Updated: Oct 26
Text: Rick Kiewiet
Pole position, race win. It sounds a lot easier than it was for Alessio Rovera, Nicklas Nielsen and Robert Shwartzman in the #51 AF Corse Ferrari 296 GT3 who won the Fanatec GT World Challenge Endurance Cup final at Barcelona. In fact, the #777 Al Manar Mercedes of Luca Stolz, Maro Engel and Fabian Schiller crossed the line first, but a 5 second penalty for causing a collision with the #63 Iron Lynx Lamborghini in the first lap dropped the AMG to p4. Behind the #51, Fuoco, Serra and Rigon made it a 1-2 for Ferrari and AF Corse. Preining, Heinrich and Olsen in the #96 Rutronik Porsche claimed the last podium spot.
As said, Rovera in the #51 started from pole, with Jordan Pepper in the #63 Lambo beside him. When the field was unleased, Serra in the #71 immediately moved up to second to go toe-to-toe with teammate Rovera. Pepper's chances for a good result were slimmed dramatically in turn 4, when he fell victim to a charge of Maro Engel in the #777 Mercedes.
Championship leader Rafaelle Marciello in the #88 was directly behind and involved in a battle for fourth, which he decided temporarily to his advantage in the first half hour.
The second half of the first hour was characterized by Full Course Yellows and Safety Cars. The first FCY was called after 30 minutes to clean up the rear bumper of the #32 WRT BMW on the straight, couple minutes later immediately the second, and then the third some ten minutes ahead of the first pit stop cycle to recover the #46 BMW of Valentino Rossi. The last FCY actually started the pit stops a bit early, when the cars came in with 2 hours and 7 minutes on the clock.
The best job was done by the Al Manar Mercedes team as they managed to get the #777 that changed driver from Maro Engel to Fabian Schiller, out ahead of the #51 of Shwartzman who took over from Rovera. The Akkodis ASP team also did a quick job as Boguslavskiy (substituting for Marciello) came out in between both Ferrari's on p3. Rigon rejoined 4th in the #71, just ahead of Lorenzo Ferrari in the #87 Mercedes (no pun intended).
In the second hour, the field started to stretch out. Schiller in front built an almost 6 second gap towards Shwartzman, who in turn drove almost 10 seconds away from Boguslavskiy. Davide Rigon was stuck behind the Russian in the #88, with Heinrich and Müller in the #96 (Rutronik) and #54 (Dinamic) Porsches under his rear wing.
Rigon, Heinrich and Müller came in early for their second stop, trying to undercut the #88 Mercedes. The cars came out the same order, but now with Fuoco, Preining and Güven behind the wheels of the #71, #96 and #54 respectively. When Boguslavskiy made his stop two laps later, Gounon rejoined right in between the #96 and #54.
A lengthy safety car phase was necessary right after the final round of stops, to recover the #11 Audi and clean up oil from the track. Racing resumed with only 25 minutes left on the clock, Luca Stolz leading in the #777, followed by Nielsen and Fuoco in the #51 and #71 Ferrari's, Preining in the #96 Porsche and Gounon in the #88.
Di Amato in the #56 Porsche was the reason for the next Safety Car. With Less than 20 minutes on the clock, he crashed into the wall in turn 3. During this neutralization, the leading #777 was dealt a 5-second time penalty for causing a collision with Jordan Pepper's #63 Lamborghini in lap 1 (!!!).
With 9:41 on the clock, Stolz had one job: open up 5 seconds towards Nielsen. But a minute later, he must have already knew it was not going to work. The next FCY was called to recover the Mercedes of Perez Companq, and when the race went green with only 2 minutes left, another was called when Lucas Auer pushed off track.
The final lap was driven under green and Stolz finished first on track, but only 2 seconds ahead of Nielsen (#51) and Fuoco (#71). The #777 also dropped off the podium as Preining finished within five seconds as well in the #96 Rutronik Porsche. In fifth, the #88 of Gounon, Marciello and Boguslavkiy scored enough points to seal the 2023 GT World Challenge Endurance Cup.