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52 CAR FIELD SET FOR GT WORLD CHALLENGE EUROPE SEASON OPENER AT IMOLA

Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS returns to action next weekend (1-3 April) when a three-hour Endurance Cup race at Imola will raise the curtain on the 2022 season. 

A stacked 52-car field representing nine brands will tackle the 4.9km anti-clockwise circuit, which combines a fast, flowing layout with vast motorsport heritage. Officially known as Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, the Italian venue first hosted Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS in 2020, opening the campaign after the break in competition caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It proved to be an instant hit with the paddock and among fans watching at home, ensuring considerable enthusiasm for this season’s comeback. But while the inaugural visit to was staged without public, the 2022 season-opener will see spectators return to the historic track, adding further colour and atmosphere to proceedings. 

Further interest comes from Valentino Rossi, who will launch his GT racing career next weekend, while German heavyweights Audi (R8 LMS Evo II GT3) and BMW (M4 GT3) both begin 2022 with new cars.  All of this is complemented by a trio of high-level support series and the start of a new esports campaign, ensuring a spectacular season-opening event is in prospect at Imola.

Overall contenders primed for opening Endurance Cup encounter 

A highly competitive field of 17 Pro crews will contend for the first overall win of the season. Team WRT begins as defending Endurance Cup teams’ champion and its pair of top-class entries look well placed to ensure a repeat performance in 2022. The #32 Audi will feature an unchanged line-up of Dries Vanthoor, Charles Weerts and Kelvin van der Linde, the latter a winner at Imola with WRT in 2020. The sister machine will see MotoGP legend Rossi compete with his iconic #46 alongside experienced Audi Sport drivers Frédéric Vervisch and Nico Müller.

The Ingolstadt marque will have more Pro line-ups than any other brand at Imola, with a further three crews joining those from Team WRT. Series newcomer Tresor by Car Collection could be an instant contender with its ace line-up of Christopher Haase, Mattia Drudi and Luca Ghiotto. The experienced Saintéloc Racing outfit should be a factor, too, with its familiar #25 machine featuring an all-new Pro crew of Chris Mies, Patric Niederhauser and Lucas Légeret. Attempto Racing also has a fresh line-up this term with rapid youngsters Dennis Marschall and Juuso Puhakka joined by the vastly experienced Markus Winkelhock.

Iron Lynx earned Ferrari its second successive Endurance Cup drivers’ crown last term and has every chance of adding the teams’ title in 2022. The Italian squad has again signed off on a two-car effort that sees reigning champion Nicklas Nielsen partnered in the #51 car by James Calado and Miguel Molina. In the sister #71 machine the returning Davide Rigon and Antonio Fuoco are joined by Daniel Serra, ensuring a full complement of Ferrari factory drivers across the two crews. 

Mercedes-AMG closed 2021 with victory at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya courtesy of AKKA ASP. The French team remains as strong as ever thanks to an all-star line-up of Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Dani Juncadella. They are joined by German squad GetSpeed, which returns to the Pro ranks this term with Mercedes-AMG factory drivers Maro Engel and Luca Stolz. They will partner series returnee Steijn Schothorst to form another front-running line-up. 

McLaren’s presence has increase in all classes this season. JOTA returns for another crack at the big prize, with returnees Rob Bell and Ollie Wilkinson joined by new McLaren factory driver Marvin Kirchhöfer. JP Motorsport will also field a 720S, with Christian Klien anchoring the programme alongside proven winners Vince Abril and Dennis Lind. 

Aston Martin is represented by a single Pro car, but with Maxime Martin, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen sharing the #95 Beechdean AMR entry it can rely on a remarkably strong crew. Lamborghini has plenty of firepower, too, with its effort now led by veteran Endurance Cup outfit Emil Frey Racing. Mirko Bortolotti, Albert Costa and Jack Aitken share the flagship #63 machine, while the #19 car also boasts a competitive line-up of Giacomo Altoé, Arthur Rougier and Léo Roussel. 

The new BMW M4 GT3 will get its first competitive outing courtesy of ROWE Racing. The German squad can count on the all-factory #99 line-up of Nicky Catsburg, Augusto Farfus and Nick Yelloly, while the sister #50 features BMW juniors Dan Harper, Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen. Another German marque completes the Pro runners, with Dinamic Motorsport set to field Côme Ledogar, Matteo Cairoli and Klaus Bachler. Though it’s a one-car effort, this combination of team and drivers is sure to be a serious factor in 2022. 

Competitive grids hint at close contests for class honours 

In addition to those chasing overall victory, a further 35 cars across three categories will contend for class honours at Imola. The Silver Cup appears particularly strong, with a record 18-car entry set to make the trip to Italy next weekend. 

After dominating in 2021, Emil Frey Racing returns with a new line-up of Lappalainen/White/Tujala at the wheel of its Lamborghini. The Italian marque is further represented by Vincenzo Sospiri’s VSR outfit, which has cars for Dörrbecker/Moulin/Paverud and Beretta/Hites/Nemoto. A fourth Huracán comes from Leipert Motorsport (Leitch/Fetzer/Witt), which returns to the series for the first time since 2011.

