With the Sprint Cup opener in the books, the 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season is now in full swing.
Magny-Cours offered a diverse menu of action, with night racing on Saturday followed by a more traditional afternoon contest on Sunday. A 27-car grid ensured fierce competition, and it was a pair of familiar crews that emerged at the front of the pack.
Team WRT duo Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts began their championship defence in perfect fashion with victory in Saturday’s 60-minute race, but they are unlikely to enjoy a simple run to their second title. That much was clear on Sunday, when Maro Engel and Luca Stolz gave Mercedes-AMG Team Toksport WRT its maiden Sprint Cup win and launched their own championship challenge.
There was plenty more to keep fans interested on a weekend that also delivered Silver Cup standouts, breakthrough performances and an unpredictable battle for Pro-Am honours. These are some of the key stats and stories from the Magny-Cours paddock.
Mercedes-AMG Team Toksport WRT became the Sprint Cup’s newest winner on Sunday and the 20th squad to clinch overall victory in the short-format championship. At the other end of the scale, Team WRT captured its 37th Sprint Cup win on Saturday night, extending the Belgian squad’s record.
Despite both using the ‘WRT’ name, there is no connection between this weekend’s winners. Team WRT reflects the Belgian outfit’s founders: former racing driver Vincent Vosse and entrepreneur Yves Weerts. The Toksport WRT moniker hints at the team’s diverse competitive activities, with WRT standing for ‘World Rally Team’.
Dries Vanthoor scored his seventh Sprint Cup win on Saturday night, drawing the Audi Sport driver level with rival Raffaele Marciello. Dries still has plenty of work to do before matching brother Laurens’, who holds the record with 14 victories.
Team WRT dominated Friday and Saturday at Magny-Cours. Vanthoor topped free practice and pre-qualifying, while Weerts sealed pole in Saturday’s qualifying session and the #32 Audi was unmatched in the opening race. Vanthoor also set fastest lap during Saturday night’s contest, while the WRT mechanics delivered the quickest pit stop of the race.
Any hope of a clean sweep was ended by Maro Engel, who set a searing pace in Sunday morning’s qualifying session to bag pole for race 2. The German posted a 1m35.627s, the fastest lap of the whole weekend, to put the #6 Mercedes-AMG Team Toksport WRT machine at the top of the order.
Sunday’s pole was made more impressive by the fact that the #6 car lost a wheel during Saturday night’s race. Indeed, after he had clinched victory, Engel revealed that the Toksport WRT crew were working until 03:30 to complete their repairs.
Sunday afternoon’s win was the third Sprint Cup triumph for Engel and Stolz with as many different Mercedes-AMG teams. The duo previously triumphed for Black Falcon (Brands Hatch 2019) and HRT (Magny-Cours 2020).
By adding runner-up spot in race 2 to their victory on Saturday, Team WRT have established an early lead in the overall Sprint Cup standings. Vanthoor and Weerts top the table with 29.5 points, followed by Stolz and Engel on 17.5. AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG duo Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy are next on 15.5.
A heavy crash in pre-qualifying resulted in Norbert Siedler stepping down from the #163 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini as a precaution. The team did a fantastic job to repair the car overnight and were rewarded with a superb runner-up finish in race 1. Albert Costa was joined by Ricardo Feller, who moved across from the #14 car, to ensure a strong start to the Sprint Cup season.
After showing signs of speed last year, this is turning into a breakout season for 21-year-old Swiss racer Feller. His excellent drive came just three weeks after he captured an overall Endurance podium at Monza as part of Emil Frey’s Silver Cup crew.
Arthur Rougier was drafted in to replace Feller and completed a single hardship lap before tackling qualifying, making his result – third overall and pole for the Silver Cup class – all the more impressive. He and Alex Fontana then combined to capture class honours and an overall podium in race 1, as well as third in the Silver class in Sunday’s race.
AKKA ASP’s ability in the pits was on show as the French squad won the Pit Stop Challenge for the best combined time across the two races. They also produced the fastest stop of race 2, turning the #88 Mercedes-AMG around in less than 40 seconds to earn crucial track position.
JOTA experienced a weekend of extremes at Magny-Cours. The McLaren squad lined up 23rd for the opening race, but made major gains in time for qualifying 2, allowing Ben Barnicoat to seal third on the grid. The #38 car was a factor throughout Sunday’s race, with Oliver Wilkinson taking over from Barnicoat and coming home fourth.
Jack Aitken and Konsta Lappalainen earned their first series points by finishing ninth in race 2, despite the British driver skating through the gravel on the opening lap. The #114 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini recovered well and was battling with the sister #14 machine when the chequered flag fell.
Madpanda Motorsport secured its highest-ever overall finish in race 1. The #90 Mercedes-AMG took fourth spot, as well as runner-up in the Silver Cup, following strong showings from Ezequiel Perez Companc and Rik Breukers. Indeed, the Madpanda squad was the best-placed Mercedes-AMG, keeping the #88 AKKA ASP machine of Raffaele Marciello at bay.
The #107 CMR Bentley showed good form on home turf to capture a pair of top-10 overall finishes at Magny-Cours. Pierre-Alexandre Jean caught the attention with a number of purple sectors, while debutant Ulysse de Pauw impressed in race 2 to seal seventh on the road and runner-up in the Silver Cup.
Emil Frey Racing’s #14 crew of Fontana and Rougier lead the Silver Cup standings after the opening event, 8.5 points clear of race 2 winners Jim Pla and Konstantin Tereschenko (#87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG). Perez Companc and Breukers are third, 10 points shy of the class leaders.
With four evenly matched cars, each representing a different brand, the Pro-Am battle was impossible to predict at Magny-Cours. Indeed, both races were won by the car that qualified last in class: the #52 AF Corse Ferrari took race 1, while the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini triumphed in Sunday’s contest.
Garage 59 were not rewarded with a win, but the Aston Martin squad showed it had plenty of pace during the first weekend of its new Sprint Cup programme. Alex West bagged class pole for race 1, setting the best qualifying for a bronze driver in the process. Aston Martin factory ace Jonny Adam made it two from two in the second qualifying session.
SPS automotive performance picked up where they left it off in 2020. Last year, the German squad secured nine podiums but narrowly missed out on a maiden victory. They began this season with two more runner-up finishes, coming within 0.3 seconds of snatching race 2 honours.
The class standings reflect just how close the title battle is set to be: AF Corse drivers Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini hold a two-point advantage at the top, with Barwell duo Miguel Ramos and Henrique Chaves tied with Pierburg and Baumann for second. West and Adam are next on 19, but with two pole positions to their name clearly have the pace to add victories.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group