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Blancpain GT Europe

ENGEL: Celebrations, Blancpain GT Opener & N24 Prep

Maro Engel checks into Sportscar365 following a busy month of April…

Photo: Challenge GmbH

After the overseas races in Bathurst and Laguna Seca it was finally time to kick off the European season with the opening Blancpain GT Endurance Cup round in Monza and VLN3 at the Nürburgring. But before these two races I attended a once-in-a-lifetime event.

On the first weekend of April, Mercedes-Benz celebrated 125 Years of Motorsport in Silverstone. What followed for the three days was any motorsport fans dream.

From the first competitive car racing event in July 1894 with the Daimler engine up to the modern era of racing a total of 40 cars were on display or being driven for demonstrations on track. Just to name a few:

*W25 the first silver arrow Formula 1 car from 1934 with over 600hp
*W196 R Formula 1 car that won the World Championship in the hands of Juan Manuel Fangio
*Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing” W198 from 1955
*Mercedes-Benz 300 SEL 6.8 AMG finishing 2nd at 1971 Spa 24h
*Mercedes-Benz 500SL rallye car R 107 which was a World Rallye project from 1980 that was stopped after just a few test races in the hands of Walter Röhrl.
*Sauber – Mercedes Group C C9 from 1989
*Mercedes-Benz 190 E 2.5-16 Evo II DTM car from 1992
*Penske – Mercedes PC23 Indy 500 winning car from 1994
*F1 Championship winning Mercedes-AMG F1 cars from 2014-2108
*Our 2016 Nürburgring 24h winning AMG GT3

To see all these amazing cars in one place together being driven and on display… what a sight!

Photo: Mercedes

To add to the event it was decided to bring together all current racing ambassadors from Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes-AMG including legends from the past such as Hans Hermann (Mercedes-Benz F1 junior and team mate of Fangio in 1955) Klaus Ludwig, Bernd Schneider, Roland Asch, Kurt Thiim, Ellen Lohr, Karl Wendlinger and us young guns, current generation of drivers, including our F1 team with Lewis, Valteri as well as Gary Paffett, Stoffel Vandorne, Adam Christodooulou and myself.

I think there was not a driver or person attending that didn’t have a smile on their face in light of seeing these treasures all together.

It’s also incredibly humbling and makes you proud to be representing and racing for such a successful, historical and iconic manufacturer. To be honest with you it’s actually very hard for me to put into words how special this event was.

Following on from Silverstone next up was the opening round of the Blancpain GT Series in Monza. I have to say Monza is a track I have always loved.

Photo: GruppeC/Mercedes-AMG

In general I like spending time in Italy ever since my time in the Italian F3000 championship. Not only is the food the best in the world but also the passion the Italians have for motor racing and finally getting married in Italy leaves me with very special memories.

After years of amazing weather for the opening Monza weekend this year unfortunately we were dealt with 8 degrees and rain which felt a little more like the UK or the Nürburgring mid April.

Race day didn’t get off to a great start for us as we faced several issues in qualifying including some damage on the car. We ended up P14 which was definitely not where we were expecting or hoping to be.

Even though we were far back on the grid due to the wet race it was going to be I felt we had every chance to still come away with a good result. I was right and we finished on the podium in P3!

As simple as that sounds, it was actually quite the opposite. I think if you had offered us to score 1 point mid race we would have taken it.

Taking things from the start Luca [Stolz] did a great job running in P10 just before the end of the first stint. Two laps before pitting he got tagged into a spin at the first chicane and a following car couldn’t avoid him and crashed into our front end. This left us in P25 and a damaged front.

Photo: GruppeC/Mercedes-AMG

Let’s say at this point my confidence of a good result was a little less strong. But what followed was a great testament to the attitude and mindset from everyone in the team.

As it turned out staying on wet tires for Yelmer’s [Buurman] second stint was exactly the right choice. After a late safety car period the cars on slicks struggled to get heat into their tires and Yelmer was able to move us up from P18 into P7.

With a good call on the pit lap from the team I found my self in P5 and under safety car again after taking over from Yelmer.

At the restart I was able to move up into P4 and pushing on trying to get more places. I quickly realized this was going to be a tough stint. With the damage the car was understeering badly.

When the leading Audi got a puncture P4 turned into P3 and I managed to keep the chasing cars behind. I was honestly quite glad when I saw the checkered flag.

It was a great result and comeback for us. I think it goes to show that you should always believe and never give up.

After Monza and a nice Easter weekend at home with the family we went to the Nürburgring for my first VLN race of the year. The weather was almost identical to Monza and our race had some similarities as well.

During qualifying there was only a very short window of approximately 5 minutes mid-session where the track was dry and there were no yellow flag zones. Unfortunately we missed this window as we had just pitted. The result was P16.

The start of the race was fully wet and I was charged with starting duties. I really enjoyed my first racing laps on the Nordschleife in 2019 and was able to make good progress moving up into the top 10 quite quickly.

Photo: GruppeC/Mercedes-AMG

Then the heavens opened and the 4-hour sprint race turned into a survival race. Coming down the straight there was aquaplaning everywhere, cars spinning off in a straight line.

Fortunately we managed to get through ok and the rain quickly reduced and I was able to hand over to Manuel Metzger in P5.

Manuel and Adam Christodoulou did great stints and moved us into podium contention.

At this point we thought we might have a disadvantage as we were racing with four drivers and Dirk Müller still needed to get in the car but with two laps of the race to go the track had dried enough for slicks and we called Adam in.

In the end Dirk put in two great laps but ended up just 2.9 seconds short of P3 crossing the line and 9s behind the Porsche in P2.

Around 45 minutes after the race we received the news that the second-place finishing Porsche received a 15-second penalty which elevated us to P3.

It was a good start to our Nürburgring program and I’m looking forward to our next race there already, the 24 hour Qualification Race mid-May.

Before though, I will be heading to Brands Hatch together with Luca Stolz for the opening round of the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe this weekend.

After racing the Brands GP track the last time in British F3 in 2007 I’m really looking forward to getting back onto this great track and hopefully we can make it a successful one.

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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