This weekend sees the 2020 GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup campaign kick off with three races at the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli.
Not long after the Endurance Cup opened the season at Imola, the Sprint Cup is set to return at the 4.2km Misano circuit. A highly competitive field will be sure to make this event just as spectacular as Imola however instead of the normal two race events that normally make up a Sprint Cup round, the teams will have to negotiate a trio of races with one on the Saturday and two on Sunday.
The new format, which will also be used for the final round at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, has been introduced following the reduction in Sprint Cup weekends from five to four due to the pandemic. A 23-car field will tackle the event, with ten Pro Class crews dicing for overall glory.
Mercedes-AMG will be represented by the reigning teams’ champion AKKA ASP with Raffaele Marciello leading the #88 car alongside Timur Boguslavskiy, who earned his maiden Endurance podium last time out at Imola. Haupt Racing Team and their #4 Mercedes-AMG duo of Maro Engel and Luca Stolz will have only one objective this term. That is to chase title glory with this new team and having hit the ground running in other series it is a safe bet the team change won’t effect this pair.
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT leads the Audi contingent and heads to Misano in good form after triumphing in the first Endurance event in Imola and will come into this round having enjoyed considerable success at Misano in the past. The most recent victory came courtesy of Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts, who are set to join forces for the full 2020 campaign in the #32 Audi R8 LMS. WRT will also field its #31 machine for Japanese racer Ryuichiro Tomita and Kelvin van der Linde.
Attempto Racing is set to run a pair of Audi crews at Misano. After grabbing pole at Imola, Frederic Vervisch will be paired with Nicolas Schöll in the #66 R8 LMS GT3 and will hope to maintain the speed he showed last time out, while local ace Mattia Drudi partners fellow countryman Tommaso Mosca in the #55 car.
The German brand are also represented by the Sainteloc Racing crew and will run Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock. Though both are highly experienced, this will be the first time the pair will share a car in the Sprint Cup, adding further intrigue to what should be a very competitive crew.
A pair of Lamborghinis from series stalwarts Emil Frey Racing will be holding the Italian manufacturer’s hopes. The #163 car could be a leading contender with Alberto Costa and young talent Giacomo Altoè at the wheel. While in the sister machine, Mikäel Grenier will compete alongside Norbert Siedler.
Bentley has expanded its customer roster this year to include a Pro effort for the first time since 2017. The French outfit CMR will field the #107 Continental GT3 for factory ace Jules Gounon and the experienced Nelson Panciatici, forming an all-French effort that should be an immediate contender.
Eight cars will compete for Silver Cup honours. For the Mercedes-AMG camp, AKKA ASP pairs young Chilean racer Benjamin Hites with the established Jim Pla. Madpanda Motorsport will also run team principal Ezequiel Perez Companc leading the driver line-up, while TokSport WRT joins the series with two cars.
Tech 1 Racing showed excellent pace at Imola, and will be looking to carry that over as reigning class champion Thomas Neubauer will pair up with fellow countryman Aurelien Panis. CMR also has an all-French line-up in its Silver class Bentley, with Pierre-Alexandre Jean sharing the #108 Continental GT3 with Hugo Chevalier.
Audi are represented once again by Sainteloc Racing who will field overall race winner Simon Gachet alongside Steven Palette. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will run brothers Hamza Owega and Jusuf Owega in the #33 machine.
Five Pro-Am runners will complete the Misano grid. Two Ferrari 488 GT3s are due to line up at the Italian venue, with the AF Corse duo of Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini sharing the #52 machine. The sister Sky Tempesta Racing car of Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III will be aiming high at Misano, having taken class pole and a second place class finish at Imola.
The Ferrari runners will be joined by three Mercedes-AMG entrants. Having clinched last year’s Pro-Am crown, Phil Keen will look to add another title but this time at the wheel of an AMG GT3 for ERC Sport, sharing with experienced gentleman driver Lee Mowle. At SPS Automotive Performance, Valentin Pierburg will partner Dominik Baumann in the #20 machine, while a second entry will see Christian Hook and Tom Onslow-Cole competing in the #44 car.
With the alterations to the format for the weekend meaning three qualifying sessions as well as three races, the busy event will be keeping the teams and drivers on their toes. One tweak will be qualifying, this will be adjusted slightly so that for each crew, the nominated first driver will participate in qualifying 1 and 3, while also starting the respective races. The second driver will then handle the other qualifying session and start race two. At the Circuit de Barcelona finale, their roles will be reversed to make sure that each driver contests five qualifying sessions and starts five races this term.
The Sprint Cup event at Misano begins on Friday 7 August with two 80-minute free practice sessions at 13.10 and 18.35 (Local time), while an additional pre-qualifying session will run on Saturday morning, also lasting for 80 minutes. Qualifying gets underway at 13.20 on Saturday afternoon with two sessions running back-to-back. These will set the grid for races one and two, the first of which begins at 19.15. At 09.00 on Sunday another qualifying session will run, establishing the grid for the weekend’s third race. Race two gets underway at 11.15, while the final contest starts at 15.00.