GTWorld – Akkodis ASP victorious on home soil as Mercedes-AMG celebrates one-two finish at Circuit Paul Ricard

Akkodis ASP victorious on home soil as Mercedes-AMG celebrates one-two finish at Circuit Paul Ricard
• French squad bags popular victory thanks to late charge to the front
• Audi doubles up as Comtoyou Racing takes Gold Cup, Tresor Attempto Racing dominates in Silver
• Late Bronze Cup drama hands victory to HRT Mercedes-AMG, Car Collection Porsche unmatched in Pro-Am

Akkodis ASP ignited its Fanatec GT Europe Endurance Cup title defence with a thrilling victory in Saturday’s six-hour race at Circuit Paul Ricard.

The #88 crew of Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Timur Boguslavskiy won from pole, but this was anything but an easy lights-to-flag triumph. The French squad’s Mercedes-AMG led the opening stint, then slipped back to fifth over the next few hours. Crucially, however, it never fell out of contention, paving the way for a decisive Marciello masterclass.

The Swiss driver moved from fifth to first during the penultimate stint, charging past a Mercedes-AMG, an Audi and a pair of BMWs to retake the lead. He was unchallenged throughout the final hour, ultimately winning by just under 10 seconds. This was a perfect response from the Akkodis ASP team after a disappointing start to its Fanatec GT Europe Endurance Cup title defence at Monza.

The race produced plenty more drama. Comtoyou Racing held off a late challenge to continue its perfect start in the Gold Cup, while fellow Audi squad Tresor Attempto Racing charged from the back to secure Silver Cup honours. Garage 59 suffered late heartbreak that allowed HRT to snatch the Bronze Cup win with its Mercedes-AMG, while Car Collection Motorsport gave Porsche a victory to celebrate in Pro-Am.

Marciello grabbed the headlines with his late heroics, but both of his teammates were also on top form. Gounon was typically strong during the opening two stints, while Boguslavskiy delivered one of his best performances at an Endurance Cup event during the middle phase of the race.

This was Gounon’s fifth Endurance Cup win, just one shy of Maxime Martin’s longstanding record of six. Marciello has three, while Boguslavskiy earned his first in the series. Marciello also scored his 13th overall podium, setting a new Endurance Cup record.

The #777 Mercedes-AMG Team AlManar squad came home second having started in the same position, though like the #88 its race was by no means dull. Maro Engel, Fabian Schiller and Luca Stolz were all involved in on-track battles, with the latter fighting especially hard with Marciello.

The #98 ROWE Racing BMW finished third having led from the three-hour mark until Marciello passed Nick Yelloly with a little over an hour to run. The M4 began to come alive after the opening stint, but its pace dropped off as darkness fell. Nevertheless, the German squad leaves Circuit Paul Ricard on top of the Endurance Cup standings.

Saintéloc Junior Team was classified fourth, though the French outfit celebrated a podium before a five-second penalty for track limits cost them a spot. As such the #25 Audi of Chris Mies, Simon Gachet and Patric Niederhauser matched the result that it scored last time out at Monza.

Ferrari showed promising pace with its new 296 GT3. The #71 AF Corse – Francorchamps Motors crew of Fuoco/Rigon/Serra were fifth, while the sister #51 of Rovera/Nielsen/Shwartzman came home in seventh. They were split by the #998 ROWE Racing BMW of Harper/Hesse/Verhagen, while the #46 Team WRT BMW of Rossi/Farfus/Martin finished in P8 after a strong recovery drive.

The hard-luck story of the race was Tresor Orange1. The #40 Audi moved into the lead after the first round of pit stops and built a commanding 30-second advantage by the halfway mark. The race looked to be under control, only for a puncture to dash the team’s hopes in an instant.

Comtoyou Racing made it back-to-back Gold Cup wins with its #21 Audi, which once again earned overall points in ninth spot. This was a near perfect display: the Belgian squad assumed the class lead shortly after the half-hour mark and remained there for the rest of the race. It continues the fine start that Max Hofer, Nicolas Baert and Maxime Soulet made with victory at Monza.

It was close at the finish. The #157 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG (Schumacher/Zug/Born) charged past the #10 Boutsen VDS Audi (Di Folco/Panis/Eteki) during the final 15 minutes and was within just 2.2 seconds of the winning Comtoyou Racing machine at the chequered flag. Notably, the Gold Cup podium came home in sequence, finishing 9th, 10th and 11th overall.

