Harold Primat and HTP Motorsport maintained their hugely competitive start to this year’s Blancpain Endurance Series at Paul Ricard on Saturday night (June 28) by battling through from ninth on the grid to finish fourth.
A season’s best result at the wheel of his #84 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3 alongside co-drivers Maximilian Buhk and Nico Verdonck sees the Swiss ace now occupy sixth in the Pro Cup standings ahead of the ultra-competitive European-based GT championship’s blue riband event – the 24 Hours of Spa – next month.
A typically close-fought qualifying session saw Buhk line up just inside the top-10 for the evening’s three-hour day/night race. The German was in no mood to hang around once the lights went out though, and cut a swathe through the field during his 70-minute stint to run fourth before making way for Primat.
Customary quick work from HTP’s mechanics ensured the Mercedes was serviced with fresh tyres, fuel and driver just in time to leapfrog the squad’s sister car, although Harold was happy to let team-mate Lucas Wolf reclaim the position soon after while getting up to speed on cold tyres.
Such were the slender margins between the top-six that a fierce scrap soon developed between Primat, Nick Catsburg’s BMW, the Audi of Stephane Ortelli and Jerome D’Ambrosio’s Bentley. Although the latter later retired, the battle for fourth continued to rage until Harold pitted at the end of the second hour.
Further exemplary pit work helped Verdonck emerge from the #84 crew’s final stop in third and at the head of a three-car battle for the final podium place. Indeed, the gap between he and HTP team-mate Sergei Afanasiev remained at around a second throughout the remaining hour before the Russian was able to slipstream past along the Mistral Straight on the final lap.
But despite the obvious disappointment of missing out on his first Blancpain Endurance Series podium of the season, Primat was still delighted that the crew had been in contention at all after starting down the order, as well as the Bentley and McLaren enjoying a more favourable Balance of Performance.
“It was pretty tense in the HTP garage at the end!” revealed Harold. “On this occasion our side missed out on the podium place, but that’s motor racing for you. Sergei went for it on the penultimate lap, only to be re-passed by Nico. Then, unfortunately, he was pretty powerless to do much on the final run up Mistral, which is disappointing for us.
“However, if you look at the big picture I think we can be pretty happy with our overall performance. Maxi was mega during the opening stint to climb the order and I had a great scrap with Ortelli’s Audi during mine. We must have been nose-to-tail for 45 minutes. That, along with the usual excellent pit work from our HTP mechanics, kept us in the fight for third right up until the final moments. And, ultimately, we’ve scored more very handy championship points ahead of the crucial round at Spa next month.”
With that in mind, Primat and HTP will be at the historic Belgian circuit this Wednesday (July 2) for the official 24 Hours of Spa test day, ahead of the event itself on July 23-27.
“We tested there earlier this season and the team won the event with the same car last year,” added Primat. “The Mercedes works well at Spa and we’ve already got a good base set-up to start from, so hopefully we can have another positive day. There’s no doubt that the race could be very important to our season.”