The 2022 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season will shift up a gear next weekend (30 April/1 May) when a 26-car field tackles the opening Sprint Cup contest at Brands Hatch.
A pair of 60-minute races will be staged on the Kent venue’s 3.9km Grand Prix layout, launching the short-format championship four weeks after the Endurance Cup campaign began at Imola. It signals the start of a busy period for Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS, with five race meetings and the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa test days set to run over the next 10 weeks.
This promises to be a particularly special weekend as the long-running Brands Hatch round returns to its traditional Early May Bank Holiday slot. A sizeable crowd is expected to create a carnival atmosphere at the track, which is equally popular among the drivers thanks to its fast, unforgiving nature. With competitive Pro, Silver Cup and Pro-Am entries confirmed, the Sprint Cup season is poised for a spectacular opening event.
Weerts and Vanthoor begin pursuit of unprecedented third title
The #32 Team WRT Audi duo of Charles Weerts and Dries Vanthoor begin the season as clear favourites for the overall Sprint Cup crown. As reigning back-to-back champions their ability to secure the big prize is beyond doubt; indeed, the real question is whether anyone can prevent a third straight title.
There will be competition from within the Team WRT camp. Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer and Chris Mies share the #33 Audi, while in the #46 entry Valentino Rossi tackles the first Sprint event of his new adventure in GT racing. The Italian has never competed at Brands Hatch, though teammate Frédéric Vervisch won at the circuit with WRT in 2018.
A further four Audi crews will compete for the overall win. Tresor by Car Collection will make its Sprint Cup bow, but while the team is new there’s no shortage of experience among the drivers. Christopher Haase and Simon Gachet reprise their winning partnership in the #11 machine, while Italian duo Mattia Drudi and Luca Ghiotto share the #12 car.
Having revamped its driver line-up for 2022 Saintéloc Junior Team showed strong pace at Imola and will hope to carry that form over to Brands Hatch with Patric Niederhauser and Aurélien Panis at the wheel of its #25 Audi. The Ingolstadt marque’s contingent is completed by Attempto Racing, which will field Dennis Marschall alongside series returnee Pieter Schothorst in the #99 car.
The main threat to Team WRT’s title treble is likely to come from Akkodis ASP. The #88 Mercedes-AMG of factory ace Jules Gounon and fellow countryman Jim Pla is an especially potent combination, the latter having often been a star performer in the Pro-Am and Silver Cup classes. The #89 pairing of Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy should also be a factor at the front and will be especially motivated after losing victory at Brands Hatch on the final lap of last year’s race.
If the local fans aren’t sure who to cheer for, the #38 JOTA McLaren may be their answer. The British team fields a British car for the all-British line-up of Rob Bell and Ollie Wilkinson, who will hope to use home advantage to their favour and capture a maiden series victory for the 720S GT3.
Porsche’s challenge relies on a pair of entries from the crack Dinamic Motorsport squad. The #54 features an unchanged line-up of Christian Engelhart and Adrien De Leener, who after a tough start to 2021 rallied to produce a strong finish. The sister #56 Porsche combines a pair of experienced hands in Giorgio Roda and Klaus Bachler, rounding out a Pro contingent in which every crew can at least aim for a place on the podium.
Competitive grids hint at close-fought contests in Silver Cup and Pro-Am
With a host of established talents and several promising newcomers looking to make a name for themselves in top-level GT racing, the Silver Cup is set for another ultra-competitive season. Among the early favourites are the returning duo of Pierre-Alexandre Jean and Ulysse De Pauw, who continue their successful partnership in a new environment by joining AF Corse Ferrari.
Akkodis ASP should also be a contender at the top of the Silver Cup order. The #86 Mercedes-AMG combines newcomer Igor Walilko with Petru Umbrarescu, who scored his maiden overall podium during last season’s Brands Hatch event. Team regular Thomas Drouet leads the #87 crew alongside British youngster Casper Stevenson, who knows the track well from his junior single-seater days.
Audi is strongly represented among the Silver Cup runners. Team WRT will field its #30 car for Thomas Neubauer and Benji Goethe, both of whom have accumulated significant GT3 experience at a young age. The #26 Saintéloc Junior Team line-up features a pair of Belgian tin-top converts in Nicolas Baert and Gilles Magnus, while Attempto Racing has a familiar line-up of Alex Aka and Nicolas Schöll in its #66 machine.
Having taken last year’s Silver Cup title, Lamborghini’s hopes of further success rest on series newcomer GSM Novamarine. The Monegasque outfit will field Gerhard Tweraser and Isaac Tutumlu Lopez in its #18 entry, while Garage 59 completes the Silver Cup field with Manuel Maldonado and Ethan Simioni sharing its #159 McLaren.
New team, new car, new teammate: it’s all change for reigning class champion Miguel Ramos, yet the vastly experienced Portuguese racer must still be considered a leading contender for the Pro-Am title. He will be joined in the #188 Garage 59 McLaren by Dean MacDonald, who makes the step up from the GT4 European Series. A second Pro-Am class McLaren comes from the expanding JP Motorsport outfit, which pairs team owner Patryk Krupinski with sports car racing veteran Christian Klien.
Ferrari is represented by a pair of Pro-Am contenders from AF Corse. The #52 machine features the longest-running partnership in the series, Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini, while the #21 combines Hugo Delacour and Cedric Sbirrazzuoli. Reigning class champion Barwell Motorsport will add its #78 Lamborghini to the Pro-Am grid for Alex Malykhin and Ben Barker. This will be the first of two planned Sprint outings for the full-time Endurance Cup entrant, with Valencia also on the team’s 2022 itinerary.
The field is completed by the Sky Tempesta Racing duo of Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III. The experienced pairing will share the wheel of the #93 Mercedes-AMG.
Two-day schedule ensures action-packed weekend
As in previous years Brands Hatch maintains a unique event format, with all track activity running over two days. Practice and qualifying will take place on Saturday, while both 60-minute races are scheduled for an action-packed Sunday. Live coverage begins with qualifying and will be available across a variety of online platforms, including the GT World YouTube channel. Significantly, Brands Hatch will mark the first Sprint Cup event for which German and Italian commentary options are available alongside the established English and French streams.
The race also represents the fourth stop on the global Fanatec GT World Challenge Powered by AWS schedule. Mercedes-AMG made significant gains on Audi Sport last time out at Sonoma Raceway in the United States, but the Ingolstadt firm holds a numerical advantage in Europe that it will hope to take full advantage of at Brands Hatch. As the only brand with cars in each class, McLaren can also accumulate big points on home soil.
As ever the trip to Brands Hatch will feature an eclectic support line-up, with on-track action from the GT Cup, Porsche Club Championship and 7 Race Series. What’s more, the event is also set to include a special display of replica bikes from Valentino Rossi’s storied career. With so much to look forward to both on and off the circuit, a spectacular Bank Holiday weekend is in store as Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS raises the curtain on a new Sprint Cup season.