The Marc VDS Racing BMW Z4 GT3 No.3 PRO entry of Bas Leinders (BEL), Markus Palttala (FIN) and Maxime Martin (BEL) took the honours in the opening race of the Blancpain Endurance Series in treacherous conditions at Monza.
With the Monza track surface heavily waterlogged, the three-hour race began under the Safety Car. It was withdrawn in the 37th minute and the pack unleashed with a thunderous stampede down the main straight.
Vast roosters of spray testified to the amount of water on the track. The weather over the three days of the first round was not kind at all – rain, rain and more rain. A total of 57 cars were entered for Monza – a record for a single category GT3 event.
The Belgian squad continued on from where they left off in 2011 when winning the final two races of the season at Magny-Cours and Silverstone.
In testing conditions on the famed high speed Autodromo Nazionale Monza, team manager Leinders and Palttala, second in the drivers’ standings in 2011, produced superb stints to move the BMW steadily up the order from a starting position of 18th before Martin produced a stunning final flourish to bring the Belgian team entry home by over 17 seconds.
Martin’s lap times were up to three seconds quicker than his nearest rivals and from fifth place as the field re-shaped after a round of pit stops for the leading bunch, he chased down and passed the cars ahead to claim a comprehensive win.
Second was the fellow PRO class No.2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS of Marco Bonanomi (ITA), Edward Sandstrom (SWE) and Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) and third place went to the No.13 KRK Racing Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Koen Wauters (BEL), Karl Wendlinger (AUT) and Anthony Kumpen (BEL).
Victory in the PRO-AM class went to the No.57 Vita4One Italy Ferrari 458 Italia of Eugenio Amos (ITA), Giacomo Petrobelli (ITA) and Alessandro Bonacini (ITA) from the No.20 Ferrari 458 Italia of French squad SOFREV ASP with Jean-Luc Beaubelique, Ludovic Badey and Patrice Goueslard sharing the driving duties.
Third place went the class pole-sitters Richard Westbrook (GBR), Hans Guido Riegel (DEU) and Mike Stursberg (DEU) in the No.8 Haribo Racing Team Porsche 997 GT3 R. Westbrook had qualified the car in third overall the previous day.
The Gentlemen Trophy winners were Kessel Racing (CHE) Ferrari 430 Scuderia No.73 of Pablo Paladino (VEN), Paolo Andreasi (VEN) and Bejamino Caccia (CHE).
Valentino Rossi, making his debut in the Blancpain Endurance Series, in the Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 Italia No.46 alongside fellow-Italian Alessio Salucci finished 18th after a strong drive in the first period of the race. Salucci tangled with a back-marker on the 90-minute mark. Despite the car, sporting the striking VR46 livery, dropping down the order, Rossi brought the car to finish 9th in the PRO-AM class.
What the drivers said …
Maxime Martin (BEL), Marc VDS Racing Team BMW Z4 No.3 PRO (1st overall)
“It is a really good race for us, the team and my team-mates did a really good job. They worked so hard all over the winter to get the car ready for today and we win the first race. It’s perfect.
“It was great to get the win, the car was really good in the damp. It meant we could push and after two really good pit stops and good stints from Markus (Palttala) and Bas (Leinders) we were in a great position.
“This is our third victory in a row in the Championship, carrying on from last season, but it is a good start to this year and I hope we can continue on like this now. It is great motivation for us, the drivers, and the team.
“I think the weather did help us a lot, but we will see how we will run in the dry further on in the season. Maybe we were far off the pace in the dry, but the wet for sure can make a difference, we do have a good car, but the weather did help us.”
Bas Leinders (BEL), Marc VDS Racing Team BMW Z4 No.3 PRO (1st overall)
“I would like to thank Marc van der Straten (team owner) for everything he has done. We had a very difficult end to last season and a not so easy winter, so to be here on the podium at Monza is a bit unexpected in this BMW as we lacked a bit of straight-line speed, but the rain helped us a lot.
“We had some really good pit stops, no mistakes, really fast, really good re-fuelling and changing of the tyres. The team work well together and it’s really a continuation of what we achieved last year.”
Laurens Vanthoor (BEL), Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS No.2 PRO (2nd overall)
“I think we had the result of the weekend. Yesterday was very sad for the whole team after I crashed the car in Q2, so I think it is a good result starting from P39.
“It was my first time on the Michelin tyres in the rain and in such wet conditions so the first couple of laps were not that easy for me, and after that we made a good pace to bring the car home to P2 which is a good result after a crash.
The Monza circuit was a new circuit for me but it is lovely, it is legendary. Long straights, big breaking, and a lot of opportunities for overtaking. Monza was on my list of circuits to get to know, and I’m very happy to have got on the special podium. It was a nice visit.
Anthony Kumpen (BEL), KRK Racing Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 No.13 PRO (3rd overall)
“I think for a small team like ours it is fantastic. I think everyone expected the Audi and Marc VDS on the podium, they were the leaders last year. We are a very new team, with a very small structure and to be on the podium, I think will be a big motivation for the team.
“We had no data whatsoever from this track, nothing in the rain from the car. I think we can battle for the championship, today my teammates did a fantastic job and I don’t think any one would have expected us to have the pace, but we proved what we can do today.”
Eugenio Amos (ITA), Vita4one Team Italia Ferrari 458 Italia No.57 (1st PRO-AM)
“It was great to drive over the line. To be the third driver it is always very nice to win or go to the podium, and I love the opportunity to bring things together for the team.
My home town is not far from the track here in Monza, which makes it special. It was amazing, lots of friends here and family, it is a good memory for sure.”
Roald Goethe (DEU), Gulf Racing UK No.69 PRO-AM (retired, accident 35mins)
“It’s like racing in a steamy shower – you can’t see anything! I was beginning to enjoy it, although it was a bit intimidating on the straights, and I’m asking myself why I lost control of the rear of the car. I was being very gentle on the power but it snapped violently and I just couldn’t save it. It’s very unfortunate and very annoying.”