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GT WORLD CHALLENGE EUROPE VALENCIA WEEKEND ROUNDUP

After 368 laps staged across 10 races at five venues, the 2021 Sprint Cup season concluded last weekend at Circuit Ricardo Tormo Valencia.

The 4km track on the outskirts of the city was a new addition to the calendar, making it impossible to know what to expect. It proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Mercedes-AMG runners, with Maro Engel and Luca Stolz taking full advantage to score a pair of commanding victories.

With the overall titles decided in favour of Team WRT last time out at Brands Hatch, the #6 Mercedes-AMG Team Toksport WRT crew were fighting to secure runner-up spot. Nevertheless, there were titles up for grabs in the Pro-Am and Silver Cup classes, both of which went to Sunday afternoon’s deciding contest.

There was extra significance to the event, too, with the weekend’s second run marking the 100th Sprint Cup race since the series was launched in 2013. These are the stories and stats from the trip to Spain. 

Engel and Stolz made it three wins in succession following their triumph last time out at Brands Hatch. It capped a superb end to the 2021 Sprint Cup season for Mercedes-AMG Team Toksport WRT, which embarked on its first effort with a Pro car having joined the series with a Silver Cup contender last term.

Engel and Stolz concluded the season with 95 points, more than the Sprint Cup champions scored in 2017, 2019 and 2020. The final deficit to the title-winning Team WRT crew was just 8.5 points, though this does not reflect how dominant Charles Weerts and Dries Vanthoor were over the first four events.

Sunday’s second triumph represented the 25th overall win for Mercedes-AMG in the Sprint Cup, second only to Audi (44). It was the sixth victory for Stolz and Engel, all of which have come as teammates, while the Toksport WRT squad earned its fourth overall triumph in the Sprint Cup. 

At the other end of the spectrum, Valencia was a rare off-weekend for Team WRT and its title-winning #32 crew of Weerts and Vanthoor. Indeed, this was the first time in 10 Sprint Cup events as teammates that the Belgian duo failed to register a single point. Speaking afterwards, Weerts described Valencia as a “joker weekend” for the squad. 

Assessing the 2021 season, two-time Sprint Cup champion Vanthoor said: “Together with WRT and Audi we put a strong package together. We’ve tried to maximise every race weekend and always score points. We have great people in the team – drivers, engineers, and mechanics – and it’s all managed very well, which was key to our success. It’s important to maintain that and try to improve. Our aim now is the Endurance title, and we need to go all in for Barcelona because it won’t be easy.”

Though Valencia was a tough event for Team WRT, the Belgian squad was able to clinch the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS teams’ title after race 1. This follows previous triumphs in 2014, 2015 and 2020. WRT also took the Pit Stop Challenge title for 2021 thanks to its #32 crew of Alexandre Riquier and Gil Botelho.

There was success for the Audi runners at Valencia, too. Saintéloc Racing grabbed a podium in race 1 thanks to Christopher Haase and Léo Roussel, the latter earning a career-best Sprint Cup result in the process. There was also a Silver Cup win for Attempto Racing in the opening contest, proving that the R8 could be competitive at the track. 

Having secured their first podium together last time out at Brands Hatch, Jules Gounon and Petru Umbrarescu concluded the season in fine style by finishing runner-up in the second contest. After a slow start to the campaign, the #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG crew has made significant progress during recent events.

Valencia proved to be another bittersweet weekend for JOTA. The McLaren outfit bagged pole for the opening race and was on course for a podium when Alex Fontana tipped Ollie Wilkinson into a costly spin during the closing stages. The team rallied in race 2, moving from 11th on the grid to match their best result of the season in P4.  

Dinamic Motorsport returned to Sprint Cup action with its #54 Porsche after an injury to Adrien De Leener forced the squad to skip Brands Hatch. It was a successful comeback and saw Christian Engelhart on top form, putting his Porsche P5 on the grid for the second race. The German ran in the lead pack and handed over to De Leener, who brought the #54 machine home a season-best fifth.  

