Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media
It was close, it was tense, but they did it. Following their victory in the season's blue ribbon event, the TOTAL 24 Hours of Spa, Alessandro Pier Guidi, Nicklas Nielsen and Come Ledogar claimed the 2021 GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup title in the #51 Iron Lynx Ferrari. A dominant start-to-finish win from pole sitters and fellow title contenders Marciello, Gounon and Fraga in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes meant they had to finish at least 9th to secure the crown. With safety cars bringing the field back together in the last hour pressure built, but Pier Guidi managed to bring the car home in p7. A late move by Dries Vanthoor on Nico Bastian in the #4 HRT Mercedes brought the #32 WRT Audi p3 and the title for teams in the Endurance Cup.
With 3 poles (Monza, Paul Ricard and Nürburgring) out of 4 races, best odds on who'd get pole position in Barcelona were probably for the #63 Orange 1 FFF Lamborghini of Mirko Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli. And the title contenders did not disappoint. Holding off the only other car to score pole this season, the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes of Marciello, Gounon and Fraga, by only 0.009s, the Italian trio seemed to start Sunday's race from p1. If it wasn't for a yellow flag infringement by Bortolotti in Q1, for which the #63 received a 3 place grid penalty a short while after qualifying. This meant nonetheless that a title contender would start the race from pole. 4 cars were still fighting for the Endurance Cup crown. Besides the #63 Lambo and the #88 Mercedes, these were the #32 WRT Audi of Charles Weerts, Dries Vanthoor and Robin Frijns and the championship leader: the #51 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Pier Guidi, Nielsen and Ledogar. Both were found somewhat down the grid at p10 and p11.
Alongside the #88 started the #22 GPX Porsche of Bamber, Jaminet and Campbell, the winners of the 1000km of Paul Ricard. Pole in the Silver Cup went to the #7 TokSport Mercedes of Oscar Tunja, Marvin Dienst and Berkay Basler.
There were also two brand new cars on the grid: the #26 Saintéloc Audi R8 EVO 2 started 12th, the #82 BMW M4 GT3 was 17th.
Despite Bamber pulling up aside Marciello in the first couple of hundred meters after the start, the #88 Mercedes emerged as leader after the first couple of corners. In the pushing and pulling behind, Mapelli in the #63 Lamborghini overtook 3rd from Tunjo, but further no noteworthy incidents happened.
Five minutes into the race the safety car was called on track for the first time, when Sam de Haan in de RAM Racing Mercedes found himself dug deep into the gravel after a come-together with the Rinaldi Racing Ferrari. When the debris was cleared and the track went green again, Marciello managed to pull away from the #22 and created a 17-second gap at the first pit stop sequence.
By the time we got to the second pit stops, Fraga in the #88 had further extended the gap towards his pursuers to about 30 seconds. Both the #22 and the #63 were dropped down the fields by penalties, the first for a pit stop infringement, the latter for avoidable contact with the #488 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari. The #54 Dinamic Porsche of Engelhart, Bachler and Cairoli made its way up to 2nd, the #4 HRT Mercedes of Stolz, Engel and Bastian was 3rd and the #32 WRT Audi was fourth.
After the final round of pit stops, Pier Guidi, who took over the wheel of the #51, was comfortably 6th. With the #88 in the lead, this meant the championship would be for the Iron Lynx drivers: p9 would be enough. Tensions started to rise towards the end though. With 45 minutes to go, the safety car came on track to give marshals the opportunity to clear the #222 Allied Racing Porsche from the last chicane. This brought the whole field back together again, though Pier Guidi, still in sixt, had a buffer in the form of Iron Lynx teammate Antonio Fuoco in the #71. But Bortolotti in the #63 Lamborghini had already made his way back up to 8th after their penalty halfway through the race. He quickly managed to force his way through to 7th, and not much later also reclaimed 6th from Pier Guidi. In p7 though, Pier Guidi was still cruising towards the title.
Albert Costa though, in the #163 Emil Frey Lamborghini, did not wish to settle for p8 and was keen on overtaking Fuoco. Frantically. A fight emerged with 20 minutes left on the clock. Several laps, attempts and contacts later, this all ended in tears for Fuoco who was hit by Costa and suffered a puncture, just after he passed the pit entry. Half a lap later, the Ferrari had suffered so much damage he had to retire the car, causing yet another safety car with only 10 minutes to go.
Within half an hour Pier Guidi saw the field catch up to his rear, lost a place to Bortolotti and lost his buffer behind. Luckily for him, racing resumed with just under five minutes to go, meaning there was only time for three more laps. Enough for him to bring the car home in p7 and win the title.
In front, Gounon in the #88 took the chequered flag nearly unchallenged, followed by the #54 Dinamic Porsche. Just before the final safety car phase, Dries Vanthoor in the #32 Audi had managed to overtake Bastian in the #4 HRT Mercedes for p3, claiming the teams title in the Endurance Cup for WRT.
A nice statistic highlighted by SRO was that this Endurance Cup season, 999 laps were driven. Only one entry completed them all: the #51 Ferrari, making it a well deserved winner of the 2021 Endurance Cup title.
Both new cars also finished the race: the #26 Saintéloc Audi R8 EVO 2 in p10, the #82 BMW M4 GT3 in p16.