The Series Formally Known As Blancpain Returns: PRE-QUALIFYING
GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS back on-track for 2020 season opener at Imola
GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS will roar back to life at Imola next weekend (25/26 July) when a three-hour Endurance Cup contest launches the eagerly awaited 2020 campaign.
The championship begins its 10th season of competition with a new name and more anticipation than ever before following an extended break between races. The silence will be broken by a 46-car grid going wheel-to-wheel at one of Europe’s most popular venues, which is set to make its very first appearance on the Endurance Cup schedule.
Officially known as Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari, the 4.9km anti-clockwise circuit lies on the outskirts of Imola town and combines a fast, flowing layout with vast motorsport heritage. The long-time host of the San Marino Grand Prix, Imola also staged FIA GT Championship events in 2004 and 2005, as well as many other top-level series.
Now it will gain fresh significance as the stage upon which Europe’s premier GT3 category returns to action. A thrilling weekend lies ahead in northern Italy, with a competitive entry list featuring a wide variety of machinery ready to do battle.
Strong contingent of full-pro crews set for Imola showdown
The opening event of the 2020 season will feature 23 full-pro cars, with seven brands among the leading contenders. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will field a pair of entries and has bolstered its driver line-up for 2020, adding established Audi ace Kelvin van der Linde and brand newcomer Mirko Bortolotti. Attempto Racing will deploy two cars, with Mattia Drudi among the Italians looking to shine on home soil, while Sainteloc Racing also continues its longstanding top-tier programme with leading pro drivers Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock.
Bentley has expanded its roster this year by adding CMR and American effort K-Pax Racing. The latter will make its series debut at Imola with a two-car effort that includes factory racers Jules Gounon, Maxime Soulet and Jordan Pepper, while CMR returns to top-level GT3 competition with team regular Pierre Alexandre-Jean and factory ace Seb Morris.
There is good news for Ferrari fans as the Italian marque expands to a pair of full-pro 488 GT3s. After narrowly missing last year’s Endurance Cup title SMP Racing returns with a tweaked driver line-up, adding Sergey Sirotkin to the established duo of Miguel Molina and Davide Rigon. The #51 AF Corse car features a trio of factory racers in Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Nicklas Nielsen.
Having earned overall Endurance Cup titles in 2017 and 2019, Lamborghini will have high hopes of securing more silverware this term. Reigning champion Orange1 FFF Racing has an unchanged line-up of Andrea Caldarelli, Marco Mapelli and Dennis Lind. The Italian marque will also be represented by a pair of cars from returning outfit Emil Frey Racing, with the Swiss squad’s #163 crew of Albert Costa, Franck Perera and Giacomo Altoe looking especially strong. What’s more, Lamborghini’s line-up will be further bolstered at Imola by local squad Imperiale Racing.
McLaren machinery makes a popular return to the Endurance Cup, with Optimum Motorsport fielding British GT graduate Ollie Wilkinson, 2016 Endurance Cup champion Rob Bell and factory ace Joe Osborne in its 720S GT3. Australian outfit 59 Racing will compete on a race-by-race basis, kicking off at Imola with Ben Barnicoat, Lewis Williamson and Martin Kodric at the wheel.
Mercedes-AMG boasts a star-studded three-car line-up. AKKA ASP continues its longstanding programme, with Raffaele Marciello, Timur Boguslavskiy and Felipe Fraga driving the French outfit’s #88 AMG GT3. Haupt Racing Team will be a threat from the start with Vincent Abril, Luca Stolz and Maro Engel at the wheel, while GetSpeed Performance is set for at least three Endurance Cup outings with Fabian Schiller, Alessio Lorandi and Maxi Buhk.
Porsche has added extra firepower as it chases back-to-back Total 24 Hours of Spa victories. A pair of GPX Racing cars and one each from Dinamic Motorsport and ROWE Racing represents the brand’s biggest top-tier effort to date, with each featuring factory talent from Weissach. The line-up also includes reigning SRO E-Sport GT Series Pro champion Louis Deletraz, who will make his series debut with the GPX squad.
Indeed, choosing an overall Endurance Cup champion is as tough as ever this year. Each crew is a potential race winner, meaning there will be no margin for error once competition resumes at Imola.
Endurance Cup opener set for competitive class contests
The 23 full-pro crews will be joined at Imola by the same number competing for class honours. This includes an expanded Pro-Am field, with 11 cars representing six brands ready to do battle in Italy.
Among the returning efforts, AF Corse trio Louis Machiels, Niek Hommerson and Andrea Bertolini have become synonymous with the Ferrari squad and will be among the favourites for class honours this term. The same can be said of AKKA ASP and Jean-Luc Beaubelique, who will share a Mercedes-AMG with regular co-driver Jim Pla and Fabien Barthez. Boutsen Ginion will keep the BMW flag flying with its M6 GT3, while Rinaldi Racing (Ferrari), Ram Racing (Mercedes-AMG) and Sainteloc Racing (Audi) all extend their involvement in the class.
There are two well-known additions to the Pro-Am ranks. Following back-to-back Am Cup titles, Barwell Motorsport and Leo Machitski will shift to a Pro-Am programme this year, with former touring car racer Rob Collard and young talent Sandy Mitchell completing the driver line-up. Aston Martin squad Garage 59 has made the same move, with Alexander West and Chris Goodwin joined by four-time British GT champion Jonny Adam in the familiar #188 machine.
The Pro-Am field is completed by a Dinamic Motorsport-run Porsche, Ferrari squad SKY Tempesta Racing, and Orange1 FFF Racing. The latter clinched last year’s Sprint Cup crown with Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Phil Keen and will now chase Endurance glory with the same duo driving its Lamborghini.
The Silver Cup grid remains strong, with 10 quality line-ups set to do battle at Imola. Three of these come from the Mercedes-AMG stable, with newcomers Haupt Racing and Madpanda Motorsport joining reigning class champions AKKA ASP. Lamborghini will have two Silver entries on home soil, with Orange1 FFF Racing and Barwell Motorsport both strong contenders for class honours.
Now entering its second season in the series, Tech 1 Racing adds a Lexus RC F GT3 for young French talents Timothé Buret, Thomas Neubauer and Aurelien Panis. Team Parker Racing also has youth on its side, with the Bentley Academy Programme line-up of Euan McKay, Frank Bird and Nicolai Kjaergaard driving its Continental GT3. Garage 59 will field its #159 Aston Martin, while Belgian Audi Club Team WRT (Audi) and Dinamic Motorsport (Porsche) will also compete with their familiar brands.
The field is completed by Am Cup entries from CMR (Bentley) and SPS Automotive Performance, which will run with Mercedes-AMG equipment. The latter will ensure that Mercedes-AMG is the best represented brand overall at Imola, with nine of the German marque’s GT3 machines on-track at the season opener.
Source: SRO Media