Mirko Bortolotti, Kelvin van der Linde and Matthieu Vaxiviere took a commanding win for Team WRT in the GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup season-opener at Imola.
Bortolotti brought the No. 31 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo past the checkered flag 3.428 seconds clear of Mathieu Jaminet in the GPX Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R that was also driven by Matt Campbell and Patrick Pilet.
The WRT Audi started Sunday’s three-hour race from fifth on the 46-car grid and held station through the first stint with former R-Motorsport driver Vaxiviere at the wheel.
The Frenchman then handed over to van der Linde, who made a terrific charge into the lead by picking off the four cars ahead of him in the space of 15 minutes.
Van der Linde made successive passes at the first Rivazza left-hander on Louis Deletraz in the No. 40 GPX Porsche and Timur Boguslavskiy in the No. 88 AKKA-ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo, before overtaking SMP Racing Ferrari driver Sergey Sirotkin for second.
The South African then planted his Audi down the inside of race leader Nicklas Nielsen in the AF Corse Ferrari at Tamburello to take a lead that WRT would hold until the end.
Bortolotti took the reins of the No. 31 Audi at the start of the third hour and consolidated WRT’s advantage through two safety car periods that pegged back his gap on the field.
The first of these interruptions was for the retrieval of GetSpeed Performance’s top-ten contending Mercedes that was punted into Rivazza gravel by one of the K-PAX Racing Bentleys, while the other was for the 59 Racing McLaren 720S GT3 which stopped trackside.
There were also three full course yellow/safety car interventions in the first hour based on separate incidents for the SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes, the Pro-class CMR Bentley, the Pro-Am AKKA-ASP Mercedes and the No. 23 Imperiale Lamborghini.
At the final restart with 13 minutes left on the clock, Bortolotti was allowed to break clear as the cars behind him squabbled over the remaining podium positions.
Jaminet succeeded in holding off Felipe Fraga, who shared the No. 88 AKKA-ASP Mercedes with Boguslavskiy and Raffaele Marciello, and Dries Vanthoor in WRT’s other Pro-class Audi.
Pilet took third in the second stint with a draft past Boguslavskiy on the run down to Tamburello, while his co-driver Jaminet was promoted to second after a slow final stop from the SMP Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo that was running behind WRT.
Christopher Hasse came through in fifth for fellow Audi squad Sainteloc Racing, while Klaus Bachler crossed the line in sixth for the ROWE Racing Porsche squad.
The best-placed Ferrari at the end was the AF Corse 488 GT3 Evo driven by factory drivers Nielsen, Alessandro Pier Guidi and James Calado which finished seventh.
Calado was third at the end of the opening stint while Nielsen seized the lead during the first round of pit stops as the order shuffled in a busy Imola pit lane.
The Ferrari then had to recover from a drive-through penalty for speeding under yellows to finish in the top ten, one place ahead of the Optimum Motorsport McLaren.
The pole-sitting Attempto Racing No. 66 Audi, in which Frederic Vervish controlled the opening stint from pole, endured a tough afternoon from the first pit cycle onwards.
Attempto slipped to the outer reaches of the top 20 after the car arrived in its pit stall at an angle that needed correcting, while an issue later on confined it to the garage.
Lamborghini’s Pro-class teams also struggled, including the Huracan GT3 Evo of defending champion Orange 1 FFF Racing team which retired with a suspension issue.
GTWC Europe returnee Emil Frey Racing was the highest-finishing Lamborghini outfit with its two cars in 10th and 12th.
Barwell Benefits from Silver Aston’s Spin
Silver Cup honors went to Barwell Motorsport’s No. 78 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo driven by Patrick Kujala, Frederik Schandorff and Alex MacDowall.
The Tech 1 Racing Lexus RC F GT3 led the opening stint but came under increasing pressure from the Garage 59 Aston Martin Vantage GT3 in the race’s middle portion.
The Aston took the lead at the final round of stops while the Lexus slipped several positions, only for Garage 59 driver Valentin Hasse-Clot to be tipped into a spin by Barwell’s Pro-Am Lamborghini at Variante Alta midway through the final hour.
This enabled Kujala to inherit the lead and the wini for Barwell, while Hasse-Clot recovered to second after overtaking Andrea Rizzoli in Dinamic Motorsport’s Porsche.
Despite missing out on the Silver Cup win, Garage 59 succeeded in the Pro-Am category as Jonny Adam, Chris Goodwin and Alexander West took the victory.
Aston works driver Adam finished eight cars clear of the second-placed Sky-Tempesta Racing Ferrari, while the No. 26 Sainteloc Racing Audi completed the class podium.
RESULTS: 3H Imola (provisional)