Having returned to action in July, the GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS crossed the halfway mark of the 2020 season last weekend at Circuit Zandvoort. So far, the season has been dominated by the Audis of WRT and Mercedes-AMG teams AKKA ASP and Haupt Racing Team.

Imola

The delayed start of the GT World Challenge Europe finally took place on 26 July with a three-hour race at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in the Italian town of Imola.

Having grabbed pole position the evening before, Attempto Racing’s Fred Vervisch led the field to the green and stayed in front until the first series of pitstops, losing the lead with a slow first pitstop. The Audi team’s mistake of misaligning the car in the pits added a costly 14 seconds to its pitstop and handed first place to Nicklas Nielsen in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3.

Coming in hot from fifth place, however, Kelvin van der Linde in the #31 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 stormed to the lead during the second hour with a series of decisive overtakes. A late Safety Cars in the final hour couldn’t stop Mirko Bortolotti from bringing WRT victory in the first race of the season.

Top 5

1. #31 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Kelvin van der Linde/Mirko Bortolotti/Matthieu Vaxivière)
2. #12 GPX Racing Porsche 991.2 GT3R (Matt Campbell/Patrick Pilet/Mathieu Jaminet)
3. #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Raffaele Marciello/Timur Boguslavskiy/Felipe Fraga)
4. #32 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Dries Vanthoor/Christopher Mies/Charles Weerts)
5. #25 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Markus Winkelhock/Dorian Boccolacci/Christopher Haase)

Misano

The GT World Challenge Europe races in Italy continued with three Sprint Cup races at Misano World Circuit. Despite the troubles in the world, a very decent 23-car grid lined up for this unique triple header.

Race 1

A sunset race opened the weekend at the Adriatic coast, with the second and third races held on Sunday.

Belgian Audi Club Team WRT’s Imola success continued into the Misano event as Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts brought the #32 Audi R8 LMS GT3 victory on Saturday evening. The win was secured by Vanthoor with a daring dive on the inside of #107 CMR Bentley Continental GT3 driven by Nelson Panciatici. The action came following a late safety car to recover the punted, spun around and then hit #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Benjamin Hites.

Earlier in the race, the sole Lexus RC F GT3 ran by Tech 1 Racing was stealing the show as the polesitter fended off the Bentley for the lead. Following the pitstops, however, as Aurélien Panis was pushing to catch Panciatici who was coming out of the pits, the Lexus was hit by engine failure, ending any dreams Tech 1 Racing had of retaking the lead and winning its first GT race.

Top 5

1. #32 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Dries Vanthoor/Charles Weerts)
2. #31 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Ryuichiro Tomita/Kelvin van der Linde)
3. #107 CMR Bentley Continental GT3 (Jules Gounon/Nelson Panciatici)
4. #4 HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Luca Stolz/Maro Engel)
5. #25 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Arthur Rougier/Christopher Haase)

Race 2

Sunday morning saw the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 take a flag-to-flag victory. After a strong opening stint by Raffaele Marciello, teammate Timur Boguslavskiy took over with a slight gap to the rest of the lead pack and the task to bring it home. The Russian withstood the pressure from first Ryuichiro Tomita in the #31 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 who didn’t fear running door-to-door with the AMG and then in the closing minutes the #4 Haupt Racing Team Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Luca Stolz.

Top 5

1. #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Timur Boguslavskiy/Raffaele Marciello)
2. #4 HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Luca Stolz/Maro Engel)
3. #25 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Arthur Rougier/Christopher Haase)
4. #32 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Dries Vanthoor/Charles Weerts)
5. #163 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Giacomo Altoè/Albert Costa)

Race 3

The third and final race was again dominated by Audi at the line as the German brand occupied all three places on the podium.

With the #15 Tech 1 Racing Lexus RC F GT3 giving it another go from pole position for the second time this weekend, Thomas Neubauer was chased into the first corner by a hungry pack of Audis. The Parisian held on until the pitstops where the French team lost a heap of places, dropping Aurélien Panis back to seventh and handing the #32 WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor the lead and the team’s second win.

Adding insult to injury, Panis later got caught up in an accident involving the #107 CMR Bentley Continental GT3. Defending his fifth place in a fierce battle with Kelvin van der Linde in the #31 WRT Audi, Nelson Panciatici lost control under braking for Tramonto and took the Lexus with him into the gravel.

Top 5

1. #32 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Dries Vanthoor/Charles Weerts)
2. #25 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Arthur Rougier/Christopher Haase)
3. #55 Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Tommaso Mosca/Mattia Drudi)
4. #4 HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Luca Stolz/Maro Engel)
5. #31 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Ryuichiro Tomita/Kelvin van der Linde)

Nürburgring

A whopping six hours were scheduled for the Nürburgring round to give the teams a proper challenge before the Spa 24 Hours in October. Back as an Endurance Cup race, the track in the Eifel proved to perfectly suit the Porsche 991.2 GT3R.

