GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season moves into crucial phase as Sprint Cup battle heads to Zandvoort
22-car grid confirmed for third of four Sprint Cup events
Pair of one-hour contests to be held on Saturday
Championship battles heating up as fast-paced season enters second half
The chase for the Sprint Cup championship will shift up a gear next weekend when GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS contests a pair of one-hour races at Zandvoort.
Situated amid the dunes of the North Sea coast, the Dutch venue made a welcome return to the calendar in 2019 following a three-year hiatus and remains in place for this season and beyond. Originally slated for a summer appointment on 26-28 June, its revised September date will see Zandvoort host the penultimate Sprint Cup event of 2020. A field of 22 cars will tackle the 4.2km circuit, which has undergone considerable development during the past 12 months.
With only the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya finale to follow on 9-11 October, the Zandvoort weekend will play a decisive role in the outcome of the Sprint Cup season. It will also accelerate the battle for the combined GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS championship and the global GT World Challenge Powered by AWS manufacturers’ title, adding further importance to an already crucial contest.
Luca Stolz and Maro Engel gave notice of their title intentions at Magny-Cours. The duo secured a maiden series win for HRT in Saturday’s race before adding another podium on Sunday, ensuring that they took the biggest points haul from the event and closed significantly on the championship lead. As ever, the #4 Mercedes-AMG should be in the hunt at Zandvoort.
The AKKA ASP mechanics delivered the fastest pit stop of the Magny-Cours weekend when they serviced the #88 Mercedes in just under 40 seconds, demonstrating the vital role played by the crew. Regular driver Timur Boguslavskiy will be joined for the event by Felipe Fraga, who makes his first Sprint Cup appearance of the season.
Emil Frey Racing earned its first podium as a Lamborghini squad at Magny-Cours thanks to a superb Saturday night showing from the #14 crew of Mikäel Grenier and Norbert Siedler. The sister #163 car of Giacomo Altoè and Alberto Costa showed comparable pace but left France without picking up points, something they will be keen to put right at Zandvoort.
CMR endured a challenging weekend on home turf, with Jules Gounon and Nelson Panciatici facing a number of setbacks in the #107 Bentley. The French duo will hope for a return to their impressive Misano form, which saw them score a debut podium.
As usual, Audi machinery will be out in force. Sainteloc Racing has shown well with its #25 crew of Christopher Haase and Arthur Rougier, who scored a brace of podiums at Misano and sit fourth in the standings heading to Zandvoort. There is always pace in the Attempto Racing cars, too, with the #55 of Mattia Drudi and Tommaso Mosca competing alongside the #66 of Frederic Vervisch and Nicolas Schöll.
Finally, championship leader Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will look to cement its status at Zandvoort. The #31 crew of Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts currently head the drivers’ standings after a solid display at Magny-Cours, but with Stolz and Engel hitting form the young Belgians will be keen to return to the top step of the podium. They will be joined by the sister #32 Audi of Kelvin van der Linde and Ryuichiro Tomita, completing a highly competitive set of full-pro crews.
Silver Cup leaders Simon Gachet and Steven Palette stole the show at Magny-Cours, taking a sensational overall victory in their #26 Sainteloc Racing Audi. A record of three class wins from five races has established the French pairing as championship favourites, though there is certainly competition. Their closest rivals are Hamza and Jusuf Owega, who have finished every race on the podium in the #33 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT entry.
After a difficult debut at Misano, Toksport WRT showed its true pace at Magny-Cours. The #2 Mercedes-AMG of Juuso Puhakka and Oscar Tunjo took class honours in the opening contest and was second to the all-conquering Sainteloc car in race two. The sister #6 machine also scored its first points finish at the French venue and will aim to continue that momentum with Robin Rogalski and Mick Wishofer at the wheel.
Series newcomer Madpanda Motorsport has impressed this season with its #90 Mercedes-AMG. Ezequiel Perez Companc and Axcil Jefferies remain within sight of the championship lead and will be targeting a return to the podium at Zandvoort. Fellow Mercedes squad AKKA ASP has faced a more trying year after dominating the Silver Cup in recent seasons and will look to put serious points on the board in the Netherlands.
Tech1 Racing is also searching for its first headline result of 2020 with the #15 Lexus, but there is no doubt that Thomas Neubauer and Aurélien Panis have the pace to make it happen. CMR will also hope for better luck after a tough home event at Magny-Cours, with Pierre Alexandre Jean and Hugo Chevalier handing its #108 Bentley.
A quartet of Pro-Am entries will complete the field, with Ferrari and Mercedes-AMG each represented by two cars. No team has been as successful as Sky Tempesta Racing this term, with four class wins from five races and a pair of one-two finishes at Magny-Cours. The #93 Ferrari of Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III will look to add more success at Zandvoort.
AF Corse is the only other team to take a Pro-Am win and poses the greatest threat to Tempesta’s dominance. Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini were on the podium at Magny-Cours and will hope to move ahead of their fellow Ferrari squad next weekend.
SPS Automotive Performance has led the Mercedes-AMG charge in Pro-Am, taking four podiums courtesy of Valentin Pierburg and Domink Baumann, and will now look to break the Ferrari stranglehold. They will be joined by the #18 ERC Sport entry of Lee Mowle and Phil Keen, which heads to Zandvoort targeting a maiden Pro-Am podium.
A packed two-day schedule sees free practice begin at 09.30 on Friday morning, followed by pre-qualifying at 13.50. Later in the day, two qualifying sessions will run back-to-back from 17.50, establishing the grid for a pair of races on Saturday.
The first of these gets underway at 09.00, while the second will begin at 13.45. The condensed schedule will allow those competitors also contesting the Nürburgring 24 Hours to travel to the Nordschleife and meet up with their crews. Indeed, many of those heading to the German venue will then head directly to Spa-Francorchamps for the official Total 24 Hours of Spa test days, which take place on 29-30 September.
The weekend’s support line-up features action from both GT and single-seater categories, with plenty of track activity scheduled for Sunday. GT4 European Series will stage its fourth event of the season alongside GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS, while Porsche Carrera Cup Benelux joins for a one-off appearance. The stars of tomorrow will also be on-track, with Formula Renault Eurocup and the FFSA French F4 Championship both part of the weekend’s line-up. An action-packed event is in store at Zandvoort as the 2020 season moves towards its deciding phase.