It would be hard to imagine a more thrilling climax to a racing season. On the final weekend of the 2015 ADAC GT Masters at Hockenheim, the outcome of all three championships remains unresolved until Sunday. While the Audi R8 pair of Rahel Frey (29, CH) and Philip Geipel (28, DEU, both YACO Racing) were rejoicing at a maiden ADAC GT Masters victory, championship leaders Luca Ludwig (26, DEU) and Sebastian Asch (29, DEU, both Team Zakspeed) had the massively frustrating experience of parking up their Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG on the first lap after a contact with a competitor. Their closest pursuer, Dominik Baumann (22, AUT), ably assisted by DTM star Bruno Spengler (32, CAN, both BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert) this weekend, finished fourth and reduced the deficit on the current leaders by twelve points ahead of the last race of the season on Sunday. For Frey, Geipel and YACO, the satisfaction with their first win in the series on this pleasant autumn day was immense. “Today is a real holiday for us, in keeping with today´s 25th Day of German Unity, because a team from Saxony has won the ADAC GT Masters for the first time,” beamed Geipel. The final race on Sunday to decide all three titles will be shown live on SPORT1. Coverage starts at 13:00 CEST.
Stolz retires after short spell in the lead
The penultimate race of the season began with a scare. After an accident involving newcomer Nicklas Mackschin (20, DEU, BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert) in one of the BMW Z4s, the red flag was shown to halt the race. Mackschin was unhurt and able to free himself from the wrecked vehicle. There was then a worrying moment for championship leader Asch and rival title contender Bachler (24, AUT, GW IT Racing Team Schütz Motorsport). On the second corner, Asch collided with the Porsche 911 driven by Bachler´s team-mate Christian Engelhart (28, DEU). Neither the Mercedes-Benz nor the Porsche was able to continue the race. While Asch and Ludwig have a second chance to clinch the title in the final race on Sunday, Bachler saw his own aspirations blown away by the incident, as he now no longer has even a mathematical chance of finishing top of the table.
After a short interruption, the race was continued, with the new duration being set at 50 minutes. Pole-sitter Luca Stolz (20, DEU, Bentley Team HTP) in his Bentley Continental pulled smartly away from Rahel Frey´s Audi and the Ford driven by Nico Verdonck (29, BEL, Lambda Performance). However, the Bentley´s spell in the lead was to last only another four laps, at which point Stolz ground to a halt, having lost all power, allowing Frey to inherit the lead. Despite coming under severe pressure from Verdonck, the Swiss driver kept a cool head. The pit stop then gave the Audi team additional breathing space, because while the Ford team were losing five seconds, the handover from Frey to Geipel went very smoothly. With Ford taking so long to change drivers, Fabian Hamprecht (20, DEU) in the second Bentley now took over as main pursuer, but he was unable to get within striking distance of Geipel and had to settle for the runner-up spot which he shared with co-driver Clemens Schmid (25, AUT, both Bentley Team HTP).
“This win is amazing,” said Frey, visibly delighted with triumphing in the ADAC GT Masters. “Bad luck and good luck are never far apart. After the first start, we got spun round, but at the restart, we were able to resume our grid position, and from then on, we were consistently fast on the track. This has been a great reward for all the hard work by our entire team.”
“A great feeling,” concurred Geipel. “Rahel put in an incredibly good performance. After the accident at the start, our Audi was not quite optimally set up, so to keep your cool in a situation like this and to win the race was a magnificent achievement.”
In the battle for P3, the Audi R8 pairing of Stefan Wackerbauer (19, DEU) and Kelvin van der Linde (19, RSA, both C.Abt Racing) prevailed against the BMW duo of Baumann and Spengler. P4 was enough for Baumann to reduce the deficit to 19 points going into the final race.
By the end of an action-packed race, Andreas Wirth (30, DEU) and Daniel Keilwitz (26, DEU, both Callaway Competition) in their Corvette had battled their way up into P5. Verdonck and team-mate Frank Kechele (29, DEU) in the Ford GT finished the race in seventh place behind the Audi R8 of Edward Sandström (36, SWE) and Daniel Dobitsch (31, AUT/kfzteile24 MS Racing). Jordan Lee Pepper (19, RSA) and Nicki Thiim (26, DEN, both C.Abt Racing) finished eighth in yet another Audi R8.
The title decision in the Gentlemen class was also postponed until Sunday. Marc Gassner (24, DEU) in the Nissan GT-R finished ninth overall along with Florian Strauss (30, DEU, both MRS GT-Racing) and thus secured his third class victory ahead of championship leader Andreas Weishaupt (42, DEU, C.Abt Racing) whose Audi R8 crossed the finish line in second place in the Gentlemen class and tenth overall with partner Christer Jöns (28, DEU).
The chase for the team title is still undecided. BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert and Team Zakspeed are level on points in P1 going into the final race. Only the BMW and Mercedes-Benz outfits still have a chance of winning the team standings in the final race on Sunday.
Title thriller on Sunday
Championship leader Ludwig starts into Sunday´s race with a handicap. After Saturday´s race, Asch was penalised with a drop of the positions for Sundays race for avoidable contact with the Porsche at the start of race 1. Thus, his teammate Ludwig will start from fifth into the final race of the season. Ford man Kechele and Sandström in an Audi will share the front row, while title contender Baumann will start from sixth position.
