Nicolas Saelens and Stienes Longin sealed the 2022 Fanatec GT2 European Series Pro-Am championship after a dramatic final race of the season at Circuit Paul Ricard.
With an outright win already in the bag from race one this morning, the PK Carpsort Audi duo managed to pass title rivals Filip Sladecka and Stefan Rosina for second and then emerged leaders after the pitstops on Saturday evening.
Despite a faultless weekend in which the True Racing by Reiter Engineering duo looked to be the title favourites on dropped scores going into the final encounter, contact whilst challenging for second knocked the #15 out of the race – ending their championship dream with just 10 minutes remaining,
Whilst Henry Hassid claimed the Am title with a round to spare in Spain last month, the Frenchman teamed with son Maxime for the first time to cement his title with a seventh win of the year.
Gilles Vannelet then steered clear of the race two drama to take a maiden class win on his series debut for Reiter Engineering KTM.
Race 1: Saelens & Longin take first advantage
It was drama from the start of the first 50-minute race of the weekend early on Saturday morning. As the lights turned green, it was a four-wide drag race down to turn one between pole-sitter Sladecka, Saelens, Hassid and a hard-charging Klaus Angerhofer from eighth on the grid.
Once the field jostled through the first turn, avoiding a spinning Vannelet, Saelens emerged out front ahead of Hassid, with Sladecka third until the KTM also had a brief excursion and had to re-join in ninth.
Am champion Hassid wasted no time in taking the outright lead and showing Saelens a clean pair of heels as he built up an impressive lead ahead of the pitstop window.
That left Saelens to fend off the sister PK Carsport car of Peter Guelinckx, on a charge from the third row of the grid. Battling bumper to bumper, the #81 car briefly took the lead until a spin for Guelinckx restored Saelens back to second, just as news came that the #11 car would have to serve an additional five seconds in the pits by dint of a false start.
Just 15-minutes into the 50-minute encounter and Sladecka was already up to fourth and pushing to catch the pair of Audis battling for second ahead of the pitstop window.
With the compulsory pitstops complete, Bert Longin emerged 0.4s ahead of son Stienes. But that inter-team battle was called short thanks to a blistering charge from Anders Fjordbach to bring the Brabham BT63 GT2 Concept into the lead battle.
Stienes Longin managed to find a way past his father, leaving a brilliant battle between Bert and the Brabham for second. Fjordbach finally claimed the upper hand and took off after the leader, whilst Bert was then left to hold off the advances of Stefan Rosina – now in charge of the #15 KTM.
Another ding-dong battle commenced but, with six minutes left of the clock, the True Racing charge slipped through to seal the final place on the podium and more important championship points for the title fight.
Longin continued unchallenged to take fourth ahead of Michael Vergers, who brought the High Class Racing Audi home an impressive fifth having starting from the back of the grid.
Maxime Hassid delivered a solid GT2 debut, with the father-and-son taking the Am class win on home ground, sixth overall, ahead of the Ebimotors Porsche of Gianluca Giorgi and Alessandro Baccani.
Lucca Pirri and Stéphane Ratel recovered from trouble in the pits to finish eighth ahead of the Hubert Trunkenpolz in the #17 KTM and Leonardo Gorini in the LP Racing Porsche.
Race 2: PK Carsport come out on top of final season thriller
As the sunset over Circuit Paul Ricard and the field got clean away for the final battle of the season, it was poleman Fjordbach that nailed the start to take the lead. A series of blistering fastest lap times then ensured the Brabham BT63 GT2 Concept’s escape, leaving the battle for second and the championship title well behind him.
Rosina slotted into second behind, with Stienes Longin third after a brief run wide at the first turn. The Belgian soon made up for lost ground to try a robust move up the inside of turn five which briefly put the Audi ahead, but Rosina delivered the perfect reply to regain the slot.
Two laps later, Longin delivered a much slicker move to take second at the Chicane, just in time to pull out a narrow advantage ahead of the pitstops. All the while, the second PK Carsport of Bert Longin and High Class Audi of Michael Vergers threaten to make it a four-way battle.
Whilst Rosina took the option to pit early, the top two stayed out as late as possible. Despite Fjordbach’s sizeable lead, the #1 car somehow lost ground, leaving Kevin Weeda to join in third. Consequently, Saelens found himself starting the final stint of the season in the lead, with Aurelijus Rusteika (now in the #5 Audi) second and Sladecka in fourth. And so the drama began.
With the top four running line astern, Weeda was the first to make his move as he challenged Rusteika for second, only to lose out to Sladecka, who had already expertly worked his way up four places since the pitstops.
The Slovakian driver then set his sights on the the only car standing between him and Saelens. But contact with the High Class car ended both car’s races, in turn demolishing the KTM crew’s championship hopes.
Moments later a spin for Weeda out of turn one left the #81 Audi with nowhere to go, resulting in heavy contact and subsequent safety car period which would run right up the final seconds of the race.
Saelens still had to keep his cool as the reduced field returned to green for a short sprint to the chequered flag to seal the title with a sixth win of the season.
Vannelet bounced back from race one retirement to take the Am class win and second overall on his GT2 debut for Reiter Engineering, while Henry and Maxime Hassid signed off from their home race with second in class.
Giorgi and Baccani’s stellar drive from eighth on the grid was good enough to second overall in the Am class standings, finishing just ahead of Angerhofer and Trunkenpolz who finished fifth. Luca Pirri and Stéphane Ratel enjoyed their best result of the season with second in Pro-Am, sixth overall.
After a super second season, all eyes shift to the 2023 Fanatec GT2 European Series which commences at Monza in April.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group
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