17-year-old Mercedes AMG driver Finn Wiebelhaus impressed on his first weekend in GT racing with two wins out of three at Portimao.
Wiebelhaus, who until this event had only competed in Formula 4, was headed just once all weekend. Defeat to Jay Mo Härtling’s Mercedes in the Saturday sprint was the only glitch in his Algarve outing, but victory in both the sprint and the enduro on Sunday still represented a strong GT Winter Series debut for both Wiebelhaus and the Haupt Racing Team.
Härtling (SR Motorsport) and Wiebelhaus simply pulverised their rivals as they finished 1-2 in the Saturday sprint.
Wiebelhaus shadowed Härtling all the way but couldn’t quite summon up a move on the rival Mercedes, which already had a series win to its name following the Estoril enduro a week earlier.
“The first step of the podium would be better,” said Wiebelhaus. “But Jay Mo drove a perfect race.”
The pair’s superiority at Portimao was perhaps best illustrated by what happened after a mid-race safety car period ended with a little under nine minutes left on the clock. The duo had rebuilt their lead over third place to the staggering tune of 34 seconds by the flag.
Picking up the juiciest of the scraps behind the two German youngsters was their veteran countryman Christian Hook, who rounded out the podium in the field’s only Ferrari 296. The Rinaldi Racing man had a fairly lonely drive himself, at least once he’d gotten past the Laptime Performance Cup Porsche 992 of Alex Hardt, which then promptly broke down and caused the aforementioned safety car.
As is often proving to be the case in the GT Winter Series, Polish driver Adrian Lewandowski was responsible for much of the entertainment. After his fast but furious outing at Estoril, he admitted to being extra-cautious this weekend. It showed at both the first start and the safety car restart, as the Pole allowed himself to lose several positions at each. But that simply cleared the stage for two stirring comebacks in the GT3 Poland Lamborghini Super Trofeo Evo II. He’d found his way back to fourth place for the second time in 30 minutes when the chequered flag came out.
Winners of classes with more than one entry were Lewandowski, Leandro Martins (Racar Motorsport Cup Porsche 992) and John Dhillon in the AF Corse Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo.
Martins’ class win was particularly sweet, as his car was an emergency replacement for the one written off in the previous week’s startline accident at Estoril. Having travelled all the way from Germany to the Algarve, the Porsche had only reached the Racar garage just in time to compete on the weekend.
Wiebelhaus’ path to victory was always going to be a little easier as the slightly less rapid Kenneth Heyer took over the SR Mercedes for the second sprint race. So it was no surprise that he had established a solid lead over Heyer and Lewandowski when a curious red flag came out on the fifth lap.
The incident began with Thor Haugen (Pellin Racing Ferrari 488) biffing the Cup Porsche of Morten Stromsted (Sunder Motorworks) from behind. When a chunk of Haugen’s front end subsequently went flying, it proved a quite a shock for innocent follower Igor Klaja (PTT Racing). The latter Porsche spun and crashed as it tried to take evasive action, giving the barrier a good clout. The clean-up operation took too long to cover under safety car.
But none of this affected Wiebelhaus, who repeated his disappearing act after the race was restarted with enough time left on the clock for four laps. Heyer and Lewandowski left each other in peace to complete the podium.
Martins earned fourth overall and another satisfying class win. While Lewandowski again claimed the Trofeo Lamborghini class, enthusiastic Portimao fan Motohiko Isozaki (AF Corse) was winner amongst the Cup Ferraris.
The final race of the weekend was another reasonably straightforward outing for solo driver Wiebelhaus. Heyer drove the SR Mercedes first in the 50-minute clash, allowing Wiebelhaus to build up a lead of over 20 seconds as the pitstop window opened. Not the sort of deficit Härtling was ever going to be able to make up in the second half of the race, given how similar his pace was to that of Wiebelhaus.
Lewandowski occupied third place over the first half of the race, but there were some concerns about the Lamborghini’s engine and the team made a precautionary oil fill at pitstop time. Lewandowski thus emerged behind fellow solo driver and Pole Mateusz Lisowski (PTT Racing Team Cup Porsche).
Both Polish racers then saw Daan Arrow swoop past in a matter of moments. The Dutchman was positively flying after taking over the Good Speed Racing Mercedes from starting driver Piotr Wira, and reeling off lap times comparable with those of Wiebelhaus and Härtling up ahead. Arrow was too far back to expect any better than third place, but he duly delivered the final podium spot.
Lewandowski re-passed Lisowski for fourth place overall, each claiming their respective classes. Best in the Cup Ferrari class was AF Corse pairing John Dhillon and Matt Griffin.