Text: Rick Kiewiet
Images: Rick Kiewiet, Adam Prescott, AF Corse, SRO
The coming weekend marks the kick-off of the 2023 GT World Challenge Europe with an Endurance Cup event at Monza. Back as the season opener (last year the opening race was at Imola), the Lombardian track near Milan hosts a 55-car grid consisting of 8 manufacturers: Audi, Aston Martin, BMW, McLaren, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes and Porsche. Here's a quick rundown of what to look forward to coming Sunday 14.00 o'clock UK time. Don't forget you can watch the race live on the GT World Challenge YouTube channel.
New class: Gold cup
In reaction to many drivers being promoted from Silver to Gold as a result of new FIA driver rating regulations, the SRO introduced the new Gold cup, in between the Pro (no driver restrictions) and Silver (only Silver drivers allowed) categories. The new category immediately shares the honors with the Pro category of biggest class, as both consist of no less than 17 entries at Monza. The maximum driver line-up is Gold-Gold-Silver and the SRO expects the top-participants to be able to battle for the overall podium.
A couple of new cars make their debut at Monza: most notably of course the new Ferrari 296 GT3. Only the factory-supported AF Corse team took delivery over the brand new car and will field the #51 for Niklas Nielsen, Alessio Rovera and newcomer to Ferrari Robert Shwartzman and the #71 for the all-Italian line up consisting of Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon and Antonio Fuoco. The #52 the team enters in the Bronze Cup for Andrea Bertolini, Louis and Jef Machiels will still the last year's 488, just like Rinaldi Racing's #38.
Both Lamborghini and McLaren will bring new EVO-versions of their existing models to Monza.
K-Pax and Iron Lynx will represent Lamborghini in the Pro-category, with strong driver line-ups. The Americans have hired Marco Mapelli, Franck Perera and well-known British-GT regular Sandy Mitchell to pilot the #6 Hurácan GT3 EVO. Iron Lynx reserved the #63 for Siamese twins Andrea Caldarelli and Mirko Bortolotti, supplemented with Jordan Pepper.
McLaren will be represented by Garage 59, who hand over the #159 to Benjamin Goethe, who transfers from Audi, Nicolai Kjaergaard and Marvin Kirchhöfer.
Reigning champions Akkodis ASP will again spearhead Mercedes' attempt for outright victory, with their familiar line of Rafaelle Marciello, Jules Gounon and Timur Boguslavskiy in the #88. Their second car, the #87, will now also be in the Pro category (formerly in the Silver Cup) with drivers Thomas Drouet, Maxi Götz and Lorenzo Ferrari.
Luca Stolz and Maxi Buhk also return with the German brand but with the AlManar team. Joined by Fabian Schiller they form an all German line-up in the #777.
BMW doubles their effort in the Pro category this year with 4 instead of 2 entries: Rowe Racing returns with the #98 driven by Philipp Eng, Marco Wittmann and Nick Yelloly and with the #998 driven by youngsters Daniel Harper, Max Hesse and Neil Verhagen. The other eye catcher of the Bavarian brand is of course Team WRT who make a switch from the Audi R8 to the M4. Their #32 car will be driven by regulars Charles Weerts, Dries Vanthoor and Kelvin van der Linde, while the #46 is in the hands of BMW factory drivers Augusto Farfus, Maxime Martin and Valentino "The Doctor" Rossi.
Speaking of Audi, the Ingolstadt brand has lost long-time partner WRT but still has a strong presence in the Pro category. Tresor Orange 1 puts Dennis Marschall, Mattia Drudi and Ricardo Feller behind the wheel of the #40. Long-time partner Sainteloc reserves the #25 for Patric Niederhauser (who took pole at the opening race last year), Chris Mies and Simon Gachet. Comtoyou is a new team that enlisted the #11 R8 with Fred Vervisch, Chris Haase and Gilles Magnus as the drivers.
Last but not least, Porsche has two irons in the fire with both Dinamic GT Huber racing (a merge of Dinamic Motorsport and Huber Racing) and Rutronik. The former fields the #54 for Christian Engelhart, Ayhanan Güven and Sven Müller with the latter entering the #96 for Thomas Preining, Laurin Heinrich and Dennis Olsen.
Overlap with WEC drivers
There's a lot of overlap (again) this year with drivers both active in the WEC and GTWC. At the moment, the list is as follows:
- Alessio Rovera - Antonio Fuoco - Ezequiel Perez Companc
- Andrea Caldarelli - Mirko Bortolotti - Alessandro Pier Guidi
- Ben Barker - Davide Rigon - Sarah Bovy - Michelle Gatting - Rahel Frey