The Mercedes-AMG Motorsport Customer Racing Teams got the new season of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS off to a successful start. In the opening race at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, Raffaele Marciello (ITA), Daniel Juncadella (ESP) and Jules Gounon (FRA) finished second overall with the #88 Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP entry. In the Silver Cup, the #57 WINWARD Racing car with Philip Ellis (SUI), Mikael Grenier (CAN) and Russell Ward (USA) also achieved a podium finish with third place in class (seventh place overall). With eleven Mercedes-AMG GT3s, the performance and sports car brand from Affalterbach was the manufacturer with the largest contingent in the first-class field of participants.
With a total of 42 cars on track at the Autodromo Nazionale Monza, steeped in tradition, qualifying for the 3-hour race turned out to be a difficult affair. Nevertheless, Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP (#88) managed to post top-notch lap times in all three sessions to secure second place on the starting grid for the race, just a little bit down on the leaders. In the process, Jules Gounon set the best lap time of the entire drivers’ field with a 1m46.442s. The #4 Mercedes-AMG Team HRT car also secured itself a good starting grid position for the race with ninth place in qualifying, just like the #87 AKKA ASP Team and the #7 Toksport WRT cars, respectively the second- and third-fastest Silver Cup cars in qualifying.
Customer Racing Teams with a strong performance in the opening third of the race
Conditions were still dry as the race got underway, but dark clouds in the sky over Monza boded ill. Just over ten minutes into the race, there was a heavy downpour that forced many cars to make an early pit stop. With the #88 Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP car, Raffaele Marciello had a good start, defended his second place and went on to stage a tough battle for the lead with a Lamborghini. As rain intensified, all cars eventually headed into the pits for an additional stop to change to rain tyres. Raffaele Marciello made good use of this and was the first to head back out on track. After problems at the start, Maro Engel (GER) also showed a strong performance: initially having dropped back to P17, he gradually worked his way up through the ranks for Mercedes-AMG Team HRT by means of strong overtaking manoeuvres and eventually slotted into second place behind Marciello to secure a double lead for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport. The Silver Cup cars from AKKA ASP Team (#87) and Toksport WRT (#7) made up positions during the opening stages and temporarily held a double lead in the Silver Cup. Team owner Hubert Haupt also had a good start from P35 with the #5 Haupt Racing Team car and worked his way up to P12.
Mercedes-AMG GT3 dominate middle third of the race
After around one hour, Luca Stolz (GER) took over the #4 car from Maro Engel and moved up into the lead of the field when Marciello headed into the pits for the second time to hand the #88 car to Daniel Juncadella as scheduled. After the halfway point of the race and another full-course yellow, five cars from Affalterbach were among the top ten for an extended period. Among them were Mikael Grenier (CAN) in the #57 WINWARD Racing car and Ezequiel Perez Companc (ARG) with the #90 Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG GT3. Following a start from the pit lane due to an engine failure in qualifying, the defending Silver Cup champion temporarily worked his way up to eighth place with the #90 car. Luca Stolz, meanwhile, lost the lead in the #4 Mercedes-AMG GT3 due to a puncture. He managed to bring the car back to the pits without any consequential damage, but had to slot in further back in the field and final driver Vincent Abril (FRA) could only bring home 13th place overall.
Thrilling race finale with podium result for Mercedes-AMG Motorsport
In the final third of the race, there was another extended full-course yellow because several teams had to deal with punctures. Jules Gounon, who was now behind the wheel of the #88 car, held on to his second place within striking distance from the leader. At the same time, he also had to defend his position from an opponent who was closing up, but successfully kept the latter at bay and managed to bring the podium result from a turbulent season opener at Monza home after 79 laps. The #57 WINWARD Racing entry was the second-best Mercedes-AMG GT3: having started 19th on the grid, final driver Philip Ellis finished the race seventh overall equalling third place in the Silver Cup.
Silver Cup podium in GT4 European Challenge
The support package of the GT World Challenge Europe at Monza included two races of the GT4 European Series with an impressive field of 46 cars in total. Here, Mercedes-AMG Motorsport was also the brand with the largest contingent with eleven cars from five customer teams: AKKA ASP Team, CD Sport, NM Racing Team, Selleslagh Racing Team und Trivellato Racing by Villorba Corse. The most successful car was the #15 NM Racing Team Mercedes-AMG GT4 that finished sixth overall and third in the Silver Cup in the second race. The #74 CD Sport entry also made it into the top ten of the overall classification equalling seventh place in the Silver Cup ranking. In the opening race on Saturday, the AKKA ASP Team had secured the best result of the Mercedes-AMG GT4s with its #87 car: ninth place overall meant fifth position in the Pro-Am class. The next GT4 European Series event is taking place at Circuit Paul Ricard from 28-30 May, again on the support bill of the GT World Challenge Europe.
Juncadella and Companc score points in Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series
For the first time, a virtual race of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series featuring real-world GT professionals was held as part of a GT World Challenge Europe event. Daniel Juncadella, who got into the sim rig for the AKKA ASP Team, was second across the finish line at the digital Monza circuit. As a result, he scored two points for his team, to be added to the team’s total points’ score at the end of the season. In second place of the Silver classification, Ezequiel Perez Companc also managed to end up on the podium for Madpanda Motorsport and therefore also secured two points for the team. This season, the GT professionals have the opportunity to score additional points for the teams’ standings in the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series during every Endurance Cup weekend.
Stefan Wendl, head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing: “All in all, it was a very challenging weekend for us, both for the Mercedes-AMG GT3s and for the Mercedes-AMG GT4s. Second place overall for the #88 Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP car in this extremely strong field is a successful start of the GT World Challenge Europe. The puncture for the #4 Mercedes-AMG Team HRT entry is a real pity as here, more would certainly have been possible. But things like that happen in such a turbulent race. With third place in the Silver Cup for the #57 WINWARD Racing car, we can also successfully conclude the season-opening weekend in this class. In an equally strong competitors’ field with 46 cars in the GT4 European Series, we have also managed to score a Silver Cup podium finish and further top ten results. Now, we have to analyse the weekend precisely in order to attack again during the first Sprint weekend at Magny-Cours.”
Jules Gounon, Mercedes-AMG Team AKKA ASP #88: “I am very happy to be part of the Mercedes-AMG family now, too. I have known Raffaele and Dani for a very long time already and we have a great team spirit within the AKKA ASP Team. The results in qualifying already showed us that we would have to hold steady in an extremely strong field today. The handing of our Mercedes-AMG GT3 was fantastic, we were very fast throughout the race. Second place is an excellent result, something that we can build on. I am very proud of the entire team and I am looking forward to an exciting season in the GT World Challenge Europe.”
Philip Ellis, WINWARD Racing #57: “For us, qualifying wasn’t optimal with 19th position, but then, Russell had a super start. Mick was able to make up further ground with rain tyres in difficult conditions. Here, we were also lucky with a few safety car interventions. Eventually, we were out with slicks again and we had bad luck in that the tyres cooled off considerably during a full-course yellow. As a result, we were no longer able to attack the class leader. All in all, however, we can be very happy with third place in the Silver Cup and the entire weekend.”
Maro Engel, Mercedes-AMG Team HRT #4: “At the start, I made a mistake and we initially lost positions as a result. Then, however, the car ran superbly and I was able to make up positions relatively quickly. Of course, the puncture is extremely annoying – it cost us the lead and also a top result. Today, there surely would have been something in store for us, but unfortunately, we didn’t have any racing luck.”