- Ulrich becomes first Am to win a race outright in Paul Ricard opener.
- Auto Vitesse Lamborghini wins on debut after red flag results in countback.
- High Class Racing Audi takes another step towards sealing Pro-Am title tonight.
Christoph Ulrich put in a blistering opening stint and then fought back after serving ten seconds of compensation time in the pit stops to become the first Am winner to seal victory overall in the opening Fanatec GT2 European Series race of the weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard.
Starting from pole position, the #7 Sportec Motorsport KTM X-BOW made good its escape in the opening exchanges and boxed one lap into the pit window with an advantage just shy of ten seconds, before emerging behind the #63 Lamborghini in Julien Piguet's charge.
The Swiss racer wasted little time in re-claiming top spot on the road and capitalised on the early stages of a mechnical problem for Piguet into the chicane to annex the race lead, and from there he went unchallenged at the head of the field.
Piguet's ailment gradually allowed a rapid Anders Fjordbach to close, and the #33 High Class Audi looked to have completed a thrilling comeback from a pit lane start to seal the Pro-Am honours, only for a red flag after a broken suspension and heavy impact for Michael Vergers at Turn 1 in the #5 Speed Factory Racing Porsche to bring out the red flags, and halt the contest two minutes prematurely.
With the countback rule applied, Piguet, who had pulled off to the side on the main straight to retire moments prior, was handed a reprieve, and ensured Auto Vitesse would mark their debut in the series with victory in Pro-Am.
Am: Champion's drive from Ulrich to convert pole into victory
In truth, there was little catching Ulrich once the #7 KTM bolted from the start, the recently-crowned Am champion extending his lead gradually over the opening stint before serving his mandatory pit stop.
When he emerged, he had to spend a few tours of the 5.8km Le Castellet circuit studying the back of Piguet's Lamborghini Huracan, but seized his opportunity to re-take top spot, and was on course for a comfortable margin of victory prior to the chequered flag.
Kris Rosenberger made a bold move at the first corner to put the #24 Reiter Engineering KTM into the runner-up spot and, although the car slipped back as the Pro-Am runners hit the front in the second stint, Hans Joachim Stuck was able to bring the car home second, the seventh time the pair have finished just shy of a maiden victory.
Huilan Han marked his debut in the category with the final spot on the rostrum, the Chinese driver piloting the #32 Target Racing Lamborghini he shares with Jaromir Jirik to third spot. Cyril Leimer was next in the other Auto Vitesse Lamborghini, the runners in Am completed by Leonardo Gorini's LP Racing Porsche 911 and the #27 Target Lamborghini of Stefan Larsson and Mauro Casadei.
Pro-Am: Auto Vitesse win on debut, High Class take another step towards title
The battle for Pro-Am honours ended in slightly fortuitious style for Auto Vitesse, Piguet's mechanical woes having forced the #63 challenger onto the sidelines prematurely, only for Vergers' race-ending collision with the barriers at Turn 1 to bring out the red flags, and give the Lamborghini crew a reprieve on countback.
Until that point, both Cedric Leimer and Piguet looked to have managed the race comfortably, the Lamborghini emerging almost 30 seconds clear of it's nearest rivals in class after the pit stops.
However, their pain proved to be everybody else's gain, not least for High Class Racing's Pro-Am title contending #33 Audi; having been forced to start from the pit lane after a late mechanical worry of it's own, Mark Patterson emerged into the fray from the pit lane and quickly set about making progress.
He handed over to team-mate Anders Fjordbach having risen through the order to ninth, and after re-joining, the Dane's progress was meteoric, including a crucial pass on Bert Longin after getting the better exit from the final corner and out-dragging the #81 PK Carsport Audi - their closest rivals in the class standings - down to the first corner.
After closing in at a rate of knots on Piguet's stricken machine, Fjordbach inherited the lead, albeit briefly, after the former moved aside and retired, and was therefore demoted back to second in class after the post-race revision to the result. Longin and Peter Guelinckx would eventually take third, meaning Patterson and Fjordbach lead by 17 points with 25 left on the table in this evening's finale.
Luca Pirri and Stephane Ratel emerged in fourth on board the #88 LP Racing Audi at the head of a thrilling battle with Sehdi Sarmini's #16 True Racing KTM and Vergers before the latter's incident, the latter provisionally fifth and sixth in the final classification.
Having made an early pit stop, the #333 Ferrari 488 Evo of Scuderia Ravetto & Ruberti rounded out the Pro-Am finishers behind the #20 High Class Racing-run Brabham BT63 on it's competitive debut; an early spin for Dennis Andersen left David Brabham with an uphill task, the Australian battling back to take the flag in 12th overall.
The inaugural Fanatec GT2 European Series campaign concludes at 20:10 (CEST) this evening under the floodlights at Circuit Paul Ricard.