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ENGEL: Awards, Testing and California Dreaming

Maro Engel files his latest Sportscar365 column following busy months of February and March…

Photo: Sabine Brauer/Mercedes-Benz

Following on from the disappointment of retiring in Bathurst it was great to get the chance to visit some friends on the Gold Coast and stay an extra three days in Australia.

I can tell you lot’s of golf was played from night golf and pizza through top golf, to some of the nicest and most exclusive courses in Australia. It was just great to see everyone and hang with some of my best friends again.

Returning home after Bathurst Stef and Sophia came to pick me up at the airport, which was pretty emotional. In the ten days I was gone Sophia took another big jump in her development and I have to say if there is one thing that can make a racing drivers heart melt it’s getting a hug from your baby girl, oh and from Mum of course.

The next event on the agenda was a very special one, the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco, considered the Oscars of sports.

For me it was extra special as it was the first awards as an official Laureus Ambassador after being nominated in November 2018. It is an honor and a privilege to be part of this exclusive group, which comes with a big responsibility as well.

Through the Laureus Sport for Good foundation we seek to support Kids that are less privileged than I was or many others are and aim to give them a brighter future while also teaching them the core values that are so important in our modern society.

Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images for IWC

I have been involved with Laureus for some time through Mercedes-AMG, as the patron of the passion for good initiative.

It’s quite an exciting project, which involves all of our performance teams as well as all of our factory drivers.

For every km any of our Mercedes-AMG performance teams drive throughout the year AMG donates 1€ to the Laureus Sport For Good foundation. I have to say I feel proud to be racing for a Manufacturer that takes corporate social responsibility so seriously and is committed to giving young kids a chance in life.

Returning to the awards, it was humbling to be in the room with so many sporting greats and legends as well as inspiring to hear the stories of many of the nominees and prize winners.

Just to name a few Novak Djokovic (Men’s Worlds Sportsman of the Year) who came back to the top of tennis after serious injury and gave us great insight into how tough his battle was and how close he was to quitting tennis at one point. Or Xia Boyu (Laureus Sporting moment of the year) who finally successfully climbed Mount Everest at his 5th attempt after losing both his lower legs in his first attempt to climb Everest and giving his sleeping bag to a fellow climber who had fallen ill.

Or finally the incredible comeback from Lindsay Vonn (Laureus Spirit of Sport Award) who also had to deal with severe injury and made it back to the top of her sport.

Photo: Supplied

Following on from the Laureus Awards I went up to Swedish Lappland and the AMG Driving Academy Winter Sporting event for a series of events. As I already mentioned in my previous column I really love this place and coming here brings you right back to pure nature and drifting AMG’s on the frozen lakes is not only amazing fun but also great to keep fine tuning your car control skills.

Next was the official Blancpain GT Series Test in Paul Ricard with Black Falcon.

This was quite an important test for us as shortly after the test Black Falcon announced that we will not only be defending our Blancpain GT Endurance Series title in an unchanged lineup with Luca Stolz and Yelmer Buurman but also that Luca and my self will be going for the Overall and Blancpain World Challenge Europe (formerly Blancpain Sprint) titles.

I’m very excited about this program, as I was keen to add a sprint race program.

The test itself went well, we only ran for one day but were able to complete our program and come away with the fastest time on the first day.

This was of course nice but we all know that not everyone is showing their true hand in these tests, so my feeling is some of our competitors were holding back some performance or had different test programs.

Before it was time to head to Laguna Seca for the second round of the Intercontinental GT Challenge we had the annual Mercedes-AMG driver kick off in Affalterbach.

Photo: Supplied

All factory drivers come together away from the racetrack, speaking about various topics for our season, going through workshops and also meeting many of the AMG employees. It’s also just a great team building exercise and the atmosphere was great so we are looking to make this another record breaking season for Mercedes-AMG

Turning to Laguna it was not quite the weekend we had hoped for, but considering the troubles a 6th place finish was not too bad.

Running with Luca and Yelmer I knew we had a great driver lineup. We knew it would be tough in this super strong field but we certainly weren’t expecting to be out of the top 10 shootout in qualifying.

Unfortunately the balance of the car had changed a bit after over night rain showers, we continuously improved the balance in between qualifying sessions and got it right by Q3 but unfortunately that was a little too late and we missed the top 10 by 0,005s.

Starting 11th was certainly far from ideal but we expected to make up some good ground in the 8h of racing. However, after a drive through penalty and an issue at one of the pit stops we quickly found ourselves one lap down.

The fact that the race ran green for 8h was incredible and definitely not what we were hoping for in our situation. From there I have to say though, we put in a pretty strong recovery and should be pleased with a P6 finish.

From an AMG perspective we managed to increase our lead in the manufacturers championship so overall it was not only a fun trip to Laguna but also a successful one.

You will hear from me next as we get the European season started with the Blancpain opener in Monza and VLN at the Nürburgring.

Until then all the best and keep racing!

Photo: GuppeM/Mercedes-AMG

Maro Engel (@MaroEngel) is a Mercedes-AMG GT3 driver and brand ambassador, former FIA GT World Cup champion, 2016 Nürburgring 24 winner and reigning Blancpain GT Endurance Cup champion, racing in the Intercontinental GT Challenge and Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup for the German Manufacturer.

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