The battle for the 2023 Endurance Cup title will reach a crucial juncture next weekend when Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS makes a welcome return to the Nürburgring.
Back on the schedule after a one-year absence, the 5.1km track in the Eifel Mountains will stage the penultimate long-distance event of the season on 29-30 July. Titles could be decided when the chequered flag falls on Sunday afternoon’s three-hour race, with just one event remaining after the trip to Germany.
It comes four weeks after the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa, the results of which have shaken up the title battles in all five classes. With this event followed by a month-long break, there is extra incentive to deliver a strong performance and head into the summer on a high.
PRO: ROWE Racing and Akkodis ASP prepare for title tussle
Even in its most ambitious pre-season projections, ROWE Racing could not have anticipated the success that it has enjoyed in 2023. The BMW squad won at Monza, finished third at Circuit Paul Ricard and then took a commanding victory at the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. As such its #98 crew of Philipp Eng, Nick Yelloly and Marco Wittmann top the Endurance Cup standings and will look to cap an already standout season with title glory.
But despite having two wins from three, the #98 crew still faces a stern challenge. Reigning champion Akkodis ASP is just eight points back with its #88 Mercedes-AMG line-up of Marciello/Gounon/Boguslavskiy, who won at Circuit Paul Ricard and fought to runner-up spot at Spa. Though a handful of other squads remain in the hunt, these are the two most serious title protagonists. Both can count on a strong second car, with ROWE Racing bringing the young line-up of Harper/Hesse/Verhagen in its #998, while Akkodis ASP has the #87 of Götz/Drouet/Ferrari.
Mercedes-AMG Team AlManar adds a third AMG GT3 to the Pro class, with Maro Engel re-joining the #777 line-up alongside Luca Stolz and Fabian Schiller. There’s further BMW representation, too: the #32 Team WRT entry of Vanthoor/Weerts/Van der Linde is still searching for a breakout result despite showing plenty of pace this term, while the sister #46 crew of Rossi/Martin/Farfus were satisfied with a sixth-place finish at Spa. What’s more, Rossi and Martin travel to Germany on a high after sealing Sprint Cup victory last time out at Misano.
In contrast with its German rivals, Spa was not especially kind to the Italian manufacturers. AF Corse – Francorchamps Motors narrowly missed out on a top-10 finish with its #71 crew of Fuoco/Rigon/Serra, while the sister #51 of Rovera/Shwartzman/Nielsen did not see the chequered flag. Nevertheless, there are signs that the new 296 GT3 could be on the cusp of a breakthrough result.
Lamborghini suffered a torrid time in the Ardennes, with both of its Pro cars failing to reach the finish. Having won the Nürburgring event in 2021, the Sant’Agata Bolognese manufacturer will hope to bounce back with its #63 Iron Lynx line-up of Bortolotti/Caldarelli/Pepper and the #11 K-PAX Racing crew of Mapelli/Perera/Mitchell.
Porsche also has form at this track, taking wins in 2012 and 2020. The most recent came courtesy of Dinamic GT, which fields the #54 car for Engelhart/Müller/Güven. Series newcomer Rutronik Racing will make its first appearance on home soil with the #96 of Preining/Olsen/Heinrich, which enjoyed a strong run to fifth at Spa. The 24 Hours ultimately ended in disappointment for McLaren squad Garage 59, though the #159 crew of Kirchhöfer/Goethe/Kjaergaard continues to show promising pace.
Audi completes the Pro field and will enjoy its usual strong representation on home soil. Comtoyou Racing has impressed throughout its debut campaign and will field the #11 for Christopher Haase, Fred Vervisch and a to-be-confirmed third driver. The #40 Tresor Orange1 entry of Drudi/Feller/Marschall was a factor for much of the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa, while the accomplished Saintéloc Junior Team is always a potential front-runner with the #25 crew of Mies/Niederhauser/Gachet.
GOLD CUP & SILVER CUP: Comtoyou Racing chasing remarkable title double
As debut seasons go, Comtoyou Racing could not have asked for much more in 2023. New not only to the series but to GT3 racing as a whole, the Belgian squad leads two class championships ahead of the deciding events. Wins at Monza and Circuit Paul Ricard established the #21 Audi as the strong favourite to take the Gold Cup crown. The line-up has been shuffled for the upcoming round, with Gilles Magnus moving from the team’s Pro car to join fellow Belgian racers Nicolas Baert and Maxime Soulet.
Their chief opposition comes from Optimum Motosport, which struck back with a sensational win at the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. As such, the #21 crew leads the #5 Optimum line-up of De Haan/MacDonald/Fagg by 22 points, while the #30 Team WRT squad of Krütten/Simmenauer/Williams also retain a realistic shot at the title after taking runner-up spot at Spa.
