Season six of the Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli finally blasts into action this weekend (July 29-August 1) at the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa where 32 entries – more than half the field – contest the global GT3 series’ season opener.
Five full-season manufacturers – Audi, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes-AMG and double reigning Manufacturers’ Champions Porsche – have each nominated their full quota of six cars, four of which can be drawn from the Pro class.
Two more entries, which are not amongst their respective manufacturer’s IGTC roster, will instead battle for Intercontinental GT Pro-Am Challenge points.
Australia’s coronavirus restrictions forced Intercontinental’s traditional curtain raiser, the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour, to be cancelled. As such, the world’s biggest GT3 race at Spa-Francorchamps – which also doubles as the jewel in Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS’s crown – opens IGTC’s campaign for the first time in championship history.
AUDI – 6x R8 LMS GT3
IGTC entries: 4x Pro | 2x Silver
In terms of class nominees only Mercedes-AMG can boast a similarly complete Intercontinental package as Audi whose six potential points scorers comprise the maximum four Pro and two Silver entries. And their driver line-ups also read like a who’s who of GT heavyweights.
WRT hasn’t won on home soil since 2014 but is once again amongst the favourites thanks to its two Pro crews. Dries Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts started from the front row last year, while Robin Frijns, Nico Mueller and Lamborghini convert Dennis Lind – winner of British GT’s round at Spa last Sunday – comprise a new but equally capable trio.
Fellow factory squad Attempto fell just 4.7s shy of capturing Audi’s fifth victory in Spa’s GT3 era last October and can once again call on the services of Mattia Drudi. He’s joined by Dennis Marschall and Christopher Mies who makes his 10th consecutive appearance at an event he’s still yet to win.
The same can’t be said of Markus Winkelhock and Christopher Haase who, along with Sainteloc Racing, claimed Ingolstadt’s last victory in 2017. Now that proven combination returns along with another of Audi’s factory drivers and 2020 Spa runner-up, Patric Niederhauser.
Elsewhere, WRT’s two leading contenders in the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Endurance Cup Silver class also have a chance to score IGTC points for their manufacturer.
FERRARI – 6x 488 GT3
IGTC entries: 2x Pro | 1x Silver | 3x Pro-Am
Maranello goes searching for just its second Intercontinental victory and first at Spa since 2004 this weekend with two Pro entries of the highest calibre.
Iron Lynx might be making its 24 Hours debut but the team’s combination of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Nicklas Nielsen and Come Ledogar, as well as Davide Rigon, Antonio Fuoco and Callum Ilott are undoubtedly fast enough to be major factors at a circuit where results haven’t always reflected the 488’s full potential.
True, Ferrari doesn’t boast the same strength across its Pro ranks as other IGTC manufacturers. But its Silver and Pro-Am entries – which include James Calado, Miguel Molina, Andrea Bertolini and Matt Griffin – shouldn’t be discounted from featuring in the second half of the series’ points paying positions.
That’s doubly true given AF Corse are running two Pro-Am 488s, while another factory squad – Rinaldi – will be leading Silver class contenders. Tempesta completes the herd of Prancing Horses.
LAMBORGHINI – 6x HURACAN GT3
IGTC entries: 2x Pro | 2x Silver | 2x Pro-Am
Lamborghini goes searching for a first outright victory at Spa with two Pro entries amongst its IGTC roster.
Attention is always drawn to Orange1 FFF Racing’s factory crew of Mirko Bortolotti, Marco Mapelli and Andrea Caldarelli who undoubtedly comprise one of the fastest and most accomplished line-ups across the entire 58-car field – a status underlined by their pole positions at the first two Endurance Cup races.
But Emil Frey’s Pro entry also features three top drawer factory drivers in the form of Giacomo Altoe, Franck Perera and Albert Costa. Meanwhile, the team’s Silver entry comprising Endurance Cup class leaders Alex Fontana, Rolf Ineichen and Ricardo Feller could also be a contender for IGTC points if present form is anything to go by.
Barwell, who have taken class spoils at Spa in each of the last three years, are sure to be Pro-Am front runners along with Orange1 FFF Racing’s second IGTC nomination, while Lamborghini’s sextet is completed by GRT Grasser Racing’s Silver classified Huracan.
MERCEDES-AMG – 6x GT GT3
IGTC entries: 4x Pro | 2x Silver
Like Audi, Mercedes-AMG has wrung every last drop from its IGTC quota by nominating four Pro and two Silver entries as it prepares to celebrate the 50th anniversary of AMG’s first class victory in the 24 Hours.
