GTWC: Imola preview

Updated: Aug 12

Text: Rick Kiewiet

Images: SRO Media, Haupt Racing Team, K-PAX Racing, CMR, Barwell Motorsport


As Europe is slowly recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, race series are also rebooting their 2020 season. This weekend, the GT World Challenge Europe (formerly known as the Blancpain GT series) kicks off with a race for the Endurance series in Italy: Imola hosts the first meeting of the year with a 3-hour race. A total of 46 cars will be on the grid. What can we look forward to? And which British GT regulars will compete at what is called the most competitive GT3 series in the world?


A short lookback at the 2019 season

The key to the 2019 championship proved not only to be outright speed, but also consistency. Champions Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli in their Orange 1 FFF Huracan GT3 scored three race victories in 15 races: at Misano (Sprint, R2), Nürburgring (Sprint, R1) and at the last Endurance meeting in Barcelona. Over the rest of the season, they were frequent podium climbers. In Monza (Endurance), Brands Hatch (Sprint, R2), Paul Ricard (Endurance), Misano (Sprint, R2) and Zandvoort (Sprint, R1) they were all on the podium. In the season's blue ribbon event at Spa they only came in 8th.


Runner-ups Maro Engel and Luca Stolz in their Black Falcon Mercedes AMG GT3 managed a race win early in the season at Brands Hatch (Sprint, R2). They scored points in even more races than Caldarelli and Mapelli, but too often missed out on the podium to finish in the lower parts of the top 10.


Last season's main event, the Total 24hrs of Spa, was won by GPX Extreme's Porsche 911. The star line-up with Kevin Estre, Michael Christensen and Richard Lietz defeated the ROWE Racing 911, Black Falcon AMG and Sainteloc Audi in the chaotic final of the race. The 2019 edition was characterized by heavy rain, that even resulted in the race being red flagged for nearly six hours.


The grid of 2020

In total 10 different manufacturers will line up on the grid at Imola. Germany is well represented with Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Porsche. The Brits don't do bad either with Bentley, Mclaren and Aston Martin. From Italy we have Lamborghini and of course Ferrari while Lexus joins from Japan. Honda, represented by Reno Racing will attend some of the races with their NSX, but will be absent in Imola.


The most important driver couples of the 2019 season remain in tact for the 2020 season. Caldarelli and Mapelli (and Lind in the Endurance races) will defend their title in the #63 Lamborghini, Engel and Stolz (with Vincent Abril for the Endurance races) are reunited at HRT in a Mercedes AMG and SMP Racing's Ferrari 488 is driven yet again by Davide Rigon, Miguel Molina and Sergey Sirotkin.


Other strong outfits appear to be the AF Corse Ferrari with WEC-regulars Alessandro Pier Guidi, James Calado and Nicklas Nielsen, both the GPX Porsches, one with Patrick Pilet, Mathieu Jaminet and Math Campbell and the other with Romain Duman, Louis Deletraz and Thomas Preining. And then there are also the Audis... Team WRTs top car (out of three) is driven by Dries Vanthoor, Chris Mies and Charles Weerts, Sainteloc's premium set consists of Markus Winkelhock, Chris Haase and Dorian Boccolacci.


Fewer Aston Martins for the 2020 season

After the withdrawal from DTM, R-Motorsport decided to skip the 2020 season all together. This means we won't see for example drivers like Dani Juncadella and Jake Dennis, who already lost their seat in DTM, race an Aston this year. In a statement from team principal Florian Kamelger on the team's website we learn that in the midst of the current health crisis, R-Motorsport made the strategic decision to focus its resources on 2021. The decision was fueled by the GTWC's new, busy, calendar and the limited possibilities for hospitality in the 2020 paddock. This means we'll have to wait to see the team's striking new livery in race action a little longer.


Aston Martin fans can still look out for Garage 59's two Vantages. The team from the East Midlands fields the #188 for Jonny Adam, Chris West and Alex Goodwin in the Pro-Am class. The sister-car in the Silver cup will be driven by Valentin Hasse Clot, Andrew Watson and a yet to be announced third driver.

Debutants

The new outfit Haupt Racing Team, led by former racing driver Hubert Haupt, fields two Mercedes AMG GT3s. Besides the GT World Challenge Europe the team also competes in the Nürburgring Langstrecke Serien (NLS) in which it scored a pole and a podium on its debut and won the following two races. With many senior staff taken over from the Black Falcon team, like team principal Breslin and last year's runner-up drivers (and 2018 champions) Luca Stolz and Maro Engel, the team is clearly a force to be reckoned with.


Next is K-Pax Racing fielding a couple of Bentley Continental GT3's. The Sonoma, California based team has been successful racing Porsche 911 GT3s and McLaren GT3s (among others) in the past and made a switch to the Bentley Continental in 2018. The team was forced to pull out of the pre-season test at Paul Ricard due the COVID-crisis, and more recently the GTWC-America race at Virginia raceway, but is set to start racing at Imola this weekend.

K-Pax is not the only newcomer that uses the Bentley: the French CMR-team returns to GT3 racing using the 2019 Continental GT. It enters one car in the Pro class and one in Pro-Am.


British GT teams in the GT World Challenge Europe.

A total of four teams active in British GT will join the 2020 GT World Challenge grid. Barwell Motorsport will enter the #77 and #78 in the Pro-Am and Silver cup respectively. Leo Machitski will be joined by Rob Collard (who comes over from BTCC) and Lamborghini Squadra Corse junior Sandy Mitchell in the #77. The #78 will be piloted by Patrick Kujala (who replaces Jordan Witt), Frederik Schandorff and Alex MacDowall.


Team Parker Racing joins with their Bentley Continental GT for Euan McKay, Frank Bird and Nicolai Kjaergaard in the Silver Cup. A new line up for the team in this series.


Tom Onslow-Cole and Remon Vos will drive the #74 RAM Racing Mercedes like they did in last season. A third driver, if any, has yet to be announced.


Finally, Optiminum Motorsport will enter a Mclaren 720S GT3 for Oliver Wilkinson, Rob Bell and Joe Osborne.


TF Sport, who fielded an Aston Martin last season, will not compete in the 2020 season.


For the full entry list, click here.