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Van der Linde, Tomita Win Topsy-Turvy Zandvoort Race 1

WRT’s Van der Linde, Tomita master changeable conditions to win Zandvoort Race 1…

Photo: Jules Benichou/SRO

Kelvin van der Linde and Ryuichiro Tomita took their first GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Sprint Cup win of the season in challenging track conditions at Zandvoort.

Van der Linde crossed the line half a minute clear of Hugo Chevalier who won the Silver Cup class in CMR’s No. 108 Bentley Continental GT3 started by Pierre-Alexandre Jean.

Tire choice was key in the first of Saturday’s two 60-minute encounters as the gradual shift from wet surface conditions to a clear dry line prompted teams to call different strategies.

Tomita started from third on wet tires, which helped the Japanese driver to vault into the lead at the first corner past Jim Pla and pole-sitter Mikael Grenier who had chosen slicks.

The WRT Audi remained under pressure through the opening stint from Grenier’s Emil Frey Racing teammate Giacomo Altoe, who rose from 10th on the grid to second with his Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo starting on the favorable dry-weather Pirelli compound.

Altoe then looked on course to make a passing attempt on Tomita approaching the pit window, only for his Lamborghini’s left-rear tire to delaminate coming onto a new lap.

This incident triggered a brief Full Course Yellow but no safety car, enabling van der Linde – whose Audi was now equipped with slick tires – to continue with an enlarged 8.5-second lead over Simon Gachet in Sainteloc Racing’s Silver Cup Audi.

Chevalier hunted down Palette in the second half of the race and got his Bentley ahead with just under 15 minutes left on the clock, to clinch second and the Silver Cup win.

Albert Costa took the checkered flag in fourth having taken over from Costa in the Emil Frey Lamborghini that looked set to challenge WRT for the overall win before its issue.

Jules Gounon charged up to fifth for CMR, which had both of its Bentleys in the top five.

Gounon’s co-driver Nelson Panciatici was one of six competitors to change from slicks to wets at the end of the warm-up lap, which resulted in a loss of track position but proved to be less costly than starting the race on slicks, as many drivers went on to discover.

Gounon recovered from a trip down the Tarzan escape road to reel in the cars ahead that had started on wets, along with Thomas Neubauer whose Lexus RC F GT3 had also been one of the immediate pitters.

The Frenchmen engaged in a brilliant tussle for the outer points positions with Nick Foster and Eddie Cheever who were in turn dueling for the Pro-Am class lead after their Am co-drivers made good starts with wet Pirellis attached.  

Once Gounon had dispatched that group of cars he reeled in and overtook Axcil Jefferies, who finished sixth in the Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo with Ezequiel Companc.

Neubauer and Mattia Drudi, whose Attempto Racing Audi had also pitted for wets early on, then got past Foster and Cheever in the closing stages to secure sixth and seventh.

Pro-Am ultimately went to Cheever and Chris Froggatt in the No. 93 Sky-Tempesta Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo after Foster’s SPS Automotive Performance AMG lost several positions with the Australian’s wet tires no longer working effectively on the dry surface.

This helped Phil Keen to assume second in the class and the ERC Sport driver, who partnered Lee Mowle, was less than a second away from Cheever at the checkered flag.

The topsy-turvy race included non-points scores for the points-leading No. 32 WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts, as well as the title-contending AKKA-ASP Mercedes-AMG of Timur Bogaslavskiy, who is joined by Felipe Fraga this weekend. 

This could play into the hands of fellow championship front-runners Maro Engel and Luca Stolz, who are not present at Zandvoort owing to Haupt Racing Team’s commitment in the Nürburgring 24 this weekend.

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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