With the front row fully occupied by Porsche machinery, it all went wrong for the pole sitting #40 GPX Racing Porsche 991.2 GT3R within the first few hundred metres. In an attempt to keep the charging Albert Costa in the #163 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 from shooting past him on the inside into turn one, Dennis Olsen misjudged the position of the attacker as he closed the door on him severely damaging both cars.

Christian Engelhart, who narrowly avoided the melee, was able to take the lead. The German and his co-drivers Matteo Cairoli and Sven Müller rotated through the stints without much opposition, with the only pushback coming halfway into the race when AKKA ASP’s Timur Boguslavskiy momentarily took over the lead after an accidental and voluntary drive through the pits by the Dinamic Porsche. Despite the small hiccup, Dinamic’s first win since Monza 2019 was never truly in danger.

While AKKA ASP held on to second place throughout the majority of the race, third place was won by Haupt Racing Team’s Luca Stolz, Maro Engel and Vincent Abril – having been at the sharp end of the field throughout the six hours.

Imola winners Kelvin van der Linde and Mirko Bortolotti – supported at the Nürburgring by Rolf Ineichen instead of Matthieu Vaxivière – suffered several setbacks including a drive-through penalty but were able to bounce back to fourth place.

Top 5

1. #54 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche 991.2 GT3R (Matteo Cairoli/Christian Engelhart/Sven Müller)
2. #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Timur Boguslavskiy/Raffaele Marciello/Felipe Fraga)
3. #4 HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Luca Stolz/Maro Engel/Vincent Abril)
4. #31 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Kelvin van der Linde/Mirko Bortolotti/Rolf Ineichen)
5. #32 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Dries Vanthoor/Christopher Mies/Charles Weerts)

Magny-Cours

Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours returned to the calendar of top tier GT racing for the first time since 2005 when it hosted the second round of the FIA GT Championship. Added to the calendar after the early-season cancelations, Magny-Cours returned with two excitement-filled races on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

Race 1

The darkness of the Nièvre department formed the backdrop for the opening race of the weekend. Starting from pole position, Luca Stolz in the #4 Haupt Racing Team Mercedes-AMG GT3 was never in danger of losing the lead. Even a Safety Car interruption shortly before the opening of the pit window couldn’t threaten the German team as Maro Engel took over from his teammate and returned to the track with a comfortable lead. Engel crossed the finish line having held the gap at over 10 seconds throughout the final stint.

Following the disillusion that was the Nürburgring 3 Hours, Emil Frey Racing bounced back with second place at Magny-Cours. Despite having the #32 WRT Audi of Dries Vanthoor all over him during the second half of the race, Norbert Siedler – consolidating the impressive work done by co-driver Mikaël Grenier in the first stint – withstood the pressure to score the team’s first podium results in its new Lamborghini campaign in the GT World Challenge.

Having come from 14th on the grid, the #66 Attempto Racing of Nicolas Schöll and Fred Vervisch had been making its way through the field up to sixth after the pitstops. Now with the Belgian at the wheel, Vervisch pressed on to take fourth from Christopher Haase in the #25 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3, forcing Haase to desperately fend off fellow Audi works pilot Kelvin van der Linde resulting in contact between the two drivers and earning Haase a time penalty. Van der Linde, who was momentarily passed by Attempto Racing’s Mattia Drudi but quickly turned the positions back around, was eventually scored fifth while Haase fell back to ninth.

Top 5

1. #4 HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Luca Stolz/Maro Engel)
2. #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Mikaël Grenier/Norbert Siedler)
3. #32 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Dries Vanthoor/Charles Weerts)
4. #66 Attempto Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Nicolas Schöll/Fred Vervisch)
5. #31 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Ryuichiro Tomita/Kelvin van der Linde)

Race 2

Silver Cup fighters Steven Palette and Simon Gachet surprised with pole position on Sunday morning, and then doubled down with victory in their home race. Gachet held off a charge from Raffaele Marciello at the start before handing the car over to Palette. The young Frenchman retook the lead from Marciello’s #88 AKKA ASP teammate Timur Boguslavskiy after the Russian leapfrogged the #26 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 during the pitstops by pressuring Boguslavskiy into a mistake and running wide.

Top 5

1. #26 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Steven Palette/Simon Gachet)
2. #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Timur Boguslavskiy/Raffaele Marciello)
3. #4 HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Luca Stolz/Maro Engel)
4. #32 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Dries Vanthoor/Charles Weerts)
5. #25 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Arthur Rougier/Christopher Haase)

Zandvoort

Two hectic sprint races at the renewed Circuit Zandvoort marked the halfway point of the 2020 season. Held on the same weekend of the Nürburgring 24 Hours, the organisers decided to move both races to Saturday morning and early afternoon to allow drivers doing the double to be back at the Nordschleife in time for their first stints in the endurance classic.

In the week leading up to the Zandvoort weekend, however, the German government declared several Dutch regions including Noord-Holland code red in light of an increasing number of COVID-19 infections and enabling quarantine measures for travellers into Germany from those regions. Despite having initially been granted permission by Mercedes-AMG to contest both events, the manufacturer decided to keep frontrunners Haupt Racing Team and Raffaele Marciello in Germany at the Nürburgring. This left the way open for Audi to strike.

