Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS is set for its annual trip to the Mediterranean coast to contest a six-hour Endurance Cup contest at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The 5.7km track has been ever-present on the calendar since 2012 and represents one of the true highlights of the 10-round championship. Combining close competition with a spectacular sunset, the event is second only to the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa in terms of duration and acts as a vital warm-up for the season’s marque race.
The upcoming edition promises to be especially competitive thanks to a 57-car entry list, the biggest seen at Circuit Paul Ricard since 2017, which features machinery from eight world-renowned manufacturers. The field is largely unchanged from the season-opening Endurance Cup contest at Monza, with a handful of additions bolstering what was already a stacked grid and setting up an epic event.
BMW the brand to beat after masterful showing at Monza
The Pro entry list remains unchanged from the season opener at Monza, with the same 17 teams set to do battle for overall honours and just one change among the drivers. A faultless performance in Italy saw ROWE Racing become only the second team in Endurance Cup history to secure a one-two finish. Repeating that result would require something extraordinary, but expect the squad to be strong once again with its winning #98 line-up of Philipp Eng, Marco Wittmann and Nick Yelloly, and the sister #998 trio of Dan Harper, Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen.
Team WRT showed comparable pace on what was its first outing with BMW machinery, though technical troubles ultimately limited the Belgian squad to a sixth-place finish with its flagship #32 entry of Dries Vanthoor, Charles Weerts and Sheldon van der Linde. The #46 of Valentino Rossi, Maxime Martin and Augusto Farfus also showed well in Italy, so both crews will expect to fight at the front again.
At Monza, the main challenge to the BMW onslaught came from Lamborghini. Iron Lynx secured a podium with its #63 crew of Mirko Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper, while the #6 K-PAX Racing machine of Marco Mapelli, Franck Perera and Sandy Mitchell was on course to fight for a top-three finish before encountering technical problems. Circuit Paul Ricard is among the few Fanatec GT Europe tracks at which Lamborghini is yet to win, but hopes are high that the new Huracán GT3 EVO2 can put that right.
Ferrari endured a tough season opener, though it was ultimately encouraged by a hard-fought eighth-place finish for its new 296 GT3. The marque has taken two of the past three wins at Circuit Paul Ricard, so expect a strong showing from the two-car AF Corse – Francorchamps Motors effort. The #51 crew of Alessio Rovera, Robert Shwartzman and Nicklas Nielsen is unchanged, while Daniel Serra takes up his place alongside Davide Rigon and Antonio Fuoco in the #71 after missing the opener.
Saintéloc Junior Team was the best of the Audi runners at Monza, banking big points with a fourth-place finish for the #25 crew of Chris Mies, Patric Niederhauser and Simon Gachet. Tresor Orange1 will also be confident after bagging a maiden Fanatec GT Sprint Cup win at Brands Hatch. Mattia Drudi, Ricardo Feller and Dennis Marschal form the German squad’s #40 crew, while the #11 Comtoyou Racing Audi can also be a threat with its line-up of Christopher Haase, Fred Vervisch and Gilles Magnus.
The most recent overall Endurance Cup victory for a McLaren came at Circuit Paul Ricard in 2016 courtesy of Garage 59, which will look to secure fresh success with its young crew of Marvin Kirchhöfer, Nicolai Kjaergaard and Benji Goethe. Porsche is also a past winner at the track and will aim to improve on a solid display at Monza. Dinamic GT Huber Racing can count on Christian Engelhart, Sven Müller and Ayhancan Güven in the #54 machine, while series newcomer Rutronik Racing has Thomas Preining, Laurin Heinrich and Dennis Olsen in the #96.
After dominating the 2022 campaign, Mercedes-AMG endured a tough start to the new season at Monza. It wasn’t a matter of speed: the #777 Mercedes-AMG Team AlManar ran second during the early stages before hitting trouble mid-way through the race and is a potential winner with its line-up of Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Fabian Schiller, The same is true of Akkodis ASP, which has Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Timur Boguslavskiy in its #88 machine, while Maxi Götz, Thomas Drouet and Lorenzo Ferrari share the #87.
Comtoyou Racing looking to repeat debut double against competitive Gold and Silver fields
While the BMW runners led the overall order at Monza, it could be argued that the star of the weekend was Comtoyou Racing. The Audi squad enjoyed a sensational series debut, winning both the Gold Cup and Silver Cup classes at the very first attempt. The former will feature un unchanged line-up of seven cars at Circuit Paul Ricard, led by the #12 Comtoyou crew of Soulet/Hoefer/Baert, who finished a superb P7 overall on their way to victory. They will be joined by fellow Belgium-based Audi squad Boutsen VDS, which brings the trio of Eteki/Panis/Di Folco.
