Reigning Silver Cup Champion Alex MacDowall got his 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup Powered by AWS season off to a points-scoring start at Monza in Italy on Sunday, 18th April, with a ninth place finish during an incident packed, and rain-hit, three hour race.
MacDowall, making his competitive debut with the Garage 59 squad’s Aston Martin Vantage GT3 alongside new team-mates Valentin Hasse-Clot and Nicolai Kjaergaard, performed strongly as always but rued a few mis-steps with the race strategy.
Taking the first stint of Sunday afternoon’s encounter from eighth in the Silver Cup, the Carlisle driver maintained position early on but when rain started to fall just 10 minutes into the contest a decision to change to treaded Pirelli tyres a few moments later was taken.
Initially it seemed a sensible choice but when the No.69 Mercedes-AMG collided with the barriers shortly after, a Full Course Yellow period was declared. Providing rival teams with an opportunity to gain significant time in their pit-stops, they were duly able to leap-frog the Garage 59 entry.
Add in a few other incidents during the remainder of the race, not least Kjaergaard being spun round at the Parabolica after contact to the rear of the Aston Martin in hour two, the time lost meant ninth position was the best which could be achieved from the unpredictable first round.
“It was a messy start to the race really, then we had the rain”, explained MacDowall, “We came in too early to change to the wet tyres, we should’ve waited. When the Full Course Yellow happened, the other teams benefitted from that by pitting at that point so we lost out quite badly. I didn’t get a lot of running in my stint due to the time spent under Full Course Yellows.
“Things just didn’t really fall into place for us this weekend. We had to work hard on the car to get it to a reasonable pace, we had a lot of issues in testing which did put us on the back foot. The Aston suits a particular driving style, so it’s good to have Vale [Hasse-Clot] there as he raced the car last year. We have the right combination of drivers, things just didn’t go our way here at Monza.”
Making his first race appearance at the wheel of an Aston Martin since 2016, MacDowall had plenty to contend with during the opening hour of action with the unscheduled early pit-stop for wet tyres and no fewer than three Full Course Yellow periods.
At the time of the third race interruption, the Cumbrian held 11th place in Silver and duly pitted to hand over the car to Kjaergaard. Rain continued during the second hour of the race, although with less intensity, and the Danish driver was able to move up into an out-of-sequence sixth in class. His charge of course was impacted by a spin, and a loss of 20 seconds, after contact from a BMW.
Hasse-Clot got behind the wheel for the final hour of action and after yet another FCY period he held 11th position in Silver. Racing resumed with 40 minutes to go on a pretty much fully dry track and the Frenchman was able to move up into ninth in class before the chequered flag.
“We were out of sequence really all race and if you take the 20 seconds we lost out of the equation, when Nicolai was hit, we’d probably be in the top six”, said MacDowall, “When we saw some of the other teams getting punctures with their over-heated wets when the track dried out, we probably changed back to slicks too early as well.
“I like Paul Ricard, and the track will be better for our car too, so we need to go there for the next round looking to maximise every opportunity. Getting the strategy right will be very important, if everything goes to plan I think we can fight for the podium there.”
There is now a break of six weeks in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup calendar ahead of round two at Circuit Paul Ricard in France, over the weekend 29th/30th May.
GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup ‘Silver Cup’ Standings
9th Alex MacDowall/Valentin Hasse-Clot/Nicolai Kjaergaard, 2pts
Source. Marc Orme/Photo. Garage 59/Drew Gibson