Courtney Crone secures best result of the season in Prototype Cup at Assen
Having switched to the Duqueine LMP3 machine, Gebhardt Motorsport's Courtney Crone secured her best finish of the season in Prototype Cup Germany, as the young American was close to grab her first podium in Assen.
The Prototype Cup Germany was back from the long summer break for its penultimate race weekend at the TT Circuit Assen in the Netherlands - and it was an amazing race weekend for Courtney Crone and Jacob Erlbacher, who collected their best finish of the season to date after an action-packed and safety car-filled round that also crowned the series' champions.
It was the first time for the Prototype Cup to host races in Assen and the weekend started with the free practice on Friday 1st of September.
Beitske Visser (BHK Motorsport) made her first appearance in the series but had a bumpy start into the weekend, as she didn't have the chance to drive in the first free practice due to a technical problem just as she was supposed to get behind the wheel of the Duqueine LMP3 machine, when as a component of the transmission broke. Because of this, the car couldn't enter FP2, leading to Visser having to learn the car straight into the qualification.
The first qualifying session was held on Saturday morning at 9:30 am CEST; Gabriela Jílková (van ommen racing by DataLab) did a great job and secured P4 for herself and her teammate Xavier Lloveras.
Meanwhile, the teams of Beitske Visser/Elia Sperandio and Courtney Crone/Jacob Erlbacher (GEBHARDT Motorsport) had a solid qualification and were P14 and P13 respectively. Crone and her teammate moved from the Ginetta to the Duqueine prototype for the weekend.
The pole position was snatched by the current championship leaders Markus Pommer and Gary Hauser (Racing Experience). Laurents Hörr/Matthias Lüthen (KOIRANEN KEMPPI Motorsport), Oscar Tunjo/Julien Apothéloz (van ommen racing by DataLab) completed the top 3.
The first race started on Saturday at midday - and it was fullof action from the get go, as the safety car had to be deployed shortly after the start, with 50 minutes left on the clock due to a displaced kerb cone. The restart took place at 48 minutes to go.
Right after the restart, there were good fights thoughout the field - especially between Courtney Crone and Beitske Visser.
But the race appeared to be plagued by safety car interventions, as there was another neutralization only 8 minutes after: Max van der Snel (More Motorsport by Reiter), current leader of the Junior standings, went off and had to retire the car in the gravel.
Due to this incident, Jílkova, Visser and Crone gained one position each.
With 34 minutes left, the race resumed: directly after the restart, Pommer and Tunjo battled for the lead. After 12 laps, the window for the mandatory pit stop opened: Jílková and Crone directly pitted to hand over their cars to their teammates, Xavier Lloveras and Jacob Erlbacher respectively. Extending her stint, Beitske Visser jumped up to P9, while Erlbacher rejoined in P13 and Lloveras came back on the track in P11.
Yet again, the safety car led the pack on lap 15 after another off track incident: this came in handy for Visser, who pitted exactly during the caution and allowed Elia Sperandio to gain several positions as he started his driving shift.
With 15 minutes left, the race saw its third restart with Gary Hauser and Julien Apothéloz continuing the fight for the lead. Spanish racer Xavier Lloveras also gained a position at the green flag and settled in P8 while trying to defend from the attacking Nico Göhler (BWT Mücke Motorsport). Defense was also the hard job of Jacob Erlbacher, as he fought for P12.
Finally after a tough fight, Erlbacher was able to overtake the car in front and gained P12.
Due to a contact between Valentino Catalano (DKR Engineering) and Elia Sperandio, the BHK Motorsport driver was spun and dropped to the back of the field - in yet another unfortunate development for Visser's debut weekend. Xavier Lloveras also lost positions, having to take avoiding action.
There was a lot happening towards the end of the race and the last few minutes didn’t disappoint: 29 laps in, Apothéloz overtook the leader Hauser right as the clock struck zero. But shortly after crossing the finish line, both cars had contact, leading to an investigation by the stewards. By the decision of the stewards, Oscar Tunio and Julien Apotheloz were placed second in front of Laurents Hörr and Matthias Lüthen, despite crossing the line first as they got a five second penalty for leaving the track and gaining advantage.
Which means that the winners of this race were Markus Pommer and Gary Hauser who continued to expand their lead in the championship. Xavier Lloveras and Gabriela Jílkova finished in 8th position, Elia Sperandio/Beitske Visser in P11 in front of Erlbacher/Crone in P12.
Sunday's qualifying saw an amazing performance by Jacob Erlbacher, who secured a front row starting position with a second place - by far the team's best qualifying result to date after a technical issue had hampered their first race on Saturday. Once fixed, the team showed great potential in the remaining of the weekend.
Xavier Lloveras was seventh fastest and Sperandio was tenth on the grid for the upcoming second race. The pack will be led by Valentino Catalano and Julien Apothéloz completed the top 3 behind Erlbacher.
Due to a technical failure, Xavier Lloveras and Gabriela Jílková couldn't ultimately start in the second race on Sunday.
Sunday’s race started even more chaotic of Saturday's one: in the first corner, three cars made contact and were out of the race, leading to a safety car phase. Julien Apothéloz, Nico Göhler and Elia Sperandio had to retire their cars, while Jacob Erlbacher lost one position and dropped to P3.
The field was set out with the restart with 40 minutes remaining: Valentino Catalano (DKR Engineering) kept the lead from Sarah Moore's brother Nigel in second, at his return to prototype racing. While battling for the top three, Moore suddenly lost grid and spun off into the gravel and Gary Hauser tried to reach a podium spot in order to get an early chance to be crowned champion with one round to spare.
With 33 minutes left on the clock the pit window opened: Jacob Erlbacher extended his driving time before he handed the car over to Courtney Crone from a potential podium position. A slow stop, though, meant that the American driver rejoined in P7. She put up a hard fight to gain P6 - which she managed to win, but she then had to defend hard from the recovering Jan Marschalkowski (MRS GT-Racing).
Robin Rogalski (DKR Engineering) spun into the gravel and caused another safety car, which put Max van der Snel (More Motorsport by Reiter) in the lead - and at this point, almost crowned Markus Pommer, now in second position. Courtney Crone had a very good pace and moved up to fourth position when Marschalkowski dropped to seventh.
The race eventually ended behind the safety car and, while Crone had potentially pace to attack for a podium, she had to settle for an equally impressive fourth position after a fantastic performance by the young American and her teammate Jacob Erlbacher.
Good weekend with Gebhardt Motorsport figuring out the new Duqueine LMP3", Crone commented. "Really happy we could finally show what this team is capable of."
"I want to thank the whole Gebhardt Motorsports crew for an amazing season in Europe. What a blast it has been!"
Due to their win - their first ever in the Prototype Cup - Max van der Snel took Junior victory while his father Mark won the Trophy competition.
WIth third position being enough to secure the championship, Markus Pommer and Gary Hauser's second position was more than enough to tie the knot for the championship, crowning the Racing Experience teammates two races before the end of the season.
Dino Steiner and Nigel Moore rounded off the podium for the second and last race of this racing weekend in Assen, Netherlands.
After this exciting race weekend, the Prototype Cup Germany will be back for one last racing weekend this season from 13th to 15th of October at the Nürburgring, Germany.