Feature image credit: BlancpainGT.
Maxime Martin and Dirk Müller steered the #77 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil BMW to an historic first win. The yellow Z4 took the lead on the opening lap, briefly lost it after the pitstops, and then Müller held off Stéphane Ortelli in an exciting last twenty minutes of the season opener. However, Ortelli and team-mate Richelmi (#3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi) were the first of the Series’ regular drivers, claiming important points towards the championship. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT-drivers Enzo Ide and Christopher Mies completed the podium. In Pro Am, the #70 GT Russian Team Mercedes of Christophe Bouchut and Alexey Vasilyev took the lead shortly before the end of the race, while the Fjordbach brothers led the whole race in Silver Cup, at the wheel of their #74 ISR Audi.
With brilliant sunshine and packed grandstands, the 2015 Blancpain Sprint Series started in very festive conditions at the Circuit Paul Armagnac in Nogaro. The Main Race of the season opener quickly lived up to expectations. Stéphane Richelmi, starting from pole after winning the Qualifying Race, held on to first position in the #3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi, but the experienced Maxime Martin only needed half an opportunity to put the #77 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil BMW alongside the Audi and then passed it. The Belgian – subbing with team-mate Dirk Müller for regular drivers Bueno and Jimenez – swiftly increased his lead. Behind him, Richelmi offered little resistance to the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Christopher Mies, who had started the race on fresher tyres.
Martin had a lead of nearly five seconds before pitting to give the wheel of the BMW to Dirk Müller, but this advantage completely evaporated when the car remained stationary for a few seconds in pitlane. When Müller rejoined, he was already passed by Enzo Ide, who had taken over from Mies the lap before.
However, Müller quickly closed the two-second gap, and when hitting the backmarkers, he took advantage of a small hesitation to pass Ide for the lead. The Belgian decided to let his fellow Audi-driver Stéphane Ortelli by as well.
What followed was GT racing of the highest level.
For almost twenty minutes Müller and Ortelli were at it hammer and tongs and the BMW and the Audi were never separated by more than 1.2 seconds. A last gap effort from Ortelli put the Audi under the rear wing of the BMW at the start of the final lap, but Müller held on the lead until the chequered flag, much to the joy of all the members of BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil. After a learning year in 2013, podium finishes in 2014, their third season in the Sprint Series could not have started in a better way.
Behind Müller and Ortelli, Enzo Ide had little trouble in holding on to third. The battle for fourth and fifth places was decided by a duel between the #84 Bentley Team HTP Continental and the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari, with Maxi Buhk and Vincent Abril claiming the 12 points for fourth place. A more than decent result, considering that they dropped to almost dead last after the second corner incident of the Qualifying Race. With one BMW, two Audi, a Bentley and a Ferrari there were four different brands in the top five of this first Main Race.
In Pro-Am the win was the subject of a scrap between the two Mercedes SLS of GT Russian Team. Bernd Schneider took an excellent start in the #70 SLS, climbing up to fourth overall. After the pitstop, Christophe Bouchut used all his experience to spur on the #71 Mercedes, quickly reducing the gap between the two gullwinged cars and a couple of laps from the end Bouchut could take the lead in Pro-Am Cup.
In Silver Cup the Fjordbach brothers (#74 ISR Audi) had a healthy lead from the start, but even though they had to take the start from the last row #83 Bentley Team HTP Continental Olivier Lombard and Jules Szymkowiak chased them down throughout the race. At the finish, the Bentley duo were only 3.4 seconds short of claiming the win.
Dirk Müller (#77 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil BMW, 1st): “First of all, I have to thank the whole of BMW Team Brasil for this weekend. Maxime and I felt very welcome from the start and they did an excellent job all through the weekend. It was my mistake that caused the time loss in the pitstop, when I forgot to push one button. It’s something that never happened to me before. I was not in a good mood when I saw the Audi in front of me, and Enzo gave me a hard time. When I saw the backmarker I just went for a gap in the first corner and fortunately I could make it stick. Then I saw that Stéphane was chasing me, but I knew that I could keep him behind if I made no mistakes. I am so happy to give BMW Team Brasil its first win, they really deserve this.”
Stéphane Richelmi (#3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi, 2nd): “I had a good start, but then was surprised by the move of Maxime. In single-seaters it would be impossible to overtake through the gap I left, but with a GT car it is. Write that down to my lack of experience. Still, with Stéphane setting an excellent second half of the race, we take some important points for the championship.”