Mercedes-AMG can count on five Silver Cup contenders. Al Manar Racing by HRT posted the fastest overall time during pre-season testing thanks to Fabian Schiller, who is joined in the #777 by Al Faisal Al Zubair and Axcil Jefferies. Further entries come from HRT (Love/Valente/Fittje), GetSpeed (Baud/Eriksen/Kingsley), AKKA ASP (Stevenson/Tereschenko/Mosca) and Madpanda Motorsport (Perez Comopanc/Walkinshaw/Borkovic).

The Audi contingent in the Silver Cup mirrors the brand’s Pro roster. Team WRT has two strong crews, with Goethe/Neubauer/Simmenauer sharing the #30 and Menchaca/Proctor/Hutchison aboard the #31 machine. Tresor by Car Collection will field Blom/Patrese/Valente in its #11, while Saintéloc Racing (Gazeau/Baert/Panis) and Attempto Racing’s (Aka/Schöll/Zug) will also deploy the new R8 LMS Evo II. 

McLaren will be represented by a pair of cars courtesy of Garage 59 (Kjaergaard/Maldonado/TBC) and JP Motorsport (Krupinski/Blazek/Mesch).Porsche also has two Silver Cup contenders: Allied Racing (Strum/Matthiesen/Fischli) embarks upon its second year in the series and Dinamic Motorsport brings a refreshed line-up of Roda/Calamia/Nakken.

The Gold Cup class is new for 2022, with each crew consisting of one Bronze-graded driver, one Silver, and one professional ranked either Gold or Platinum. An impressive 13-car field will tackle the season opener, including several squads that have achieved Endurance Cup success in other categories.

Boutsen Racing (Ojjeh/Lessennes/Eteki) is preparing to make its first start with Audi, while Team WRT will pair brothers Maxime and Arnold Robin with Japanese ace Ryuichiro Tomita. There’s a family connection at Herberth Motorsport, too, as Alfred and Robert Renauer share the #911 Porsche with Ralf Bohn. 

A trio of Mercedes-AMG squads also look well placed to fight for victory. The #5 HRT crew is led by team boss Hubert Haupt, who partners Florian Scholze and Arjun Maini. Sky Tempesta Racing has changed car and category, though the successful trio of Chris Froggatt, Jonathan Hui and Eddie Cheever remain in place. Winward Racing adds a further AMG GT3 for the trio of Liebhauser/Ferrari/Auer. 

A frequent front-runner in a variety of classes, Lamborghini squad Barwell Motorsport will look to add Gold Cup success with its #77 (Collard/MacDowall/Mitchell) and #78 (Dorlin/Barker/TBC) line-ups. AGS Events is a new addition to the series with its Lamborghini, which features an all-French crew of Gomar/Caribou/Parisy. 

Beechdean AMR will field an Aston Martin for Howard/Nouet/Hasse-Clot, while Inception Racing (Iribe/Millroy/Schandorff) brings its McLaren. A pair of Ferrari entries will also contest the new class thanks to AF Corse (Delacour/Sbirrazzuoli/Balzan) and the all-female Iron Dames crew of Sarah Bovy, Michelle Gatting and Rahel Frey.

Four teams representing as many brands will make up the Pro-Am field. Now back in the McLaren camp, Garage 59 will field the accomplished line-up of West/Ramos/Chaves. CMR will represent another iconic British brand, deploying its Bentley for the all-Belgian trio of Bailly/De Robiano/Lemeret, while the familiar AF Corse Ferrari features Machiels/Bertolini/Costantini. SPS automotive performance completes the field with its #20 Mercedes-AMG of Pierburg/Baumann/Loggie, the latter making his first start at an Endurance event since claiming the Am Cup title in 2015.

Extensive support action confirmed, new commentary options added for 2022 

Fans at Imola will be treated to a wealth of high-level support race action, with the Lamborghini Super Trofeo, Fanatec GT2 European Series and GT4 European Series all set to launch their seasons. Virtual motorsport will play its part, too, with the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series beginning its five-round championship. As was the case in 2021, Pro and Silver Cup teams must nominate one driver per car to compete in a 60-minute Assetto Corsa Competizione race, with real-world points up for grabs. 

Live coverage begins with Saturday’s Pre-Qualifying session and will be available across a variety of online platforms, including the GT World YouTube channel. Indeed, there will be even more ways to watch in 2022 as German and Italian commentary options join the established English and French streams. With a packed grid ready to do battle, the time has come for racing to resume. 

TIMETABLE

Friday 1 April
17:00 – 18:00: Bronze Test

Saturday 2 April
09:00 – 10:30: Free Practice
13:40 – 15:10: Pre-Qualifying
18:20 – 19:20: Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series Race

Sunday 3 April
09:00 – 10:00: Qualifying
15:00 – 18:00: Race

Source. SRO Motorsports Group

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