Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO, WRT (Brecht Decancq / Michele Scuderio)
Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella headed into the Fanatec GT World Challenge Endurance finale at Catalunya defending an 11 points advantage over Antonio Fuoco (who was escorted by several different drivers along the season). When the checkered flag dropped, they only had two left... But those two points were enough to clinch the 2022 GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup crown after also winning the season's blue ribbon event: the TotalEnergies 24 hours of Spa. They're in debt to the race winning #54 Dinamic Porsche of Bachler, Cairoli and Picariello, without whom the #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Fuoco, Rovera and Alessandro Pier Guidi (back in the car for this final) would have won and thereby surpassed the #88 in the standings.
Tension spiked after qualifying when the #71 crew did exactly what they had to do to keep their title hopes alive: secure pole position for the afternoon's race. Pier Guidi (1st in Q1), Rovera (5th in Q2) and Fuoco (6th in Q3) did, but only barely. The #54 Porsche was only 0.003s behind with Cairoli setting the best time of the weekend in Q3. Bortolotti/Aitken/Costa qualified their #63 Emil Frey Lamborghini 3rd, while the #88 Mercedes didn't get higher up the grid than 8th. With now 10 points between them, this meant that if the race were to finish in this order, Fuoco would be champion.
Pier Guidi in the #71 was well awake as the lights went green, immediately taking three of four car lengths on the straight. Behind, Jack Aitken in the #63 Lamborghini jumped the #54 Porsche of Bachler. Pier Guidi stretched the gap to 8 seconds, handing over the Ferrari to Rovera for the second stint a mere 7 seconds ahead of the rest of the field. Aitken handed over the #63 to Costa, still in second while Gounon, now in the #88 was stuck in 6th. With Rovera still comfortably in the lead, things started to look a bit grim for the #88 crew.
Costa and Picariello, who was now piloting the #54, however, where slowly angling in Rovera, with Costa finally overtaking the yellow Ferrari just before the second round of pitstops. By then, Picariello had already brought in his Porsche to hand it over to Cairoli, trying to undercut both cars in front. This move turned out to be incredibly successful as Cairoli took the lead when Costa and Rovera came in a lap later. Iron Lynx also made their stop a couple of seconds quicker than the Emil Frey crew, moving them back into second with Fuoco now behind the wheel.
Fuoco was slowly closing the gap towards Cairoli and was helped by a safety car halfway through the stint. With half an hour left on the clock, he was back under the wing of the #54 Porsche. With now Marciello in the #88 stuck on p5, looking at a 6 second gap towards the #32 Audi of Dries Vanthoor, it looked as if only one car was between Fuoco and his first GTWC title. Cairoli however was in a league of his own in the final thirty minutes: seemingly keeping Fuoco at a 1,5 to 2 second gap easily. A small mistake in the penultimate brought Fuoco back one last time, but he couldn't find a way past the Porsche. And so, Fuoco stranded in sight of the harbour and the title went to the #88 crew. Behind Fuoco, the #63 Lamborghini finished 3rd.
WRT ended a fifteen year partnership with Audi with a 4 place for the #32 of Weerts, Vanthoor and van der Linde. Today, the WRT team tested two M4 GT3s and confirmation came from BMW that WRT is now officially "BMW M team WRT", following their partnership for the upcoming WEC season.