Class victory at the recent 2023 Hankook 12H MONZA has moved reigning GT Continents Trophy winner CP Racing to the top of the GT3-AM Teams’ standings in the 24H SERIES powered by Hankook, albeit by just two points ahead of fellow Monza podium finisher E2P Racing.
Words – James Gent
Images – Nico Mombaerts
New GT3-AM Teams’ championship leader CP Racing heads into next month’s Hankook 12H ESTORIL just two points clear of Spain’s E2P Racing in the standings following its win at this past weekend’s Hankook 12H MONZA.
Both CP Racing, the reigning GT Continents Trophy winner, and E2P Racing, the reigning 991 Teams’ ‘Europe’ champion, finished on the GT3-AM podium at Monza as well as in the overall top five after an fault-free run for both the #85 Mercedes-AMG GT3 and the #90 Porsche 992 GT3 R. Results that have propelled both 24H SERIES staples into GT3-AM championship contention.
CP Racing’s weekend got off to an imposing start when 2022 GT3-AM Drivers’ ‘Continents’ champions Charles Putman, Charles Espenlaub and Shane Lewis, and Joe Foster (like Putman and Espenlaub, the Overall GT Drivers’ champion of 2018) secured GT3-AM class pole and an impressive 3rd on the overall grid.
Throughout the opening stints, a double stint from a charging Charles Espenlaub kept the #85 Mercedes towards the GT sharp end, in striking distance of nearest class rivals BMW Italia Ceccato Racing and Land Motorsport (the latter would eventually retire from the event altogether when a left-rear puncture caused damage to the Audi R8’s rear left corner). Espenlaub’s pace, Land Motorsport’s puncture and delays on pitroad for BMW Italia Ceccato Racing meant CP Racing stayed trenchantly in the overall top three – and even led for six laps outright – until a rear-left puncture during Charles Putman’s first stint dropped the #85 Mercedes back down to 8th. Putman, Espenlaub, Foster and Lewis had nevertheless recovered to 5th overall and 2nd in GT3-AM come the overnight intervention.
Consistent pace kept the American team well in GT3-AM contention on Sunday until fortune struck just 20 minutes from the end of the race. A bizarre collision between 3rd-placed Haas RT and 4th-placed BMW Italia led to the #21 Audi retiring altogether and the #15 BMW receiving a 30-second time penalty.
CP Racing, in the right place at the right time, moved past both onto the final podium spot and past the BMW into the GT3-AM lead, positions Espenlaub held all the way to the chequered flag.
This marks CP Racing’s first overall podium since the team’s outright win at last year’s Hankook 12H KUWAIT, for which the team, interestingly, also qualified 3rd overall. The win also puts to bed two difficult weekends in Mugello and Spa-Francorchamps, and moves CP Racing past Heart of Racing by SPS into the GT3-AM Teams’ standings lead.
E2P Racing meanwhile completed its most successful weekend yet in the 24H SERIES with its 991.2 GT3 R. Thanks to a late red flag in qualifying – the result of Willi Motorsport by Ebimotors’ hit against the Ascari tyre barriers – Javier Morcillo remarkably found himself on provisional pole position in Q1, though the team would ultimately drop back to 7th on the grid.
Opting to pit later than the GT3 frontrunners meant E2P Racing, impressively, held the overall lead at the end of the first hour, the #90 Porsche going on to lead nine laps in total before Antonio Sainero brought his opening stint to a close. Though unable to keep pace with the fast-charging BMW Italia Ceccato Racing, Land-Motorsport and/or CP Racing, a fortuitously-timed Code 60 during the second hour meant E2P Racing was still running comfortable in the top six – and even led the GT3-AM class again – over the first six hours, Morcillo, Sainero and reigning 991 Drivers’ ‘Europe’ champion Pablo Burguera going into the overnight intervention 5th overall and 2nd in GT3-AM, ahead of the beleaguered CP Racing.
Time penalties notwithstanding, a clean run on Sunday allowed E2P Racing to hold 6th overall throughout the afternoon, Haas RT’s late-race drama dutifully promoting the Spanish team to 5th overall come the chequered flag.
3rd in-class at the Hankook 12H MONZA was E2P Racing’s second consecutive 24H SERIES class podium, and moves the Spanish team to within two points of CP Racing ahead of next month’s Hankook 12H ESTORIL on 7-8 July.