For Mercedes-AMG Motorsport, the first season round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola ended with a double podium, a PRO-AM class victory and another class podium. After an action-packed race with numerous safety car interventions and full-course yellows, the #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of the Mercedes-AMG Team AKKODIS ASP ended up in second place overall while the #2 Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed entry also made it onto the podium by finishing third. At the same time, the #20 SPS automotive performance car got the new year off to an optimal start with its PRO-AM success. The #5 Haupt Racing Team Mercedes-AMG GT3 secured another podium result during the premiere of the newly introduced Gold Cup as it finished third in this category.
Seven customer teams and eleven Mercedes-AMG GT3s with high-quality driver pairings represented Mercedes-AMG Motorsport in the season opener of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup that was held in Italy in 2022 again. In contrast to last year, however, it was not the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza that served as the venue for the first of this season’s five races in total, it was rather the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola, some 270 kilometres away.
In the usual 90-minute pre-qualifying on Saturday, marked by numerous incidents, the Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing Teams immediately underlined the high ambitions with which they had arrived. Jules Gounon (FRA) posted the fastest time of the day with the #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of the Mercedes-AMG Team AKKODIS ASP and was just half a hundredth of a second ahead of the #2 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of the Mercedes-AMG Teams GetSpeed that Steijn Schothorst (NED) had driven to second place.
Customer sport teams secure promising qualifying results in various classes
With their confidence accordingly huge, the two Performance Teams, each of them running in the PRO class, took on the three-part qualifying on Sunday morning. Gounon, together with his teammates Daniel Juncadella (ESP) and Raffaele Marciello (SUI), ended up in third position. In cold and windy conditions, the #2 car with Maro Engel, Luca Stolz (both GER) and Steijn Schothorst was held up by slower cars on multiple occasions and therefore didn’t get beyond tenth place in the combined classification.
The timed session in the various classes turned out to be more successful. The #57 Mercedes-AMG GT3 run by WINWARD Racing secured the inaugural pole position in the newly created Gold Cup, the #87 AKKODIS ASP Team car (Silver) and the #20 SPS automotive performance entry (PRO-AM) each started the three-hour race from second position on the grid in their respective classes.
Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed benefits from unclear opening stage
As expected, the 52-car field delivered a turbulent opening stage that prompted a safety car intervention while still on the opening lap. Up until that point, Maro Engel in the #2 GT3 of the Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed had already been able to make up three positions and he was seventh getting lined up for the restart. Raffaele Marciello meanwhile defended his third place overall with the #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Some 40 minutes into the race, the safety car was deployed once more, closely bunching up the field again. The front-running group subsequently procrastinated the first driver change to the maximum of 65 minutes. Daniel Juncadella took over the steering wheel of the #88, Steijn Schothorst replaced Maro Engel in the #2 Mercedes-AMG GT3. The Dutchman seamlessly continued the recovery drive of Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed and already found himself up in fifth position at the halfway point of the race.
Clever pit stop strategy brings Mercedes-AMG customer sport teams to the fore
Subsequently, multiple collisions impeded the racing action. Around two hours in, a large part of the field used one of these situations for a pit stop including the two Mercedes-AMG Performance Teams as well as the #5 Haupt Racing Team Mercedes-AMG GT3.
This tactic turned out to be a lucky one. Jules Gounon drove the #88 Mercedes-AMG Teams AKKODIS ASP car into the final third of the race in second place overall while Luca Stolz slotted in immediately behind him with the #2 Mercedes-AMG GT3. Simultaneously, Arjun Maini (IND) started his stint in the #5 car in third place of the Gold Cup. At the 4,9 kilometres long circuit with its long heritage, overtaking turned out to be difficult as usual. Until the end of the race, Gounon kept up with the leader, but was not in a position anymore to start an attack. Stolz and Maini also maintained their positions and each brought their respective third places home.
In the #20 SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG GT3 that had started the race from second place on the grid in the PRO-AM class, final driver Dominik Baumann (AUT) took over the lead in this class around one hour prior to the end. Previously, his teammates Ian Loggie (GBR) and Valentin Pierburg (GER) had been putting the leader under pressure for a long time, but eventually, it was a quick stop by the team from Willsbach that secured the deserved success in the season opener.
Madpanda Motorsport scores four points in Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series
The first championship points of the season were already attributed on Saturday evening. On the support programme of every GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup round, the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series is staging a one-hour race in 2022 as well. On Saturday, a driver from real-world motorsport was also competing for every PRO and Silver team, being able to score up to five points for the Endurance Cup teams’ standings on the Assetto Corsa Competizione simulation platform. Ezequiel Pérez Companc (ARG), Madpanda Motorsport team principal, finished in second place of the Silver classification with the virtual #90 Mercedes-AMG GT3 and secured four valuable points for the Spanish team even prior to the official season opener as a result.
AKKODIS ASP Team also successful in GT4 European Series
The GT4 European Series also staged its first two races of the season at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari this weekend. The #87 Mercedes-AMG GT4 of the AKKODIS ASP Team with driver pairing Jean-Luc Beaubelique and Jim Pla (both FRA) reached fourth place overall and therefore second place in the PRO-AM class in Saturday’s first of two one-hour races. Together with the next Endurance Cup event of the GT World Challenge Europe, the GT4 European Series will have its second round at Circuit Paul Ricard in France on 4th and 5th June.
Stefan Wendl, head of Mercedes-AMG Customer Racing: “We can be very happy with this start of the season. After qualifying, a double podium finish wasn’t what we had worked out for ourselves. By virtue of an outstanding strategic achievement by our teams and a consistent pace, we managed to finish on the overall podium. Together with third place in Gold Cup and victory in PRO-AM, that is making it a great result. Many thanks to the teams for that.”
Maro Engel, #2 Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed: “That was a super comeback by us after we had some bad luck in qualifying due to traffic. We are very happy with third place because we hadn’t expected still to make it up that far. The team has done a great job, both concerning the strategy and with the pit stops. All in all, therefore, it was a very successful start.”
Jules Gounon, #88 Mercedes-AMG Team AKKODIS ASP: “We as a team have nothing to blame ourselves for today, we really have given it our all. Therefore, I am highly satisfied with second place, that simply was the maximum for us today. In spite of the podium finish, we still have a lot of work ahead of us in the time to come when we want to be in contention for the championship.”
Raffaele Marciello, #88 Mercedes-AMG Team AKKODIS ASP: “It was a good race for us, but perhaps, at the end of the day, second place after such a turbulent race is a bit fortunate as well. In any case, we can build on this performance and when we still get a little bit faster, it can be become a successful season.”
Hubert Haupt, #5 Haupt Racing Team: “The start was good and it was fun. We had set ourselves the goal of finishing on the podium and with this result, we have laid a good foundation for the championship and further point-scoring positions.”
Dominik Baumann, #20 SPS automotive performance: “It was an interesting weekend for me as I had never driven at Imola before. Sadly, I didn’t get a clear lap in during qualifying, but nevertheless, I was highly motivated getting into the race, of course. In the final pit stop during the safety car intervention, we were lucky to be coming in for the stop as the third car in our class and to be leaving the pit lane while in the lead. Subsequently, we then held on to first place. Of course, we are really happy, this is an optimal start of the season.”