The 2018 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup came to a dramatic conclusion at the Nürburgring. In a tense one-hour race that kept everyone guessing, the destination of the title swung back and forth before finally being concluded with just a few minutes left on the clock.
With the Pro-Am champions also crowned in Germany and a star performance from the leading Silver Cup contender, it was a fitting finale to what has been another exciting Sprint Cup campaign.
MARCIELLO AND MEADOWS CLINCH MAIDEN SPRINT CUP TITLE
Raffaele Marciello and Michael Meadows clinched the 2018 Sprint Cup title with victory in the season-closing race.
This represents a maiden Blancpain GT Series championship for both AKKA ASP drivers and is Marciello’s first in GT racing following significant success in junior single-seaters. Meadows has previously won GT titles in Britain, but said after the race that clinching the Sprint Cup ranked the highest.
“This is probably my best [title] because a lot of things have to go your way and it’s a really tough championship to win,” said the Englishman. “With three laps to go we weren’t leading [the standings], which shows you how quickly things can change.
“Raffaele has been outstanding and the team have done a great job. We’ve improved so much from last year on pit stops to try and get as close to WRT as we can. Now we can hold our heads high and say we’ve won it.”
CONSISTENCY COUNTS FOR AKKA ASP
This was a championship built on consist results. The #88 AKKA-Mercedes completed all 10 Sprint races in the points – the only crew to do so – and scored at least one podium finish at every event. They concluded the season with two victories, three runner-up finishes and one third-place.
Among those to congratulate the team in the wake of its success was TM Performance, the suppliers of the French outfit’s brake pads.
“TM is proud to have supplied AKKA ASP and helped to achieve these great results,” the company said in a statement.” Our strength is based on the fact that we can customise the compound based on specific requirements of performance. Their victory establishes our brake pad quality and performance, which is second to none.”
SEASON-LONG PRO-AM BATTLE DECIDED IN FAVOUR OF SAINTELOC RACING
The Pro-Am title also came down to the final race of the Sprint Cup season, though Markus Winkelhock and Nyls Stievenart knew that they only needed to finish on Sunday to secure class honours.
The #26 Sainteloc Racing pair took an understandably conservative approach, electing to start the race from the pit lane so as to avoid any opening-lap incidents.
“I’m super happy to win the title at the end of my first full season in motorsport,” said Stievenart afterwards. “We were a bit lucky during race one as our rivals were involved in a collision, but that’s part of the sport.
“One of my best memories from the season is the win in Budapest,” the teenager continued. “This was my first race in the rain, and I caught Piti [Bhirombhakdi] and managed to overtake him.
“All in all, this was a marvellous season. I had stars in my eyes at each meeting, as I feel so lucky to drive such a great car in a great team and with such a fantastic teammate as Markus. I learned so much from him. It has been great!”
SILVER CUP CHAMPIONS REFLECT ON SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN
The Silver Cup title was sealed at the Hungaroring, allowing Jack Manchester and Nico Bastian (#90 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG) to breath a little easier at the Sprint finale.
Their weekend at the Nürburgring did not go entirely to plan, but 2018 has nevertheless been a success for the #90 crew.
Reflecting on the year, Bastian said: “This was Jack’s first season of GT racing, so the target was just to bring him up to the level of top GT drivers. To win the title is even better than we expected.”
“I’ve enjoyed the challenge,” added Manchester, who turned 20 on Saturday. “If you want to be the best driver you need to go up against the best, so I’ve loved every minute of being in this championship.
“I couldn’t ask for a better crew of engineers and mechanics; they’ve given us fantastic equipment all year. Nico has helped me to learn so much about these cars. He’s one of the best out there, so I’m lucky to have him as a teammate.”
WRT SEAL SIXTH SUCCESSIVE TEAMS’ TITLE
Despite missing out on the drivers’ title, Belgian Audi Club Team WRT was able to clinch the Sprint Cup teams’ championship at the Nürburgring.
