ART Grand Prix McLaren takes first win of the season in Blancpain Endurance Series

ART Grand Prix McLaren takes first win of the season in Blancpain Endurance Series

Alvaro Parente, Grégoire Demoustier and Alexandre Premat dominated the first round of the 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series with their ART Grand Prix McLaren, leading from start to finish. It was only the second time in the history of the Blancpain Endurance Series that a McLaren managed to take the win. The Sainteloc Audi of Sandström, Ortelli and Guilvert crossed the line in second, with the second ART Grand Prix McLaren in third. Victory in the Pro-Am category went to the BMW of Italian team ROAL Motorsport, with Comandini, Amos and Colombo finishing sixth overall as well. A faultless drive by the GT Corse by Rinaldi drivers Ehret, Schmikler and Mattschull, in their Ferrari, gave them the win in the Gentlemen Trophy.

The first round of the 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series was started under a pleasant April sun. Polesitter Alvaro Parente pulled away at the start, quickly increasing his lead with his #98 ART Grand Prix McLaren. Behind him, Andy Meyrick in the #7 M-Sport Bentley surprised both the Ferrari cars in front of him on the starting grid to claim second spot. The Briton then defended his position tooth and nail, giving Parente the opportunity to increase his lead swiftly. Eventually the #333 GT Corse by Rinaldi Ferrari and the #11 Kessel Racing got by the Bentley, as did Edward Sandström in the Sainteloc Racing Audi #26 and Kevin Estre in the second ART Grand Prix McLaren.

Contact between the #11 Ferrari and the #99 McLaren resulted in an early pitstop for the Italian machine, but the damage was too important for the car to continue. The #333 Ferrari, now with Vadim Kogay at the wheel, dropped well down the order, which meant that both the ART Grand Prix McLarens were now in the top three, separated by the Sainteloc Racing Audi. The top three remained unchanged until the chequered flag, although Andy Soucek tried to put pressure on second-placed Gregory Guilvert during the closing laps, while at the same time resisting the attacks of Laurens Vanthoor, who had an inspired last stint in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi.

In Pro-Am the early stages of the race were dominated by the #11 Kessel Racing and #333 GT Corse by Rinaldi Ferrari 458 cars, but once they dropped back, the fight for the lead was between the #43 BMW of Roal Motorsport and the #80 Nissan of Nissan GT Academy Team RJN. Nissan driver Alex Buncombe had shown blistering pace during the opening stint, climbing from 32nd on the grid to 12th in only a couple of laps. A perfect final pitstop for the ROAL Motorsport team decided the fight in their favour however, so Stefano Comandini, Eugenio Amos and Stefano Colombo had the pleasure of hearing the Italian anthem at their home track. A great final stint from Francesco Castellacci in the #90 Ferrari of newcomers Scuderia Villorba Corse gave them second place in the Pro-Am category, in front of the #50 Ferrari of another Italian team, AF Corse.

The fight for the Gentlemen Trophy honours was decided at the start, with Frenchman Pierre Ehret taking the lead in the #458 GT Corse by Rinaldi Ferrari. Together with his German team-mates Alexander Mattschull and Frank Schmikler he never looked back and took the win after a faultless race, claiming 17th overall as well. Second and third in the Gentlemen Trophy went to two Ferrari teams, the #41 Sport Garage and the #51 AF Corse.

Alvaro Parente (#98 ART Grand Prix McLaren): “After a good start I had the advantage that I could run in clean air, so I could quickly create a gap. After my stint my team-mates did a perfect job in managing our lead, which resulted in a great win. We did a lot of work on the McLaren over the winter, especially on ‘calming down’ the rear of the car. That might have cost us some tenths during the qualifying lap, but during a race stint we were able to gain several seconds.”

Edward Sandström (#26 Sainteloc Racing Audi): “One week ago I was not even planning to come to Monza, but on Thursday Stéphane asked me whether I would come and join them for this race. Obviously I now am very happy that I said yes! Sainteloc Racing proved to be a great team, with the car working very well. I did a very conservative first stint, saving tyres and brakes, because I wanted to give Stéphane and Greg a car that was in good condition. A strategy that paid off.”

Andy Soucek (#99 ART Grand Prix McLaren): “We lost some ten seconds during Kevin Korjus’ pitstop, when our car was blocked by another car. If that hadn’t happened maybe we could have managed to overtake the Audi. In the final laps I knew Vanthoor’s Audi was quicker in the two Lesmo corners and Ascari, but I managed to create enough of a gap to remain in third position. A fabulous result for the ART GP team, with the two cars on the podium.”

Stefano Comandini (#43 ROAL Motorsport BMW): “You cannot believe how happy we are. Winning in Monza is something very special for an Italian team and for an Italian driver. Especially since this a bit unexpected. It is a well-known fact that this track does not really suit the BMW Z4 GT3, but thanks to three faultless stints and fabulous work of our mechanics during the pitstops we managed to take this win. We can’t wait to go to Silverstone for the next round, a track which should suit our car better.”

Frank Schmikler (#458 GT Corse by Rinaldi Ferrari): “After a beautiful opening stint it was up to us to manage the advantage we had created. Dealing with the traffic was an important part of that challenge, but I think Pierre, Alexander and I all were able to keep our heads cool and we managed not to lose too much time in the process.”