Ortelli/Vanthoor take Baku World Challenge and title glory
There were jubilant scenes of celebrations by the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT at the Baku World Challenge by Aztexnika this afternoon, as Stéphane Ortelli (MCO) and Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) took the 2013 FIA GT Series Pro Cup drivers title.
What is more, they took it in the best possible way, with a thrilling race victory at an adrenalin fuelled final FIA GT Series event of the year. Ortelli and Vanthoor’s title followed the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT’s clinching of the team crown in the qualifying race earlier today. If that were not enough for the Vincent Vosse-led team, they also collected a cool 100,000€ for winning the Baku World Challenge today.
The race started dramatically as Ortelli took the lead, avoiding mayhem behind him as multiple cars touched or ran through the first chicane. Despite losing the lead on lap two, when the Audi R8 LMS ultra lost time avoiding the #21 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil car of Ricardo Zonta (BRA) who was recovering from an incident, Ortelli ran solidly in third position.
Judging their pit stop perfectly, after a Safety Car period, Ortelli’s team mate Laurens Vanthoor hunted down the lead car of Alon Day (ISR), who was suffering with a mechanical problem. It was an easy move for the Belgian to take the lead, which he kept to the chequered flag.
The FIA GT Series Pro Cup runners-up for 2013 were Frank Stippler (DEU) and Edward Sandström (SWE), who could only finish 13th when their race was ultimately compromised by time lost after a lengthy pit stop.
For Stéphane Ortelli it was a fifth major GT title success in his career, ensuring he is in the record books as one of the most successful GT racers of the modern times.
Finishing in 2nd place on the road but later penalised at the Baku World Challenge was the Hexis Racing McLaren MP4-12C of Rob Bell (GBR) and Kévin Estre (FRA). It was an exceptional performance by the pair after Bell suffered a puncture after a contact with another car and pitted on lap one.
A well-judged and well drilled pit stop by the Hexis Racing crew allied to a safety car period, ensured that Estre was still in touch with the field. Some scintillating pace from the young Frenchman saw him scythe through the field, cementing his reputation as one of the bright new stars of sprint GT racing.
With just minutes of the race remaining he benefitted from an incident at the first hairpin between Alon Day’s Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 and Alvaro Parente’s (PRT) Sebastien Loeb Racing McLaren MP4-12C to sneak through.
Day and Buhk (DEU) recovered to finish in 3rd position on the road in their HTP Gravity Charouz Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, while Parente and Loeb (FRA) took the chequered flag just behind them in 4th. However after the race 10-second penalties were applied to both the Hexis Racing McLaren and the HTP Gravity Charouz for their part in the above incident. This promoted Loeb and Parente to 2nd place in the offfical result.
After the fraught early laps of the race the battle for the lead had been between the Boutsen Ginion McLaren MP4-12C of Frédéric Vervisch (BEL) which he shares with current up-and-coming single-seater star – Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) and the Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS ultra of Markus Winkelhock (DEU). However, both the McLaren and the Audi were given drive-through penalties for track infringements and were therefore out of contention.
The other Boutsen Ginion McLaren of Alexander Sims (GBR) and Stef Dusseldorp (NDL) ran strongly early on but lost time and eventually finished in 8th position overall and 6th in the Pro Cup class.
In the Pro Am category the GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini of Hari Proczyk (AUT) and Dominik Baumann (AUT) took the victory, finishing a hugely successful season for the Gottfried Grasser owned and run team. Proczyk finished just three points behind the already crowned champions – Andreas Simonsen (SWE) and Sergei Afanasiev (RUS), who suffered a rare non-finish after suffering damage in an early race incident with pole-sitter – Niki Mayr-Melnhof’s Team WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra. This ended the Austrian’s outside chance of the Pro Cup drivers title.
GRT Grasser Racing’s second Lamborghini, entered for Stefan Rosina (SVK) and Filip Sladecka (SVK), were classified a hugely creditable 6th place overall after a fine drive from 21st place on the starting grid.
A fierce battle with the fellow Lamborgini from the Rodrive team entertained the large Baku crowd but when the latter faded, it was Michael Ammermüller (DEU) who fended off several challenges from Pro category cars to take the Novadriver team’s 4th podium finish of the season.
Henry Hassid (FRA) and Anthony Beltoise (FRA) were satisfied with a podium position on their first visit to the FIA GT Series. Their TDS Racing BMW Z4 enjoyed a clean race to finish their Baku adventure strongly.
Taking a double win this weekend in the Gentlemen Trophy class were Federico Leo (ITA) and Claudio Sdanewitsch (DEU) in the AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia. However, unlike the qualifying race they had to overcome some adversity when a pit stop infringement led to a drive through penalty.
Taking the final Pit Stop challenge award of the year was the crew of the #9 Sebastien Loeb Racing McLaren MP4-12C.
The grand finale of the 2013 FIA GT Series season saw stunning on-track excitement, a large crowd and new champions crowned on the spectacular streets of Baku, Azerbaijan. With the series becoming the Blancpain Sprint in 2014 and with an enticing prize fund package, there will be even more top class supercar action to look forward to the next season.