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Vanthoor, Ortelli Win Baku World Challenge, Crowned Champions

Laurens Vanthoor, Stéphane Ortelli win Baku World Challenge, claim title…

Photo: Fabre/VIMAGES

Photo: Fabre/VIMAGES

Laurens Vanthoor and Stéphane Ortelli clinched the 2013 FIA GT Series title by winning the final round of the championship, the Baku World Challenge.

It appeared tensions were running high as the drivers prepared to battle in the streets of the Azerbaijani capital, after a one-and-a-half days of waiting and practicing, they wanted to make their trip to Baku worthwhile by winning the jackpot.

The start soon turned into chaos when the 26 cars arrived at the first chicane. After receiving a little push, newly crowned Pro Am champion Sergei Afanasiev started a chain reaction in which the Team WRT Audi No. 12 of Qualifying race winners René Rast and Niki Mayr-Melnhof was the main casualty.

The Marc VDS Racing BMW Z4 and the Hexis McLaren also suffered some damage in the opening lap, the latter being able to rejoin the race after a tire change.

After the dust settled, there was a surprise leader as the Boutsen Ginion McLaren of Frédéric Vervisch and Stoffel Vandoorne found themselves at the head of the field, in front of the Phoenix Audi in the hands of Markus Winkelhock, a remarkable comeback as the car started the Qualifying Race dead last.

The safety car appeared on track when the No. 10 Sébastien Loeb Racing McLaren crashed, at the same time some of the curbstones were getting loose and needed repairing.

As the track went back to green, the pit window opened and several cars decided to dive into the pit lane. For leader Vervisch, it was too late as his car retired with an alternator failure at pit entry, blocking the way for several other cars.

After the pit window had closed, it became clear that Spa 24h winner Maximilian Buhk had put in a solid drive as he waited as long as possible to hand over his HTP Gravity Charouz Mercedes to Alon Day.

However, they also ran into trouble as an in-car alarm system shut down some of the engine’s cylinders, which made Day an easy target for the points leading Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi of Vanthoor, who quickly took over the lead.

The race was far from over, as Porsche specialist Kevin Estre was on a charge in the Hexis McLaren after suffering an early puncture. The young Frenchman managed to pass Alvaro Parente’s SLR McLaren and Day’s Mercedes in one turn with a risky maneuver.

Estre then opened the hunt on Vanthoor, but time ran short and he had to settle for second, less than two seconds behind.

After the race, both Estre and Day were handed a 10-second penalty for avoidable contact in the aforementioned maneuver. As a result, Parente was promoted from fourth to second place.

Up front, it was the WRT Audi of Vanthoor and Ortelli that took the checkered flag after a trouble-free race, winning their first Main Race of the season worth 100,000 Euros in prize money and clinching the title.

“We were a bit lucky today, as others ran into trouble or got penalties,” Vanthoor told Sportscar365. “I wasn’t fully aware of what was going on and which position I was in.

“It was surprising to discover I was leading the race. The deals aren’t done yet, but I’m confident I will be able to defend my title in this championship with WRT next year.”

RESULTS: Main Race

Vincent Wouters (@VinceWouters) is a Belgium-based sports car racing reporter, providing coverage primarily of the Blancpain GT Series.

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