Orange1 FFF Racing captured a brace of Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup crowns today when its #563 Lamborghini took a sensational victory in the season-deciding race at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
This means that Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli have become the first drivers to hold three championships at once, having wrapped up Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe honours earlier this month in Hungary. The Chinese outfit also ends a phenomenal 2019 campaign – its first in European competition – with both the Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup teams’ titles, while ensuring that 12 different squads have triumphed from the past 12 races.
The Italian duo were joined at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya by local ace Albert Costa, who substituted for the unwell Dennis Lind at the wheel of the #563 Lamborghini. Costa made an instant impression, taking to the grass on the initial run to turn one as he dived past both the pole-sitting #98 ROWE Porsche and the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG.
The race was neutralised on the first lap following a number of incidents, including the Dinamic Motorsport Porsche making heavy contact with the barriers. The Porsche would end the race on its roof, though driver Zaid Ashkanani was able to emerge from his 911 GT3 R unharmed.
Costa was instructed to hand back the positions he gained at the start, having run with all four wheels off the circuit to complete the move. FFF’s hopes had nevertheless been given a major boost in its pursuit of the Endurance Cup title as the rival #72 SMP Racing Ferrari limped into the pits with a puncture. The Russian-backed squad led the drivers’ standings comfortably ahead of the finale, but as they slipped to the rear of the field their chances began to fade.
The #563 FFF Lamborghini still needed to win the race, however, with the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG now in the lead and perfectly placed to capture both the Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup crowns. Maro Engel looked comfortable out front once the action resumed and, when Luca Stolz took the wheel during the first round of pits stops, the #4 Mercedes-AMG retained its advantage.
But there had been a crucial change during the pit window, with the #563 Lamborghini emerging in second spot ahead of the #98 ROWE Porsche. This placed Mapelli a few seconds behind Stolz, which became a few tenths when another safety car was deployed. The battle for the race lead was now the deciding factor in both championships.
At the restart Mapelli got an excellent run on Stolz and went to the outside as they headed for turn one. Stolz defended robustly and the pair went side by side through the opening sequence of corners. With everything on the line, both sets of garages held their breath. It was close, but Mapelli made it stick.
Once in clean air the Italian immediately showed better pace than Stolz and was able to build a gap at the front. The German was soon under pressure from Raffaele Marciello (#88 AKKA ASP), who closed on to the rear of his fellow Mercedes-AMG driver but did not make a serious attempt to pass.
The final round of stops saw Mapelli hand over to Caldarelli for what was potentially a one-hour run to glory. Another safety car meant that the #4 Mercedes-AMG, now being driven by Yelmer Buurman, was right on the Italian’s tail at the beginning of the last stint and the experienced Dutchman made a serious charge into turn one, only to be repelled by Caldarelli.
The Italian ace built a gap of more than five seconds over the closing laps. A final safety car period put him under pressure from Buurman once again with just four minutes on the clock, but the Italian judged the restart perfectly. He was unchallenged over the final few kilometres, completing an incredible season for FFF Racing that puts the Lamborghini brand on top for the second time in three seasons
A frenetic closing phase saw the order behind Caldarelli change rapidly. Buurman was eliminated from contention by a collision with Dries Vanthoor (#2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT), which also cost the youngster his place at the front. This allowed Jake Dennis to take second in the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin he shares with Alex Lynn and Marvin Kirchhoefer, completing an impressive weekend by the Swiss team. Third place went to the #107 Bentley Team M-Sport crew of Jules Gounon, Jordan Pepper and Steven Kane, who finished the season with a flourish after rising from 12th on the grid.
The Silver Cup titles had been decided before the race, but the battle for class honours was still action-packed. The title-winning #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG started from pole with Nico Bastian at the wheel but slipped back during the middle stages of the race as Timur Boguslavskiy hit problems, allowing the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini to take control at the head of the field.
A late charge by Felipe Fraga at the wheel of the #90 Mercedes-AMG set up the prospect of a thrilling late battle with Sandy Mitchell in the leading Lamborghini. It did not come to that, however, as the pit infringement penalty demoted the Barwell machine to the rear of the field. Fraga was able to bring the AKKA ASP machine home to complete the win, ensuring a third victory from five Endurance Cup races for the season’s standout Silver team and crew. The #90 Mercedes-AMG was ultimately classified fifth overall, while Bastian also scoops the Blancpain GT Series title for his class. The #6 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG and #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari rounded out the podium.
The Blancpain GT Series and Endurance Cup Pro-Am drivers’ championships were on the line at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with both ultimately going to the crews that led ahead of the weekend. The race was won by the #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi, which featured a revised line-up of Pierre Alexandre Jean and Edouard Cauhaupe alongside regular driver Pierre-Yves Paque. This represented a superb debut for Jean and Cauhaupe, as well as the ideal way for the French squad to close the 2019 campaign.
Second on the road was more than enough to secure the class Endurance Cup crown for Oman Racing by TF Sport, whose #97 Aston Martin finished the job it had begun at the Total 24 Hours of Spa. A dominant class win in the Ardennes ensured a 16-point advantage heading into the finale and the crew of Ahmad Al Harthy, Salih Yoluc and Charlie Eastwood drove a measured race that was ultimately rewarded with the drivers’ and teams’ titles.
The Blancpain GT Series crown went to AF Corse duo Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini after what proved to be a challenging race for their #52 Ferrari. Endurance co-driver Niek Hommerson was in the gravel on lap one, but was able to return to the track during the safety car period. With the #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG hitting problems during the thee-hour race the Ferrari was able to capture the title with a sixth-in-class finish, concluding a season that brought victories in the Endurance Cup and Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe. The AF Corse crew had sewn up the teams’ championship ahead of the finale.
The titles were settled in the Am Cup class, with today’s race honours also looking set to go to Endurance Cup champions Barwell Motorsport. The #77 Lamborghini led for much of the event, only to hit problems during the latter stages. This was to the benefit of the #29 Raton Racing by Target Lamborghini, which had been pushing the Barwell car hard for class honours. The crew of Christoph Lenz, Stefano Constantini and Antonio Forne Tomas ultimately took the win ahead of the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin, which sealed the Am Cup runner-up spot for the Endurance championship. The podium was completed by the #33 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari.
Looking back on 2019, Orange1 FFF Racing will be able to reflect on a truly remarkable season. By winning all three titles in a single year the Lamborghini squad has set a new standard in the Blancpain GT Series and now represents the benchmark that their rivals must look to match. With five overall titles from a possible six this term, it will be a difficult act to follow.