Mike David Ortmann and Hugo Sasse overcame a grid penalty to battle through the field and score their first GT4 European Series victory of the year in a thrilling opening race at Circuit Paul Ricard.
From 11th on the grid, PROsport Aston Martin duo Ortmann and Sasse kept things clean to rise up the order and eventually snatch victory in the closing stages. A safety car right before the pit window bunched the field ahead of the stops, making the second half of the race as tight as it was unpredictable, and Sasse eventually made the decisive move to snatch the lead, and victory, away from the #66 CMR Toyota of Antoine Potty and Romain Monti.
Jim Pla and Jean Luc Beaubelique claimed victory in the Pro-Am class for Akkodis ASP Team, while Stanislav Safronov and Aleksandr Vaintrub took the Am category honours for NM Racing Team.
PROsport beats the drop
Ortmann and Sasse had their work cut out for them before the race weekend even began, knowing a five-place grid drop would be applied to their qualifying result as a penalty carried over from contact during the season opener in Imola.
Regardless, Ortmann did well to put the #24 Aston Martin sixth in the times to make sure the duo would start just outside of the top 10. Having aced both practice sessions on Friday, Akkodis ASP Team’s twin Mercedes-AMGs again led the way in qualifying, although this time Simon Gachet got the better of Jim Pla in the sister car to grab pole, with Pla lining up third having lost his best lap to a track limits infringement. Nico Verdonck split the pair by qualifying second in the #25 PROsport Aston.
When the race got underway, Gachet got a flying start to lead and quickly began to build a margin back to the pack, with Verdonck doing a fine job of holding off the charging Pla. By the time Pla finally did find a way past the Aston, Gachet was six seconds clear and firmly in control.
However, the race was turned on its head when a clash between the #53 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG and the #3 Team Speedcar Audi R8 LMS left both cars with suspension damage and required first a full course yellow and then a safety car to clean up.
With the safety car bunching the pack right before the pit window opened, it destroyed not only any advantage Gachet had, but also any margin the entire top three in the race held with the trio all being Pro-Am runners. Therefore, when the leading pack pitted as one with Gachet inches ahead of Pla, the order was shuffled hugely when the faster Silver drivers were put out against the Ams.
Debard did rejoin in the lead after taking over from Gachet, but was soon back into the pits to serve a one-second stop-go for a short pit stop, which handed Beaubelique a brief lead before the Silver Cup crews worked their way onto his tail.
First to pass was Romain Monti, who took the #66 CMR Toyota GR Supra over from Antoine Potty in fourth overall but was soon at the head of the pack as the Am drivers fell back. But the driver on the biggest charge was Sasse. Ortmann put in a great opening stint to bring the #24 Aston up to the top five before making his stop, and Sasse continued to push forward by working his way up to second to pressure the lead Toyota. The definitive move came when Monti tried to defend out of the chicane and lost momentum, allowing Sasse to draft past into Signes to claim a lead he’d never lose.
Monti held on to second, while Lluc Ibañez made a late move on Gus Bowers count to claim the final step of the podium for he and team-mate Enzo Joulié in the #15 NM Racing Team Mercedes-AMG. That car will start on pole for Sunday’s race, and will again be aiming high.
Silver Cup leaders Bowers and Konstantin Lachenauer were fourth, ahead of the second Racing Spirit of Léman Aston of Akhil Rabindra/Tom Canning. Beaubelique/Pla were the leading Pro-Am runners in sixth, with Loïc Villiger/Antoine Leclerc grabbing second in the class in the #36 Code Racing Alpine, while Kenny Herremans/Dante Rappange completed the class podium in the V8 Racing Chevrolet Camaro. The joint Pro-Am championship leaders heading into the event had tough races, with Ivan Jacoma/Alex Fontana finishing fifth in the #718 Centri Porsche Ticino Cayman, and the #22 Allied Racing Porsche of Vincent Andronaco/Andrea Mayerl retiring with damage.
A tight fight for the Am class lead was ruined by a stop-go penalty for the #89 AGS Events Aston Martin, handing a clear win to NM Racing Team’s Stanislav Safronov and Aleksandr Vaintrub. Safronov started on class pole but lost out to Wilfried Cazalbon in the AGS car early on. The pair were nose-to-tail for much of the first stint but the duel was finished when AGS had to serve a stop-go for shaving seven seconds off their minimum pit stop time. That left the #88 Mercedes-AMG well clear, but Cazalbon/Julien Lambert did enough to hold on to second in class. Benoit Lison/Cyril Saleilles completed the class podium in their Team Fullmotorsport Audi R8 LMS.
The second race of the GT4 European Series’ visit to Circuit Paul Ricard takes place on Sunday, June 5 at 11:25CEST.