Will Stevens cruelly just missed out on winning the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup after finishing fifth and second in the final event at the Nürburgring this weekend (16-17 Sep). Stevens and co-driver Markus Winkelhock (D) ultimately placed second in the overall drivers’ title standings, just eight-points behind the ultimate champions.
Seven driver pairings headed to Germany for the two, one-hour races held on the 2.25-mile Grand Prix circuit still in contention for the title, Stevens/Winkelhock placed sixth a mere six-points off the series lead. But it was a bridge too far for the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT duo who had previously scored three top-five results in their Audi R8 LMS including a victory at Zolder (B) in what became a dramatic last 15mins of the final race that ultimately decided the destiny of the title.
An administrative misunderstanding caused a five-place grid penalty resulting in a 20thplace start position for Saturday’s qualifying race. Winkelhock immediately made up places and handed the Audi over to Stevens placed 10th, Will slicing his way through to a praiseworthy fifth place finish. The 26-year-old British ex-Formula One driver began today’s one-hour Main Race from the third row of the 28-car grid, Will moving up to fourth in the opening minutes then into third place prior to a Full Course Yellow.
Stevens pitted from second position to Winkelhock with 32mins remaining, the German resuming third but moved into second place on 21mins. But with just 13mins remaining the race, with huge championship implications, took a twist. Winkelhock was demoted to third place by the WRT Audi of Robin Frijns/Stuart Leonard while at the same time the race leading WRT Audi of Marcel Fässler/Dries Vanthoor was given a drive-through penalty for a pit lane indiscretion.
This meant Fässler/Vanthoor were taken out of title contention and Frijns/Leonard snatched the “crown” from Stevens/Winkelhock, the German suffering from a brake issue. Winkelhock ultimately took the chequered flag 3.967secs behind Frijns, leaving Stevens/Winkelhock second in the final standings, eight points adrift of the winning duo in a thrilling climax.
Stevens now looks ahead to contesting the final two rounds of the European Le Mans Series starting at Spa-Francorchamps next weekend (24 Sep). Will reunites with the JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE which he, along with Rob Smith (GB) and Dries Vanthoor (B), swept to an emphatic GTE-Am début class victory in the Le Mans 24 Hour race in June.
Will, along with Smith and Jody Fannin (GB), aims to overhaul a nine-point deficit in the LMGTE Teams’ standings after four of this year’s six, ELMS four-hour races which concludes at Portimão in Portugal (22 Oct). Stevens made his ELMS début in the corresponding race at Spa last year, racing a Team WRT Ligier JSP2 to second place overall with Laurens and Dries Vanthoor. In addition to the Blancpain GT Series’ Endurance, Sprint and Asia events, Stevens has also competed in the FIA World Endurance Championship and Pirelli World Challenge this year.
Will Stevens (GB): Lives: Surrey, England. Aged 26.
“It’s been a great season although it’s obviously disappointing to have come so close to winning the championship only to miss out in the closing minutes of the last race. It was a shame that we received a penalty in qualifying resulting from an administrative error but we both fought back well in the race and combined with a great pit-stop by WRT, saw us recover to fifth place. Today’s race was certainly eventful! We battled for the win today and it almost came off, once again thanks to a great pit-stop by the team. We lost the title in the end which wasn’t helped by a couple of non-scores earlier in the season.
“I’m now really looking forward to getting back into the Ferrari with JMW after our successful first race together at Le Mans. The car was a pleasure to drive there so I can’t wait to have more time back in it at a track I know well. Spa is one of my favourites but especially tough in a GT car. JMW are second in the standings but the championship is close so I’ll be trying my hardest to help these guys win it. With two races to go, it’s all to play for so we will be giving it our everything.”
Source. Martyn Pass