Even the clouds over Spa shed tears of joy for Pereira.
This unique combination of ambitious young drivers, experienced VIP guest drivers and enthusiastic ProAms has been one of the secrets to the Supercup’s success since 1993. We can also be proud of the fact that the best teams from the national Porsche Carrera Cups line up on the grid in the Supercup.
#17 Harry King (GBR/Parker Revs Motorsport) was back having missed a couple of rounds with clashing commitments in the Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain, and his team-mates would be #36 Loek Hartog (NLD/Parker Revs Motorsport) and #18 Garry Findlay (GBR/Parker Revs Motorsport), completing a strong line-up for the British team.
Two drivers that missed Hungary, #16 Simone Iaquinta (ITA/Dinamic Motorsport) and #9 (Lucas Groeneveld (NLD/GP Elite) were back in action and looking to add to their championship points.
Making his debut in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup was #33 Alessandro Ghiretti (FRA/Martinet by Alméras), the 19-year-old joining five other cars from (broadly) the same outfit.
Grid: looks familiar.
At first sight, the grid had a familiar feel to it, with reigning champion and 2021 points leader #25 Larry ten Voorde (NLD/Team GP Elite) scoring his third pole position of the season, ahead of #3 Dylan Pereira (LUX/BWT Lechner Racing) and #20 Jaxon Evans (NZL/Martinet by Alméras), lying second in the championship points standings.
However, the grid positions were set in a bizarre 30-minute qualifying session on Saturday, which began wet with conditions steadily worsening throughout, making improvements by anyone virtually impossible.
Qualifying: wet and worse.
Most of the front-runners completed only two or three flying laps before stopping at the pits and calling it a day. Despite forecasts suggesting a 60% chance of rain for the race, very few drivers took the opportunity to go out once it became clear that conditions would not get any better: #8 Fabio Scherer (CHE/ FACH AUTO TECH) and #27 Roar Lindland (NOR/Nebulus Racing by Huber) being the only two exceptions.
Sections of the racetrack such as Eau Rouge or Blanchimont are hugely challenging even in sunny conditions. The adrenaline rush is even greater in the rain.
With the track as treacherous as it was, it was extra-important not to overstep track limits in the early stages of the session, and there were eight drivers by the end of qualifying whose best times were disqualified. Most significant of these was #29 Laurin Heinrich (DEU/Nebulus Racing by Huber), who set a time good enough for the front row, but who ended up tenth on the grid.
After the qualifying results were issued, a five-place penalty was given to #11 Florian Latorre (FRA/CLRT), as a result of exceeding track limits in the Practice Session too often, which left championship rivals Ten Voorde and Evans separated at the front of the grid by Dylan Pereira. The 510PS 992-generation Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars may be identical, but it was reassuring to see three different teams represented in the first three grid slots.
Race: no respite from the rain.
Sunday morning’s conditions were, if anything, worse than what the teams experienced on Saturday during qualifying. If it was any consolation, at least the track was uniformly wet, although quite why Fabio Scherer elected to go to the grid on slicks defied logic. He was in the pit lane at the end of the formation lap for wet Michelin tyres, like the rest of the field.
As the red lights went out, Ten Voorde and Pereira both made good starts, but Pereira got into his stride a little quicker and saw his chance to grab the lead – they headed through La Source side-by-side. Further back, Florian Latorre, who had made an awful start, was nudged into a spin by #7 Marius Nakken (NOR/FACH AUTO TECH) and ended up facing the wrong way. The Norwegian was penalised 10-seconds for his misdemeanour.
Drama at Raidillon – championship turned on its head!
I was on a line offering less grip and that made me slide.
With Latorre being stuck on the start and finish straight for too long, the Safety Car was deployed, and Ten Voorde was back in 14th position. His main championship rival, Jaxon Evans, had also been delayed as he backed off and lost momentum on the Kemmel straight, dropping to eighth place in the process.
Those who had kept out of trouble had moved up the order: in particular #6 Christopher Zöchling (DEU/FACH AUTO TECH) to fourth, from ninth on the grid and Harry King to sixth from eleventh on the grid.
The Safety Car came in at the end of lap 2, and both Zöchling and King were on the move once again, both managing overtaking moves around the outside line at the end of Kemmel Straight. In only his second Supercup race, it is possible that inexperience cost sixteen-year-old #32 Morris Schuring (NLD/GP Elite) two places: having been overtaken by King, he was passed by Laurin Heinrich at Blanchimont later on the same lap.
Meanwhile at the chicane, Jaxon Evans found himself under pressure from, and then tagged by, an over-aggressive #28 Leon Köhler (DEU/Nebulus Racing by Huber), a move that the stewards determined was worth a 10-second time penalty for the German.
Lechner dominating, battles behind.
