11.03.2024 | News

Barcelona GTWS: Wiebelhaus untouchable as Heyer and Härtling win title

Teenage rising star Finn Wiebelhaus returned to the GT Winter Series and claimed a sprint and endurance race double at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, as Jay Mo Härtling and Kenneth Heyer made sure of a foregone conclusion by wrapping up the 2024 championship.

Race 1
The opening sprint on Saturday afternoon proved a washout as heavy rain thwarted two attempts to get the race going. But with five laps completed behind the safety car, a result was called, half-points were awarded and that meant SR Motorsport’s Härtling and Heyer were confirmed as the 2024 GTWS champions – in strange circumstances.

Qualifying had been cancelled earlier in the day, so the grid was formed from practice times from the pre-weekend test sessions. That meant Piotr Wira led the field from pole position in Goodspeed Racing Team’s Mercedes AMG GT3 Evo from a safety car start. But hopes of releasing the field for racing were scuppered when Martin Kacsmarski – a sprint race winner at MotorLand Aragón a week earlier – beached his PTT Racing Mercedes in a gravel trap on the second safety car lap.

The field retired to the pitlane, but were later released for a second attempt, only for the incessant rain to force the organisers to throw the red flags once again and call the result, with Wira a nominal winner. Härtling had run second in the safety car train, and his score wrapped up the title.

“It feels a bit strange after today because we did not do something for it,” said Heyer. “But it’s half-points so it is enough. Later we will realise it’s been a long wintertime with a lot of races. This rocket man with me here has been going faster and faster every weekend, and for me as an old guy it’s been amazing to see. In a few hours it will have an impact on us, but right now it feels a bit strange.”

“It is an incredible feeling to become champion,” said Härtling, “because it’s the first for me in a GT3 car, and with Kenneth we have been a very good pairing. I am very happy. Today it has been a little bit weird, but I’m thankful for all of this to the Schnitzelalm team. Tomorrow we’ll push to win the two races.”

Race 2
A grid formed by practice times set in mixed conditions left some frontrunners out of position in a dry second sprint on Sunday morning. But Haupt Racing’s Wiebelhaus wasted no time in charging to the front, picking the inside line from third at the rolling start to lead into Turn 1. The 17-year-old then simply drove away from the field.

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New co-champion Härtling was back in the SR Motorsport Mercedes and ran second, until a problem left him briefly stranded at the end of the pit straight. Härtling coaxed the car back to the pits and the team eventually sent him back out, but the trouble with the Mercedes persisted.

Wiebelhaus held a 13-second advantage over 2023 champion Johannes Kapfinger in the Joos Sportwagentechnik Porsche 992 GT3 R, but his huge gap was wiped out by a safety car interlude. Race 1 ‘winner’ Wira had come together with the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 driven by Pierre Ehret.

Racing resumed with four minutes of the 30 left on the clock, and Wiebelhaus again charged away as his Haupt team-mate Kwanda Mokoena – up from 14th on the grid – demoted Kapfinger, who then came under pressure from the Schnitzelalm Mercedes of Luca Arnold. But the race was stopped abruptly by a heavy accident at Turn 9 for the AF Corse Ferrari 488 Challenge entry of Talal Shair, who thankfully walked away from the wreck which left detritus strewn across the track.

“The pace was quite good and the start was also very good,” said an understated Wiebelhaus after his sixth win of the winter season. “I decided to send it into Turn 1 and it worked out quite well, then I decided to push a bit. Mid-race I tried to manage the gap and then there was a safety car. The restart was quite good as well, before the red flag. The main thing is the driver is OK.”

“That was super-fun,” said second placed Mokoena. “There was a bit of standing water at Turn 1, so I was able to capitalise in my battle with Kapfinger and I saw an opportunity going into Turn 3. At the beginning I could feel the track wasn’t as good as it was on Friday but I made the most out of it. There was plenty of excitement in the first laps, so I decided to stay cool and then when there was a gap I went for it.”

Amaury Bonduel took the Lamborghini Super Trofeo class honours in fifth overall, just ahead of Simon Birch’s novel KTM X-Bow GT2. Dieter Svepes won the Porsche Cup class for Racar in eighth overall, with John Dhillon the best of the Ferrari Challenge runners.

Race 3
The 55-minute endurance race at the end of Sunday afternoon was neutralised from the first lap when Mertel Motorsport’s Ferrari 488 Challenge entry driven by Tommaso Lovati and Stefano Marazzi’s Rossocorsa Racing Ferrari 296 GT3 came together, with Plusline Racing Team’s Marcel van Berlo earning a drive-through penalty as the perpetrator of the incident. Wiebelhaus and Haupt team-mate Mokoena had successfully repelled first-corner challenges from Bonduel’s Lamborghini and Michael Kapfinger’s Porsche to lead the train, with racing resuming on lap six.

From there, the race ran through without further interruption, as Wiebelhaus calmly delivered his seventh victory out of nine starts in the GTWS. He led home Mokoena by an impressive 18.585s, with twins Johannes and Michael Kapfinger chasing the second Haupt Mercedes home just 1.8s down in their Porsche.

Härtling ran the first stint for SR Motorsport before handing over to Heyer, but it wasn’t to be a happy ending for the champions. Daan Arrow in the Goodspeed Mercedes caught Heyer in the closing stages and relieved him of fourth place with a dive down the inside at Turn 10.

Bonduel took another Lamborghini Super Trofeo class win in fifth overall, while Hubert Darmetko shared his PTT Racing Porsche with Mateusz Lisowski to claim GT3 Cup honours. Dhillon, sharing with experienced Ferrari racer Matt Griffin, again won the 488 Challenge category, with a familiar name cropping up in the JVO Racing entry. Ex-Formula 1 driver Timo Glock finished runner-up in the class with Frank Kewitz.

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