The 2023 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season is now in full swing following last weekend’s Sprint Cup opener at Brands Hatch.
The annual trip to Kent is always among the highlights of the year. A large and passionate crowd turned out to enjoy the action at a truly iconic venue and, as has so often been the case, they were treated to glorious sunshine on race day.
With so many fans wearing the colours of Valentino Rossi, it was fitting that the Italian scored his maiden series podium in the second contest, giving the crowd a perfect conclusion to the weekend. They also saw a remarkable display of speed from Mercedes-AMG ace Raffaele Marciello, as well as a fine tactical win for Tresor Orange1 with its Audi. These are the stories and stats from this season’s Sprint Cup opener.
The opening race saw Raffaele Marciello earn his 11th Sprint Cup win, while teammate Timur Boguslavskiy now has six. It was the 13th victory that Akkodis ASP has achieved in the short-format championship, while Mercedes-AMG has powered 28 winners. Brands Hatch is a happy hunting ground for the manufacturer, which has now won at the track four years in succession.
The #88 car could only manage sixth in race 2, though this was a solid recovery drive from 19th on the grid. Its progress was aided by a stellar turnaround in the pits, which earned Akkodis ASP the first Pit Stop Challenge triumph of 2023.
The new Tresor Orange1 partnership enjoyed a superb maiden Sprint Cup outing. Combining the ambitious Tresor outfit led by Ferdinando Geri with the know-how of series stalwart Attempto Racing, the team bagged runner-up spot in race 1 before charging to victory from seventh in race 2.
The key to the win was an early visit to the pits. In fact, the #40 Audi was the very first car to make its mandatory stop once the pit window opened. Ricardo Feller handed over to Mattia Drudi, who made up crucial time while the leaders’ pace dropped off on deteriorating rubber. This gave Drudi a long-awaited maiden win in Fanatec GT Europe competition, while teammate Feller took his second.
Winning from seventh on the grid without its rivals hitting problems was a quite remarkable achievement; indeed, no previous Brands Hatch winner had started from lower than P3. The last car to win a Sprint Cup race from so far back on the grid was at the final round of the 2017 season, when Team WRT took victory. What’s more, there have been only three occasions in 112 Sprint Cup races where a car has won from further back on the grid.
The Team WRT BMW partnership is up and running. The Belgian squad earned its first Fanatec GT Europe podium thanks to the #32 of Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts, who secured third spot in race 1. The second contest was even better, with Valentino Rossi and Maxime Martin taking a runner-up finish while Vanthoor and Weerts repeated their earlier podium.
After the opening round of the Sprint Cup, three teams representing three different manufacturers lead the way in the overall standings. The Tresor Orange1 Audi of Drudi/Feller occupy top spot with 28.5 points, followed by Marciello/Boguslavskiy (22 points) and Vanthoor/Weerts (19 points).
Comtoyou Racing has made a fine start to its maiden Fanatec GT Europe campaign. After an impressive Endurance Cup debut at Monza, the team was on the pace again at Brands Hatch. The #11 of Christopher Haase and Lucas Légeret banked a good haul of points, finishing fourth in race 1 and fifth in race 2. The latter position was secured by Légeret holding off a charging Raffaele Marciello, a tough task even for the most experienced GT drivers!
Garage 59 opened its account for the season with a superb run to fourth in race 2. The #159 McLaren of Benji Goethe and Nicolai Kjaergaard was fifth throughout the opening stint and jumped to P4 after the pit stops. Goethe was especially impressive during the second half of the race, pressuring three-time series champion Charles Weerts for the final podium position and ultimately finishing less than a second behind the BMW driver.
Ferrari showed front-running pace with its new 296 GT3 thanks to Emil Frey Racing. The Swiss squad was undertaking its first race with the Italian marque and looked especially strong in qualifying, Albert Costa securing a front-row start for the opening contest. This could not be matched in the final result, though the sister #14 entry scored a best finish of fifth and Costa posted the quickest lap during race 2.
Dinamic GT Huber Racing showed good pace at Brands Hatch but left the track without reward. Christian Engelhart was in the battle for pole when he crashed in qualifying, leaving the #54 Porsche eighth on the grid for race 1. A lightning start from the German driver and a solid pitstop put Adrien De Leener fourth, a position that the Belgian held until the final corner of the race when his fuel tank ran dry. He coasted across the line in eighth, but as the car was unable to provide a fuel sample it was excluded from the result.
The Boutsen VDS partnership earned Gold Cup honours in race 1 thanks to its #9 Audi pairing of Aurélien Panis and Alberto Di Folco. This ensured a maiden triumph for the all-Belgian alliance and gave Boutsen a first class win since Zolder 2018. The Marc VDS name last clinched victory at the 2015 edition of the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa.
In race 2, the Gold Cup win went to the #30 Team WRT BMW of Calan Williams and Niklas Krütten, who produced a mature performance to finish seventh overall. Panis and Di Folco hold the early championship advantage, though they are just one point ahead of Williams/Krütten after the opening round. Simon Gachet and Paul Evrard (#26 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi) are third in the standings after finishing both Brands Hatch races in P3.
The opening race ran to form in the Silver Cup. Tresor Attempto Racing had looked to be the class of the field in practice and duly scored victory with the #99 Audi of Alex Aka and Lorenzo Patrese. The young duo finished 10th overall, eight spots clear of their closest class contender.
Race 2 was another matter. AF Corse started from pole with the #71 Ferrari, but opening-lap contact effectively ended the hopes of the Italian squad. HRT led the bulk of the race with its #77 Mercedes-AMG, only for Jordan Love to incur a 10-second time penalty for causing a collision with the #31 Team WRT BMW.
This allowed VSR to bag its maiden series win with the #119 Lamborghini of Baptiste Moulin and Marcus Paverud, who did just enough by finishing nine seconds back on the road. It’s close at the top of the early-season standings: Aka and Patrese lead with 23.5 points, followed by Love/Bird (21.5 points) and Paverud/Moulin (21 points).
In Saturday’s qualifying Raffaele Marciello produced his customary pole position, the Swiss driver’s 13th in the Sprint Cup. He also set the fastest racing lap of the weekend, a 1m23.642s, in the opening contest. His series lap record was untroubled, however, and remains at 1m21.370s.
Though often a front-runner, Chris Mies had waited almost eight years since his last Sprint Cup pole before bagging P1 for the second contest. Before this, the Audi Sport stalwart last took pole at Portimao in 2015. This also gave Saintéloc Junior Team its first P1 start since Magny-Cours in 2020.
On Sunday morning the pit lane was flooded with over 1,000 fans, who had been selected by ballot, for an autograph session featuring the full field of drivers. There was particular interest in Valentino Rossi, with the queue for the Italian stretching a few hundred metres from the Team WRT BMW box.
Joining the many spectators at the track was McLaren Formula 1 driver Lando Norris, who attended as a guest of Emil Frey Racing and its driver Thierry Vermeulen. Norris also had time to meet up with his boyhood idol, Valentino Rossi, and saw the Italian bag his maiden series podium.
The 29-car field that contested the Brands Hatch weekend was the biggest seen in the Sprint Cup since the series visited Misano in 2021. This year’s trip to the Italian circuit will see a new record of 42 cars competing, with the Bronze Cup joining the grid for the 14-16 July event.
The next race action from Fanatec GT Europe will take place at Circuit Paul Ricard, which stages its annual six-hour contest on 2-4 June Before that, however, the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa Prologue will see two days of testing take place at Spa-Francorchamps (23-24 May) in preparation for the 75th running of the Belgian endurance classic.