Felix Rosenqvist was on course to finish on the podium on his Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup debut at Italy’s Misano circuit this weekend, but was ultimately left with heartbreak after retiring with technical problems in the closing stages.
Making his first-ever appearance in GT racing, European F3 champion Rosenqvist swiftly got to grips with his new environment, underlining a highly promising debut by setting the fastest lap of Sunday’s Main Race – which featured 39 cars and a total of 78 drivers.
The 24-year-old Swede, racing for French outfit AKKA-ASP in the brand new Mercedes-AMG GT3, had just overtaken his former F3 rival Alexander Sims for third as the one-hour race entered its dying minutes, only to suffer despair when he was forced to retire shortly afterwards with mechanical issues.
”A tough end to an otherwise very, very positive weekend,” says Felix Rosenqvist. ”We came extremely close to the podium, which makes this retirement all the more frustrating, but for me the main thing has been the pace we’ve shown at this early stage of the season. Going away from here with fastest lap is proof that we’re strong enough to fight at the front, and to me that’s the kind of confirmation I was hoping for. We’re definitely on the right track and I’m happy with how the weekend went, apart from the end result.”
Rosenqvist shares driving duties in the #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Frenchman Tristan Vautier, who completed the opening stint of the race before handing the car over to his Swedish team-mate in fourth place at the midway point.
Earlier in the weekend, Rosenqvist had topped one of the segments of Saturday’s qualifying session, and raced strongly in the Qualifying Race used to set the grid for Sunday’s main event.
”I have to say I’m positively surprised at how good the racing is in GT,” Rosenqvist concludes. ”The Qualifying Race was a lot of fun; close but fair and extremely intense. The level of the drivers here is very high, and that makes it enjoyable. I’m really glad I’ve been given this opportunity with AKKA-ASP, and I’m already looking forward to the next race at Brands Hatch. That should be a mega circuit for these cars.”
The 2016 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup boosts an exciting field, with a record number of entries and a grid brimming with ability. Among Rosenqvist’s rivals at the Misano season-opener were the likes of five-time DTM champion Bernd Schneider, reigning Porsche Supercup champion Philipp Eng, current DTM driver Maxime Martin, 2012 GP2 title winner Davide Valsecchi, GT superstar René Rast, ex-Formula Renault 3.5 champion Robin Frijns and 2015 Formula 1 racer Will Stevens.
The next round of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup takes place at Brands Hatch, UK, on May 7-8. Felix Rosenqvist, however, will next be back in action on April 22-24, as he continues the American part of his 2016 programme with round three of the Indy Lights campaign at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama.
Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup | Misano (Italy)
1: F.Vervisch/L.Vanthoor (Audi R8 LMS)
2: D.Baumann/M.Buhk (Mercedes-AMG GT3)
3: P.Eng/A.Sims (BMW M6 GT3)
4: R.Bell/A.Parente (McLaren 650S GT3)
5: F.Stippler/F.Salaquarda (Audi R8 LMS)
DNF: T.Vautier/F.Rosenqvist (Mercedes-AMG GT3) – fastest lap