Race 1: Blancpain GT Sports Club – Winning return for Lucchini at Paul Ricard
Luigi Lucchini took command at the end of a Race-1 to celebrate his return to the Blancpain GT Sports Club in the best way possible, in a race full of twists over the 40 scheduled minutes of the first of two races on the Paul Ricard track. First in the Iron Cup, meanwhile, was Louis Philippe Soenen who dominated the class with the AF Corse 488 GT3 ahead of Rick Peter Lovat with his third consecutive runner-up position.
Lightning start. After having passed the poleman and leader in the standings, Jens Reno Moeller, at the start, the driver at the wheel of BMS Scuderia Italia’s Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 was able to gain a few tenths of a second from the Honda driver, while behind, the brawl between Murod Sultanov and Pavel Strukov, both vying to get passed each other, was underway. The tension between the two went ballistic when, after 15 minutes of racing, the pair took advantage of Moeller’s exit from the track and their duel suddenly became one for second outright position.
The StileF Squadra Corse driver was overtaken by Sultanov but, in an attempt to pull back the position, came into contact with Kessel Racing’s standard bearer and the subsequent damage forced the driver to retire. For Strukov, however, a drive-through was inevitable. The episode allowed Moeller to return to second place, while Mario Cordoni, who had started from the fifth row, was able to take third place after a neat overtaking manoeuvre against the 488 GT3 of team-mate Ken Abe.
Meanwhile, amongst the middle group, Stephen Earle, who had until then been leading the Iron Cup undisturbed, was forced to make a pit-stop due for a puncture which left a clear track for the AF Corse driver Louis Philippe Soenen,
Final thrills. There was still room for one final twist before the chequered flag, when Lucchini, three minutes from the end, went wide at the Virage du Camp, allowing Moeller to pull back into the slipstream of the BMS Scuderia Italia car. Lucchini, however, put his experience and speed to good use, keeping his rival in check and crossing the finish line in first position.
Third place for Mario Cordoni who finished another race on the podium after an excellent comeback, resulting from a tricky qualifying session. Fifth place for the 458 Italia GT3 of Pete Mitchell, best of StileF Squadra Corse drivers and eighth for Ken Abe. The AF Corse Japanese driver was forced to slow down in the final stretches after putting too many demands on his tires during the battle with Cordoni.
Soenen in first. Louis Philippe Soenen, leader in the Iron Cup, disputed one of his finest races in the series at the wheel of the 488 GT3, posting ninth position ahead of Frederic Fangio, also in a Ferrari, who was able to snatch a point despite a spin in the first stages of the race. Soenen finished ahead of Kessel Racing driver, Rick Peter Lovat, while Stephen Earle, missing out on the podium by just three seconds, came close to pulling off the feat after a puncture.