Will Stevens secured his first win of the season following a backs-to-the-wall job to keep some fellow Audis at bay. Former Formula 1 driver Stevens was pushed all the way by the likes of Kelvin van der Linde and – later on – Christopher Mies but held his own, matching the pace of those around him thanks to his unerring consistency. He also has to thank a majestic display of driving by his partner, Dries Vanthoor.
It was the Belgian in the number 2 WRT Audi who set an electrifying pace over the first half-hour of the race, building up a 2.5 second lead over his nearest rivals despite an early safety car. At this point the rest of the Britons settled into a pattern, with Michael Meadows running in fourth in his Akka ASP Mercedes and Stuart Leonard seventh in his WRT Audi.
Within seconds of the pit stop window opening though, Stevens took over from Vanthoor, while Leonard handed his Audi to Fredric Vervisch. Also coming in was Meadows, who handed the wheel to rapid Italian, Raffaele Marciello. Meadows would later claim that his stint was “a bit boring”, which does not do justice to a strong performance. This gave way to the unusual sight of Nico Bastian leading in his Silver Cup Mercedes, following an impressive stint. He eventually handed over to young charger Jack Manchester towards the end of the window, with the 18-year-old taking over in sixth once the race had settled.
Stevens though held his own superbly. Despite admitting his car was lacking pace around most of the circuit, his Audi usually looked pacey around the first part as he put on what must be regarded as one of his finest Blancpain performances. Van der Linde was keeping him on his toes though, and he was soon joined by both Mies and Marciello. On the final lap, just as the leading Brit had the race under control, Mies passed van der Linde for second and a puncture for the latter allowed Marciello through to take the final podium spot with Meadows. Vervisch and Leonard finished fourth as van der Linde went backwards.
Elsewhere there was Silver Cup success for another Brit, as Manchester went off from sixth overall late on in the race. Andrew Watson had a solid stint for the fledgling 3Y Technology BMW team, putting on a fine job keeping the charging Lamborghini of Christian Engelhart at bay until the latter part of his drive. His car finished 15th in the end, although this is under investigation due to teammate Lukas Moraes ignoring a black and orange flag towards the end of the race.
The gravel trap ending for Manchester belied what was, up until this point, a fine drive. Despite considerable pressure from Pierre Kaffer, it looked as though the Akka ASP car had the position secured. It was a disappointing end to a promising performance.
The two Parker Bentleys had a quiet race in the lower positions. Eventually Josh Caygill and partner Aron Taylor-Smith finished 16th, with Ian Loggie and Callum MacLeod just behind in 17th.
British Driver of the Race:
A tall order to follow on from his rapid partner, but Stevens maintained a consistent pace throughout his stint, securing a well-deserved victory despite much pressure.
Race 2 is at 4.30pm local time.