The outcome of the Gold Cup contest could have been very different for the #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG. Russell Ward took the start and led the first stint from pole, only for the car to retire before the conclusion of the second hour. The #5 Optimum Motorsport McLaren was also an early casualty due to a water leak.

Tresor Attempto Racing produced a superb display to win the Silver Cup contest after a problem in qualifying consigned the car to the back of the grid. Alex Aka made up an astonishing 25 places on the overall order within the first hour, moving the #99 Audi up to second in class. The car took the lead following the first round of stops and remained there until the chequered flag.

While the experienced Aka has a number of Silver Cup wins to his name, this represents a maiden Endurance triumph for Italian teenagers Lorenzo Patrese and Pietro Delli Guanti. It follows a disappointing DNF from pole at Monza.

The #85 Grasser Racing Lamborghini finished second in class after starting from pole, followed by the #12 Comtoyou Racing Audi. The latter continues to lead the standings in what is developing into an excellent class battle.

There was late drama and heartbreak in the Bronze Cup. Garage 59 started from pole before slipping back during the middle phase of the race but was back in front by the final hour. Victory looked to be assured, only for a right-rear hub failure to eliminate the #188 McLaren in cruel fashion.

This put the #79 HRT Mercedes-AMG of Hubert Haupt Sebastien Baud and Arjun Maini back in command, the German squad having led much of the race before falling behind the ill-fated McLaren. HRT leads the class standings heading to the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa, adding a win to the P3 it secured at Monza.

AF Corse finished second in the Bronze Cup with its #52 Ferrari (L.Machiels/J.Machiels/Bertolini), while the #93 Sky Tempesta McLaren (Froggatt/Hui/Cheever) rose from the very back of the 18-car grid to finish third. There was impressive variety in the class, with the top-seven cars representing Mercedes-AMG, Ferrari, McLaren, Porsche, BMW, Lamborghini and Audi.

Car Collection Motorsport took a very comfortable Pro-Am win. The #24 Porsche came home 31st overall, two laps clear of its nearest class rival. This was a welcome result for the Swiss trio of Ivan Jacoma, Niki Leutwiler and Alex Fontana after an early exit at Monza.

The Pro-Am pole-sitter lasted only a few corners. Barwell Motorsport was the favourite to take class honours at Circuit Paul Ricard, but its #78 Lamborghini went off and made heavy contact with the wall on lap 1.

Runner-up spot went to the #38 ST Racing with Rinaldi Ferrari (Tan/Miller/Tutumlu Lopez), a richly deserved result following their opening-lap elimination at Monza. The debuting #22 CLRT Porsche completed the Pro-Am podium.

The race was exceptionally clean, the only safety car coming after the opening-lap accident that eliminated the #78 Lamborghini. This allowed a new distance record of 183 laps (1056.09km) to be set during the six-hour contest.

In Qualifying, Jules Gounon set the fastest lap of the weekend – a 1m52.982s – to capture pole for Akkodis ASP. This was two tenths shy of the series lap record at Circuit Paul Ricard, which Gounon set in 2019 at the wheel of a Bentley.

This was the 11th Endurance Cup pole for Mercedes-AMG. Akkodis ASP has taken six of these, including the past five in succession. The only brand with more overall pole positions is Ferrari with 13.

Six drivers made their series debut at Circuit Paul Ricard. Stephane Denoual and Emil Caumes enjoyed the best day, finishing 35th overall in the #22 CLRT Porsche to secure a Pro-Am podium.

In one of the tightest races ever witnessed within the Fanatec Arena, Neil Verhagen (ROWE Racing BMW) held his nerve to fend off Sandy Mitchell (K-PAX Racing Lamborghini) and score victory in the second round of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series. Fabrizio Crestani put in a superb drive to win the Silver class in his Grasser Racing Lamborghini, while Calan Williams recovered from a difficult start to score big in the Gold Cup aboard his Team WRT BMW.

Next up for Fanatec GT Europe, it’s the big one: the 75th running of the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. The marquee event will take place between 29 June and 2 July, bringing an exceptional field of 72 GT3 cars to the Belgian Ardennes to undertake the ultimate test of driver and machine.