The opening round of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, held at the Enzo and Dino Ferrari Circuit in Imola ended with a Ferrari on the podium in the Pro-Am class and a heap of regrets.
Good start. Sky Tempesta Racing’s 488 GT3 Evo 2020, crewed by Chris Froggatt, Edward Cheever and Jonathan Hui, finished second in a race that it also led in the early stages with Froggatt at the wheel. The result came at the end of a race affected by a drive-through for breaking the speed limit during one of the many Full Course Yellows that dominated proceedings. Out of the three hours scheduled, just under an hour and fifty minutes were fought under the green flag.
Pro. It was a disappointing day for the two Ferraris involved in the Pro class which, at mid-race, had occupied first and second place. A drive-through for AF Corse no. 51 for breaking the speed limit during the first FCY and an unusually long stop for SMP Racing no. 72, followed by a drive-through for “blocking in the pit lane”, thwarted a podium that seemed to be within reach of the Prancing Horse cars.
Pro-Am. Besides Sky Tempesta Racing’s second place, although the other Ferraris performed well, they finished off the podium. Fourth place, twenty-fifth overall, went to the Rinaldi Racing crew of Ehret-Mastronardi-Keilwitz, who preceded the AF Corse crew of Bertolini-Machiels-Hommerson.
A cautious start. Despite the group of 46 cars lined up at the start, ready to take the Tamburello corner, there were no accidents, and James Calado successfully held off Marciello’s attacks to stay in second place, while Molina climbed into eighth. In the middle of the group, where the first corner of the Enzo and Dino Ferrari Circuit generated a fair amount of apprehension, Chris Froggatt kept first position, while Niek Hommerson started off in third place before moving into second. The first Full Course Yellow period was declared eight minutes into the race, due to an accident involving Christian Hook’s Mercedes. When it ended, the Safety Car came on to compact the group and allow the drivers to bring the tyres back to the right temperature, with the green flag waved two hours and 38 minutes from the end. After holding off Marciello’s attacks for one lap, Calado had to give way on lap ten.
FCY 2. The second Full Course Yellow followed a few minutes later, due to two almost simultaneous collisions involving four cars, two coming out of the Tosa corner and two at the Rivazza. Less than a lap after the restart behind the Safety Car on lap 19, a new session of Full Course Yellow was called, this time due to a multiple collision during the downhill restart towards the Rivazza. Niek Hommerson took advantage of the episode before handing over to Louis Machiels who was in second place in the Pro-Am. A lap later all the teams were imitating AF Corse no. 52, creating quite a lot of confusion in the pit-lane. The two Pro-class Ferraris made the most of the stage to take the race lead. While Nicklas Nielsen took the wheel of AF Corse no. 51, Sergey Sirotkin drove SMP Racing’s 488 GT3 Evo 2020. In the Pro-Am class, Hui inherited first position from Froggatt, while Machiels started from fourth and Mastronardi, who had replaced Ehret, from sixth. At the stroke of the first hour of the race, the green flag came out again to mark the resumption of hostilities.
Under attack. The lack of further interruptions allowed Kelvin Van der Linde to take advantage of the Audi’s superior speed to very quickly pass both Sirotkin and Nielsen and move into the lead. For the two Ferraris, any attempt to resist was futile with more than half the race still to go. In the Pro-Am, the central period of the race saw Rino Mastronardi proceeding brilliantly in third position. At the same time, Hui, after a difficult start to his stint, was in fourth and Machiels seventh.
Penalties. At mid-race, with Nielsen in second position, the marshals penalised car no. 51 with a drive-through for breaking the speed limit behind the Safety Car during Calado’s stint. The Dane, who visited the pit-lane on lap 44, was in fourteenth position. AF Corse’s car was not the only one to be penalised, with Sky Tempesta Racing and Rinaldi Racing also forced to take a drive-through for the same reason. These decisions changed the face of the Pro-Am crew standings, with the last scheduled stop further shuffling the pack.
Extended stop. A particularly long stop by SMP Racing knocked the 488 GT3 Evo 2020 back to twenty-second place. A little less than an hour from the end, when all the teams had made pit stops, Pier Guidi’s Ferrari was ninth, while Rigon’s was twenty-first. In the Pro-Am class, Daniel Keilwitz was leading Ferrari’s attempted fightback to the podium, closely followed by Edward Cheever, while Andrea Bertolini had to battle up from seventh.
A collision between Maxime Soulet’s Bentley and Fabian Schiller’s Mercedes at the Rivazza, 48 minutes from the chequered flag, led to another Full Course Yellow and the subsequent Safety Car that recompacted the group. When the race resumed with 35 minutes to go, Pier Guidi’s attempted comeback was frustrated by heavy traffic due to the difficulties in passing on the Imola circuit.
Another FCY. As Cheever passed Keilwitz and took second place thanks to Karim Ojjeh’s spin, another Full Course Yellow was called. During this period, an investigation into car no. 72 for “blocking in the pit lane” was announced, which turned into a drive-through a few minutes later.
The restart took place with only ten laps available to the drivers to decide the final finish order, but the nature of the track prevented any upsets in the standings. At the chequered flag, AF Corse no. 51 was seventh in the Pro class, while SMP Racing no. 72 finished in fifteenth. In the Pro-Am class, Sky Tempesta Racing took second, with Chris Froggatt, Edward Cheever and Jonathan Hui, despite suffering a mid-race drive-through. Rinaldi Racing took fourth place, while fifth went to AF Corse’s second car, no. 52. Bortolotti-Van der Linde-Vaxiviere won the race in an Audi.
Next round. The GT World Challenge Europe will stay in Italy, moving just a few miles up the road to the Misano Adriatico circuit where the first round of the Sprint series will take place from 7 to 9 August. The Endurance Cup will return to the track on 5 and 6 September at the Nürburgring circuit, for the 6 Hours.