Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media
The first race of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup at Monza was won by Christian Engelhart, Matteo Cairoli and Klaus Bachler in the #54 Dinamic Porsche. The trio took over the lead just over the halfway mark, not to give it away again. At respectable distance followed the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes of Marciello, Juncadella and Gounon. The Swiss trio Feller, Ineichen and Fontana won the Silver Cup for Emil Frey Lamborghini, finishing 3rd overall. British success in the Pro-Am Cup where the #188 Garage 59 Aston took the victory in the hands of Alex West, Chris Goodwin and Jonny Adam. Callum Ilott in the #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari just missed out on the overall podium with teammates Antonio Fuoco and Davide Rigon, but still scored 3rd place in the Pro category.
In what was without doubt a thrilling qualifying session, Mirko Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli secured pole position in the #63 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini by no more than 0.007s. Bortolotti was fastest in Q1, Mapelli 5th in Q2 and Caldarelli's 3rd time in Q3 was enough to beat the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes. Marciello was 3rd in his session, Juncadella 7th, but a blistering lap, fastest of the weekend, from Jules Gounon in his first race in the AMG GT3 put them on first row. Callum Ilott and Antonio Fuoco were on top of the list after Q2, but teammate Davide Rigon didn't manage to find a clear lap in Q3, putting the car on p3.
Silver Cup pole position went to Feller, Ineichen and Fontana in the #14 Emil Frey Lamborghini. British newcomers Inception Racing, with their McLaren 720S in the hands of Ollie Millroy and Brendan Iribe took pole in Pro-Am by 0.014s over the #107 CMR Bentley.
Start: rain falls quickly, RAM Racing first victim.
The race got underway smoothly for all except the McLarens: the #38 JOTA McLaren with Ben Barnicoat at the wheel hit gearbox problems in the first corner and limped back to the pits. Half a lap later the Inception Racing McLaren had a wheel that faced the wrong way and retired. Charles Weerts in the #32 WRT Audi overtook Rigon for p3 at the start.
20 minutes after the start the first rain started to fall. Heavily. Rob Bell in the RAM Racing Mercedes was the first victim of the wet as he smashed his car in the concrete wall on the exit of the Variante Ascari. During the Full Course Yellow (FCY) and Safety Car phase that followed, all cars switched to rain tires.
Right after its stop, the #63 Orange 1 FFF Huracan suffered some mechanical issues and didn't get back up to speed. Bortolloti made it back to the pits, but the race was over for the Italians.
When racing resumed Marciello in the #88 Mercedes was in the lead. Charles Weerts was 2nd only to get passed quickly by Maro Engel in the #4 HRT Mercedes. The AMG's were the car to have in these conditions, as with Gachet (#87 AKKA ASP) and Tunjo (#7 TokSport), 4 out of 5 cars in the top-5 were a Mercedes.
Right before the second FCY of the race to recover the stranded Kessel Ferrari of Francesco Zollo, Christian Engelhart had already made it up to p6 in the #54 Dinamic Porsche. Both Iron Lynx' Ferrari of Rigon (#71) and Ledogar (#51) were right on his tail.
Part 2: Left rears are taking a beating.
A short FCY to remove the tread of Martin Tomczyk BMW's left rear tire, sparked the beginning of the first round of stops. Tomczyk proved to be the first of many in the hour that followed.
Although the rain had stopped a while ago and the track was clearly drying, it was to early to switch to slicks. All cars were out on rain tires after the stops.
Luca Stolz in the #4 HRT Mercedes led the pack after the stops, a mere second ahead of Kelvin van der Linde in the #32 WRT Audi. Drouet in the #87 AKKA ASP AMG was third and led the Silver Cup, teammate Juncadella in the #88 was fourth with the trio Nielsen (#51 Ferrari), Cairoli (#54 Porsche) and Callum Ilott (#71 Ferrari) 8 secs further back.
