Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media, BMW, CMR, JOTA, AKKODIS ASP,
Emilia-Romagna, one of Italy's richest regions known for its gastronomic and wine-making traditions, sets the stage for the opening of the 2022 GT World Challenge Europe. Its endurance season kicks off this weekend at the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola. There will be no less than 52 cars on the grid and a couple of firsts to look forward to.
Valentino Rossi, the Doctor, the legendary no. 46, with seven MotoGP world championships to his name (only the Giacomo Agostini has more - 8), 89 race wins in the highest class of motorcycle racing, who flirted with Ferrari in the past, finally switches from two wheels to four. The 43-year old Italian will make his GTWC debut with WRT in an Audi R8 at Imola. He is joined by Audi heavyweights Nico Müller and Frédéric Vervisch and will race his 'own' number: 46. Rossi will contest the full GTWC season including both the Endurance and the Sprint Cup. He will no doubt be a force to be reckoned with, in the relentless pro-class.
The M4 joins the GT3 ranks
After an invitational entry in last years final in Barcelona in which it already finished ahead of the now grandfathered M6, the brand new BMW M4 GT3 will also make his official debut in the GT World Challenge. Rowe Racing will run two M4's in the Pro category: the BMW Junior team in the #50 with Daniel Harper, Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen and an experienced driver line-up in the #98 with long-time factory drivers Augusto Farfus, Nicky Catsburg and Nick Yelloly.
9 Manufacturers make up the 2022 Grid.
The 52 cars of the 2022 grid are spread over 9 brands: Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Bentley, Ferrari, McLaren, Mercedes, Lamborghini and Porsche. Let's have a look at every manufacturer's most eye-catching line-ups.
As last year's Aston Martin runner Garage 59 switched back to McLaren for the 2022 campaign, Aston had to find another team to field the cars in one of the highest (if not the highest) tier in GT3 racing. Beechdean AMR will now run two Vantages in the endurance cup. The #95 will be driven by one of the strongest line-ups of the field: Danes Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen (the infamous Dane Train) are joined by 24h of Spa and 24h of Le Mans winner, also Aston regular, Maxime Martin. Team principal and two-time British GT champion Andrew Howard will race the #97 alongside new-born Aston factory driver Valentin Hasse-Clot and Theo Nouet in the gold cup.
Best represented on this year's grid is Audi, with no less than 12 cars spread over 5 teams. WRT alone fields 5, of which 2 in the Pro cup. Besides the already mentioned #46, that is the #32 of reigning GTWC champions Dries Vanthoor, Charles Weerts, joined by the endurance cup partner Kelvin van der Linde. Of course WRT is again one of the favorites for titles in all classes, having won 5 out of the possible 6 titles over 2021.
Three other Audi teams also fight for overall honours in the Pro category. Tresor by Car Collection will run the #12 for Mattia Drudi, Luca Ghiotto and Chris Haase. Sainteloc's #25 will be driven by Lucas Legeret, Chris Mies and Patric Niederhauser and Attempto Racing enters the #99 for Markus Winkelhock, Dennis Marschall and Juuso Puhakka.
Only one Bentley in the field this year, run by the French CMR team in the Pro-Am cup, but noteworthy nonetheless. The car is specially adjusted for Belgian Nigel Bailly, paraplegic, who sits in a wheelchair. Bailly already raced at the 24 hours of Le Mans in 2021 in the SRT41 Oreca.
For the second year in a row, Ferrari will be represented by Iron Lynx in the Pro category with two cars: the #51 and the #71. The driver line-ups are somewhat shuffled though. In the #51, the driver-crew that won the 24 hours of Spa and the Endurance Cup in 2021, only Nicklas Nielsen returns. Alessandro Pier Guidi is given a break from GTWC after his overloaded schedule in 2021 and is replaced by his WEC-teammate James Calado, who returns to the series after a year of absence. Come Ledogar, who transferred to the Porsche team Dinamic Motorsport, is replaced by another Ferrari WEC-ace: Miguel Molina.
Antonio Fuoco is the only driver to return in the #71, he is joined in 2022 by Daniel Serra and Davide Rigon.
There are a couple more McLarens on grid this year, 7 in total, with one extra entry in the Pro cup. Jota returns with the #38, in which Ollie Wilkinson is now joined by Marvin Kirchhöfer and veteran Rob Bell. And JP Motorsport switches from Mercedes to McLaren and enters the #111 with a strong driver line-up consisting of ex-f1 driver Christian Klien, Vincent Abril and Dennis Lind.
Although there are a lot of Mercedes' on the grid, only two are run in the Pro cup.The #2 of GetSpeed Performance, who took over the successful duo Maro Engel and Luca Stolz from TokSport and put Steijn Schothorst in the car as third driver. The other is the well-known #88 of (now) AKKODIS ASP (former AKKA ASP) of Rafaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Dani Juncadella.
With Grasser making the switch to DTM, and Orange 1 FFF taking a sabbatical from racing, the only pro Lamborghinis this year will be run by Emil Frey. The Swiss team puts Arthur Rougier, Giacomo Altoe and Leo Roussel in the #19, and fills the #63 with Albert Costa, Jack Aitken and Mirko Bortolotti. Bortolotti's old teammates Andrea Caldarelli en Marco Mapelli have transferred to IMSA, where they drive a Huracan of TR3 Racing together with Bortolotti.
Last but not least, Porsche. The Stuttgart brand only has one iron in the fire this year in the Pro cup: the #54 with Matteo Cairoli, Klaus Bachler and Come Ledogar (as mentioned, who made the switch from Ferrari). GPX Racing, 24h of Spa winner and consistent front-runner the last couple of seasons, will not be present in GTWC this year.