McLaren seals Blancpain Endurance opener with Pirelli after three-hour battle
After a tense three-hour battle the McLaren driven by Shane van Gisbergen, Come Ledogar and Rob Bell clinched the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Series, held at the fabled Monza circuit, which is only 20 minutes from Pirelli's Milan headquarters. Their fight with the Mercedes driven by Maxi Buhk, Dominik Baumann and Jazeman Jafaar was so intense that the two cars even touched on the final lap. The closeness of the field was evident right from the start of qualifying, when the top 31 cars were covered by less than a second, showing how the championship's balance of performance formula has ensured that all 11 manufacturers represented are closely matched: key to the growing success of the Blancpain GT Series, exclusively supplied by Pirelli. As a result, there was close racing right from the beginning of the race throughout the 57-car field. The battle between the leaders became a high-speed strategic duel, with the lead duo sometimes separated by only tenths of a second throughout the first hour, and less than 10 seconds going into the final hour. Despite some predicted rain for the weekend, only a few drops fell on Saturday, meaning that Pirelli's slick DHC compound could be used throughout the weekend. Just one compound is available for all the races of the Blancpain GT Series, which has to work on a huge variety of cars, as well as cope with the famous high-speed demands and large kerbs of Monza, throughout sustained periods of time. As well as being the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Series, Monza was also the first round of the new GT4 European Series and the Lamborghini Super Trofeo. The world's fastest single-make trophy has an all-new tyre this year, designed to offer increased strength and be better adapted to the unique demands of the championship. The Maserati GranTurismo MC GT4 of Giorgio Sernagiotto won Saturday's opening GT4 race, while the similar car of Romain Monti (the current Maserati Trofeo world champion) clinched the second race on Sunday. The Lamborghini Super Trofeo as usual provided plenty of action and a record 47 cars on the grid, with the numbers of entries to the Pirelli-backed series increasing year on year. Denmark's Dennis Lind won the first race on his debut in the series, proving himself a worthy addition to the 'Dane Train' of talented young drivers from the country coming to the forefront of GT racing. Race two on Sunday was characterised by a safety car with just five minutes to go, which led to a final sprint where Nicolas Armindo emerged as the winner. The action from Monza took place both on and off the track, with Pirelli setting up an extensive activation area to appeal to fans, including a replica Monza GT Scalextric set, during which people could race each other throughout the weekend. With all of the latest road car models from top manufacturers such as Ferrari and Lamborghini on display, the show attracted huge numbers of spectators, including some of the top players and managers from local football club Inter. Bike racer Davide Giugliano was also in attendance, completing a demonstration run on the circuit with his Ducati against an Audi R8. Pirelli's circuit activity manager Matteo Braga commented: "Monza proved to be an extremely tough race from the very beginning, with a genuinely spectacular finish. The tyres stood up extremely well to everything that was asked of them, with the only issues coming as the result of racing accidents or technical problems. The pace of the weekend was just phenomenal, with the spectators treated to non stop action at the 'Temple of Speed' – which truly lived up to its name this weekend. The battle went down to the last lap, with the consistency and performance of the tyres proved by the fact that the drivers could race flat out from start to finish." The next round of the Blancpain GT Series is the sprint race that takes place at Brands Hatch in England from 7-8 May.