will be able to reflect on a truly remarkable season.

By winning all three titles in a single year the Lamborghini squad has set a new standard in the Blancpain GT Series and now represents the benchmark that their rivals must look to match.

With five overall titles from a possible six this term, it will be a difficult act to follow.

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(Based on Blancpain GT Series Press release)

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