Text: Rick Kiewiet
The Tresor Orange1 Audi team and drivers of the #40 Ricardo Feller and Mattia Drudi, peaked at exactly the right moment to crown themselves Sprint Cup champions in the 2023 Fanatec GT World Challenge. Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy in the #88 Akkodis Mercedes came to Zandvoort as championship leaders, defending a 4,5 point margin, but the pole for race 1, and a win in both race 1 and 2, gave the Audi couple the advantage. Rapidly changing track conditions mixed with safety car phases led to spectacular races through the Dutch dunes, where rain, hail and sun alternated each other within minutes. The 2023 GT World Challenge finale was one to be remembered.
While Feller and Drudi won the race from pole, this proved a lot harder than the results might suggest. Marciello started from p3 and challenged Feller for the lead after the start. Unfortunately for the Swiss driver his efforts ended in the gravel of turn 9. He managed to drive the #88 out of trouble but nevertheless his off track excursion dropped him to p19. Right after the incident the safety car came on track to allow the marshals to clear turn 1 of debris. When racing resumed, Feller led from Costa (#69 Ferrari) and Caldarelli (#60 Lamborghini).
The order did not change until the pit window, when Feller and Marciello came in early, while Costa stayed out long. The latter strategy proved best as Vermeulen, who took over the #69 Ferrari from Costa managed to rejoin ahead of Drudi, while Boguslavskiy (#88) was 6th after everybody made his stop, despite a very quick stop of the Akkodis crew.
After another SC there was 10 minutes left to race. Vermeulen led ahead of Drudi, Bastard in the #25 Sainteloc Audi had jumped to third with a late and fast stop, followed by Boguslavskiy, Güven in the #44 CLRT Porsche and Maxime Martin in the #46 WRT BMW. Güven and Martin managed to overtake Boguslavskiy at the restart, a couple of corners later the Belgian overtook Güven and Bastard as well to take third. A fierce battle emerged between Güven and Bastard which ended in tears on top of the hill just before the fast right hander Scheivlak. Contact between the two send both cars of track through the deep gravel: Güven dropped to p16, Bastard as far down as 26th.
At the front, Drudi made a fantastic move on Vermeulen four laps before the finish, passing the Ferrari round the outside and staying beside him for the first set of corners, until he finally had the advantage and took the lead. Vermeulen was not able to come back from this move and finished 2nd, Martin took third. After the Güven-Bastard get-together Boguslavskiy recovered to 4th, but the #88 crew lost the lead in the championship.
At the start of race 2, Feller and Drudi defended a 3.5 points gap towards Marciello and Boguslavskiy in the championship. This almost meant that whoever finished in front of the other would win the championship. The two contenders started in the backend of the top-10: Boguslavskiy on p8, Drudi from p9. The WRT BMW's locked out the front row, with Maxime Martin in the #46 on pole and Calan Williams and Niklas Krütten in the #30 alongside him. Martin got a clean getaway at the start, while Williams lost a place to Frank Bird in the #77 HRT Mercedes. Boguslavskiy managed to stay ahead of Drudi at the start, though both had lost a place to Adam Eteki in the #10 Boutsen VDS Audi, who jumped from 11th tot 8th.
The championship then got decided in a somewhat controversial way in the chicane at the back of the track. Lorenzo Patrese who was directly behind Drudi in the #99 Attempto Audi, teammate of Drudi and Feller, placed a somewhat opportunistic move (to say the least) on both Drudi and Boguslavskiy for p9. The attempt failed and the Italian pushed Boguslavskiy round, after which he suffered multiple hits from other cars. The Russian limped back to the pits, but a broken front left suspension meant the end of his race. Feller and Drudi were champions as a result.
The safety car was called on track to clear all the debris from the track and when racing resumed, Drudi quickly made work of plowing through the field from p9. 20 minutes into the race, hail suddenly started to fall on the main straight, while other parts of the track were still dry. Several cars slid off, amongst them race leader Martin, having just built a gap to Bird of 3.5 seconds. Martin dropped to third, then Bird also slid off and he was back in 2nd while teammate Williams in the #30 led. Shortly after a full course yellow was called due to the #25 Sainteloc Audi in the gravel.
By this time, Drudi had already worked himself up to p6. Racing only resumed after the pitstop window, with only 22 minutes left on the clock. Krütten, who took over the #30 WRT BMW led from Rossi in the #46. A quick stop from the Tresor team got Feller up to third in the #40. Rossi and Feller went toe to toe for almost a lap, but Feller in the end got past and moved up to 2nd. Within the same lap, Feller also overtook Krütten in a brave move round the outside in the bend leading up to the banked final turn.
In the changing track conditions, the partially wet, partially dry surface, experience really started to count. Vanthoor benefited and worked himself up to 2nd, while a small mistake costed Rossi dearly as het dropped to p7. It was too late for Vanthoor to reel in Feller and so the champions finished the 2023 season on the top step of the podium. WRT finished 2nd and 3rd with the #32 and #30 respectively. VSR Lamborghini's new couple of Marco Mapelli and Andrea Caldarelli put in a strong performance with p4.