Ibañez and Papadopulos launch their title bid with victory at Misano

Ibañez and Papadopulos launch their title bid with victory at Misano

+ NM Racing Team duo score controlled first victory at Misano
+ Briche and Navarro secure Pro-Am win for JSB Competition after late drama
+ GPA Racing Aston Martin breaks Schumacher CLRT’s streak in Am
+ Provisional result: Race 1, Misano

NM Racing Team drivers Lluc Ibañez and Alexandre Papadopulos were commanding winners in a dramatic opening GT4 European Series Powered by RAFA Racing Club race at Misano, guiding their Mercedes-AMG clear of the chaos to score their first victory of the year.

Ibañez controlled the one-hour contest from the front and impressed during a disrupted opening stint, building a comfortable advantage over Benjamin Lariche in the Team Speedcar Audi R8 LMS. Papadopulos then kept Robert Consani at bay across the final 20 minutes to secure the result.

The JSB Competition Porsche crew of Julien Briche and Jean-Laurent Navarro managed to convert their Pro-Am pole position into a first win of the year, but enjoyed more than a little luck as their biggest rivals hit trouble.

Schumacher CLRT lost its unbeaten streak in the Am class when Pascal Huteau was forced to stop his Alpine with suspension failure early on. That opened the door for the GPA Racing Aston Martin, shared by Kevin Jimenez and Florent Grizaud, to take victory.

Having been a winner at Misano in 2022, Ibañez was always going to be one to watch when he put the #15 Mercedes-AMG on pole, dipping below his own qualifying lap record in the process. The plan was simple: make a clean getaway and pull enough of a gap to help team-mate Papadopulos hold off the rival Team Speedcar Audi, which started alongside.

Ibañez did get a great start, but his progress was halted when the safety car was called to attend to a multi-car accident further back in the pack. With the debris cleared and the drivers OK, racing resumed on lap seven, with Ibañez once again leading the field.

Lariche struggled to stay with the Mercedes-AMG, and by the time the pit window opened Ibañez had built a cushion of almost five seconds to hand to Papadopulos. After a clean stop, the American driver rejoined well clear, and successfully held off Lariche’s team-mate Consani to the flag. In doing so he scored both the first win of the year for the team, as well as his own breakthrough victory in the championship.

Elite Motorsport McLaren drivers Tom Lebbon and Josh Rattican kept up their podium streak by fighting to third, holding off a race-long challenge from both the Wimmer Werk Porsche of Ivan Ekelchik/Nicolaj Möller-Madsen, and Herolind Nuredini/Leo Pichler in the #22 Allied-Racing version.

Despite a tough qualifying, championship leaders Enzo Joulié and Etienne Cheli kept things clean to finish sixth in their Matmut Évolution Toyota. They picked up places when other cars hit trouble, such as both Borusan Otomotiv Motorsport BMWs and the L’Espace Bienvenue M4 suffering punctures.

Pro-Am again proved very tight, with Briche and Navarro coming out on top after a late fight for class honours. The #46 Porsche was in the lead pack throughout and took control when the leading W&S Motorsport Porsche suffered a puncture, while the #7 Mirage Racing Aston Martin of Stanislav Safronov and Aleksandr Vaintrub lost time to a penalty for contact. They were able to recover to second and maintain the class points lead, with Gregory Guilvert and Antoni de Barn completing the podium in their Chazel Technologie Course BMW.

Kevin Jimenez and Florent Grizaud left it late to settle the Am class fight, with the GPA Racing Aston Martin pair passing the NM Racing Team Mercedes-AMG of Andy Cantu and Dilantha Malagamuwa in the closing laps. Father-and-son Mikael and Christoffer Brunnhagen completed the podium in their Toyota Gazoo Racing Sweden GR Supra, moving them into second in the class points behind Huteau and Laurent Hurgon after their Schumacher CLRT Alpine limped out early.

The second race for the GT4 European Series Powered by RAFA Racing Club takes place at 12:15 CEST on Sunday 19 May.