Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS travelled to the south of France last weekend for its annual 1000km contest at Circuit Paul Ricard, where the 47-car field raced at record speed. In fact, the second round of the Endurance Cup might be better described as a six-hour sprint.
The return to an early-summer date allowed the event to reclaim its distinctive visual identity, with GT3 cars silhouetted against the setting sun and headlights cutting through the darkness. When the chequered flag fell GPX Racing claimed top spot and launched into a midnight celebration, continuing Porsche’s phenomenal run of success and further enhancing its own status as a leading international outfit.
But one team’s glory is often another’s heartbreak. Orange1 FFF Racing had seemed to be on course for a dominant victory until the #22 Porsche unleashed its full potential during the final two hours and, after leading a record-breaking 166 laps, had to make do with third. These are stats and stories from a breathless weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard.
Saturday’s race was remarkably clean, featuring just one full-course yellow/safety car period during six hours of competition. It should be no surprise, then, that a new record was set for laps completed at the event. The leading cars managed 182 tours of the 5.791km track, eclipsing last year’s total by four.
The GPX Porsche’s grid position (10th) represents the lowest starting spot for a winning car at Circuit Paul Ricard since the event adopted its six-hour/1000km format in 2015. This was achieved with just one safety car period, during which the #22 Porsche actually lost positions, demonstrating just how fast the car was on Saturday evening.
The win was Porsche’s first at Circuit Paul Ricard and continued the brand’s sensational Endurance Cup form. The Stuttgart marque scored its eighth overall win on Saturday, six of which have come since the start of the 2019 season.
Saturday night’s victory drew Porsche level with Audi and BMW for the most victories in the Endurance Cup. What’s more, with the #54 Dinamic Motorsport car having won the season opener at Monza, Porsche has become the first brand in series history to win multiple races in three successive seasons.
GPX Racing scored its second overall win, having previously triumphed at the Total 24 Hours of Spa in 2019. It was an especially sweet victory, coming at the same circuit at which the team lost out on the Endurance Cup title in the 2020 season finale.
This was also the Dubai-based team’s first win since establishing a new technical partnership with ART Grand Prix. The French outfit last won an Endurance Cup race in 2014, triumphing under its own name at Monza with a McLaren.
Earl Bamber took his second Endurance Cup win, having previously won last season’s Total 24 Hours of Spa. Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet both earned their maiden series victories at Circuit Paul Ricard, while Campbell became the first Australian driver to score an overall win in the Endurance Cup.
While the GPX drivers were clearly delighted with their victory, the second-placed Team WRT crew appeared even happier. The #32 Audi struggled for pace throughout the weekend and qualified well down the order in 14th. They battled through to third at the chequered flag, which became second when the #71 Ferrari was penalised. Clearly, it felt as good as a win as for trio of Vanthoor/Weerts/Van der Linde.
A podium finish provided consolation for Orange1 FFF Racing after the Lamborghini squad led 166 laps of Saturday’s race before being overcome by the GPX Porsche. To put this number into context, the FFF crew led more laps on Saturday than the complete distance of the 2015 race.
Despite both being hit with post-race penalties, Ferrari squad Iron Lynx scored fourth and fifth at Circuit Paul Ricard, keeping its cars in a strong championship position. Antonio Fuoco was once again impressive in the #71 machine, particularly during the final stint.
After suffering a puncture during the first hour and later losing time due to the safety car, AKKA ASP will be satisfied that its #88 Mercedes-AMG came home in sixth and earned solid championship points. The car was outside the top 10 with an hour remaining, but made up four spots during the final hour.
Walkenhorst Motorsport looked to be in contention for the win as both the #34 and #35 BMW crews showed well. They faded towards the end, ultimately taking eighth and ninth, but served notice of their pace. Indeed, this performance will be worth remembering ahead of next month’s Total 24 Hours of Spa.
The Silver Cup-winning #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG took the chequered flag in 11th spot and as the final car on the lead lap. The French outfit moved into the lead after two hours and controlled the race thereafter. It gave Jerome Policand’s squad a second Silver Cup win at the track and its fourth across all classes.
Despite a difficult day for its Pro cars, Emil Frey Racing continued its fine Silver Cup form by taking second place. Indeed, full-season driver Alex Fontana has now finished four successive races in either first or second spot. The #14 Lamborghini was fast until the finish, with Ricardo Feller again demonstrating his speed in the last hour.
Grasser Racing returned to the podium with an eventful run to third in the Silver Cup. The #16 Lamborghini moved into contention for a top-three finish during the final quarter of the race and just edged the #99 Attempto Racing Audi at the finish. It comes two years after the Austrian squad’s previous podium, a Silver Cup win at Silverstone in 2019.
Sky Tempesta Racing took its first Pro-Am victory since winning on debut at Monza in 2019, but it was far from simple. The #93 Ferrari led early on but received a penalty for passing while off the circuit. The crew of Chris Froggatt, Jonathan Hui and Eddie Cheever III recovered to third, but then lost two places during their mid-race pit stop after overshooting the box. A final charge from Cheever brought the car into contention and ultimately secured the win.
Circuit Paul Ricard proved to be bittersweet for Orange1 FFF Racing. Like its sister car at the top of the overall order, the #19 Lamborghini led the bulk of the race in the Pro-Am class only to lose out at the end. Nevertheless, bronze-graded driver Hiroshi Hamaguchi put in a mighty effort, clocking up more time behind the wheel than anyone else in the six-hour contest.
The first all-female crew to compete in the series went the distance at Circuit Paul Ricard as the #83 Iron Lynx Ferrari came home sixth in Pro-Am. This was a particularly momentous achievement for 17-year-old Doriane Pin, who has graduated to GT racing this season following one year in the Renault Clio Cup.
Christopher Mies (#66 Attempto Racing Audi) set the fastest lap of the race, posting a 1m54.595s shortly before the five-hour mark. The best qualifying lap was recorded by the #63 Orange1 FFF Lamborghini of Andrea Caldarelli (1m53.719s) while Rino Mastronardi of AF Corse was the quickest bronze-graded driver with a 1m55.121s.
Caldarelli’s lap helped Lamborghini to take an eighth overall pole, moving the Italian brand to second on the all-time list behind only Ferrari. Remarkably, all but one of those pole positions have involved Mirko Bortolotti.
Another quirk to emerge from this is that Lamborghini is one of five manufacturers to take its most recent pole at Circuit Paul Ricard. The others are Ferrari (2020), Bentley (2019), McLaren (2014) and BMW (2013).
As well as the on-track competition, Circuit Paul Ricard also played host to the second round of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series. Kelvin van der Linde (Team WRT Audi) and Nico Varrone (Rinaldi Racing Ferrari) finished one-two overall, claiming commanding Pro and Silver Cup victories and maximum real-world points for their teams. The one-hour Assetto Corsa Competizione race was staged on-site in the Fanatec Esports Arena.
SRO Motorsports Group recognised some of the star performers of the 2020 season during the Circuit Paul Ricard weekend. The delayed awards ceremony saw several series, including Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS, collect their silverware, while the title-winning drivers received a limited-edition watch crafted by Rebellion Timepieces.
The next stop on the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS tour will be Zandvoort, which hosts the Sprint Cup on 19-21 June. From there, the teams will pack up and head straight for Spa-Francorchamps to conduct two days of official testing in the Ardennes.
The season’s marquee event is next on the Endurance Cup schedule. It would be fair to say that the favourites have begun to emerge, while additional entries should ensure an even more competitive fight for victory. Further news regarding the 73rd running of the Total 24 Hours of Spa can be expected during the coming weeks.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group