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2016 BLANCPAIN GT SERIES SEASON FINALE TURNS OUT TO BE A THRILLER

The inaugural edition of the Festival de la Velocidad at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the season finale for the 2016 Blancpain GT Series, completely lived up to all expectations. Thousands of enthusiastic Spanish racing fans witnessed two exciting races, which decided the remaining title fights in all categories of the biggest GT championship of the motorsport planet._img6019

Tristan Vautier and Felix Rosenqvist had no such title worries and could completely focus on the race. After finishing third in this morning’s qualifying race, Vautier took a brilliant start overtaking polesitter Enzo Ide in the second corner. The Frenchman drove away from the leader in the Sprint Cup standings, with the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG clearly in better shape than during the qualifying race. After the driver change, Felix Rosenqvist had little trouble in holding on to first place until the chequered flag. After their position as runners-up in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, this was another great performance for the French-Swedish duo and a first overall win for the AKKA ASP team.

Further down the order, Dominik Baumann and Maxi Buhk were not having their easiest race of the season. A fight for sixth position nearly turned into disaster when Buhk momentarily went through the grass. In the end the Team-AMG HTP Motorsport duo crossed the line in eighth and with McLaren-driver Rob Bell finishing outside the points for the third race in a row, this was enough to hand the most coveted of GT titles to Baumann and Buhk. The duo – who won the 2012 FIA GT3 European title together – scored points in every race but one this year, notching up victories in the endurance race in Silverstone and the sprint race in Budapest. Maxi Buhk is the first driver in the history of the Blancpain GT Series to win an endurance title (2012), sprint title (2015) and overall title (2016). To make the celebrations even bigger, their Team, AMG HTP Motorsport, also conquered the overall teams’ title.

However, Buhk and Baumann’s troublesome season finale meant that they could never really form a threat to Enzo Ide in the fight for the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup. It has to be said that the Belgian again drove a perfect race. Ide never took big risks, even after dropping to third when the Bentley of countryman Maxime Soulet overtook him early in the race. The scariest moment came when co driver Robin Frijns caught up with the Bentley in the dying minutes of the race and went off the track in trying to pass Andy Soucek. However, the much- deserved Sprint Cup win for Enzo Ide was never in danger. 25-year-old Enzo Ide, a successful businessman in his own right and not a professional racing driver like most of his colleagues, took four wins out of ten races in this year’s Sprint Cup. In Brands Hatch he and Christopher Mies took the main race victory, and qualifying race wins came at the Nürburgring, in Budapest and in Barcelona. With the podium finish in today’s main race Ide and Frijns also gave Team WRT the Sprint Cup teams’ title.

The Silver Cup category in the Barcelona event was won by Nikolaj Möller Madsen and Alessio Picariello, at the wheel of the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi. Even though the tyres on his car were long gone,Picariello put up a masterly defence of his sixth position overall, holding off the #19 Grasser Racing Lamborghini of Michele Beretta and Luca Stolz. However, Beretta and Stolz finished on top in the season’s Silver Cup standings however, beating Möller Madsen by 21 points. The Lamborghini duo had their best races in the middle of the season, taking Silver Cup wins in Brands Hatch and at the Nürburgring.

It was a similar story in Pro-Am, where the win went to the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari of Rinat Salikhov and Norbert Siedler. The duo of the green Ferrari prevented #11 Kessel Racing drivers Michal Broniszewski and Giacomo Piccini from claiming their fourth win of the season, but second was enough for the Italian-Polish duo to claim the Pro-Am Sprint title. That means that Broniszewski had a perfect score this season, also winning the Pro-Am endurance and overall titles, together with a title in the Blancpain GT Sports Club. In the Pro-Am teams’ standings Kessel Racing held off AKKA ASP.

With the Am Sprint and overall title races decided before the start of the Barcelona event – Claudio Sdanewitsch and AF Corse taking both – the driver could entirely focus on the race. Stéphane Lemeret and Claudio Sdanewitsch had some problems during the driver change, but the race pace of the #55 AF Corse Ferrari was near perfect and the pairing took their fourth win of the season.

