The No. 1 Vita4One Ferrari 458 took its first victory in the Blancpain Endurance Series at Navarra in Spain, finishing 17 seconds ahead of the Belgian Audi Club Audi R8 LMS.
Photos: SRO Media
Ortelli driving the Belgian Audi Club Audi R8 LMS, was taking the lead as he started from pole until Kechele took the lead on lap 17 in the Vita4One Ferrari 458 and then set the pace for the rest of the race. Round 1 winners Gianluca Roda, Raffaele Gianmaria and Paolo Ruberti took the final podium place in the AutOrlando Porsche 997 GT3 R to maintain their championship lead after two races.
Thirty cars lined up on the grid for Round 2 of the Blancpain Endurance Series, with the No. 65 Gentle Swiss Racing Maserati missing from the line up with a rear axle issue. Stephane Ortelli in the No. 32 Belgian Audi Club Audi R8 LMS led the cars into the first turn as the race began, with the No. 9 AutOrlando Porsche of Gianluca Roda moving ahead of Jack Gerber in the No. 50 AF Corse Ferrari to take second place. The AF Corse Ferrari was also passed by Frank Kechele in the Vita4One Ferrari 458 on the run into Turn 9, with the German closing the gap to challenge the second placed Porsche.
Ortelli continued to lead the race as Kechele challenged Roda, but it took several laps before the Vita4One Ferrari 458 moved ahead and started to close the three seconds gap that Ortelli had managed to open up to his rivals. While Kechele was charging forward, Roda’s Porsche came under pressure from the two SOFREV ASP Ferrari’s of Ludovic Badey in the No. 20 Ferrari 458 and Julien Jousse in the No. 10 Ferrari 458.
Back at the front of the field, Kechele was able to close the gap to the leading Audi to less than a second. On lap 17 the No. 22 Sport Garage Ferrari 430 of Philip Shearer went off at the last corner and was parked at the side of the track. There was a bit of confusion when some drivers said they saw Safety Car boards being shown and Ortelli decided to slow down. Kechele, who made the decision that the Safety Car wasn’t deployed, closed right up to the Audi and swept into the lead. Kechele then set about building a five seconds lead to his rivals as the Ferrari continued to run faultlessly.
On lap 24 the Safety Car was deployed when the No. 50 AF Corse Ferrari 458 of Jack Gerber went off the track at Turn 15 and hit the barriers, destroying the front end of his car and the track was covered in debris. The pit lane suddenly came alive as teams rushed to take advantage of the situation. At the restart on lap 29 the No. 20 SOFREV Ferrari of Ludovic Badey was leading the race having failed to complete its first stop. Badey continued to lead when the second Safety Car period came into force after the No. 73 De Lorenzi Racing Ginetta G50 of Diego Alessi caught fire. The back of the GT4 Class car was well alight when the Italian pulled over after Turn 14 and made a rapid exit to safety. The lead Ferrari pitted and the lead went to the No. 1 Vita4One Ferrari, now with Nico Verdonck at the wheel. After the marshals had extinguished the fire and dragged the stricken Ginetta behind the barriers racing resumed. Verdonck started to pull ahead of Bert Longin in the No. 32 Audi, who was being caught by the No. 9 AutOrlando Porsche of Raffaele Gianmaria and the No. 33 Belgian Audi Club R8 of Marcel Fassler.
On lap 40, Longin was passed by the Porsche at the last corner and then three laps later fell victim to Fassler’s Audi when the Swiss driver followed two back markers who passed Longin’s Audi to un lap themselves. By lap 51 Verdonck was a comfortable eight seconds ahead of Gianmaria’s Porsche and 15 seconds ahead of the third placed Audi. Longin, now in fourth, was coming under pressure from the SOFREV Ferrari of Patrice Goueslard and decided to pit on lap 59 to hand over to Felipe Albuquerqe. Verdonck pitted on lap 66 just before Gianmaria brought the AutOrlando Porsche for its second and final stop. Verdonck handed over to reigning GT1 World Champion Michael Bartels who regained the track over 15 seconds ahead of the Porsche and looked set to win his first race in a GT3 car. The No. 20 Ferrari was still leading the race on the road but still had to make its final stop, but not before Bartels swept past Gouesland to take the lead on lap 72.
As the race entered the final stages only four cars were on the lead lap, the No. 1 Vita4One Ferrari 458, the No. 9 AutOrlando Porsche and the two Belgian Audi Club R8s. Paolo Roberti was struggling with the Porsche’s gearbox, which didn’t have first gear, allowing Albuquerqe in the No. 32 Audi to close and pass on the inside of the first corner on lap 92. As the final laps counted down, the Vita4One team got set to celebrate and they did just that as Michael Bartels took the chequered flag to win Round 2 of the Blancpain Endurance Series in Navarra. The next round will be the Total 24 Hours of Spa in Belgium on the 28-31 July.