The fifth season of the GT Winter Series got underway in front of an enthusiastic crowd at Estoril near Lisbon over the weekend. Three races delivered three different winners in conditions that ranged from greasy to downright soaking.
The track was thoroughly wet in Saturday’s first 30-minute race, but at least the teams knew what they were getting into before it began. It was a case of rain tyres up and down the grid, which formed up in front of a busy main grandstand containing around 2000 spectators.
Louis Stern started from pole position in his BMW M4, but the FK Performance man could not hold off the powerful Lamborghini Super Trofeo Evo II machine of Andrzej Lewandowski for long. Just one lap, in fact, as the Polish driver whizzed past him as the pack thundered down past the pits for the second time. And moments later, Stern also succumbed to the GT3 Ferrari 488 of Krystian Korzeniowski.
Despite a safety car around the halfway mark, and the weather acting as a leveller between the GT3 cars and the various examples of ‘Cup’ machinery, the field ended up spreading itself out. Particularly after Stern fell foul of the treacherous braking zone for Turn 1, and slammed into Korzeniowski as the latter turned into the right-hander.
Lewandowski cantered to victory by almost 10 seconds, with Leandro Martins (Racar Motorsport Cup Porsche) and Jay Mo Härtling rounding out the overall podium. The latter was winner of the GT3 class in his SR Motorsport Mercedes.
It was a race in which finishing was an achievement in itself. Among those more than pleased with reaching the flag in such conditions was Przemyslaw Bienkowski. After all, the PTT Racing Team man was competing in his very first car race – and Estoril in the wet is the kind of challenge that forges heroes. Just ask anybody old enough to recall Ayrton Senna’s 1985 Portuguese GP drive…
Lewandowski drove to victory by almost ten seconds, while Leandro Martins (Racar Motorsport Cup Porsche) and Jay Mo Härtling completed the podium. The latter won the GT3 class in his SR Motorsport Mercedes.
It was a race in which finishing was an achievement in itself. Among those more than satisfied with reaching the flag in such conditions was Przemyslaw Bienkowski. The PTT Racing Team driver was driving his very first car race and Estoril in the rain is no easy task then. Just ask anyone old enough to remember Ayrton Senna’s race in the 1985 Portuguese GP….
The action ramped up for the second sprint on Sunday – a race that started damp, finished wetter and had pretty much everything in between.
The Lamborghini, now in the hands of Andrzej’s son Adrian, certainly had the power and pace to score a repeat win. Lewandowski Junior was almost too fast for his own good at the start, as he looked to find a way between the two front-row drivers ahead of him. Unfortunately, the gap between Kenneth Heyer and Leandro Martins closed, which resulted in Martins’ luminous yellow Cup Porsche spearing off into the barriers at considerable velocity.
While Martins managed to avoid taking anybody with him in what was ultimately a racing incident, a lengthy red flag was needed to clean up the mess.
Lewandowski couldn’t stay out of trouble at the second start either. This time around, the issue was moving up the field a little too enthusiastically, as he took the lead moments after an early safety car was called. He picked up a 15-second stop-go penalty for that, and dropped to the back of the pack. A second safety car gave him a chance of a stellar recovery drive, but he tangled with Thor Haugen (Pellin Racing GT3 Ferrari 488) after that restart, which really did put paid to his hopes.
Christian Hook (Rinaldi Racing) was another man who showed terrific pace in the conditions, getting the best out of the field’s only Ferrari 296. He worked his way up from a lowly grid position in impressive style, and actually crossed the line first. Unfortunately for Hook, he was also a little too enthusiastic at that second safety car restart. He called on his car’s power a touch too early as he challenged Uwe Lauer for third place, and he too picked up a penalty. But the punishment was announced late, after Hook had made his way to the very top. So he crossed the line first – but was later demoted to seventh.
So who did get it right on Sunday morning? The fastest man to stay out of trouble was Uwe Lauer, representing Die Biermacher Racing and driving a GT3 Ferrari 488. He came home a little over a second ahead of PTT Racing’s Hubert Darmetko in the leading Cup-spec Porsche.
The enduro was the driest of the three GT Winter Series races, but by no means did that mean the track was ready for slicks. Almost all the front runners bolted on wet tyres – with AF Corse’s Pirelli-shod Ferrari a notable exception.
Matt Griffin started that car at the back of the field, and it made steady progress in the race as any further rain stayed away. John Dillon took it over in third place following the pitstops, but despite his best defensive efforts, he couldn’t prevent Joachim Bölting passing him for the last podium spot.
Up ahead, the SR Motorsport Mercedes cruised home by half a minute in the hands of Härtling. The young German’s team-mate Kenneth Heyer had taken the lead from Mateusz Lisowski (PTT Racing Cup Porsche) and never looked back as the slowly drying circuit made it harder for the latter to compete with a GT3 machine.
Solo driver Lisowski came in a lonely second for class honours, ahead of Bölting and Dhillon.
The Lewandowski Lamborghini started the race from the pitlane, and never did run well following the accident at the start of Race 2. It also added a further couple of penalties to its bouquet for the weekend, this time for pitlane infringements. There’s no doubting the speed of the car, which runs in a ‘Cup’ class all of its own, but team and drivers could have a lot more success at the next round in Portimao if they cut down on the errors.