Antonio Fuoco, James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi led home a Ferrari and AF Corse – Francorchamps Motors one-two at the Gulf 12 Hours, while Daniel Juncadella secured the 2022 Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli drivers’ championship despite his GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG’s early retirement.
The #71 488 GT3 clinched a record extending seventh victory for its manufacturer at the event after beating the sister machine shared by Nicklas Nielsen, Davide Rigon and Alessio Rovera by 14.4 seconds.
Audi Sport Team Sainteloc’s Patric Niederhauser, Christopher Haase and Erwan Bastard completed the podium to salvage silverware for Ingolstadt whose other factory entry retired while effectively leading with just over three hours to go.
It was also a bittersweet race for Juncadella who clinched IGTC’s drivers’ title despite failing to complete a lap. A cooling system issue and subsequent water loss forced GruppeM’s #89 entry to unofficially retire in the second hour – not long after its #98 stablemate was forced out with an issue related to Friday’s practice accident.
That prevented Juncadella’s co-drivers Raffaele Marciello and Jules Gounon from potentially sharing the crown after drop scores were applied, and left the door open for Luca Stolz to pinch the championship. Victory would have handed him the title, but while Al Manar Racing by GetSpeed spent periods of the race up front, it never quite looked capable of beating AF Corse. The Mercedes-AMG also shared by Fabian Schiller and Al Faisal Al Zubair ultimately finished fourth.
SunEnergy1 by SPS came home fifth overall and first in the Pro-Am class to cap Kenny Habul and Martin Konrad’s IGTC Pro-Am Challenge title-winning campaign. A harmless spin aside, the Mercedes-AMG that also featured Philip Ellis didn’t put a foot wrong across the 12 hours.
Juncadella seals title despite early retirement
Mercedes-AMG were guaranteed to add the overall drivers’ crown to their manufacturers’ and Pro-Am Challenge titles. The only question was which of their four contenders would be champion or champions come 22:00 on Sunday.
Juncadella began the day as an overwhelming favourite given the points permutations and GruppeM’s entries locking out the front row in qualifying. The unusual strategy of pitting at the end of lap one then caught many by surprise, but that decision soon became irrelevant.
Maro Engel, who’d started the other factory Mercedes-AMG from pole, was forced into the garage before the end of the opening hour after which his co-driver Lucas Auer only briefly reappeared. That moved Raffaele Marciello up to a net second behind Kelvin van der Linde whose Audi Sport Team Tresor squad had mirrored GruppeM’s bold strategy call. However, it wasn’t long before a space was cleared in GruppeM’s garage for another ailing Mercedes-AMG.
With two victory contenders and the championship leader both out in short order attention switched to the proxy battle developing between AF Corse’s Pro Ferraris – which had split their strategies – and Tresor’s Audi. The latter appeared to have a slight edge as the race developed despite Van der Linde and his co-drivers Mattia Drudi and Dennis Marschall seldomly running in first place.
A minimum of 10 Imposed Time Pit Stops had to be served before the final 45 minutes, and it was the #66 Audi that found itself ahead on that count as the race developed thanks to a combination of pace, Full Course Yellow/Safety Car timing and the #71 Ferrari making an additional stop to change brakes.
Still, there was little to choose between the two cars as the race ticked towards its final three hours and completion of the mandatory 100-second pitstops.
Marschall’s collision while lapping the #92 Porsche changed all of that, though. And what at first appeared to be a puncture ultimately proved terminal when the car pulled over just after leaving the pitlane.
The ball was now firmly in AF Corse’s court, and especially that of its #71 entry shared by Pier Guidi, Calado and Fuoco whose decision to make an early first pitstop had proven decisive. Two more Safety Cars – both to recover Audi IGTC entries – gave the chasing pack hope before Pier Guidi and then Fuoco edged clear once again.
#71’s cause was helped by AF Corse’s other car having to save fuel over the final hour, which restricted its pace and shifted Nielsen’s focus to Niederhauser whose Audi had been a solid top-six contender all day. The R8’s challenge appeared to have faded with 10 minutes remaining before a renewed assault saw it cross the line just seven tenths behind.
Strategy also helped Al Manar’s Mercedes-AMG move up and down the order. A victory for Stolz would have seen him beat Juncadella to the title, but he and his co-drivers didn’t quite have the pace of the Ferraris and ultimately slipped to fourth behind Sainteloc’s Audi.
The other remaining R8 – Tresor Attempto Racing’s example shared by Alex Aka, Finlay Hutchison and Pietro Delli Guanti – collected IGTC manufacturers’ points in eighth overall, while Herberth Motorsport and Saalocin Racing scored for Porsche.
The 2023 Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli campaign begins at the LIQUI MOLY Bathurst 12 Hour on February 3-5.
Source. SRO Motorsports Group