Fans of both the GT Masters and the DTM were treated to a mammoth weekender of 4 big races as the Lausitzring Motorsport Festival got into full swing; the GT Masters showed its hand first with race 1 on the Saturday of its third weekend of the season.
Prior to the weekend, Land-Motorsport Audi pairing Christopher Mies and Connor de Phillippi – despite having not won a race – led the way in the championship with Luca Ludwig and Sebastian Asch just behind. Strong proof of Mies and de Phillippi’s staunch consistency thus far. How frustrated are you, if you’re Ludwig and Asch, considering you’d have won race 1 on both previous weekends?
Robert Renauer and Martin Ragginger started from pole on the grid, in the Porsche 911. They achieved pole by just 3 tenths of a second, with a 1:22.103. 1:22.37 was the nearest challenging time; set by Patrick Assenheimer and Dominik Schwager (Corvette). Jesse Krohn and Louis Deletraz started from third in their BMW M6 GT3. Mies and de Phillippi started from only 16th. The top 17 were separated by less than a second.
With everyone generally behaving themselves as the race left the oval and headed out into the middle section of the track, Renauer sought about building a lead and carrying on from the solid foundations laid in qualifying. In fact, it didn’t take long for the first 4 cars on the grid to start peeling away in a pack. Assenheimer, Krohn and Rolf Ineichen trailing the leader. Isaac Tutumlu Lopez and Kelvin van der Linde’s Audi was seen being wheeled back into the pit garage during just the second lap, with a wheel missing. Meanwhile, a battle for 5th was hotting up between Luca Stolz in the #16 Lamborghini and the lurking #7 Bentley of Christer Jöns as the cars entered the start/finish straight once more.
As the cars started lap 3, Jesse Krohn, whilst attacking Assenheimer, was in turn being weighed up by Ineichen in the #63 Lamborghini, meaning, of course, that Renauer out in front was starting to wrack up more seconds to his advantage and the chasing three all lost time to each other. Renauer now 2.5 seconds clear.
By lap 5, Jules Gounon (not “goujon”, despite what the commentators said at the time) had latched onto the back of Ineichen and Krohn.
Come lap 10, the continually impressive Ineichen eeked out Krohn at turn 1, cutting up the inside to get past, then using the inside of turn 2 to make the move stick. Wonderful and well-deserved for a fantastic start to the race for the Swiss.
Gradually, Assenheimer started to chip away at Renauer’s lead. What was once a 4.1 second lead was now a 3.7 and the former started to lap quicker and quicker once the first quarter of the race neared its conclusion, entering the 1:22s timerange regularly. Typically though, whilst those two were coming ever so slightly closer to one another, Ineichen began to put in sharper sector times, setting the fastest first sector of the race at that stage, on lap 13. 1:22.887 was the total lap time. That was a personal best which further strengthened his hold on 3rd ahead of Krohn, but he was still 7 seconds down on the race leader.
Just before the end of lap 15, the #24 Audi of Florian Stoll and Robin Frijns was handed a drive-through penalty for slamming into the #11 Lamborghini Huracan of Nicolas Pohler. It came in from 25th on lap 17 to fits of laughter from the commentary team and entered the race again in 29th.
The end of lap 16 saw Renauer shift through the gears a bit and extend his lead by almost a second over Assenheimer to 4.8 seconds. Back in 4th, Jesse Krohn was losing anything between 0.3 to 0.7 seconds per lap to Luca Stolz over laps 14, 15 and 16 as the #16 led a charge on the Schubert BMW M6. All this just 2 minutes before the pit window opened!
It didn’t matter though. At the start of lap 18 the Lamborghini of Stolz moved out of the M6’s slipstream and stole the place, leaning into the popular turn 1, sealing arguably the simplest and cleanest move of the race. This left the #7 Bentley of Christer Jöns right on Krohn’s backside as well, now fighting for 5th and also lapping faster too, just as the pit window opened.
Jules Gounon in the #77 Corvette was the first to take advantage and handed over to Daniel Keilwitz. The #5 of Norbert Siedler then came in along with the #15 and #29 Audis. Patrick Assenheimer then came in from 2nd place to hand over to Schwager and Ineichen from 3rd handed over to Christian Engelhardt.
