GT4 Winter Series Jerez: Elite conquers rain and rivals
Elite Motorsport celebrated a fine victory in the feature enduro after Zac Meakin set up a perfect overcut in wet conditions at Jerez on Sunday.
After inheriting the lead from starting driver Meakin, Tom Lebbon brought the team’s McLaren Artura home to complete the job.
The sprint wins earlier in the weekend were split between Jamie Day (Forsetti Motorsport) and series newcomer Josef Knopp (W&S Motorsport).
With Day having edged Joel Mesch (Schnitzelalm Racing) by a mere three hundredths of a second in qualifying, this sprint was set up for a serious duel between the Aston and the Mercedes.
Sadly for the spectators, the Saturday dogfight never came to pass. Alex Denning, at the wheel of the second Elite McLaren, was initially responsible for breaking it up. He snuck inside Mesch at the first corner, allowing Day to get away at the front.
Mesch still hadn’t found a way through when Max Huber’s off at Turn 6 brought out the safety car on lap three. But during the neutralisation, the stewards announced that Denning’s start hadn’t been entirely legal: he’d stepped out of line at the rolling getaway and would have to serve a drive-through after the lap six restart.
At the end of lap seven, then, Mesch was finally in clear air. With half the race left, and Day only two seconds up the road, Mesch must have dared to dream. Especially after he’d shaved a couple of tenths off the advantage by lap nine.
But next time across the line, his dreams quite literally went up in smoke. Victim of a technical failure, Mesch had to limp back to the pits. Day could then take it easy all the way to a 17-second win.
After almost an entire race stuck to the rear of Mattis Pluschkell’s Mercedes, Meakin picked up second place after managing to ambush the Mücke Motorsport car at the chicane with just one lap remaining.
Alberto de Martin (NM Racing Mercedes) was the leading Am category driver in what would prove to be the only dry race of the weekend, while Michael Sander won the ‘Cayman Cup’ class fight against SR Racing Porsche team-mate Willi Kühne.
Spots of rain were falling when the cars crossed the line for the start of the second sprint on Sunday morning. It then drizzled harder from there, making for an entertaining damp race as new actors stepped into some of the leading cars.
Mikey Porter led briefly in the Forsetti Aston, but Marcel Marchewicz had the Schnitzelalm Mercedes up into the lead by Turn 4.
Marchewicz had to work hard to keep his advantage as the rain began to intensify. By lap two it was Knopp who had taken up the chase, with Lebbon, Tom Emson (Elite McLaren), Porter and Enrico Forderer (SR Motorsport Porsche) jockeying for position behind.
Along with the rain, the entertainment peaked in the middle of the race. Knopp took the lead on lap eight, with Marchewicz responding by dropping a couple of positions and then flying off the road at Curva Jorge Martinez. The Merc got going, but was out of contention.
Knopp was relatively untroubled from there until the flag, while the McLarens and Porter put on a tense scrap for the rest of the race distance. This consisted more of near-misses, lurid slides and close encounters than definitive moves, however, and they finished in the same order they’d been in on the second lap.
Forderer had mixed it with them for a while, but dropped into an observer role late in proceedings as he secured class victory.
The hour-long enduro was a definitively wet affair, particularly at the start, at which point the weather could only be described as ghastly.
Meakin made do with trailing Day and Mesch throughout the opening stint. He spent much of it looking at the back of the Mercedes, but also made sure not to get drawn into a fight that would cost both of them time. And the fact that he was only a couple of seconds back of the leading Aston when the pit window opened ultimately proved crucial.
Meakin stayed out three laps longer than Day and Mesch, making sure to pump in a fastest lap on the third of them, lap 15. The strategy worked perfectly, as Lebbon was able to exit the pits just ahead of Porter and Marchewicz.
Lebbon did survive quite a moment as he rejoined the track, however. “I thought he’d spun it in the first corner,” recounted Meakin. “I was ready to kill him!”
Things weren’t actually that bad, and fortunately the Elite crew didn’t have any murders to deal with. But the team had a nailbiting time of it for the remaining 10 laps nonetheless.
While the Marchewicz threat went away when Schnitzelalm was hit with a drive-through for holding its car for too little time at the pitstop, Porter would not stop hassling Lebbon.
On lap 18, Porter found a way past. But his joy survived only a few corners, as he went off at Curva Sito Pons. By the time he had got the Aston back on the road, his challenge for victory was also a thing of the past.
Lebbon had the lead back – but now he had solo driver Pluschkell to worry about. Another series newcomer, the pink Mercedes kept a very close eye on the yellow McLaren. But Lebbon did not crack under the pressure and completed a deserved win over Pluschkell and Mesch/Marchewicz.
Alexander Danzer and Knopp took the Pro/Am class, while Max Huber drove his NM Racing Mercedes all the way to Am honours and Kuhne/Forderer claimed victory in their class.
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