Optimum Motorsport started the opener from pole and came home second with its #5 McLaren, so keep a close eye on the all-British line-up of Fagg/MacDonald/De Haan. Team WRT was also on the podium with the #31 crew of Simmenauer/Williams/Krütten and the Belgian squad can never be discounted. Iron Lynx adds further quality with Pulcini/Beretta/Ineichen sharing the #19 Lamborghini, while a pair of Mercedes-AMG entries from Winward Racing comprise Ellis/Dontje/Ward in the #57 AMG GT3, and rising stars Schumacher/Born/Zug/ at the wheel of the #157.
Comtoyou Racing leads a quartet of Audi entrants in the Silver Cup, with the line-up of Hezemans/Dejonghe/Hutchison chasing a second straight win in the #21 machine. It’s an all-French affair at Saintéloc Junior Team with Bastard/Demoustier/Evrard sharing the #26 Audi. Tresor Attempto Racing has one of the youngest crews on the grid in Patrese/Aka/Delli Guanti, while Boutsen VDS entrusts its Silver car to Gazeau/Meyuhas/Cola.
Madpanda Motorsport secured runner-up spot at Monza and was also the star of Saturday evening’s Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series race thanks to new signing Alexey Nesov, who is once again joined by Ezequiel Perez Companc and Magnus Gustavsen. Bullitt Racing represents Aston Martin with the #33 crew of Kingsley/Riegel/Leroux, while Dinamic GT Huber Racing will field the #56 Porsche for Sathienthirakul/Rappange/Di Amato.
There will be pair of Silver Cup cars from crack Lamborghini squad Grasser Racing. The #58 finished on the podium at Monza with the crew of Neary/Capo/Crestani, while the sister #85 of Van Berlo/Hites/Schmid can also contend for a strong result. A further Lamborghini completes the Silver Cup class, with Leipert Motorsport adding its #70 crew of Leitch/Li/Brunot, who will contest the upcoming event in preparation for the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa.
Bronze Cup leads the way with impressive 18-car field, competitive Pro-Am fight in prospect
With a field of 18 cars representing seven manufacturers, the Bronze Cup will be the biggest class at Circuit Paul Ricard. Pure Rxcing won last time out with its #911 Porsche, which once again features team owner Alex Malykhin alongside the accomplished Klaus Bachler and young talent Joel Sturm.
The class features no fewer than five Porsche entries, including CLRT (#44, Mateau/Palette/Makowiecki), Dinamic GT Huber Racing (#55, Sager/Nakken/Barker) and Team Parker Racing (#62, Pierce/Jewiss/Evans). The line-up is completed by Herberth Motorsport (#91, Bohn/A.Renauer/R.Renauer) which is the only Porsche entry set to use the previous-generation 911 GT3 R.
Mercedes-AMG is also well represented with a quartet of cars. GetSpeed fields its #3 for Scholze/Assenheimer/Peroni, while Haupt Racing Team will look to build on a third-place finish at Monza with its trio of Maini/Baud/Haupt. Theeba Motorsport made its debut last time out and is once again represented by Juffali/Aron/Valente, while the #89 Akkodis ASP entry is new for the trip to France. Having teamed up at the 2022 FIA Motorsport Games, father-son duo Adalberto and Bruno Baptista will now compete with their nephew/cousin Rodrigo.
Audi Sport is represented by Tresor Attempto Racing (#66, Mukovoz/Galbiati/Pereira) and CSA Racing (#888, Creed/Walilko/Rougier), while the BMW contingent consists of Team WRT (#31, Whale/Proctor/Carroll) and Walkenhorst Motorsport (#35, Buchardt/Kell/Neubauer). Ferrari stalwart AF Corse will field father-son duo Louis and Jef Machiels alongside Andrea Bertolini in the #52 488 GT3. There will be a pair of Lamborghini crews, with AGS Events fielding Gorini/Borga/Jamin and the popular Iron Dames line-up of Bovy/Gatting/Frey sharing their familiar #83 machine.
Sky Tempesta Racing kicked off the season with a runner-up finish at Monza and, with the firmly established crew of Froggatt/Hui/Cheever, must be considered a victory contender. The same goes for sister McLaren squad Garage 59, which combines Portuguese duo Miguel Ramos and Henrique Chaves with Monegasque racer Louis Prette.
A five-car Pro-Am field completes the Circuit Paul Ricard entry list. Barwell Motorsport left it late to snatch victory at Monza and the #78 Lamborghini is well placed to secure more glory with its crew of Balon/Collard/Lind. In contrast, ST Racing with Rinaldi will hope for considerably better fortune after being eliminated before reaching turn 1 at the Italian track. Samantha Tan is once again joined by Jon Miller and Isaac Tutumlu in the #38 Ferrari 488 GT3.
GetSpeed completed the class podium at Monza and will hope for at least a repeat of that result with its #2 crew of Walker/Bergstein/Lewandowski. Car Collection Motorsport has an all-Swiss line-up of Leutwiler/Jacoma/Fontana, while CLRT completes the field with an extra Porsche for the French crew of Denoual/Caumes/Boccolacci.