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The WRT Audi squad won the opening round of the 2018 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup at Monza.
The best of the Belgian team’s Audi R8 LMS GT3s driven by Christopher Mies, Alex Riberas and Dries Vanthoor came from fifth ahead of the opening round of pitstops to take Audi’s first victory at Monza, the traditional season opener since what was known as the Blancpain Endurance Series hosted it in 2011.
Vanthoor emerged from the final stops of the three-hour race in second position behind the leading Strakka Racing Mercedes-AMG GT3 driven by Maximilian Gotz and quickly closed down a deficit of nearly four seconds.
The Belgian made it past the Mercedes co-driven by Alvaro Parente and Maximilian Buhk for a first time with just over half an hour to go when he got a better run out of the Parabolica.
But Vanthoor had to give the position back when it was adjudged that he had exceeded track limits by crossing the white line that sits two metres out from the pitwall on the Monza start-finish straight.
One lap later, Vanthoor looked first to the inside and then the outside into the first chicane and put two wheels on the grass as Gotz moved back across on him.
The Mercedes driver was adjudged to be at fault and had to cede position to the Audi for the infraction.
Vanthoor was able to pull away from the Mercedes over the remainder of the three-hour race and crossed the line with two seconds in hand.
Mies said the victory came as a shock.
“We’re all a bit surprised because we didn’t expect this — we weren’t too far off, but we weren’t the strongest,” said Mies.
“We saved a set of new tyres from free practice for Dries to have at the end, so for me and Alex it was all about giving him the car in the best possible position.”
The Black Falcon Mercedes of Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Yelmer Buurman took third position after battling back from a stop-go penalty, making it past the Grasser Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of reigning champions Mirko Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli and Christian Engelhart in the closing stages.
The car had to take a drive-through for an infraction during a full-course yellow virtual safety car at the end of the opening hour.
The Lamborghini, which was hit by a 15kg Balance of Performance weight penalty ahead of qualifying, just hung onto fourth from the Emil Frey Jaguar GT3.
Engelhart crossed the line just three tenths ahead of Mikael Genier aboard the XKR-based Jag he shared with Alex Fontana and Adrian Zaugg.
The Jaguar had looked on course for a top three finish until losing time in its final pitstop.
The SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 that had qualified on pole position led through the opening hour in Miguel Molina’s hands before Mikhail Aleshin was unable to do anything about a charging Buhk in the middle hour.
A loose bolt in the throttle mechanism cost the car time when Davide Rigon took over for the final hour and then forced the car into the pits for repairs.
The Attempto Racing Audi shared by Pieter and Steijn Schothorst and Kelvin van der Linde took sixth position.