Daniel Zampieri, Davide Rigon and Cesar Ramos claimed victory for the Kessel Racing Ferrari squad in the opening round of this year's Blancpain Endurance Series at Monza.
Slick pit work and stellar stints from all three drivers resulted in a winning margin of 18 seconds over the ART-run McLaren MP4-12C of inaugural FIA Formula 2 champion Andy Soucek and GT regular Mike Parisy. Soucek had overcome Edward Sandstrom in the WRT-entered Audi R8 LMS ultra en route to what was ultimately a comfortable second place.
A final-hour showdown had been guaranteed when Andy Meyrick (Gulf McLaren) brought out the safety car after suffering an accident at the Ascari Chicane, bunching the field back up. While the Kessel Ferrari and the ART McLaren were able to pull away, the positions for the final podium positions became the highlight of the last portion of the event.
Sandstrom came under threat from a charging Adam Carroll in the Pro-class Gulf McLaren when the race went green again. With the Audi defending resolutely, however, Carroll himself came under attack from Andrea Bertolini's Pro-Am AF Corse Ferrari. The battle carried on until the last lap when Bertolini settled for the class win, freeing up Carroll to have a classic final-lap Parabolica charge to slipstream Sandstrom and take third place by just 0.028sec.
"That was some race and actually a testament to the guys I was racing with because it was all hard but fair racing," Carroll said. "We were so close lap after lap and it was really intense but very enjoyable. We just had enough to do it at the end and it was probably one of the best fights I have had in my career."
Notable early race performances included Austrian Philipp Eng in the MRS McLaren GT3 car. The Austrian held off GT Academy RJN Nissan driver Alex Buncombe for half an hour until the British driver made a spirited move at the Curva Grande to take the lead overall in the Pro-Am categorized car. That was to be short-lived, however, as time lost in the pits during Lucas Ordonez's stint meant they dropped back to 15th overall and sixth in the Pro-Am class.
Results - 94 laps:
Pos Cl. Drivers Team/Car Time/gap
1. Pro Ramos/Rigon/Zampieri Kessel Ferrari 3h01m43.198s
2. Pro Leclerc/Parisy/Soucek ART McLaren + 18.107s
3. Pro Caroll/Verdonck/Bell Gulf McLaren + 32.887s
4. Pro Stippler/Sandstrom/Mies WRT Audi + 32.915s
5. Pam Hommerson/Machiels/Bertolini AF Ferrari + 35.056s
6. Pro Ide/Kumpen/Winkelhock Phoenix Audi + 1m03.210s
7. Pam Hassid/Badey TDS BMW + 1m05.494s
8. Pro Leinders/Buurman/Martin Marc VDS BMW + 1m06.434s
9. Pro Primat/Jarvis/Haase Phoenix Audi + 1m07.819s
10. Pam Hummel/Jans/Christodoulou Falcon Mercedes + 1m15.675s
Top GT Finishers:
19. GTR Blanchemain/Beaubelique/Gouselard SOFREV Ferrari 93 laps
20. GTR Garofano/Caccia/Bontempelli Kessel Ferrari + 15.414s
24. GTR Barreiros/Guedes AF Ferrari + 69.643s