Text: Rick Kiewiet
A third place finish for Weerts and Vanthoor in race 1 of on Saturday was enough, in the end only just enough, to secure the 2022 Sprint Cup drivers' crown. On top of the field, the Silver Cup #53 AF Corse Ferrari of Ulysse de Pauw and Pierre-Alexandre Jean took their second overall win of the season after Brands Hatch. Race 2 on Sunday was won by the newly crowned champions after a daring strategy. Having nothing to lose, WRT took the gamble at the pit stops and send out Weerts with slicks on a drying track. The bet paid off in the final yards of the last lap, as Weerts jumped from p3 into the lead with 4 corners to go.
Timur Boguslavskiy and Raffaele Marciello had quite a task keeping Weerts and Vanthoor off their third title in a row. An 11.5 point gap meant that if the Belgian duo in the #32 WRT Audi scored 6 points more than the #89 Mercedes in the first race of the weekend, they'd take the title. Having said that, qualifying p16 and then dropping another 3 places due to driving behavior warning points, didn't quite improve their chances. Especially since Weerts qualified the #32 on the front row, right behind pole sitter Ulysse de Pauw in the Silver Cup #53 Ferrari.
De Pauw consolidated his pole position after the start, while Weerts lost a place to Simon Gachet in the #11 Tresor Audi. The race was then quickly interrupted with a safety car phase to recover the #54 Dinamic Porsche. In the remaining run up to the pit stops, De Pauw built a comfortable lead towards the rest of the field, while Weerts simply remained close to Gachet, not having to take any risks as Boguslavskiy was struggling to plow trough the field.
The pit stops did not change the order of the top-3, but the AKKODIS ASP team did manage to bring out Marciello in the #89 Mercedes out in p11. With Vanthoor now in the #32 in p3, he needed to climb up to at least p6 to keep his title dreams alive until Sunday. Another safety car to tow the #90 Madpanda Mercedes off the track at least brought the field back together and gained him one place, a spin of the #88 sister car won him another. But it took about 10 minutes to get past the #25 Sainteloc Audi of Niederhauser, which Marciello finally mastered with only 5 minutes to go. Drouet, in another AKKODIS ASP Mercedes, the #87, quickly let the Swiss pass but it was not enough: Marciello finished p8, p7 after a penalty for the #112 JP Motorsport McLaren.
Marciello dramatically improved the #89's performance in Q2 with a pole position, joined on the front row by Vanthoor in the #32 Audi. At the start, which took place in wet conditions, Marciello firmly took the lead, with Niederhauser in the #25 Audi moving up to 2nd. Vanthoor followed in p3. WRT produced another lightning stop which brought the #32 p2 after the stops, while the #25 Sainteloc Audi with now Aurelien Panis behind the wheel dropped to p4. The #66 Attempto Audi squeezed itself in p3 with now Pieter Schothorst behind the wheel. Both WRT and Attempto though had taken the gamble to put their leading car on slicks, while Sainteloc and AKKODIS ASP stayed with the grooved tires. The slick-fitted Audi's first dropped down the order, when the #25 and even the #11 Trésor Audi of Simon Gachet got passed, but towards the end of the race, the slicks ended up being the best choice.
Panis fought an intense battle with Boguslavskiy for the lead, and in the last lap finally got by the Russian, only to be passed by Weerts a couple of turns later. The Belgian outfit of the #32 took their fifth win of the season in 10 races, leaving no doubt as to whom is the rightful champion. The GT World Challenge Europe has one race left on the calendar: the season concludes with the Endurance finale in Barcelona, scheduled 2 weeks from now, in the weekend of 1-2 October.