The end of lap 20 saw Renauer into the pits. Conveniently timed as he was just about to run into traffic as he gradually caught up with backmarkers. Ragginger in to the #99. At this stage, Schwager wasn’t really a threat as he was at turn 3.
The #7 Bentley came in for its stop at the end of lap 21 and entered the race again straight into a battle with Keilwitz in the Corvette. A battle Keilwitz – a well-renowned overtaker – won to take (net) 5th position. Shock! Their early pitstop paid off. The #7 then lost ground to Matteo Cairoli who’d just taken over from David Jahn in the #17 Porsche on the start/finish straight.
As we headed towards the finish of the pitlane window, a collision between Luca Ludwig and Rahel Frey saw the latter into the gravel at the entrance to turn 8. Prior to the subsequent safety car, Ragginger was leading by 9.5 seconds. The championship leaders in the #29 Audi had by now risen from 16th to 11th. Engelhardt was now 2nd.
The safety car came back in after the 28th lap, with Ragginger just 0.6 seconds ahead of the #63.
Barely into the final 15 minutes and the #31 Corvette of Boris Said and Loris Hezemans was off the track and the #1 Mercedes of Asch and Ludwig was wheeled back into the garage, 2nd in the championship and out of the race!
Turn 1 struck again at the start of lap 31 as the pressure of Daniel Keilwitz proved too much for Mirco Bortolotti and the German took advantage to sneak into 4th place. Bortolotti caught out, breaking far too late and overrunning the corner. Cairoli then followed Keilwitz through in the middle section to relegate the #16 Lamborghini a further place to 6th.
Seconds later, just a couple of corners on from that incident, the #7 Bentley of Daniel Abt and the #15 Audi of Markus Winkelhock clashed and spun into the gravel, inviting another safety car period. Motorsport folklore dictates that one safety car provokes a second, and these two drivers certainly read the script! The Bentley seemed to have locked up, leading into the corner, whilst Winkelhock turned into him, forcing both cars off. What Winkelhock probably wasn’t aware of, was the fact that it was fellow Audi driver Christopher Mies who pushed into the back of Abt, forcing bodywork against the tyres, which in turn led Abt’s Bentley to lock up in the first place.
The alloy on the front of the car was completely mangled following the collision with the #15.
These two safety cars were playing into Daniel Keilwitz’s hands if anything. With Ludwig and Asch out of the race, Mies and de Phillippi were on 60 points prior to this race. If Keilwitz could get a podium, it’d close the gap right down to the championship leaders. Prior to the race, he and Gounon were on 43 points. Would he get the time to get into 3rd though? Truth be told, he wouldn’t need to. 4th was good enough to leapfrog Ludwig and Asch into 2nd in the driver standings. Speaking of the championship race, the #17 was seen limping it’s way around on lap 33 under the safety car with a puncture to the left-rear tyre, conceding 5th position and slipping further and further behind. Mies was now up to 7th. More points in the bag as things stood!
After the restart, Engelhardt seemed to have gotten off to the better start leading onto the start/finish straight and Ragginger would no doubt have been cacking it in the lead #99 car as the pack approached the notorious turn 1…
But he survived.
The #5 Lamborghini of Jaap van Lagen didn’t though as it spun following contact from Frederic Vervisch and no doubt other surrounding traffic. No safety car followed though, as van Lagen led the car back onto the track easily enough. He was 6th before getting tangled up.
Meanwhile, in the battle at the front, Martin Ragginger in the #99 Porsche was working his magic again and pulling away from the 2nd placed Engelhardt; building up a 0.9 second lead over the space of a lap.
4 minutes left.
Engelhardt got closer and closer as we moved into the final couple of laps. He was on his tail. Literally all over him, trying everything – including flashing his lights – to force Ragginger into an error, but it never came. Ragginger took the chequered flag by 0.3 seconds from Engelhardt, Schwager, Keilwitz and Bortolotti. Daniel Keilwitz and Jules Gounon now up to 2nd in the championship.
Just as a footnote, I have also set up a Facebook page which can be found here!