Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: SRO Media
The battle for the 2020 GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup championship went all the way, but in the final race of the season, Belgian duo Charles Weerts and Dries Vanthoor secured the title for WRT. Timur Boguslavskiy resisted until the end, but had to acknowledge the superiority of the Audi outfit, despite winning the last outing. Titles in the Silver Cup and the Pro-Am Cup went to Sainteloc and Sky-Tempesta Racing respectively.
All title contenders in this weekend's Sprint Cup finale started fairly high up the grid in Race 1. Luca Stolz and Maro Engel in the #4 HRT Mercedes had the best papers ahead of the race, starting 2nd on the grid. They were topped only my Mikael Grenier and Ricardo Feller - the latter replacing Norbert Siedler this weekend - in the #14 Emil Frey Lambo. Outsiders for the title Altoè and Costa in the other Emil Frey Huracan backed up their title bid with a third position on the grid. Boguslavskiy and Marciello in the #88 AKKA ASP were 5th, Weerts and Vanthoor in the #32 WRT Audi were 8th, one place ahead of Tomita and Kelvin van der Linde in #31 Audi.
At the start, Altoè took a tow from teammate Feller in front and managed to take 2nd from Luca Stolz. Stolz dropped even further to 4th, as Pla squeezed his Mercedes passed as well. Half a lap later, Pla boldly even took 2nd from Altoè. After lap 1, championship leader Weerts had worked himself up from 8th to 5th, right under the rear wing of his closest competitor for the title at that time, Stolz. Rougier in the #25 Sainteloc Audi also had a good start, moving up from 12th to 8th.
7 minutes in, the race was shortly interrupted by a FCY and Safety Car to recover the #93 Sky-Tempesta Ferrari, which snapped underneath from Chris Froggatt and stranded in the gravel.
The field headed towards the pitstops in almost the same order. Only Arthur Rougier was able to move up through the field, he passed both Nelson Panciatici in the Bentley and Charles Weerts. When the window opened, the field was still led by the Silver Cup outfits of Emil Frey and AKKA ASP, Feller ahead of Pla.
Both Emil Frey Lamborghini's and the Mercedes' of Stolz and Boguslavskiy came in as soon as the window opened. WRT followed as well, bringing in the #32 of Weerts. Pla, Rougier and Tomita followed a lap later.
After the stops, Raffaelle Marciello in the #88 Mercedes emerged as the big winner of the mandatory rubber and driver change: he'd moved up to 3rd behind leader Mikael Grenier, now in the #14 Lamborghini and his team mate Costa in the #163. Maro Engel, who took over from Stolz, dropped another place to 5th, followed by Vanthoor who took over from Weerts. The Audi's of Chris Haase and Kelvin van der Linde were 7th and 8th.
With 15 minutes to, Grenier let Costa by to increase his chances for the title. Stolz, Vanthoor and Van der Linde were still close behind the Mercedes of Benjamin Hites, in a fierce battle for p4.
With 7 minutes to go, the race was yet again interrupted by a safety car as the Bentley of Jules Gounon had caught fire under the hood and stopped beside the track. Racing resumed with only one lap to go, but despite the whole field being back together again, the order did not change anymore. Costa won from Grenier, Marciello took 3rd, ahead of Hites, Engel, Vanthoor and Van Der Linde.
Grenier and Feller consequently won the Silver Cup. Gachet and Palette, leaders of the Silver Cup in the #26 Sainteloc Audi, finished only 4th in class, but still extended their lead in the championship as Perez Companc and Jefferies finished only second to last.
Andrea Bertolini and Louis Machiels kept their title chances in the Pro-Am Cup alive with a win and the bad result for Eddie Cheever and Chris Froggatt in the Sky-Tempesta Ferrari.
Weerts and Vanthoor's lead in the championship was now down to only 5 points over Stolz and Engel and 6 to Boguslavskiy. Costa and Altoè moved further up the order to 4th and were 12.5 points off the lead, half a point ahead of Tomita and van der Linde.
Check the highlights of race 1:
Another day, another Emil Frey Lamborghini on pole. The Swiss team extended their excellent qualifying performance in the second half of the season with yet another first position on the grid, this time for Giacomo Altoè and Albert Costa. This race however, they weren't backed by their teammates, as Feller and Grenier were as far back as 11th on the grid. Boguslavskiy and Marciello accompanied the Lambo on the first row. The second row of the grid was locked out by Attempto Audi's: the #66 of Schöll and Vervisch ahead of the #55 of Mosca and Drudi. Stolz and Engel in the Mercedes were 5th, just in front of Tomita/Van der Linde and Weerts/Vanthoor. Puhakka started first of the Silver Cup outfits with a 9th position overall, ahead of the first Pro-Am entry of Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever, who were as far up as 10th for this race.
In contrast to yesterday's race, this time the #4 HRT Mercedes had an excellent start as Maro Engel catapulted himself from 5th to 2nd. Right behind him, Mattia Drudi in the #55 Audi was tapped into a spin by the #88 Mercedes of Marciello, causing chaos in turn 1. Several cars went wide, but there were no other victims. When the dust settled, Costa led in the #163 Lambo ahead of Engel in the Mercedes. Fred Vervisch had consolidated his 3rd grid position in the opening stages. Vanthoor profited from the turn 1 incident and was now 4th after he started 7th. Van der Linde and Marciello followed.
Eddie Cheever in the Pro-Am Ferrari also had an excellent first lap as he found himself in 7th, right before he was pushed into a spin by Mikael Grenier in a slightly optimistic move. This dropped them to 19th and last after the retirement of Drudi in turn 1. Twenty (!) minutes later, Grenier was penalised by race control with a drive through for causing a collision.
