Updated: Apr 13
Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media, JOTA, RAM Racing
This weekend the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe kicks off its 2021 season with the 3 hours of Monza. The Autodromo returns to the calendar after a one year absence. What are the most eye-catching novelties? Who are the favorites? And which Brits are on the entry list? This preview will tell you all you need to know.
SRO, Fanatec, Assetto Corsa Competizione first to combine virtual and real life racing
SRO, new championship title sponsor Fanatec, known for its top-notch sim-racing gear, and Assetto Corsa Competizione, the official GT World Challenge-game, are the first in the motor racing world to combine eSports and real racing within one championship. How does this work?
During each endurance cup round there will also be a virtual race on site in the Fanatec Esports arena. Each team that enters one or more cars in the Pro or Silver Cup, must appoint one of its drivers to compete in the virtual race. They only have to select one driver per Cup in which they compete, regardless of how much cars they enter. So, if they enter two cars in the Pro Cup and one in the Silver Cup, the team will have to select one driver from the Pro line-up and one from the Silver.
On the Saturday of the event, there will be a one hour race on the local track. A maximum of 24 competitors are allowed into the race, and they compete for a € 25.000,- price pot per race. The top-3 in both cups can earn 3, 2 and 1 point. At the end of the season, by means of the so called "Fanatec Points Boost", points earned in the Esports Cup are added to the Endurance Cup and Sprint Cup scores to determine the overall teams' titles for 2021 (so the Esports points have no effect on driver standings).
After its inaugural race at Monza, the Esports Cup will have its next rounds at Paul Ricard, Spa, Nürburgring and Catalunya. All races will be streamed live on YouTube, Twitch, Facebook and of course GTWC's own website.
Nine manufactures contest the 2021 title
No less than nine manufacturers will be on the 2021 Endurance Cup grid, eight during the Sprint Cup events (BMW won't be present at the Sprint Cup).
Ferrari's effort to defend its 2020 title will be spearheaded this year by newcomer Iron Lynx instead of AF Corse, they even take over the starting numbers #51 and #71. Last year's champ Alessandro Pier Guidi (ITA) will be joined by young Danish driver Nicklas Nielsen and Frenchman Come Ledogar in the #51. Davide Rigon (ITA), young Italian GT Endurance champion Antonio Fuoco and the first Brit in our list: last year's FIA F2 runner-up and newly baked Ferrari F1 test-driver Callum Ilot, will pilot the #71. Last year's Pro-Am champions Sky-Tempesta racing also return to defend their title with the same driver line-up: British Chris Froggatt, Jonathan Hui (HK) and Eddie Cheever (ITA). Rinaldi Racing and Kessel Racing both make their return to the series in 2021.
With seven Audi R8's spread over three teams, Belgian Audi club team WRT (3), Sainteloc (2) and Attempto Racing, the Ingolstadt brand's presence in the series is as strong as usual. In Monza, WRT enters the #32 in the Pro Cup, with Belgian Audi aces Charles Weerts and Dries Vanthoor joined by Kelvin van der Linde. Both Sainteloc cars will contest the Pro Cup with drivers Adrien Tambay (FRA), Alexandre Cougnaud (FRA) and Audi-veteran Christopher Haase (GER) in the #25 and Fred Vervisch (BEL), Brit Finlay Hutchinson and Markus Winkelhock in the #26. Attempto joins the highest category with drivers Mattia Drudi (ITA), Kim Luis Schramm (GER) and Chris Mies (GER).
No less than nine AMG GT3's will be on the grid full time this year, even 11 at Monza, which makes Mercedes the best represented manufacturer in the series. Two of those will compete in the Pro category. AKKA ASP composed another star line-up with Raffaele Marciello (ITA), Jules Gounon (FRA) who transfers from Bentley and multiple DTM race-winner Dani Juncadella (ESP). HRT is certainly not less, with the same line up as last season: Germans Maro Engel and Luca Stolz will be joined by Vincent Abril (FRA). Of the other nine AMG's, 6 are entered in the Silver Cup (by AKKA ASP, SPS, TokSport, HRT, Madpanda, and US-newcomers Winward Racing), the other 3 will contest the Pro-Am cup.
