The Barwell Motorsport crew end their 2016 Blancpain GT Series campaign with a seventh place finish in Pro-Am, in the #78 Barwell run VI Holding/Vimetco Extrusion/The Calais Wine Superstore backed Lamborghini Huracan GT3, with Leonid Machitski, Marco Mapelli and Phil Keen at the Endurance Cup finale at Nurburgring. A busy season in the Pro-Am class has seen the Barwell team run all three of their Huracan GT3 fleet in the series at various points throughout the year, with a mixture of 10 drivers and huge highlights of podiums at both the Paul Ricard six hour ‘into the night’ race and the famous 24 Hours of Spa. The Barwell squad finish the year sixth out of 19 crews in the Blancpain Endurance Cup Pro-Am Team’s standings, with Phil Keen also in sixth, out of 52 points-scorers, in the Blancpain Endurance Cup Pro-Am Driver’s table.
A good start to the weekend saw all three drivers post strong times in the Free Practice session, including Marco Mapelli setting the second fastest Pro-Am time, a mere nine thousandths of a second off P1. Two of the three Sunday morning qualifying sessions were called off due to lack of visibility caused by heavy and persistent fog around the Eifel track, so that left Mapelli to take a maximum attack approach on Q3 in tricky conditions. Despite the session being red flagged after just 11 minutes due to an M-Sport Bentley off at turn one, Marco did a stellar job to qualify third in class and 10th overall after only two flying laps, completed on slick tyres in very damp and complex circumstances.
Barwell ace Phil Keen was first in the hot seat for the three-hour finale and managed to get a tremendous start as the lights went green, but as the 54 strong grid went barrelling into the tight right hander of turn one, the #52 AF Corse Ferrari tapped the back of the #44 Motorbase Aston and turned it around in the path of Keen. Phil did a fantastic job to avoid any contact, but unfortunately dropped down to 23rd in the process. Keeny’s recovery drive was frustratingly impaired to some degree by a short safety car period from lap two and the persistently defensive driving by Kaffer in the #4 WRT Audi ahead of him. The #78 Pro guided the Barwell Huracan 10 places up the grid whilst fending off the #98 ROWE Racing BMW of DTM superstar Martin Tomczyk, before handing over to Machitski second in class and 13th overall.
The middle stint saw Leo have some close battles with his competitors in all classes, but he was hampered by a very loose car balance, and was hit into a spin by a BMW, which cost him a significant amount of time and positions before Lamborghini factory driver Mapelli jumped behind the wheel for the final hour with the car in 9th place in Pro-Am. Marco was then set to perform a charge back up the order, as many of our rivals ahead had their Am drivers in for the final stint. At this stage a podium finish was certainly still on the cards.
Four of our rivals were running their Pro drivers to the maximum during the middle stint before they handed over to the Ams, and this worked out hugely to their advantage as a Full Course Yellow (FCY) period shortly after our pit stop meant these cars could all then make their final stops with the rest of us circulating at only the 80kmh allowed under the FCY Caution. They were then able to stay on the same lap as the overall leader, during the final pit stop phase. This situation then became much worse for us, as the FCY turned into a full Safety Car period and meant that all the cars like us that had just been lapped by the overall leader instantly went a lap down on these four Pro-Am rivals. They were thus gifted a free run to the finish, with insufficient time for Marco to make up what had turned from being an achievable time deficit into an impossible task to get into the top three. Despite Mapelli also losing precious fast lap time under the FCY and Safety Car, he was, however, able to move up to seventh position and was right on the bumper of the sixth placed car as the Chequered Flag came out.
A massive thank you to the entire team, all of the Barwell drivers, sponsors and supporters for another solid year, in what is arguably the toughest Endurance Championship in the world - lets see what the 2017 season brings us!