After a few months delay due to the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic the 2020 GT World Challenge kicks off with round one of the Endurance Cup at Imola.
The tenth season comes with a new name and with the extended break, anticipation for the series is at fever pitch to get underway. 46 cars will break the silence to get the season under way at a new venue for SRO GT3 competition.
Located just outside of Imola, the Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari combines fast flowing corners and expansive history with in its 4.09km anti clockwise circuit. This amphitheatre of motorsport has held the San Marino Grand Prix and played host to other top level racing such as the FIA GT Championship. Now the premier category in GT3 racing will now make its mark on this iconic circuit.
With 7 manufacturers being represented by a total of 23 Pro Class crews, the season promises to be close and competitive right from the off. Audi are represented by three teams; Attempto Racing will be running two cars with Mattia Druidi among the Italian contingent. Sainteloc Racing returns with one pro car with lead drivers Markus Winklehock, Christopher Haase and Dorian Boccolaci. Once again Audi mainstays Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will field two entries adding Kelvin van der Linde and Mirko Bortolotti to their strong line-up.
As reported earlier in the year, Bentley will be focusing on it’s customer representation with two teams leading the charge in CMR and K-Pax Racing. K-Pax makes its debut in the series after competing in the GT World Challenge America in previous seasons. Their two cars include drivers, Jules Gounon, Maxime Soulet and Jordan Pepper among its roster. CMR will be running Seb Morris, Pierre Alexandre-Jean. Ajun Maini was slated to be the third driver but his slot is currently listed as TBA on the entry list.
Ferrari come into Imola with an expanded assault with two pro teams running the 488 GT3. SMP Racing return after just missing out on the Endurance Cup title. They have added Sergey Sirotkin to the well versed line-up of Miguel Molina and Davide Rigon and will hope to make that last step towards the title. What a Ferrari GT entry be without AF Corse, the #51 car will be piloted by James Calado, Alessandro Pier Guidi and Nicklas Nielsen.
Lamborghini have been very successful in recent years having earned Endurance Cup titles in 2017 and 2019. Orange1 FFF Racing are the current champions and will be looking for a repeat this season with and unchanged line-up. Emil Frey Racing returns with two cars and Lamborghini’s efforts will be further boosted by Imperiale Racing currently with Giovanni Venturini and Kikko Galbiati.
Mclaren finally makes a very welcome return to the Endurance Cup courtesy of Optimum Motorsport. The team will have Rob Bell, Joe Osborn as well as Ollie Wilkinson to pilot the 720S GT3. 59 Racing will also be fielding a pro car but the Australian outfit will be competing on a race by race basis with Ben Barnicoat, Lewis Williamson and Martin Kodric due to be driving.
Mercedes-AMG will be represented with a very strong three-car line-up. AKKA ASP continues its programme, with Raffaele Marciello, Timur Boguslavskiy and Felipe Fraga driving. Haupt Racing Team have already shown that they are a threat in the NLS winning straight away and will have Vincent Abril, Luca Stolz and Maro Engel at the wheel for their Endurance Cup assault. GetSpeed Performance is set for at least three Endurance Cup outings with Fabian Schiller, Alessio Lorandi and Maxi Buhk.
Porsche obtains extra firepower as it goes for another Total 24 Hours of Spa victory. Two GPX Racing cars and one each from Dinamic Motorsport and ROWE Racing represents the brand’s biggest top-tier effort to date, with each featuring factory talent from Weissach. The line-up also includes current Formula 2 racer Louis Deletraz, who will make his series debut with the GPX squad.
The strong field presented in the Pro Class means it is very hard to choose a potential winner as each crew could easily contend for wins at every race. Also due to it being the first time we are at Imola, we don’t have any sort of form book but the long straights should suit the like of the Bentley and Mercedes.
6 manufacturers make up the Pro-Am field and once again there are strong line-ups throughout the 11 teams.
Returning teams include, AF Corse with trio Louis Machiels, Niek Hommerson and Andrea Bertolini being among the favourites for class honours this term. AKKA ASP are also looking to be very strong contenders with Jean-Luc Beaubelique sharing a Mercedes-AMG with regular co-driver Jim Pla and Fabien Barthez. Boutsen Ginion will once again run the BMW M6 GT3, while Rinaldi Racing (Ferrari), Ram Racing (Mercedes-AMG) and Sainteloc Racing (Audi) all extend their involvement in the class.
Pro Am also gains two crews who are well known to the series. Barwell Motorsport and Leo Machitski will move to a Pro-Am programme this year, with former British Touring Car Championship racer Rob Collard and Sandy Mitchell completing the driver line-up. Garage 59 has made the same move with their Aston Martin, Alexander West and Chris Goodwin joined by four-time British GT champion Jonny Adam in the familiar #188 machine.
The Dinamic Motorsport Porsche, Ferrari squad SKY Tempesta Racing, and Orange1 FFF Racing round out the field in this class. The latter clinched last year’s Sprint Cup crown with Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Phil Keen and will now chase Endurance glory with the same duo driving its Lamborghini.
In regards to the Silver Cup grid 10 line-ups are set to do battle at Imola. Newcomers Haupt Racing and Madpanda Motorsport join reigning class champions AKKA ASP in running the Mercedes AMG GT3. Lamborghini will also have two Silver entries trying to take class honours with Orange1 FFF Racing and Barwell Motorsport.
Tech 1 Racing enters a Lexus RC F GT3 for the second season with French talents Timothé Buret, Thomas Neubauer and Aurelien Panis lined up to drive. Team Parker Racing joins the grid with a Bentley Academy Programme line-up of Euan McKay, Frank Bird and Nicolai Kjaergaard driving its Continental GT3. Garage 59 fields the #159 Aston Martin, while Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and Dinamic Motorsport will also compete with Audi and Porsche respectively.
Completing the grid of Am Cup entries are CMR with a second Bentley and SPS Automotive Performance adding to the Mercedes AMG GT3 teams.
The GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup round will once again have the support of other series during the weekend including the GT4 European series and Formula Renault Cup.
Round one at Imola gets underway on Friday 24 July with the Bronze driver test before starting at 0700 GMT with the first official free practice of the season. Saturday concludes with qualifying at 1530 GMT before the main event roars into life on Sunday starting at 1330 GMT. All seesions can be viewed on the GT World Youtube channel.