Not much changed in the run up towards the pitstop window, except that Maro Engel let Fred Vervisch take 2nd. He was possibly told to do so by Race Control as he seemed to have gained an advantage cutting the corner at turn 2 right after the start. Ahead of the stops, Albert Costa had built up a 3 second lead towards Fred Vervisch. Engel, Vanthoor, Marciello and Van der Linde were all separated by more or less a second, after which Chris Haase followed 2.5 seconds further back.
Vervisch and Engel took their mandatory stop as soon as the window opened. Vanthoor followed two laps later. Costa and Van der Linde came in halfway, while Marciello and Haase were the last of the top-7 to stop.
After all cars had come in for fresh rubber and a driver change, Altoè led in the #163 Lambo. Schöll, who took over from Vervisch, was second in the #66 Audi and Stolz, now in the #4 HRT Mercedes was still 3rd. Weerts was 4th in the #32 WRT Audi, the #88 in which Boguslavskiy took over from Marciello had got past the #31 Audi and was now 5th.
A safety car phase to recover the #18 ERC Mercedes of Lee Mowle brought the field back together again. Racing resumed with 15 minutes to go, still in the same order as after the stops. By that time, Chris Froggatt in the Pro-Am #93 Sky-Tempesta Ferrari was back behind the AF Corse Ferrari of Louis Machiels after the spin in the opening lap. Half a lap later, he overtook his only remaining rival for the title and took 2nd in class. In the last lap of the race, Froggatt even managed to catch up and overtake Valentin Pierburg in the SPS Mercedes to secure the Pro-Am title with a class win.
In front, the order did not change, underlining the fact that it can be very difficult to overtake at the Circuito de Catalunya. Most entertaining in the last part of the race was Ryuichiro Tomita trying to get past Boguslavskiy but despite being under his rear win for many laps, the Japanese driver didn't find a way past the Mercedes.
Altoè crossed the finish line first for Emil Frey, ahead of Schöll, Stolz and Weerts. Boguslavskiy, Tomita and Rougier crossed the line 5th, 6th and 7th, ahead of Silver Cup winners Jim Pla and Benjamin Hites. With a 4th place in class, Simon Gachet and Steven Palette secured the Silver Cup title in the #26 Sainteloc Audi.
Biggest news came right after the race, as Altoè/Costa and Stolz/Engel were both dealt a 35 second penalty for pitstop infringements, handing the victory to Fred Vervisch and Nicolas Schöll in the #66 Attempto Audi. This moved Weerts and Vanthoor up to second and Boguslavskiy/Marciello to third. Overall honors in the championship were now between Weerts/Vanthoor on one hand, and Boguslavskiy on the other. Weerts and Vanthoor had to defend a 8.5 point lead in the last race from Timur Boguslavskiy to take the championship. Stolz and Engel, Tomita and Van der Linde and Costa and Altoè had lost their chances for the title.
Re-watch race 2:
Raffaele Marciello in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes did everything he could to help his teammate Boguslavskiy secure the Sprint Cup title by taking the best possible grid position - and the extra point for pole - for race 3. Alongside him started the teammate of the championship leaders Weerts/Vanthoor; Kelvin van der Linde in the #31 WRT Audi, while the leaders themselves started 3rd. Giacomo Altoè and Albert Costa started in the top 4 for the third time this weekend, completing the second row on the grid.
The last race of the 2020 Sprint Cup started with a crash midfield when the lights went green. Some doorbanging down the field suddenly pushed the #4 HRT Mercedes driven by Maro Engel into the Audi of Chris Haase, who in turn slammed the Ferrari of Eddie Cheever right into the wall. The start crash immediately called out the Safety Car out to allow the marshals to clean the debris and the stranded Ferrari off the track.
It took little over 10 minutes before racing could resume, and when it did the starting order had slightly changed. Right after the restart, Vanthoor got passed van der Linde to take 2nd behind Marciello. Costa, Drudi and Grenier followed. This status quo was maintained up until the pitstop window, at which point Marciello had build a 3 second lead over Vanthoor. Kelvin van der Linde held of Costa another 1.5 seconds further back, closely followed by Drudi and Grenier, the latter leading the Silver Cup. The gap towards Simon Gachet was another 3 seconds.
The only change in the lead group after the pitstops was that Ricardo Feller, now in the #14 Emil Frey Lamborghini previously driven by Grenier, was ahead of Nico Schöll who now piloted the #66 Attempto Audi.
In the remainder of the race, Boguslavskiy did what he had to do and consolidated his lead. The fact that Charles Weerts was in 2nd however, meant that Boguslavskiy's efforts of winning the title were in vain. All the young Belgian WRT driver had to do, was follow the #88 Mercedes and the title his. He was covered in the back by teammate Ryuichiro Tomita in the other WRT Audi, so there wasn't much to worry about. When Feller, after spending over 15 minutes in the gearbox of Tomita, finally found a way past Tomita in a bold and aggressive move round the outside of the Audi, there were only 8 minutes left on the clock. Too little to have Weerts worry about the 5 second gap he had towards Feller.
And so Boguslavskiy and Marciello won the final race of the 2020 Sprint Cup, but Weerts and Vanthoor won the title with their second place. Grenier and Feller finished the race 3rd overall and also won the Silver Cup for Emil Frey Racing. Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini took their second win of the weekend in the Pro-Am Cup with AF Corse.
The next race for the GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS is the season's blue ribbon event: the Total 24 hours of Spa is scheduled for the 22nd to the 25th of October. It will take place behind closed doors in the light of the worsening COVID-19 pandemic in Belgium. The race is also back to its 'regular' 24 hour length and will run from 24th October 15.30 to 14.30 the next day.
Re-watch race 3:
For final standings of the 2020 Sprint Cup click here.