Two controlled wins on the 24H SERIES’ first official weekend in Estoril has left WTM by Rinaldi Racing confident of further success with its new Ferrari 296 GT3 at the European season-closing Hankook 24H BARCELONA in September.
Words – James Gent
Images – Nico Mombaerts
WTM Racing owner Georg Weiss has praised a “perfect performance” by team members, drivers and the team’s Ferrari 296 GT3 after the Ferrari GT flagship secured two overall wins on its 24H SERIES powered by Hankook debut.
Though pushed hard by Haas RT and Kessel Racing, the new WTM Racing Ferrari 296 GT3, operated by Scuderia specialist Rinaldi Racing, secured pole position on Friday morning at the Circuito do Estoril. The German team then went on to win CREVENTIC’s first-ever 6H Qualifying Race, securing pole position for the following day’s Hankook 12H ESTORIL in the process, which the #22 Ferrari also won in commanding fashion.
The weekend marked the first 24H SERIES win for Ferrari’s 296 GT3, and the second and third for WTM Racing since last year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA, the latter won with WTM’s retiring Ferrari 488 GT3.
“It was a wonderful weekend in a great atmosphere with an excellent result,” team owner Georg Weiss explains. “An absolutely perfect job from Rinaldi Racing to provide us with a car that works perfectly all weekend. It was a perfect performance from the entire team, including an impressive GT3 debut from Torsten [Kratz]. Receiving the winner's trophy together with my son [Leonard] is a very special feeling and makes me very proud.”
Having sealed pole position by two-tenths of a second on Friday morning, WTM’s Jochen Krumbach was shadowed closely by fellow front row starter Haas RT’s Frédéric Vervisch across the opening stages. Slick pitwork during a prolonged Code 60 caution period – thrown when Vortex V8 lost its brakes heading into turn four, leading to significant repair work to the barriers – meant the Antiguan team and even E2P Racing moved ahead of the WTM Racing Ferrari during the opening hour. Granted, the #90 Porsche, which pitted for a second time under the purple flags, quickly fell behind the WTM Ferrari once again.
What was gearing up to be a race-long duel between Haas and WTM ended abruptly when the #21 Audi suffered a left rear puncture, promoting WTM back into the lead and dropping Haas back out of the top 10. The Audi would eventually recover to the podium over the following 4.5 hours, but was unable to stop WTM Racing leading home a Ferrari 1-2 ahead of fellow 296 GT3 runner, Kessel Racing.
Amazingly, the following day’s Hankook 12H ESTORIL started in similar fashion, when WTM Racing retained its lead over the opening laps only to be leapfrogged by the Haas RT Audi during the opening round of pit stops. Once again, the leading #21 Audi was stuck down by mechanical issues while leading, promoting WTM back to the front. Over the following six hours, Krumbach, Torsten Kratz (the latter making his first-ever start in a GT3 car after spending most of the previous seasons aboard LMP2 and GT4 machinery) and Leonard Weiss managed to pull a two-lap cushion over the pursuing Kessel Racing, and the Audi R8 LMS GT3 EVO II of reigning GT European Trophy winner, Scherer Sport PHX.
In a prophetic moment, Georg Weiss took the wheel for his first stint during the final 12 minutes of the race in order to take his car across the finish line, the sole ‘drama’ being Scherer Sport PHX’s Christer Jöns un-lapping himself on the final tour. The Ferrari thus collected the chequered flag for the second day in succession in Estoril, with the #1 Audi R8 finishing just 1m 35s further back.
WTM by Rinaldi Racing completed 401 laps of the Circuito do Estoril en-route to victory, or 1,677 km, the equivalent of travelling from northernmost point of Portugal to the country’s southernmost point nearly three times.
“I am very happy that we were able to achieve two more victories with our car,” Leonard Weiss continues. “… The two races could not have gone better for us. Our car was set up perfectly, so that we could do longer stints on one set of tyres... It was really fun to dominate the races like this. I was very happy that in the end my father was also allowed to take the wheel.
“Torsten [Kratz] did a great job in his first GT3 race. So far we've had 'Luigi 2' win all races. I hope it continues like this! Thanks to the guys from Rinaldi Racing for the great work during the race and the preparation and to Jochen, Torsten and my father for the great weekend.”
Though out of contention for the 24H SERIES’ overall GT European Trophy honours (this weekend’s Hankook 12H ESTORIL was the German team’s first start with CREVENTIC since Barcelona last year), the pace of the Ferrari in Portugal has given the team confidence for further success at the Hankook 24H BARCELONA on 15-16-17 September.