Drivers quotes

Maxi Buhk (#84 Team-AMG HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG)
2016 Blancpain GT Series champion

“We did not have the pace in the race, so it was really tough today. Especially at the end of my stint, because we needed some points to not only win the drivers’ championship but also the teams’ championship. So I could not attack as aggressively as others were defending, but in the end I am more happy to have won the championship together with Dominik. I think this is the most important championship you can win, because it shows you are consistent in both endurance and sprint. I am proud to share this title with Dominik.”

Dominik Baumann (#84 Team-AMG HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG)
2016 Blancpain GT Series champion

“After qualifying we realised we were not quick enough to go for the win – which was what we needed to claim the Sprint Cup – so we focused even more on the overall championship. In the qualifying race we were a bit lucky to claim the one point and with the McLaren getting a penalty things were looking good. The main race was a bit crazy, because it seemed like I was constantly under investigation. Fortunately we did not get a drive-through. We are very happy this weekend is over, because it was really tough, and even more happy to have won the championship. We are very happy with what we showed this season, so now all that is left to do is to celebrate this title!”

Enzo Ide (#33 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8)
2016 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup winner

“We won four races this season and I am quite happy about that, because I am a mix of a Pro and an Am driver together. I am happy about the season and winning the championship. For me it’s the first time that I win a championship. Some of these guys are used to that but I am not, so I think I will only realise in a few days that I am the Sprint Cup champion. I never thought I would win the title because when you look at the entry list, there are a lot of good drivers, with a lot of experience. But after Brands Hatch when we saw where we were, Christopher and I found a good rhythm. I would like to thank him and congratulate him. Without him and Robin it wouldn’t have been possible for me to win this title.”

Tristan Vautier (#88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT)
Winner Barcelona Sprint Cup race

“Everything came together today. We had to take risks between the qualifying race and the main race because we lacked some pace, and we had to do some changes and hope it would work. The car was very competitive, very good. The start was really fun, it was a nice battle with Enzo. There was quite a big focus on tyre degradation today. I tried to push hard but preserve the tyres for the whole stint and kept pushing hard to keep the gap. A very good achievement for the team as well, because we were chasing a podium in a main race the whole season but there was always something. Everything came together today so I am very happy for the whole team.”

Andy Soucek (#8 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental)
Runner-up Barcelona Sprint Cup race

“At the end the tyres were really gone. In the beginning I felt that the pace was very good, because I was able to keep up with Felix. But then I was looking in my mirror and I saw a black car coming and I knew it was the Audi of Robin Frijns. I tried to stay on the line and keep him behind in turn 15, to get a clear run into the straight line but we had contact. However, I am very pleased to finish second in front of my public and my family. Barcelona is my home track so I think we are going to celebrate tonight.”

Luca Stolz (#19 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini)
2016 Silver Cup winner with Michele Beretta

“After a bad qualifying we expected a tough race, but we changed a lot on the car and the race went quite well. We could not win the race, but we are very happy to have won the Silver Cup this year. We were able to fight for the win in every race.”

Alessio Picariello (#5 Phoenix Racing Audi)
Winner Barcelona Silver Cup category

“It was a really hard stint for me, because I had to use the tyres from yesterday’s qualifying. It was really hard to survive, but I wanted to win the Silver Cup and have a good result overall as well. I was trying to defend in a correct way and I think I did, although there were a few contacts. It was really hard to keep the car on track, but it’s a good result for the team and I am happy about that.”

Giacomo Piccini (#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari)
2016 Pro-Am Cup winner in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup, together with Michal Broniszewski

“Michal did not take any risks, so it was a pretty easy race today. We have to thank the Kessel Racing team, for we did not have a single issue during the whole of the year and that is one of the most important things if you want to win a championship. Now we need to work hard in the winter to come back next year and be even more competitive. But first we will celebrate!”

Rinat Salikhov (#333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari)
Winner Pro-Am category Barcelona race

“I changed my racing lines a bit since this morning and I have to say that had a positive effect. The car was a bit better as well, and Norbert did a perfect stint holding on to first.”

Claudio Sdanewitsch (#55 AF Corse Ferrari)
2016 Am Cup winner, both overall and in Sprint Cup

“It feels very good to win this title, this is one of the toughest championships around. I would love to do some more endurance races next year, so we will work on that.”

Source. SRO Motorsports Group/Photo. Sergio Aibar

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