One year can change a lot of things. The Blancpain GT Endurance Cup season starter at Monza that was a GRT Lamborghini domination in 2015 had a fierce battle that ended with a McLaren win for Garage 59 in 2016.
Once they crossed the starting line the No. 84 HTP Motorsports Mercedes AMG GT3 held the top ahead of the No 23 Nissan Team RJN GT-R, and while there were some Lamborghini Huracáns doing some off-track excursions, no accidents happened. Even though we had a well behaved group at the start, the No. 59 Garage 59 650S went to the garage with only 4 minutes of racing due to problems.
As time passed, in the first 15 minutes the fight for the lead was down to the No. 84 HTP Mercedes with the No. 66 Black Pearl Ferrari 458 Italia which was leading the Pro-Am class, while the No. 23 Nissan and and the No. 8 M-SPORT Bentley Continental were a bit behind, without losing that much of contact. Some minutes after this, one of the ROWE Racing BMW M6 entered in the garage too, and a three-way contact put the No. 30 Parker Racing Continental and the No. 25 SainteLoc Audi R8 LMS out of contention, while the No. 29 Konrad Motorsport Huracán kept going without its bonnet.
While there were some stopped cars and local yellow flags waving, the Black Pearl 458 Italia took the lead, while Bentley and Nissan recovered terrain after being almost 10 seconds behind the lead, but as the race went back to a long green flag period, they were losing ground again with the No. 58 Garage 59 650S approaching to attack, and it took only two laps to the McLaren to succeed in its move, taking the 4th position and then the third place from the Nissan.
Eventually after the pit stops the order was shuffled and the No. 58 McLaren took the lead with the newcomer factory driver Côme Ledogar while HTP, Bentley and Nissan helped to relegate the Black Pearl Ferrari to fifth due to the lack of pace from Steve Parrow in comparison to Daniel Keilwitz.
The difference between the top four kept spreading more and more to the point it was practically down to a McLaren vs. Bentley battle, even though the No. 8 Continental GT3 was almost 10 seconds behind near the last hour of competition. The last pit stop round did nothing to change the order in front, although all of them brought their best driver to the end of the race (van Gisbergen, Buhk, Reip and Buncombe).
Funny thing is that Maximilian Buhk was living the same “chasing the leader” situation of the Misano round of the Sprint Cup, although now his No. 84 Mercedes was chasing the No. 58 McLaren instead of an Audi R8 LMS. The progress of the HTP Motorsport driver now was a more evident than the Misano pursuit due to the huge amount of backmarkers holding the leader’s way. The McLaren was still stuck while the Mercedes was with Buhk being a man on a mission with less than 30 minutes to go.
It was when they had the open road ahead the moment when the battle was on, with the HTP Mercedes all over the back of the Garage 59 McLaren. In the end, Buhk tried all he can think of and all that his Mercedes AMG GT3 was capable of, but the lack of straight line speed and the well timed blocks of Shane van Gisbergen kept the victory in the McLaren side after the 3 hours of racing. M-SPORT Bentley finished third with the No. 8 car, completing the podium. The No. 11 Kessel Racing Ferrari took Pro-Am honors with AF Corse and Black Pearl completing the Ferrari class podium, while the No. 87 AKKA-ASP Mercedes took the Am Cup win, with Rinaldi Racing and ARC Bratislava in the other podium positions.
Curtains now are down for the Italian show, as the Blancpain GT Series destination is the United Kingdom, with the Sprint Cup going to Brands Hatch on May 7th and 8th while the Endurance Cup visits Silverstone a week later on May 15th.
PHOTO: Blancpain GT Series