The Baudour-based squad wrapped up the title in Saturday’s opening race, marking the sixth successive season it has been crowned teams’ champion. WRT cars won five out of 10 Sprint races this year, including four in a row across the Brands Hatch and Misano weekends.
SCHOTHORST CAPS IMPRESSIVE SEASON WITH DETERMINED PERFORMANCE
The #66 Attempto Racing crew of Steijn Schothorst and Kelvin van der Linde secured third in the drivers’ standings. Crucial to this result was Schothorst’s spirited defence of fourth place during Sunday’s closing race, when the young Dutchman had to contend with title protagonist Alex Riberas.
The two Audi drivers battled for much of the second stint, but Schothorst proved himself to be equal to the Spanish driver’s determination. Had Riberas made the pass, the #66 crew would have dropped to fourth in the standings.
It caps an impressive first full season in the Sprint Cup for 23-year-old Schothorst, who scored victory at Zolder and a further two podiums alongside Van der Linde.
BLACK FALCON BAG BEST SILVER CUP FINISH OF 2018
Had there not been a title on the line, the biggest story from Sunday’s race may have been the Black Falcon squad.
Running at only its second Sprint Cup weekend of 2018, the German outfit’s #6 Mercedes-AMG was hugely competitive on home soil in the hands of Luca Stolz and Hubert Haupt. Stolz started from pole and led the opening stint, while Haupt chased Michael Meadows to the chequered flag after the #6 car slipped behind during the pit stops.
Their second-place overall finish is the best by a Silver Cup entrant this season, beating the P3 that Nicolas Jamin and Denis Bulatov (#87 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG) scored at the Hungaroring.
EMIL FREY LEXUS CONTINUES TO IMPROVE SPRINT PACE
Albert Costa gave the Lexus RC F GT3 its best qualifying result of the 2018 Blancpain GT Series season by taking second on the grid for Saturday’s race.
The Spanish ace ran third for the opening stint, harrying the title-chasing WRT-Audi, before Emil Frey Racing crewmate Christian Klien brought the car home in fifth. This represented the car’s best Sprint Cup finish of 2018 and was backed up by seventh in Sunday’s final race.
The Swiss team will now switch their attention to the Endurance Cup, where they are in the hunt for the drivers’ and teams’ titles.
ASSETTO CORSA AND HURACAN EVO GO ON DISPLAY
There were a number of off-track activities taking place at the Nürburgring, including the ADAC SimRacing Expo.
Notably, with the early access version of Assetto Corsa Competizione recently released, a number of Blancpain GT Series drivers took the official game for a spin. What’s more, they had series commentators Bruce Jones and John Watson keeping track of their progress!
There was also a new GT3 car on display, as Lamborghini unveiled the upgraded Huracan Evo on Saturday afternoon at the Nürburgring. The revised machine will make its competitive debut in 2019, while current-spec Huracan GT3s can be updated with an Evo kit.
BACK TO THE ‘RING IN 2019
The Nürburgring will remain part of the Blancpain GT Series calendar in 2019, reverting to a spot on the Endurance Cup schedule after two seasons as a Sprint contest. It is currently set for a slightly earlier date, moving to the weekend of August 31/September 1.
ATTENTION SHIFTS TO SPAIN
With the Sprint Cup complete, all eyes will soon be on Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya where the 2018 Blancpain GT Series will conclude on 30 September.
There are still several titles to be decided. Raffaele Marciello has the chance to sweep the board on the drivers’ front, as he currently leads the Endurance Cup and overall standings. The new Sprint Cup champion has plenty of challengers, particularly for the Endurance crown, which will be decided with a three-hour race at the Spanish venue.
The overall teams’ championship is too close to call, with Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and AKKA ASP entering the final race level on 173 points. With further battles for Pro-Am, Silver Cup and Am Cup honours, another exciting weekend of racing is in prospect as the season reaches its climax.