After missing out on an overall Sprint Cup title for the first time last year, Belgian Audi Club Team WRT made a spectacular return to form as GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS staged its first triple-header weekend at Misano.
The #32 crew of Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts took a brace of wins at the Italian circuit, leading a WRT one-two in the opening run and heading an Audi podium sweep in the closing contest. In between, Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy had given AKKA ASP victory in their #88 Mercedes-AMG by edging an ultra-close battle for victory.
It was a particularly challenging event for competitors as they contested three one-hour races amid scorching summer temperatures on the Adriatic coast. These are the key stories and statistics that emerged from a packed weekend of sprint racing.
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT’s victory on Saturday evening came a little over a year after its previous Sprint Cup triumph, which was also achieved by Vanthoor and Weerts at Misano. This ended a run of six straight Sprint races without a win – the longest that WRT has gone without victory since it first entered the FIA GT Series in 2013.
With the #31 R8 LMS of Kelvin van der Linde and Ryuichiro Tomita finishing second on Saturday evening, WRT scored its first Sprint Cup one-two since the Nürburgring in 2018. The team now has five wins from the past seven races at Misano, though none have come from pole.
Audi swept the podium in race three at Misano, the first time that a brand has locked out the top-three positions since the Ingolstadt marque did so at the same venue in 2018.
Race 2 saw Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy win from pole in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG. It was a case of third time lucky for the Italian driver, who secured his third successive Misano pole and went on to triumph at the venue for the first time. Marciello has now earned six Sprint Cup wins since his series debut in 2017, more than any other active driver.
Boguslavskiy soaked up the pressure in race 2 to capture his maiden series victory. It comes two weeks after the Russian bagged his first Endurance Cup podium at Imola alongside Marciello and Felipe Fraga.
Race 1 saw Bentley take a first overall Sprint Cup podium since 2017 thanks to Jules Gounon and series debutant Nelson Panciatici. It also ensured that French outfit CMR captured a top-three finish on only its second outing with the Continental GT3.
The pace shown by the Tech 1 Racing Lexus was a major theme of the weekend, with Thomas Neubauer putting the car on pole for races 1 and 3. Problems struck in all three contests, with technical gremlins striking during the first two runs and an unfortunate accident in race 3 preventing the Silver Cup standout from earning a result to match its pace.
Neubauer was particularly impressive at Misano. The young Frenchman was already a race winner in the Sprint Cup, having triumphed at Brands Hatch in 2019, but while he performed brilliantly on that occasion it was former teammate Nico Bastian who took pole and held the lead for the opening stint. At Misano, Neubauer assumed the role of lead driver. He looked remarkably cool under pressure from Jules Gounon in race 1 and pulled away from the field in race 3 to complete a near-perfect showing.
Another breakout star at Misano was Arthur Rougier, who made his Sprint Cup debut in the #25 Sainteloc Racing Audi. The 20-year-old comes with pedigree: he won the French F4 title in 2017 and completed a successful transition to GT machinery last year, finishing third in the FFSA French GT Championship. He is now making a fast transition to GT3 competition. Rougier and teammate Christopher Haase scored podiums in races 2 and 3, with the youngster appearing instantly at home among the front-runners. Sainteloc looks to have uncovered a real talent.
A more experienced debutant, Ryuichiro Tomita, also impressed at Misano. Though he is well established in his native Japan, a runner-up finish in Saturday’s contest was one of the most eye-catching results of the weekend and hints at more to come. What’s more, it made Tomita the first Japanese driver to stand on the overall Sprint Cup podium.
The new HRT squad scored a runner-up finish in race 2, the highlight of a good weekend for drivers Maro Engel and Luca Stolz. The #4 Mercedes-AMG crew was forced to make an engine change following Thursday’s official test and left Misano more than satisfied with a podium and two fourth-place finishes.
Lamborghini representative Emil Frey Racing managed a best finish of sixth at Misano with its #163 car of Albert Costa and Giacomo Altoe. The #163 crew registered points in all three races, while the sister #14 Huracan of Mikael Grenier and Norbert Siedler got off the mark with seventh in the final contest. It came on a weekend when the team showed flashes of podium-contending space, only to miss out on the top positions. Indeed, this was the first Sprint Cup weekend since Brands Hatch in 2018 that a Lamborghini crew did not stand on the overall podium.
A brace of wins and fourth place in race 2 mean that Weerts and Vanthoor leave Misano with a useful championship advantage. The Belgians have scored 40.5 points, placing them 13 clear Haase and Rougier, with Engel and Stolz a further half-point behind.
Sainteloc Racing made an excellent start to its new Silver Cup programme with back-to-back wins in the first two races at Misano. It helped that drivers Simon Gachet and Steven Palette both know the French squad well, with Gachet already an overall race winner for Sainteloc in the Sprint Cup. The #26 crew tops the class standings following the opening trio of races with a 7.5-point advantage.
Sainteloc’s run was ended in race 3, with the #108 CMR Bentley crossing the line first before a post-race penalty for causing a collision shuffled Pierre Alexandre Jean and Hugo Chevalier back to third. This promoted the #90 Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG to top spot, giving the new squad victory in its very first Sprint outing. Ezequiel Perez Companc and Axcil Jefferies also scored a runner-up finish in race 1 and are Sainteloc’s closest class contenders.
Ferrari machinery dominated Pro-Am at Misano, with an AF Corse victory in race 2 sandwiched between triumphs for Sky Tempesta Racing in the first and third contests. The #93 Tempesta crew of Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III are 8.5 points clear of Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini following the Misano weekend. A trio of class wins also earns Ferrari important points for the global GT World Challenge Powered by AWS championship.
With the Sprint Cup season up and running, the GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS championship is also beginning to take shape. Weerts and Vanthoor top the table on 52.5 points, followed by fellow WRT driver Van der Linde (46) and the AKKA ASP pairing of Marciello and Boguslavskiy (38).
The fastest qualifying lap of the weekend was set by Raffaele Marciello (1m31.841s) as the Italian swept to pole for race 2. The best Silver Cup runner was just a few hundredths shy of the Mercedes-AMG star, with Thomas Neubauer registering a 1m31.893s to capture overall pole for race 3. The best effort by a bronze-graded driver also came in Q3, where Louis Machiels posted a 1m32.676s – just 0.8s shy of overall pole – in his #52 Ferrari.
Two teams made their first-ever GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS appearances at Misano. Both ran Mercedes-AMG equipment, with ERC Sport contending for Pro-Am honours and TokSport WRT fielding a pair of Silver Cup cars. With Lee Mowle and Phil Keen at the wheel, ERC Sport managed a best result of fourth in class (17th overall) in race 3. The #2 TokSport car was withdrawn following a fire during Friday practice, while the #5 machine was ruled out after the opening race.
Misano now ties with Brands Hatch as the most-visited Sprint Cup venue, with both series having staged six events. The 4.2km Italian track is the shortest that will be used this year, taking the mantle from Brands (3.9km) due to the British race’s absence from the revised 2020 calendar.
The Sprint Cup resumes next month at Magny-Cours (11-13 September) where the familiar two-race format will return. The French track is back on the combined calendar for the first time since 2011, when it hosted an Endurance Cup event. Eight series will stage 19 races across the weekend, with GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS sharing the bill with the FFSA French GT Championship.
Before that, the Endurance Cup will resume at the Nürburgring on 5-6 September. The German venue moves back to the Endurance schedule this year and will stage a six-hour contest, which represents the final long-distance race before the Total 24 Hours of Spa (22-25 October).
Source. SRO Motorsports Group