Luca Engstler and Dylan Yip took the first ever Audi GT3 victories for Liqui Moly Team Engstler, while Michael Fischer of 78Racing-Team was also able to claim an overall victory, as the GT Winter Series made its inaugural visit to the Circuit Ricardo Tormo.
A field of 43 took to the circuit on race day, with many of GT racing’s top teams sharing the paddock. Dustin Blattner of Porsche Racing Experience by Manthey came into the event as championship leader, thanks to his impressive efforts in the Cup 2 class for Porsche Cup machinery.
Race One: Engslter rules the roost
As anticipated, the GT3 and ‘catch-all’ Cup X classes were the fastest cars on circuit in Valencia.
The first of two 25-minute sprints turned into something of an exhibition for ADAC TCR Germany champion Luca Engstler, especially because some of his main competition in the GT3 class struggled in qualifying. While his family team is new to running the Audi R8 LMS GT3, Luca himself has a season of experience under his belt, which he used to claim a commanding victory from pole. The race was shortened by a red flag less than five minutes from the finish, but the German racer had already built a 36-second advantage.
Trouble for Sartingen, Petrov seals second
The red flag was brought out owing to a collision between Axel Sartingen’s Schnitzelalm Mercedes GT3 car and the #54 Rossocorsa Ferrari at Turn 8. Sartingen was second overall at the time, and fighting hard with VSR Lamborghini’s Artem Petrov, who would ultimately inherit that position and take the win in Cup X. Petrov’s performance in the Super Trofeo-spec car impressed many.
Andrzej Lewandowski rounded out the overall podium in his Cup X Lamborghini, ahead of Tom Fleming, who once again ruffled the feathers of faster cars on his way to the Cup 1 win in his FF Corse Ferrari 488 Challenge Evo.
Johannes Kapfinger (Huber Racing) took the Cup 2 victory, just tenths clear of Dustin Blattner. GT4 honours went to Gabriela Jilkova of PROSport racing, who was a step ahead of the competition in her Aston Martin, while Cup 3 honours were secured by Andreas Greiling of MS Racing.
Race Two: Fischer holds off Heyer for an overall victory
Schnitzelalm Racing worked hard to repair their GT3 Mercedes for race two, and Kenenth Heyer was no doubt relieved, as he had the opportunity to start on the front row. Jean Glorieux’s PROsport-entered GT3 Aston Martin would be just ahead of him on Pole Position.
However, as the race began, Glorieux would be swallowed by the field, and 78Racing-Team’s Michael Fischer sped into the lead in his Lamborghini Huracan GT3. As the car was entered into Cup X, it ran without restrictors, and that was most evident on the start/finish straight.
The race would end at the first corner for Dylan Yip of Team Engstler, as he ended up in the gravel. The resulting accordion effect also caused damage to both of Huber Racing’s Cup 2 Porsche entries, which also retired.
Heyer almost makes Fischer the catch of the day
When racing resumed after a Safety Car, Fischer would pull away from Gilles Stadsbader (VSR Lamborghini), who had inherited second place. Since Stadsbader’s Huracan Super Trofeo was quick in a straight line, it proved tricky to pass. Once Kenneth Heyer finally found a way by, Fischer was the better part of five seconds clear.
Over the next several laps, Heyer continued lowering the deficit. And while the gap would shrink to less than a second, he was unable to pass Fischer, who took the overall and Cup X win. Heyer would take the GT3 class win in second overall, while Darren Leung brought home his Schubert BMW M4 GT3 third overall, after a well-executed pass on Stadsbader at turn 12.
Tom Fleming topped the Cup 1 ranks again, finishing eighth overall, just ahead of Cup 2’s winner, historic racing ace Matteo Ferrer (Phoenix Racing). In GT4, Jan-Philipp Springob of CV Performance Group had a great duel with Nico Verdonck (PROSport Aston Martin), eventually winning the class by less than a second. Cup 3 Honours went to 2022 GT Winter Series champion Michael Sander and Schnitzelalm Racing.
Endurance Race: Engstler’s rookie brings it home
As the 60-minute endurance race began, Luca Engstler made his race strategy clear; take the lead by any means necessary, and run away from the pack. He achieved this exact feat from his second place starting position, passing pole-sitter Axel Sartingen around the outside into the first corner.
As had been the case in the first race, Engstler would disappear into the distance. Meanwhile, GT3 class runners such as Sartingen, Maxime Dumarey (PROSport), and Darren Leung would become entangled with Cup X Lamborghini Super Trofeo entries, which had a significant straight-line speed advantage.
Pitstop penalties hinder several
In the middle portion of the race, the order would be shuffled repeatedly as the teams made their mandatory pitstops. And, once all of the stops were made, it became clear that Kenneth Heyer of Schnitzelalm Racing would be the biggest rival to Dylan Yip, who had taken over the leading Engstler Audi.
A 30-second gap would soon shrink to less than a dozen, however, Heyer’s aspirations of a winning move were soon halted by a stop-go penalty. His team and several others were judged to have had a pitstop below the minimum time, and thus, sixth place was the final result for he and Sartingen.
This would allow Yip to cross the line victorious in just his second weekend racing a car, with the Petrov/Stadsbader VSR Lamborghini and M.Dumarey/Glorieux PROSport Aston Martin completing the podium.
The Cup 2 win would also be affected by penalties, as a drive-through for Dustin Blattner (PRE by Manthey) allowed Dieter Svepes to bring the #33 Huber Racing entry home unchallenged for he and Johannes Kapfinger.
(Over)take two for Jilkova
GT4 would see Gabriela Jilkova pass her PROSport Aston Martin stablemate Guido Dumarey twice for second place in GT4, also because of a penalty in the closing stages. CV Performance Group’s Springob and Primm were once again the class of the GT4 field, taking a comfortable win.
Tom Fleming would complete a sweep of the Cup 1 honours for FF Corse Ferrari, and a late overtake from Moritz Kranz secured victory for KKramer Racing in Cup 3.
Engstler eager to race and Blattner home early
Luca Engstler is one of just a few members of his family’s team with prior knowledge of the Audi R8 LMS GT3. And, with their two weekend GT Winter series programme complete, he reflected on the team’s progress: “I am [the experienced man]!” he said. “It’s kind of bad because I still feel I don’t have that much experience with these cars. Last year I only did a few races in ADAC and one on the Nordschleife. But, we’ve made great progress, and we are discovering more and more. We are open-minded, and there’s a great crew around us. The goal for the future is to become one of the best GT3 teams.”
He added: “I am pushing to be here again next year! It’s better to be here than at home or in the fitness centre, I want to race!”
Sadly, Dustin Blattner’s GT Winter Series campaign is also at it’s end, despite still being the championship leader: “Unfortunately I am only doing the first four events, but I hope to do the full season next year. It’s a great series to keep your skills fresh, and it’s awesome to race with the different classes, which was new to myself.”
Navarra up next
The next GT Winter series event takes place on March 4-5 at the Navarra Circuit.