West Wratting racing driver Alexander Sims came third in the first round of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup.
A highly-competitive grid of 39 entries, with 19 different teams and nine manufacturers included BMW factory driver Sims and his racing partner, Austrian Philipp Eng in their #99 Rowe Racing BMW M6 GT3.
During the first of Saturday’s three qualifying sessions, Eng set a lap time of 1:35.198 around the 4.2km circuit, with Sims bettering this to a 1:34.848 to secure 30th place on the grid for the qualifying race.
The floodlit qualifying race began in the wet, with Sims and Eng strategically opting for slick tyres. From the 15th row, Sims had a strong start, systematically picking off the cars ahead one-by-one as a dry line slowly began to appear on track.
By the tenth lap, Sims, 28 had made up ten places. Just five laps later and he was running in sixth as he handed over the BMW M6 to team-mate Eng.
Amongst the last to pit, Sims’ late change-over strategy resulted in Eng running in second place as the pack settled, a position that the Austrian held until he crossed the finish line, putting the duo on the front row of the grid for Sunday’s race.
Under drier conditions, Eng began Sunday’s main race in P2.
Off the grid, he managed to edge ahead of pole-sitter Maxime Soule in the Bentley Continental GT3, passing him around the outside of Turn One to take the lead.
Under pressure, Eng held onto the lead for ten laps but the hard-charging duo of Frederic Vervisch and Dominik Baumann forced him back to third place. Another late pit-stop meant Eng was leading before the change-over, with Sims emerging from the pits in third.
With a podium finish in sight, Sims put in strong laps, defending hard from Felix Rosenqvist in the #88 Mercedes AMG GT3 behind. Rosenqvist just managed to edge around him in the closing laps but soon after he fell down the order and retired, promoting Sims.
The Brit crossed the finish line third to claim the final step of the podium in the BMW M6 GT3’s first Main Race event.
Sims said: “We’re very pleased to have achieved such strong results in the first race weekend, particularly as it’s early days for the new BMW M6.
“Practice and qualifying wasn’t as good as we hoped but the team worked hard before the qualifying race and found some pace.
“We made the right call to start on slicks and were running really well as the track began to dry out.
“The result was a fantastic surprise given the difficult conditions and gave us the boost we needed for the weekend’s main race.
“It was a great result to finish on the podium there.
“The field is really competitive and it was close racing, particularly with Felix Rosenqvist towards the end, and it’s a dream to have got this result first time out.
“We really hope to be up the strong end of the field during the course of the year.
“We expected the first couple of weekends to be a fact-finding mission and to make sure we’re getting things right with the M6, so this has been a really positive start in the right direction.
“It’s a great car, is really fun to drive and we’re hoping for more strong results next time out.”
The next round of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup takes place on May 7-8 at Brands Hatch, UK.
Before that, Sims and Eng will compete in the qualifier for the ADAC Zurich 24 Hours Race at the Nürburgring, Germany, this weekend (April 16-17).
This is followed by the first round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup on April 23-24 at Monza, Italy.