Race 1

A tighter line on rain tyres into the Tarzanbocht helped Ryuichiro Tomita to take the lead from polesitter Mikaël Grenier as the Canadian was struggling on the damp and wet Zandvoort circuit. A possible attack on the leader by Giacomo Altoè in the #163 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 was thwarted when shortly before his mid-race pitstop a left rear wet weather tyre blew up. This left Tomita’s co-driver Kelvin van der Linde to cruise the #31 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT to the finish for the crew’s first victory of 2020 and rocket to the top of the overall GT World Challenge Europe championship standings.

Hugo Chevalier and Pierre-Alexandre Jean brought their #108 CMR Bentley Continental GT3 to second place but were never a challenge to the Audi that finished half a minute up the road. Silver Cup rivals Steven Palette and Simon Gachet took third in the #26 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3.

Top 5

1. #31 WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Ryuichiro Tomita/Kelvin van der Linde)
2. #108 CMR Bentley Continental GT3 (Hugo Chevalier/Pierre-Alexandre Jean)
3. #26 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Steven Palette/Simon Gachet)
4. #163 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Giacomo Altoè/Albert Costa)
5. #107 CMR Bentley Continental GT3 (Jules Gounon/Nelson Panciatici)

Race 2

Emil Frey Racing returned to form in qualifying for the second race by sweeping the front row. Going green, Kelvin van der Linde squeezed in between the two Lambos in the first turn, making a failed attempt at leader Norbert Siedler a few laps later but going straight through the gravel at the Hans Ernst Bocht and creating a scuffle at the tail-end of the leading group as he rejoined the track.

A second Audi attempt was completed successfully by the #32 WRT team of Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts through the pitstop window. Coming out of the pits, Weerts only just held Giacomo Altoè behind him. The Italian remained close by for the remainder of the race. With minutes to go WRT was informed the #32 Audi would receive a penalty for a pitstop infringement, handing the win to the #163 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini of Giacomo Altoè and Albert Costa.

More penalties followed for the #14 Emil Frey Racing of Norbert Siedler and Mikaël Grenier (originally second, 10th in the final result), #31 WRT of Ryuichiro Tomita and Kelvin van der Linde (third to 11th) and #90 Madpanda Motorsport of Ezequiel Perez Companc and Axcil Jefferies (eighth to 15th).

Top 5

1. #163 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini Huracán GT3 (Giacomo Altoè/Albert Costa)
2. #25 Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 (Arthur Rougier/Christopher Haase)
3. #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 (Timur Boguslavskiy/Felipe Fraga)
4. #15 Tech 1 Racing Lexus RC F GT3 (Aurélien Panis/Thomas Neubauer)
5. #2 Toksport WRT Mercedes AMG GT3 (Óscar Tunjo/Juuso Puhakka)

Championship standings

Top 5 overall championship standings after five rounds

1. Kelvin van der Linde (WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 88 points
2. Timur Boguslavskiy (AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3) – 86.5
3. Charles Weerts/Dries Vanthoor (WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 84.5
4. Raffaele Marciello (AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3) – 77
5. Maro Engel/Luca Stolz (HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3) – 73

Top 5 Endurance Cup standings after two rounds

1. Kelvin van der Linde/Mirko Bortolotti (WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 40 points
2. Raffaele Marciello/ Timur Boguslavskiy/Felipe Fraga (AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3) – 39
3. Christian Engelhart/Sven Müller/Matteo Cairoli (Dinamic Motorsport Porsche 991.2 GT3R) – 34
4. Matthieu Vaxivière (WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 25
5. Dries Vanthoor/Christopher Mies/Charles Weerts (WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 24

Top 5 Sprint Cup standings after three rounds

1. Dries Vanthoor/Charles Weerts (WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 60.5 points
2. Maro Engel/Luca Stolz (HRT Mercedes-AMG GT3) – 54
3. Kelvin van der Linde/Ryuichiro Tomita (WRT Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 48
4. Timur Boguslavskiy (AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3) – 47.5
5. Christopher Haase/Arthur Rougier (Saintéloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3) – 46.5

Barcelona

The GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup portion of the championship is wrapped up next week at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Montmeló. Despite expecting to be out of contention after having to miss the Zandvoort round, Haupt Racing Team’s Maro Engel and Luca Stolz are still very much in the running as they trail WRT’s Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts by just 6.5 points. With 52.5 points in total still up for grabs in the final three sprint races, mathematically a total of 16 drivers are still in with a shot for the title. 

2020 calendar

25-26 July / Imola / 3H Endurance
7-9 August / Misano / 3x1H Sprint
5-6 September / N
ürburgring / 6H Endurance
11-13 September / Magny-Cours / 2x1H Sprint

25-27 September / Zandvoort / 2x1H Sprint
9-11 October / Barcelona / 3x1H Sprint
22-25 October / Spa 24 Hours / 24H Endurance
13-15 November / Paul Ricard / 6H Endurance

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