Despite a first-stint hiccup, Team WRT turned pole into victory in the first Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup powered by AWS race of the season. Far from a simple flag-to-flag win at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, the #32 Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Charles Weerts, Kelvin van der Linde and Dries Vanthoor looked at the back of the #25 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi R8 LMS GT3 throughout the first hour and needed a blinding opening stint of Van der Linde to beat the French Audi coming out of the pits.
With Weerts leading the 51-car field to the green in Imola, the 2022 season got underway with a clean run for all cars through the first corners. But by Rivazza first trouble of the year announced itself with two retirements when Sarah Bouvy in the #83 Iron Dames Ferrari 488 GT3 spun and was hit by the #112 JP Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 of Patryk Krupinski forcing the Safety Car to neutralise the race.
At the front of the field, Weerts had held on to the lead, followed by the #25 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Christopher Mies, #88 Mercedes-AMG Team Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Raffaele Marciello, Christopher Haase’s #12 Tresor by Car Collection Audi R8 LMS GT3 and Christian Klien in the #111 JP Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 – all maintaining their starting positions.
On a roll after the restart, Nicki Thiim moved into fifth place at the expense of Klien. Clear of the McLaren, the #95 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 pilot immediately set the until then fastest lap of the race and began pressuring Haase. Rubbing shoulders on the front straight a few laps later, Thiim would pass Haase for fourth going into Tamburello.
Weert’s lead would not last long: chased by Audi compatriot Mies, the young Belgian ran wide at the exit of the Gilles Villeneuve chicane and was passed by the Saintéloc Audi. Now leading, Mies opened a 3-second gap before Weerts gathered himself and put down a couple of fast laps to reduce the gap.
36 minutes in, the second Full Course Yellow halted the race action for recovery of the stranded Rob Collard (#77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3). The veteran got punted into the gravel while fighting with Valdemar Eriksen (#3 GetSpeed Performance Mercedes-AMG GT3).
An earlier first pitstop and stellar outlaps of the #32 Audi and #95 Aston Martin gave Kelvin van der Linde and Marco Sørensen an advantage over their competitors, with the South African retaking the lead from Saintéloc’s Lucas Légeret and the Dane slotting into third place behind the two Audis. Still within reach of the top three, Daniel Juncadella had taken over the #88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG from Marciello to start the middle stint in fourth place, while Luca Ghiotto got aboard the #12 Car Collection Audi to rejoin the race 7 seconds behind the leader.
While running in second place and keeping Sørensen behind, Légeret went off the track at Tamburello. A long trip through the gravel dropped the young Frenchman back to fourteenth with hopes for victory evaporated.
Having held a 7-second gap for half an hour, Van der Linde had his work undone when Theo Nouet parked his #97 Beechdean Aston Martin Vantage AMR GT3 on side of the road from Tosa to Piratella resulting in a Safety Car to recover the Aston.
Just when the track was cleared and the field got ready to go back to green, a massive accident happened: unaware of the slowed #27 Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini Huracán GT3 of Jordan Witt ahead of him, Matthieu de Robiano smashed his #107 CMR Bentley Continental GT3 into the back of the Lambo, damaging both cars and scattering debris all over the track.
With a pit window for a stint to the chequered now open, the field made use of the opportunity for Safety Car pitstops. Coming in a lap later than most others, however, the #95 Aston Martin lost a heap of places, dropping back to 18th with Maxime Martin having a mountain to climb to rescue a satisfying result.
Dries Vanthoor entered the final hour at the wheel of the leading #32 Audi, chased down to the green with 45 minutes to go by Jules Gounon’s #88 Mercedes-AMG and Luca Stolz in the #2 GetSpeed Performance Mercedes-AMG GT3 – the latter having slowly climbed the charts from tenth on the grid. Running in fourth, Mattia Drudi had Dennis Lind – having taken over the #111 JP Motorsport McLaren from Vincent Abril – right on his rear wing at the restart but managed to hold off the McLaren through the first turns. Having shed Lind from his rear, a battle between Stolz and Drudi evolved. Despite a hard charge by Drudi, however, the running order remaining unchanged until the finish.
Unchallenged by Gounon throughout the final green flag running, Vanthoor raced to the finish with a gap of 6 seconds to strike first in the new season.
Finishing in third place, 12 seconds back, Luca Stolz held off Mattia Drudi to take third place for GetSpeed Performance after a steady rise through the field started by Maro Engel, continued by Steijn Schothorst and finished by Stolz.
Behind Drudi, Dennis Lind grabbed fifth place for #111 JP Motorsport McLaren in its full-season debut. The Dane led a long line of cars all the way back to 15th place, crossing the line ahead of the #54 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche 991.2 GT3R (Matteo Cairoli/Klaus Bachler/Côme Ledogar) in sixth, #51 Iron Lynx Ferrari 488 GT3 (Miguel Molina/Nicklas Nielsen/James Calado) in seventh and its #71 Iron Lynx sister car of Davide Rigon, Daniel Serra and Antonio Fuoco in eight.
Ninth place went to early race leader #25 Saintéloc Junior Team of Christopher Mies, Lucas Légeret and Patric Niederhauser, who had somewhat recovered from the team’s mid-race trip through the gravel. The top ten was rounded out by the #38 Jota McLaren 720S GT3 of Rob Bell, Marvin Kirchhöfer and Oliver Wilkinson.
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