An early pit call proved pivotal for the Von Ryan Racing team at Silverstone, the opportunistic move helping the team to their first Blancpain Endurance Series (BES) win and the first for a McLaren 650S.
But the early part of the race played out very differently, as an impressive field of 61 cars thundered around the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit following pole-sitter Wolfgang Reip at the wheel of the #23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R.
He was pursued by Rob Bell in the #58 McLaren and the #333 Ferrari of Marco Seefried, until 43 minutes into the race when a full course caution was brought out by Fabian Barthez’s stranded Ferrari at Brooklands. The #58 car elected to pit, promoting the #333 Ferrari into second, but a little over 5 minutes later the race would turn on its head for the leading GT Academy Nissan.
Reip collided with the #10 Ferrari as he tried to lap it, leaving the door open for Seefried who swiftly took the lead. The Nissan suffered front end damage, with Reip also earning the team a penalty after the collision was deemed his fault.
With a pit visit required to patch up the damage, the #23 Nissan was held up a further 40 seconds after the Ferrari in front blocked second-driver Alex Buncombe from leaving the pits. By now the pole car’s challenge was over – the need to pit under green flag conditions putting van Gisbergen and Von Ryan into a healthy lead, although both Buncombe and third-driver Katsumasa Chiyo fought back bravely to bring the #23 Nissan home in 13th.
The #333 Ferrari of Marco Seefried, Norbert Siedler and Rinat Salikhov, failed to capitalise on their early form, finishing 7th and underlining just how much time the #58 McLaren gained by stopping under full-course yellows.
The winning team’s lead had been larger; Van Gisbergen held an advantage of more than 40 seconds over WRT driver Robin Frijns early in the middle stint of the race. The Kiwi, racing at Silverstone for the first time, was forced to save fuel later in his stint, which shrunk the lead back to under 15 seconds, but he managed 1 hour and 20 minutes on a single tank of fuel providing his team mate Kevin Estre with a huge advantage going into the final stint.
Estre was able to rebuild the lead as Marco Bonanomi fell back from second in the ISR Audi co-driven by Filip Salaquarda and Frederic Vervisch. Laurens Vanthoor, who replaced Frijns at the wheel of the #1 Audi, got by for second place and although Bonanomi crossed the line to end the three hour race in third, a five second penalty for exceeding track limits was enough to drop him back into fourth behind the #3 crew anchored by Stephane Ortelli.
The #58 car, shared between Rob Bell, Shane van Gisbergen and Kevin Estre, won the race – the second of the BES season – by over 23 seconds ahead of the better of the two Belgian Audi Club WRT R8 LMS ultras that flanked the McLaren on the overall podium.
“The team made a great tactical choice,” said van Gisbergen. “We knew we could do it, but it was still tough to save fuel and still keep a good lap time. I had a good run through the traffic, and did as many laps as possible. It is pretty exciting to win my first win in Europe and I already received the congratulations of my dad in New Zealand, even though it is 4 am over there.”
The all-British team of Sean Walkinshaw, Martin Plowman and Craig Dolby took fifth for MRS GT Racing in their Nissan ahead of the #8 M-Sport Bentley. Their result despite final stint driver Andy Soucek having two on track scrapes.
The first was when he muscled Alvaro Parente out of the way through the Becketts and Chapel esses; indirectly leading to the second full course caution. The second, while the team having served a drive-through as punishment for the first incident – spat Norbert Siedler in the #333 across the Farm run-off area. Siedler recovered to finish seventh in the Ferrari also driven by Rinat Salikhov, whom he partnered to victory at Monza.
The #63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan finished eighth, Adrian Zaugg losing out to Sielder in the closing laps, with defending race winner Steven Kane, Guy Smith and Andy Meyrick ninth in their Bentley and ROWE Racing’s #99 Mercedes completing the top ten.
1st. #58 Von Ryan Racing McLaren 650 S GT3 (Rob Bell, Shane van Gisbergen, Kevin Estre)
2nd. #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra (Jean-Karl Vernay, Robin Frijns, Laurens Vanthoor)
3rd. #3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS Ultra (Frank Stippler, Stephane Ortelli, Stephane Richelmi)
4th. #75 ISR Audi R8 LMS Ultra (Marco Bonanomi, Filip Salaquarda, Frederic Vervisch)
5th. #73 MRS GT Racing Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 (Sean Walkinshaw, Martin Plowman, Craig Dolby)
6th. #8 Bentley M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 (Maximilian Buhk, Maxime Soulet, Andy Soucek)
7th. #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 458 Italia (Rinat Salikhov, Marco Seefried, Norbert Siedler)
8th. #63 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan (Giovanni Venturini, Adrian Zaugg, Mirko Bortolotti)
9th. #7 Bentley M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 (Steven Kane, Andy Meyrick, Guy Smith)
10th. #99 ROWE Racing Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 (Klaus Graf, Nico Bastian, Stef Dusseldorp)
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Words:James Broomhead and Kevin Mc Glone.
Pictures:Kevin Mc Glone(Red Square Images)