Equipe Verschuur proved too strong for its rivals as Dan McKay and Benjamin Lessennes mastered the conditions at the opening round of the GT4 European Series at Monza.
36 cars made the trip to Milan for the first race of 2019 to be yet more proof of the strength of the GT4 category as brands including McLaren, KTM, Chevrolet, BMW, Audi and Aston Martin were all represented on the grid.
None of them though, could do better than Equipe Verschuur, as even a start behind the safety car thanks to soaking conditions on Sunday couldn’t faze the Dutch team.
Race One – Late safety car proves key for Lessennes
Starting second alongside the Team GT McLaren 570S of Charlie Fagg, McKay quickly pulled himself up into the lead thanks to an inch-perfect move at the notoriously tight first chicane leaving factory driver Fagg trailing in McKay’s exhaust pipes.
While they proceeded to open up somewhat of a margin over the rest of the field, the fight for third was between the BMW M4 GT4s of RN Vision STS and MDM Motorsport. Despite Gabriele Piana, in the RN Vision entry, being shoved off track by Alec Udell in the MDM car, the Italian quickly recovered to third as Udell proved powerless to defend his position.
Despite a safety car period to recover a stranded KTM bunching up the top four, the BMWs couldn’t get a jump on the McLarens as McKay and Fagg battled amongst themselves until the mandatory mid-race pitstop.
It was then that the Chevrolet Camaro of Oliver Hart started to mix things up as his V8 Racing pulled off a swift stop to get him out of the pits and into the lead of the race. However, the team’s charge was quickly halted as the stewards slapped the car with a stop/go penalty after the pitstop was determined to be a touch too swift.
The penalty allowed Lessennes to move up into third – having been pushed off the track at the first chicane just after he got into the car – and the Belgian was soon on the move up into the lead.
The first to be relegated was Simon Knap, who had taken over the MDM machine from Udell, and then a quicker restart from a late safety car intervention allowed Lessennes to outwit Michael Benyahia in the Team GT McLaren at the second chicane and move into a lead he held until the flag.
Team GT secured second, with MDM finishing third. Erstwhile front-runners Piana and team-mate Marius Zug claimed the Pro-Am honours with their sixth-place overall finish while Selleslagh Racing Team pairing Jean-Luc Behets and Johan Vannerum secured the Am class victory in their first appearance at the Italian circuit.
Race two – Rain proves no deterrent
The weather couldn’t have been more different for Sunday’s second race as heavy rain meant the race had to be started under the safety car, with the V8 Racing Camaro leading the pack as drivers got used to the limited visibility Monza offered.
He was still leading when the safety car finally came in, but he lost places in quick succession to both Lassennes and then Bas Schouten in the Silver Cup Selleslagh Mercedes-AMG GT4.
Much like the first race, Lassennes seemed unstoppable at the front of the field as the pit window opened. But with a success penalty – combined with Schouten staying out a lap longer – the Equipe Verschuur car came out the pits in second at the hands of McKay.
Indeed, even after Schouten handed over to Junior Strous the Mercedes still maintained the lead. However, the Dutch driver had no luck holding back a hard-charging McKay, who proceeded to power off into the distance – winning by almost ten seconds.
His easy victory was helped by Strous having to keep half-an-eye in his mirrors as Nicolaj Moller-Madsen, in the Phoenix Racing Audi R8 GT4, started closing in at a rate of knots. The Dane was getting closer to the Selleslagh car, but ran out of time to make a move – he took a first podium of the season, just 1.5s down on Strous.
Pro-Am was decided in the dying minutes of the race. Piana looked on course for the class win in the RN Vision STS car, having reeled in Marcus Paverud in the Leipert Motorsport Mercedes with less than five minutes on the clock, but the Italian clipped a curb in his BMW and went skidding through a gravel trap. He rejoined behind Paverud, but couldn’t reclaim the position having lost seven seconds with his impromptu excursion.
Behets and Vannerum once again took the honours in Am, finishing comfortably ahead of the Street Arts Racing Aston Martin Vantage of Clement Seyler and Pascal Bachmann.