After an immensely challenging campaign, the #108 CMR Bentley crew of Stéphane Richelmi and Nelson Panciatici finally earned their first Sprint Cup points of the season with a seventh-place finish in race 1. Unfortunately, their luck was out in race 2 when contact from Vanthoor ended their challenge on the opening lap.

Emil Frey Racing sealed the Silver Cup title, while Alex Fontana earned the drivers’ crown, with a fourth-place finish in race 2. After an outstanding start to the season the team suffered several setbacks at recent events, including Fontana’s collision with Wilkinson in the opening contest. Nevertheless, the Swiss squad has been a front-runner at every event with its #14 Lamborghini. 

Fontana said afterwards: “It was a bit complicated in the end! We lost a few points, but we are here now because of what we achieved across the whole season. Even if we did make some mistakes, we probably made fewer than everybody else.”

Though crowned champion alone, Fontana was quick to praise his co-drivers for helping to earn the 2021 crown. Ricardo Feller shared the #14 Lamborghini at four events, earning two class wins and a sensational overall triumph at Zandvoort, while Arthur Rougier was on board at Magny-Cours and helped Fontana to secure victory in race 1.

Attempto Racing earned its first win of the season in the opening contest. Dennis Marschall and Alex Aka finished a fantastic fourth overall, the best result for the Attempto squad this year. Marschall was particularly impressive during the opening 30 minutes, staying among the lead pack and passing the #88 Mercedes-AMG late in the stint.

AKKA ASP closed the season with a third Silver Cup win for Jim Pla and Konstantin Tereschenko, as many as champion Fontana. Speed was not a problem for the #87 Mercedes-AMG crew this term, with consistency proving to be the difference between a title push and third in the standings. 

Barwell Motorsport had plenty of reasons to celebrate at Valencia. Runner-up in race 1 and third in the second contest was more than enough to seal the Pro-Am title for the British squad, while the #77 Lamborghini pairing of Miguel Ramos and Henrique Chaves earned the drivers’ crown. What’s more, Barwell has also secured the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Pro-Am teams’ championship with a round to spare. 

As well as the title, Ramos also celebrated his 50th birthday on Sunday. “It’s a special day, to be here doing the sport that I have loved since I was young and winning the championship,” the Portuguese driver said afterwards. “I am very grateful. It was a great season and I have to thank Henrique and our team.”

The opening race saw AF Corse score victory with its #52 Ferrari. The battle between Chaves and Andrea Bertolini was among the highlights of the opening contest, with the Italian drawing upon his vast experience to keep the Lamborghini driver at bay. Bertolini and co-driver Louis Machiels ultimately took third in the standings. 

Runner-up spot went to SPS Automotive Performance, which scored its second win of the campaign by triumphing in race 2. The pairing of Dominik Baumann and Valentin Pierburg swept qualifying at Valencia and ultimately finished just 8.5 points shy of Ramos and Chaves. 

2017 Sprint Cup champion Robin Frijns returned to the series after a three-year absence, partnering Benji Goethe in the #30 Team WRT Audi. The Dutchman is also set to support the team’s Endurance Cup title bid in next month’s finale at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, joining Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts in the #32 entry.

Valencia became the 20th circuit to stage a Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS event since the series was launched in 2011. It is the third Spanish venue after Barcelona and Navarra and only the third anti-clockwise track following Moscow Raceway and Imola. 

Until last weekend, the most recent SRO event at the Spanish venue was in 2004 when the FIA GT Championship staged a 500km race. 2021 Pro-Am champion Miguel Ramos is the only driver who competed at both. Other notables on the 2004 grid were sports car legend Stéphane Ortelli; Lillian Bryner, who would go on to win the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa a few months later; and future Mercedes Formula 1 boss Toto Wolff. 

While the qualifying sessions and races remained dry, Valencia was hit by heavy thunderstorms on Saturday evening. Lightning lit up the sky above the Spanish track and torrential rain soaked the venue, though by Sunday morning the sun was shining once again. It was as if nothing had even happened.

The 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season will conclude on 8-10 October with a three-hour Endurance Cup race at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Titles are still up for grabs in each class, with the battle for the overall championship featuring four teams representing four different manufacturers. 

Source. SRO Motorsports Group

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