Boutsen VDS adds another Audi to the class, with Panis/Eteki/Di Folco sharing the #9 machine. Winward Racing brings its usual two-car line-up of Ward/Ellis/Dontje in the #57 and Born/Schumacher/Zug in the #157, while Iron Lynx completes the class with its #19 Lamborghini shared by Pulcini/Beretta/Ineichen.
The Silver Cup battle is considerably closer heading into the deciding rounds. Comtoyou Racing leads the way with its #12 crew of Dejonghe/Hezemans/Hutchison, but the advantage is just six points over CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa winner Grasser Racing with its #85 Lamborghini trio of Schmid/Hites/Van Berlo. Tresor Attempto Racing also remains in the hunt with the #99 Audi line-up of Aka/Patrese/Delli Guanti, who trail the leaders by 18 points.
The title is a long shot for the remainder of the nine-car field, though there’s still plenty to fight for at the Nürburgring. After a slow start to the campaign, Saintéloc Junior Team Audi hit form at Spa to capture a third-place finish with its #26 Audi of Bastard/Evrard/Demoustier. Boutsen VDS will field the same make of car for Gazeau/Cola/Meyuhas, ensuring that Audi is the best-represented brand in the Silver Cup.
Madpanda Motorsport will run the #90 Mercedes-AMG for the regular trio of Perez Companc/Gustavsen/Nesov, while Bullitt Racing remains faithful to the young line-up of Kingsley/Riegel/Leroux in the #33 Aston Martin. Dinamic GT adds the #56 Porsche for Rappange/Sathienthirakul/Di Amato, while Grasser Racing can count on a second Lamborghini driven by Crestani/Neary/Capo.
BRONZE CUP & PRO-AM: Everything to play for in Bronze, Car Collection closing on Pro-Am crown
With the one-off Huber Racing entry securing victory at Spa, the Bronze Cup title fight is wide open. Sky Tempesta Racing tops the table, its #93 crew of Froggatt/Hui/Cheever having banked a podium at all three events thus far. Circuit Paul Ricard winner HRT is four points back and the #79 Mercedes-AMG crew of Haupt/Baud/Maini will be determined to return to the top on home turf.
Pure Rxcing is a further three points in arrears with its #911 Porsche line-up of Malykhin/Sturm/Bachler, who opened the season with victory at Monza and led at Spa until the final few hours. The fastest car this term has arguably been the #188 Garage 59 McLaren, though a combination of factors has kept the crew of Ramos/Chaves/Prette off the podium. The upcoming event almost certainly represents their final chance to enter the title fight.
Porsche remains the best represented brand in the Bronze Cup. As well as the #911 Pure Rxcing entry the Stuttgart firm can count on the #91 Herberth Motorsport (Bohn/A.Renauer/R.Renauer), #44 CLRT (Mateu/Chevalier/Palette), #55 Dinamic GT (Sager/Barker/Nakken/) and #62 Team Parker Racing (Pierce/Jewiss/Meyrick) cars. There is also a strong contingent of Mercedes-AMG runners, with the #2 GetSpeed (Scholze/Assenheimer/Peroni) and #81 Theeba Motorsport (Juffali/Aron/Valente) joining the #79 HRT crew.
AF Corse has enjoyed plenty of success at the Nürburgring and now has the new Ferrari 296 GT3 at its disposal after running the 488 model through Spa. Father-son duo Louis and Jef Machiels are joined by Maranello legend Andrea Bertolini in the #52 entry. The Iron Dames experienced both highs and lows at Spa, the #82 Lamborghini qualifying a superb 12th overall but exiting the race before nightfall on Saturday. The established crew of Bovy/Gatting/Frey will look to rebound at the Nürburgring, while AGS Events will also field a Huracán EVO2 GT3 for Gorini/Borga/Jamin.
Tresor Attempto Racing will field the #66 Audi for Mukovoz/Galbiati/Pereira, and CSA Racing will run the same car for Arthur Rougier, Erwin Creed and a to-be-confirmed third driver. Team WRT also has a driver to announce alongside Adam Carroll and Lewis Proctor, while fellow BMW squad Walkenhorst Motorsport will run Buchardt/Kell/Neubauer.
The Pro-Am title is the most likely to be settled at the Nürburgring. With 72 points on the board, the #24 Car Collection Motorsport crew of Fontana/Jacoma/Leutwiler enjoy a 39-point cushion over their nearest competing rivals, meaning a third-place finish would be enough to put the Porsche squad beyond reach.
Local outfit GetSpeed is the closest in the points race and will field its #2 Mercedes-AMG for Walker/Bergstein/Lewandowski. ST Racing with Rinaldi has Tan/Miller/Tutumlu in the #38 Ferrari, while Barwell Motorsport will look to return to winning ways with Rob Collard and Dennis Lind competing as a duo in the #78 Lamborghini.