As the race began to settle into a pattern, it was Dylan Pereira and #2 Ayhancan Güven (TUR/BWT Lechner Racing) leading the way, with Zöchling next up, but dropping away at more than a second per lap. #24 Max van Splunteren (NLD/Team GP Elite) was fourth, soon to be overtaken by the hard-charging Heinrich, with #28 Leon Köhler in sixth.
By the next lap, young Morris Schuring had regained his composure and was putting pressure on Harry King, who had lost a place to Laurin Heinrich. As Schuring tried to go up the inside of King at Stavelot, the two cars touched, and King was spun towards the barriers. He rejoined right at the back.
Ahead of these two youngsters, the battles were coming thick and fast, with Laurin Heinrich continuing to impress the rain-drenched fans. On lap 5, he drafted past Max van Splunteren at the end of the Kemmel straight, but then had to be brave through Les Combes, to finally complete the move into fourth place as they went into Rivage.
By the next lap, Leon Köhler was all over the back of van Splunteren, who had also to hold off a challenge from Marvin Klein, who himself had to take to the escape road at Les Combes after leaving his braking too late. He rejoined without losing any time, and as they went into the double left-hander at Pouhon, Köhler was able to pass van Splunteren for fifth place on the road.
Up at the front meanwhile, Ayhancan Güven was closing in on Dylan Pereira, the two Lechner-run cars circulating less than a second apart, but continuing to draw away at a second per lap from the rest of the field. Zöchling was having a relatively quiet race in third place, but being closed upon by the two Nebulus Porsche 911 GT3 Cup cars of Heinrich and Köhler.
On a wet track, I take the kerbs more aggressively to get a more direct racing line.
With three laps to go, the Safety Car was deployed again following an incident at the chicane: ProAm points leader Roar Lindland tried to go up the inside of #21 Clément Mateu (FRA/Pierre Martinet by Alméras), but ended up tipping him into a spin. Unfortunately, Mateu did not look before rejoining the track and drove straight into the side of his team-mate #22 Stéphane Denoual (FRA/ Pierre Martinet by Alméras), eliminating both cars from the race.
More Safety Car Periods with three laps to go.
For some reason, Mateu left his car half-blocking the pit lane entrance, from where it was unceremoniously removed by a mini-mobile crane, and enabling the Safety Car to pull in to the pits at the end of its next lap.
It wasn’t the best of restarts for Pereira, who allowed Güven to get alongside him through La Source and down the hill. The Porsche Junior driver decided to lift first for Eau Rouge, and allow the Luxembourger the line unchallenged. A similar battle was going on behind for third place between Christopher Zöchling and Laurin Heinrich, with Köhler close behind. At the end of the Kemmel straight, both Heinrich and Köhler slipped past Zöchling, but of course there was still that 10-second penalty to take into account for Köhler.
Before the leaders reached the start/finish line at the end of the lap, the Safety Car had to be deployed again, as Alessandro Ghiretti was stuck in the gravel at Stavelot. The 20-year-old having his first outing in the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup had been in contact with Simone Iaquinta, as the rain fell more heavily in the closing two laps of the race and found himself with nowhere to go. It had not been a good weekend for Alméras.
Chequered Flag behind the Safety Car.
I started from tenth place and finished on third – something like this can only happen in a wet race.
In the Rookie Classification, the honours went to an inspired Laurin Heinrich, ahead of #19 Dorian Boccolacci (FRA/Martinet by Alméras) and Harry King. As a result, Heinrich now has a useful lead in the standings.
In the ProAm Classification, it was a win for #5 Nicolas Misslin (MCO/Lehner Racing Middle East) extending his lead in the standings, from #15 Philipp Sager (AUT/Dinamic Motorsport SRL) and #23 Aaron Mason (GBR/Pierre Martinet by Alméras), recovering from a spin early in the race. Roar Lindland had finished second in class on the road, but also suffered a post-race penalty as a result of his part in the incident at the Bus Stop chicane earlier in the race.
A look back and forward.
Truly this was a race to remember to celebrate the 300th Porsche Supercup race. The first race took place in 1993 at Imola, supporting the San Marino Grand Prix, and now 29 seasons later, the series is still going strong and has produced many remarkable drivers.
A great result and first ever overall podium for Rookie Laurin Heinrich, who drove with formidable skill to stay out of trouble and complete lots of clean overtaking.
With three rounds of the 2021 Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup remaining, the championship is still wide open – Larry ten Voorde’s lead over Jaxon Evans has been cut to 20 points, who has a similar advantage over Dylan Pereira, who moves up to third in the table after his Spa win.
The best news of all though is that the next round of the championship will be next weekend at Zandvoort – a new circuit and a new chapter in the story of the Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup. We are hoping for a thrilling race through the banked turns in the dunes!