Luca Ludwig (26, DEU) and Sebastian Asch (29, DEU) have won the 2015 ADAC GT Masters title. In a thrilling finale at Hockenheim, with conditions made difficult by a drying track, a fifth-place finish for the duo in their Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG was enough to clinch the title. Victory in the final race of the campaign went to Jordan Lee Pepper (19, RSA) and Nicki Thiim (26, DEN, both C.Abt Racing) in an Audi R8 ahead of second-placed Frank Kechele (29, DEU) and Nico Verdonck (29, BEL, both Lambda Performance) in the Ford GT and third-placed Bruno Spengler (32, CAN) partnered by Dominik Baumann (23, AUT, both BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert) in a BMW Z4. Baumann thus became the 2015 ADAC GT Masters championship runner-up – he would have needed an outright victory in this last race to have pipped Ludwig and Asch to the post. “It´s an incredible feeling to have won the ADAC GT Master for a second time,” said Asch. “I am very proud of this. Today we regained our former sparkle and kept our cool to secure the title.” Ludwig was overcome with emotion: “It hasn´t really sunk in. After yesterday´s race, some of us got quite nervous, and the changeable conditions could have thrown everything up in the air once again. But today, we were always in a position where we were going to take the title; there were no really dangerous moments.”
First stint characterised by two long safety car periods
The finale was not just a test of nerves for the title contenders. Two safety car deployments following crashes by Florian Strauss (30, DEU, MRS GT Racing) in the Nissan GT-R and Andreas Simonsen (25, SWE, Callaway Competition) in a Corvette put the brakes on the race in the first half. After starting on a wet track, Daniel Keilwitz in his Corvette took over the lead on the second corner from Kechele in the Ford, but Keilwitz could not hang on to P1 for long. Thiim in the Audi was pushing from behind and pulled past the Corvette on the fifth lap to take the lead. From that moment on, the Audi could not be caught by its pursuers. South African driver Pepper already had a lead of more than 15 seconds by the time a third safety car period was flagged up after the handover of drivers to Pepper following a spin by Michael Joos (24, DEU, MRS GT Racing) in the BMW. After the restart, he drove a controlled race to finish ahead of the Ford and secure his maiden win in the ADAC GT Masters.
“What a great way to finish!” said Thiim. “It was the best thing that could happen to us here, and I think we deserved this success. We´ve had a lot of bad luck this year, but the team has worked hard, and I´m pleased with the win. I gave everything today, and once I´d taken the lead, I didn´t see any of our opponents in the rear-view mirror after a couple of turns.”
“I took over the car with a very comfortable lead, and there was no reason to take too many risks,” said Pepper. “But it was close once again at the restart following the third safety-car period. However, I was able to control the lead and still had something left in reserve. It´s been a tough season for us, but this is a great way to finish, for sure.”
Ludwig and Asch control the title contest
The situation in the battle for the drivers´ championship was clear-cut at the start of the day: Ludwig and Asch needed to finish at least sixth to lift the title, whereas Baumann had to win. The title contenders resolutely focused on their individual targets. While Asch and Ludwig kept themselves in the Top Six throughout an action-packed race in tough conditions on a drying track, Baumann, aided by DTM star Spengler, worked his way forwards in an uncompromising and combative manner. But ultimately, it was not enough for the win that Baumann needed. Meanwhile, Ludwig and Asch were driving a controlled race to clinch the title. However, the BMW team from Oschersleben still had cause for celebration. The podium achieved by Spengler and Baumann meant that BMW Sports Trophy Team Schubert won the team classification, making them the most successful outfit in the 2015 ADAC GT Masters.
Daniel Dobitsch (31, AUT) and Edward Sandström (36, SWE, both kfzteile24 MS Racing) driving an Audi R8 LMS finished the race in fourth place ahead of the new champions. Saturday´s winners Rahel Frey (29, CH) and Philip Geipel (28, DEU, both YACO Racing) placed their Audi R8 sixth ahead of another Audi driven by Stefan Wackerbauer (19, DEU) and the now deposed champion from 2014, Kelvin van der Linde (19, RSA, both C.Abt Racing). The Audi duo of Florian Stoll (34, DEU) and Marc Basseng (36, DEU, kfzteile24 MS Racing) finished eighth after an eventful race. For a long time, it looked as if Andreas Wirth (30, DEU) and Daniel Keilwitz (26, DEU, both Callaway Competition) in their Corvette were on course for a podium, but a slip-up by Wirth deprived them of a potential Top Three finish and consigned them to ninth.
Crossing the line in tenth place overall and as winner in the Gentlemen classification was Remo Lips (32, CH) partnered by Sven Barth (34, DEU, both RWT Racing Team), but it was bitter sweet victory, because second place for Andreas Weishaupt (42, DEU, C.Abt Racing) was enough for him to take the 2015 Gentlemen title. Weishaupt has been impressive throughout his debut season in the ADAC GT Masters. In his first year in a sprint series and behind the wheel of an Audi R8, he not only won the title with the support of co-driver Christer Jöns (28, DEU) but also posted more class wins than any of his rivals.