One of those is British team RAM Racing with an all British line-up of British-GT stars Sam de Haan and Rob Collard (switching from Barwell), joined by Callum Macleod.
Last year, Porsche was only active during the Endurance Cup events, but in 2021 the Stuttgart brand returns to full-season competition. Dinamic will run a Pro entry in both the Endurance and Sprint Cup, newcomer Allied Racing will contest the Pro-Am Cup. GPX and Dinamic then add another 911 in the Pro Cup at the Endurance events. Without doubt, all Pro entries will compete for overall victory. GPX managed to sign Australians Matt Campbell and Earl Bamber, supplemented with Mathieu Jaminet (FRA). Dinamic's #54 will be piloted by Matteo Cairoli (ITA) and Germans Christian Engelhart and Klaus Bachler, the #56 is in the hands of Mikkel Pedersen (DEN), Andrea Rizzoli (ITA) and Romain Dumas (FRA).
Mirko Bortolotti has returned to his old employer Orange 1 FFF after a year with Audi WRT and pilots the #63 with his old colleagues and fellow Italians Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli. Of the other Orange 1 Lambo, the #19 entered in the Pro-Am category, Phil Keen is one of the drivers, joined by Japanese Hiroshi Hamaguchi. GRT returns to the series, fielding one Huracan in the Silver Cup for Tim Zimmermann (GER), Galbiati (ITA) and Schmid (AUT). Emil Frey will run three cars this season, of which two in the Pro Cup: the #114 with younster from Britain Jack Aitken, Konsta Lappalainen (FIN) and Arthur Rougier (who transfers from Sainteloc Audi) and the #163 driver by Lambo-regulars Norbert Siedler (AUT), Giacomo Altoè (ITA) and Albert Costa (ESP).
Barwell Motorsport is down from two to one entry this season: it will enter one car in the Pro-Am category for drivers Miguel Ramos (POR), Henrique Chaves (POR) and Adrian Amstutz (AUT).
This season, McLaren aims to rejoin the upper ranks of the field and teamed up with renowned British racing team JOTA. The all British line-up consists of Oliver Wilkinson and veteran Rob Bell, who already raced the 720S last year for Optimum Motorsport, and Ben Barnicoat who drove the 720 S for EMA / 59 Racing. The car will be raced in both the Endurance and the Sprint Cup events.
Garage 59 continues their two car effort in 2021. In the #159 Silver Cup entry, Valentin Hasse Clot (FRA) is now joined by Nicholas Kjaergaard (DEN), coming over from Team Parker Bentley, and Brit Alex Macdowall who transfers from Barwell Motorsport. In the #188 Pro-Am cup entry Alex West (SWE) and Chris Goodwin (GB) are paired again with Jonny Adam (GB).
Remarkable is the second year of absence of the R-Motorsport squad. The Corona pandemic already forced them to pull their two Vantages from the entry list in 2020.This year in March, the team decided to skip yet another year and focus on their 2022 campaign.
Although Bentley officially ended its factory GT3-program, French outfit CMR continues to field a Continental GT in the Endurance Cup, and even two in the Sprint Cup events. Nelson Panciatici (FRA) remains loyal to the team and is joined by Gilles Vannelet (FRA) and Stuart White (RSA).
2021 marks the return of Walkenhorst Motorsport to the GT World Challenge championship, having previously competed in the Blancpain GT series. The team will field two M6 GT3's in the Pro Cup, in Endurance events only. The #34 is driven by former DTM champion Marco Wittmann (GER), Sheldon van der Linde (RSA) and Brit David Pittard. German DTM-veteran Martin Tomczyk and former F1 driver Timo Glock will pilot the #35, joined by youngster Thomas Neubauer (FRA) who made name for himself last season with a couple of stellar performances in the Tech 1 Lexus.
The third M6 will be run by the Boutsen Ginion team, who pay tribute to the creator of Michel Vaillant, Jean Graton with a beautiful art car.
Pre-season test summary
Two days were scheduled at the end of March, with almost all manufacturers present. Only McLaren/JOTA was absent. Over the four sessions, the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes topped the list twice, while Dinamic Porsche and Sainteloc Audi topped the other sessions. All participating manufacturers delivered competitive times at some time during the two days, although Mercedes, Audi and Porsche were consistently fast.