Only a couple of minutes after his stop, Kelvin van der Linde suddenly blew his left rear tire just before Ascari and effectively destroyed the whole left rear bodywork of his car. He tried to make it back to the pits but stranded on the inside of Parabolica. During the FCY that followed, the #56 Dinamic Porsche with Pedersen at the wheel at that moment and the #14 Emil Frey Lambo of Alex Fontana, also suffered left rear punctures. They did manage to make it back to the pits and Fontana even took the gamble to already switch to slicks. He rejoined in p24 (!).
A lap later, Callum Ilott took the same gamble and switched to slicks. Just over the halfway mark, racing resumed with Maro Engel still leading in the #4 Mercedes. Drouet and Juncadella completed the top-3 for Mercedes, Cairoli in the #54 Porsche followed in 4th. Hiroshi Hamaguchi, teammate of Phil Keen in the #19 Lamborghini and at that time leader in the Pro-Am class was 5th. Callum Ilott on his slicks was 9th.
At first it seemed Ilott switched to slicks a little too soon, as he dropped to 15th after one lap, and even 19th a lap later. But then he started to pick up pace. In the minutes that followed two more cars suffered from left rear punctures, both BMW's and both from the Walkenhorst team, before race leader Stolz was the next to kill his left rear. Like van der Linde earlier, he also damaged his bodywork to the extent that he had to retire in the pits. Juncadella and Cairoli managed past and the latter immediately seized to opportunity to take over the lead from the Spaniard in the Parabolica.
In the same lap, both Emil Frey Lamborghini's also picked up a left rear puncture. Lucky for them, they were close to the pits.
By now, Callum Ilott had worked up his way to p7.
In the run up to the 2nd round of scheduled stops,still 4 out of 5 cars in the top-5 were a Mercedes. Right behind Cairoli, Juncadella (#88) was 2nd ahead of teammate Drouet in the #87. Mikael Grenier in the #57 Winward Mercedes made his way up to 4th, Assenheimer in the #5 HRT Mercedes was 5th.
Part 3: Dinamic in control, Gounon defends p2.
Despite the rain falling again, the slick tire was still the best option. Callum Ilott had closed the gap to Thomas Drouet in the blink of an eye and could easily outbrake him for the Parabolica. A lap later he'd caught up to Mikael Grenier, who gave up p3 to make his final pit stop. Race leader Cairoli came in a lap later to hand over the wheel to Klaus Bachler, giving the lead to Dani Juncadella. He and Alex Fontana in the #14 Lamborghini, made a late 3rd stop.
The last FCY and following Safety Car phase was caused by another left rear puncture, again for a BMW, this time the #10 Boutsen Ginion M6.
With 40 minutes to go, the race got underway for its final stint. Klaus Bachler in the #54 Porsche managed to pull away and create a comfortable gap towards the #88 Mercedes of Jules Gounon. Its late stop handed the #14 Lamborghini, now in the hands of Ricardo Feller, p3 and the lead in the Silver Cup. He was backed by his teammate Albert Costa in the #163 Lambo, who, although a back marker, functioned as a buffer towards the Iron Lynx Ferraris of Ilott's teammate Fuoco, who took over the #71, and Alessandro Pier Guidi in the #51.
It took more than 20 minutes and eventually a missed braking point from Costa, for Fuoco to be able to get past the first Lamborghini and charge towards Feller. By that time, Bachler was already gone with the horizon. The battle for 2nd was now between three cars, the Mercedes of Gounon, the Huracan of Feller and the Ferrari of Fuoco. They were close, within 8 tenths of each other at some points, but the order did not change anymore.
At the finish, Pier Guidi secured 5th behind Fuoco while young Brit James Pull secured p6 in the #30 WRT Audi and p2 in the Silver Cup.
Jonny Adam secured the win in Pro-Am and thereby a flying start to Garage 59's title defense by passing Miguel Ramos in the #77 Barwell Lamborghini with little over half an hour to go. Phil Keen managed to do the same just before the chequered flag fell and thereby took p2 in Pro-Am for Orange 1 FFF Racing.
Rewatch the entire race:
The next race in the Fanatec GT World Challenge will be at Magny Cours, as the Sprint Cup starts its season in the weekend of 7-9 May.