Maxis Buhk and Goetz delivered the manufacturer’s last win in 2013 and are joined by Yelmer Buurman at HubAuto whose livery echoes that of the victorious 300 SEL 6.8 from 1971.
The last two Super Pole winners, Raffaele Marciello and Maro Engel, headline AKKA ASP and HRT’s respective full factory line-ups, either of which is more than capable of winning. Indeed, AKKA looked well set to do so last year before a mechanical issue ended its charge during the night.
Two thirds of the French team’s front running trio from 2020 – Felipe Fraga and Timur Boguslavskiy – are now joined by Lucas Auer in Mercedes-AMG’s fourth Pro entry, while Toksport WRT and Winward Racing will be amongst the fastest Silver contenders.
PORSCHE – 6x 911 GT3 R
IGTC entries: 4x Pro | 1x Pro-Am | 1x Am
Victories at the last two 24 Hours helped Porsche claim Intercontinental’s 2019 and ’20 Manufacturers’ Championships. And they arrive at Spa with another incredibly strong roster featuring no less than seven Pro combinations and a total of 12 cars split across all classes.
Selecting four IGTC nominations from their Pro ranks is, therefore, an almost impossible task, but Stuttgart has made the right calls in each of the last two years when its winning GPX and ROWE crews also scored maximum IGTC points.
With the latter absent, GPX are joined by KCMG, Dinamic and Schnabl Engineering on Porsche’s Pro list. However, 2020 winners Laurens Vanthoor, Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber have been partially split thanks to the Kiwi’s full-season commitments with GPX who won Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS’s previous Endurance Cup round at Paul Ricard in May.
2019 IGTC Drivers’ Champion Dennis Olsen joins that year’s Spa winner Michael Christensen at Schnabl following Frikadelli Racing’s withdrawal, but there’s no room for the latter’s victorious co-drivers Kevin Estre and Richard Lietz who share one of the most promising entries not eligible to score IGTC points. Instead, Porsche’s picks feature another of its long-distance specialists, Dinamic Motorsport, who finished third at Spa last season and won Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS’s 2021 season opener at Monza.
Herberth Motorsport’s Pro-Am entry and the Am example run by Huber Motorsport complete IGTC’s full complement of 911 GT3 Rs.
INTERCONTINENTAL GT PRO-AM CHALLENGE
Two entries – EBM Giga Racing and Inception Racing – will contest a new classification for Pro-Am crews that have not necessarily been nominated to score IGTC points for their manufacturer.
Instead, the classification is aimed at Bronze-graded drivers who plan to contest all or the majority of this year’s Intercontinental rounds. Professional drivers are also eligible to score the same points as their amateur counterpart, provided they continue to race together.
As such, Inception’s Brendan Iribe, Kevin Madsen, Ollie Millroy and Jordan Pepper, and EBM’s Adrian D’Silva, Carlos Rivas, Will Bamber and Reid Harker will have a head-start on the crews that should join at Indianapolis and Kyalami. Both teams are expected to attend those rounds.
IGTC’s FINER DETAILS
All entries nominated by their manufacturer feature white Fanatec windscreen banners instead of the usual black, as well as IGTC logos on the bonnet and flanks. Only the latter applies to Pro-Am Challenge cars.
Unlike Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS, points are only awarded at full distance to the top-10 manufacturer nominated cars. Points system: 25-18-15-12-10-8-6-4-2-1.
At Spa only the three highest-placed entries per manufacturer can score points towards the Manufacturers’ Championship. There are no such limits on the overall Drivers’ Championship, although they must be competing for a registered manufacturer.
International coronavirus restrictions have prevented two of IGTC’s regular events, the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour and Suzuka 10 Hours, from taking place. But 2021’s calendar still features three rounds on as many continents: this weekend’s TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa is followed by the Indianapolis 8 Hour Powered by AWS (October 15-17) and Kyalami 9 Hour (December 2-4).
TotalEnergies 24 HOURS OF SPA TIMETABLE
Tuesday 27 July
14:55 – 17:55: Bronze Test
Thursday 29 July
10:50 – 12:20: Free Practice
15:45 – 16:45: Pre-Qualifying
20:50 – 22:11: Qualifying (Q1-4)
22:30 – 00:00: Night Practice
Friday 30 July
19:10 – 19:40: Warm-up
19:50 – 20:20: Super Pole
Saturday 31 July
16:30: TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa
Source. SRO Motorsports Group