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Strong start at Imola delivers double podium finish

Both Garage 59 McLaren 720S GT3 cars finished the first round of the 2022 GT World Challenge Europe season in third place; in Pro-Am for the #188 and the Silver Cup class for the #159. This result puts all six drivers up onto the scoresheets after the opening round, held at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, in Imola, Italy.

It’s called the GT World Challenge Europe “Endurance Cup” but the three-hour race at Imola was a flat-out sprint to the flag, setting the tone for what will be a fast and furious season of racing.

During Saturday morning’s Qualifying session, the skills of Henrique Chaves, Miguel Ramos and Alexander West combined to put the #188 McLaren in third place on the grid in the Pro-Am class. In the Silver Cup class, Ethan Simioni, Manuel Maldonado and Nicolai Kjærgaard put the #159 McLaren in ninth place in class for the start of the race.

It was West and Simioni who took the wheel of the two McLarens for the start on Sunday afternoon, both making a clean getaway and West gaining a place to sit second in Pro-Am. After the first of multiple Safety Car periods, West took the Pro-Am lead in the #188.

The middle stint saw Ramos and Maldonado jump into the #188 and #159 respectively but trouble in the pits gave them a lot more work to do out on the track. As Simioni pitted to hand over to Maldonado, the #159 McLaren got boxed in due to a very busy pitlane, losing three class positions. As West handed over the #188 to Ramos another car got in the way and the Pro-Am crew dropped to third in class.

Just over halfway into the middle stint, a Full Course Yellow followed by another Safety Car slowed the charge so the cars stayed 12th (#159) and third (#188) in their respective classes for a while longer.

Ahead of the final hour a big accident for a Bentley during a restart made for an extended Safety Car period to allow the marshals enough time to clear all the carbon fibre fragments off the track. The caution ran right through to the final pit stops and in jumped Chaves into the #188 and Kjærgaard into the #159.

With the race still under Safety Car it was vital to time the pit stops accurately so it was incredible to see the #159 leap up the order after a perfectly executed stop, grabbing third place in the Silver Cup class.

The same strategy was applied to the #188 but an accidental short fill of fuel forced Chaves to pit for a top up, albeit while the Safety Car was still out. This left the Portuguese driver with a lot to do but he stayed sharp and even took second place for a while before taking evasive action when he came across a slowing car and had to yield the position. He brought the #188 home in third place, securing the first trophy for the Pro-Am crew.

Kjærgaard took third in the Silver Cup for the #159 as he crossed the line, taking the first silverware of the season for Garage 59’s silver-graded drivers. His team mate, Manuel Maldonado was delighted with the podium finish.

“I’m extremely happy with the result today,” said Maldonado. “The team made a fantastic call on strategic, which brought us back into the game. There is a lot of work for us to do still but nevertheless a really good start for the team and my teammates Nicolai and Ethan who were faultless the whole race.”

Next up for Garage 59 in the first of the GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup rounds, which takes place at Brands Hatch, UK, on May 1st.


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