The 2022 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS campaign is up and running after Imola delivered a typically combative Endurance Cup race on Sunday afternoon.
Season openers can often produce unexpected results, but with Team WRT and Akkodis ASP fighting for the overall win this one played out as expected. The #32 Audi ultimately took a comfortable victory from the #88 Mercedes-AMG, giving reigning overall champions Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts the perfect start in the car they share with Kelvin van der Linde.
But this was by no means a two-horse race. GetSpeed ensured that a pair of Mercedes-AMG squads finished on the overall podium, Tresor by Car Collection and Saintéloc Junior Team showed excellent performance with their Audi entries, while there were also impressive showings from Aston Martin and McLaren representatives.
All of this hints at a competitive year ahead, while the competition for class honours was as close as ever at the Italian venue. These are the stories and stats that emerged from the season-opening weekend.
Sunday’s win was an especially significant result for Audi. Not only did its new R8 LMS Evo II GT3 score victory on its series debut, but the German marque now has nine overall wins, more than any other brand in Endurance Cup history. WRT also become the most successful team, earning its seventh triumph.
Dries Vanthoor’s second Endurance Cup win came four years after his first with Team WRT at Monza in 2018. Kelvin Van der Linde also added a second win having been part of the WRT crew that triumphed at Imola in 2020, while Charles Weerts earned his maiden win.
Given their obvious title aspirations the #88 Akkodis ASP crew should not be too disappointed with a runner-up finish at a track that suited the Audi. The same goes for the #2 GetSpeed squad that finished third, with both banking big points on the opening day.
For GetSpeed, the result represented a maiden overall podium upon the squad’s return to the Pro ranks. Steijn Schothorst also scored his first overall Endurance Cup podium alongside rostrum regulars Maro Engel and Luca Stolz.
Series newcomer Tresor by Car Collection showed no signs of inexperience at Imola. This was helped by having two vastly experienced Audi factory drivers in Christopher Haase and Mattia Drudi, while Luca Ghiotto comes with an impressive CV in single-seaters. Fourth at the chequered flag was a fine reward for the team co-run by Ferdinando Geri and Peter Schmidt.
It was a good day for McLaren, too. After the disappointment of losing its Silver Cup car on the opening lap JP Motorsport’s #111 entry produced a fine run to fifth overall with its Pro line-up of Christian Klien, Vince Abril and Dennis Lind. JOTA Sport finished 10th overall, while Garage 59 added podiums in the Silver Cup and Pro-Am classes.
With the #54 Dinamic Porsche, both Iron Lynx Ferraris and the #25 Saintéloc Audi also finishing among the top-10, this was a day on which the big teams produced the goods. Indeed, the overall top-10 was locked out by Pro crews on Sunday afternoon.
The most significant absentee from the top-10 was the #95 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin. The car was rapid in the hands Maxime Martin, Marco Sørensen and Nicki Thiim, the latter posting the fastest lap of the race (1m40.375s). The Aston looked set for at least a podium but lost out when the final round of pit stops took place behind the safety car.
The same issue also prevented the #46 Team WRT Audi of Fred Vervisch, Nico Müller and Valentino Rossi from recording a top-10 finish. The latter had been set to stop a lap earlier, but was following close behind the sister #30 machine and missed his pit stall.
Rossi was the focus of considerable attention throughout the weekend, with thousands of fans at the track wearing his trademark fluorescent gear. Imola had wanted a long time for his return: Rossi’s previous competitive appearance at the venue came during the 1999 250cc World Championship. He was runner-up that day having previously won at the track at 1998 (250cc) and 1997 (125cc).
Silver Cup honours went to the #30 Audi, marking the first time that Team WRT has taken an Endurance Cup win in the class. Its trio of drivers – Thomas Neubauer, Benji Goethe and Jean-Baptise Simmenauer – also achieved their maiden Silver Cup wins in the Endurance format.
Silver honours had looked to be heading to the #99 Attempto Audi, which topped free practice and pre-qualifying, and then secured a comfortable class pole. In the race it was a firm contender for a top-10 finish overall before being shuffled back during the latter stages, though the crew of Nicolas Schöll, Alex Aka and Marius Zug still finished second in class.
The Silver Cup podium was completed by Garage 59, which came from ninth on the grid to secure a strong result with its #159 McLaren. Ethan Siminoni and Manuel Maldonado were both making their series debuts alongside the more experience Nicolai Kjaergaard.
Another rookie to show well was Lorenzo Patrese. The 16-year-son of former grand prix star Ricardo Patrese, the youngster was an impressive ninth overall in Q1 and the top Silver driver.
Silver Cup squad Leipert Motorsport returned to the series for the first time since the 2011 season finale at Silverstone, a gap of 3,829 days between race stars. The Imola event ended badly, however, when the #107 CMR Bentley made heavy contact from behind under safety car conditions.
The Silver Cup achieved a new record entry at Imola with 18 cars. This also made it the biggest class on the grid, marking the first time that Pro has not received the largest entry since the 2015 season finale at the Nürburgring.
The Gold Cup enjoyed a very successful launch, with 13 cars competing for class honours at Imola. Victory ultimately went to the #911 Herberth Motorsport Porsche after a late pass for the lead by Robert Renauer, who was joined on the top step by brother Alfred and regular teammate Ralf Bohn.
AF Corse finished second in class with its #21 Ferrari of Delacour/Sbirrazzuoli/Balzan, while HRT completed the podium with Haupt/Scholze/Maini sharing the #5 Mercedes-AMG.
Earlier in the race, Adam Eteki had been the star of the Gold Cup at the wheel of the #10 Boutsen Racing Audi. The Belgian team showed well on its first outing with new machinery and led much of the race, before ultimately fading to fifth in class.
Pro-Am honours went to Mercedes-AMG squad SPS Automotive Performance, which started the new season in the same way it ended 2022. Valentin Pierburg and Dominik Baumann were on board for both wins, while British GT regular Ian Loggie was a new addition to the line-up at Imola.
AF Corse (#52 Ferrari) and Garage 59 (#188 McLaren) ensured that this was a very familiar Pro-Am podium. The top-three came home in sequence, finishing 32nd, 33rd and 34th overall.
AF Corse’s runner-up finish was made all the more impressive by the fact that Louis Machiels was caught up in the opening lap drama that eliminated the #112 McLaren and the #83 Ferrari. The Belgian driver avoided serious damage and was able to catch up to the pack thanks to the early safety car.
The star of qualifying was Marvin Kirchhöfer, who became the first driver to break into the 1m39s and ultimately recorded the fastest lap of the weekend: a 1m39.489s. Only Jules Gounon came close, posting a 1m39.559s in the #88 Mercedes-AMG.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group