THE WEEKEND ROUNDUP: BARCELONA

13 Octobre 2020

Just over two months after it began at Misano, the 2020 GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Sprint Cup came to a close at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. 

The 10-race campaign was packed into just four weekends, with the opening and closing rounds both featuring a trio of one-hour contests. This made for a whirlwind season in which the championship picture always seemed to be changing, making momentum and consistency more crucial than ever before. 

Ultimately it was Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts who took home the drivers' crown for Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, which added the teams' championship for the seventh time in eight years. There were class titles for Sainteloc Racing, which secured Silver Cup honours with its #26 Audi, and the #93 Sky Tempesta Racing Ferrari crew in Pro-Am. 

Before we switch our full attention to the Total 24 Hours of Spa, this is the final word on the deciding round of the Sprint Cup campaign.  

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By clinching the Sprint Cup title at 19 years of age, Weerts becomes the youngest overall champion in GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS history. He was already the youngest overall race winner, a feat he achieved at Misano in 2019.

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Though just 22, Vanthoor is the veteran on this title-winning crew. He emulates elder brother Laurens, who won the Sprint Cup's forerunner, the FIA GT Series, with Belgian Audi Club Team WRT in 2013. Both of the Vanthoor brothers will be on the grid at this year's Total 24 Hours of Spa: Dries will drive the #31 Audi Sport Team WRT entry, while Laurens joins the #98 ROWE Racing Porsche crew.

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Belgian Audi Club Team WRT's record in short-format racing grows ever more impressive. Beginning with the FIA GT Series in 2013, it has now won seven overall teams' titles in eight seasons. The only exception was 2019, when AKKA ASP took the crown. Weerts and Vanthoor also earned the squad's fourth drivers’ championship in the series.  

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Vanthoor and Weerts won the title despite not taking a single pole position. Both of their wins came from fourth on the grid, while each of this year's 10 races was won from the front two rows. There were four victories from pole, one from P2, two from P3 and three form P4.

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As the eventual winners of race 2, Attempto Racing recorded its first series victory since the opening weekend of the 2018 Sprint Cup. Frederic Vervisch took his first since the second round of the same season, while Nicholas Schöll scored his maiden series triumph. 

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Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy claimed the final win of the campaign in the #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG, something that Marciello has now achieved in three consecutive seasons. The Italian has won a total of seven Sprint Cup races since the start of 2018, three more than any other driver. 

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Boguslavskiy missed out on the overall title by just four points, while his AKKA ASP teammate finished third despite skipping the Zandvoort weekend. Indeed, Marciello ended the season with the best points-per-race score in the series, taking an average of 9.4 compared with champions Weerts and Vanthoor on 8.9.

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Mikäel Grenier and Ricardo Feller clinched their maiden Sprint Cup podiums by taking runner-up spot in race 1, then added another with third in race 3. Indeed, they could have won the opening contest but allowed the sister #163 past to support its title challenge. 

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The #14 crew’s superb performance was underlined by Grenier posting the fastest racing lap of the weekend with a 1m45.998s in the opening contest, while Feller went quickest in the final race (1m46.589s). The #163 Lamborghini of Giacomo Altoe recorded the best time in race 2, completing a clean sweep for Emil Frey Racing. 

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The Emil Frey squad matched the record for consecutive Sprint Cup poles when Albert Costa topped Q2 in the #163 Lamborghini. This made it four in a row for the Swiss team, the sister #14 car having taken the previous three. AKKA ASP previously secured four straight poles during the 2018 season. 

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By lapping 0.675s clear of Kelvin van der Linde in Q3, Raffaele Marciello posted the biggest gap between pole and second place in a Sprint Cup qualifying session for more than five years. The last time anyone led by this much was Maxi Buhk, who was almost a second clear of the field at Portimão in 2015.

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Sainteloc Racing clinched the Silver class title with the biggest winning margin in this year's Sprint Cup. Champions Steve Palette and Simon Gachet were 33.5 points clear of their nearest rivals. Aside from a single DNF at Zandvoort, the #26 Audi pairing never finished lower than fourth in a highly competitive class.

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By winning the Silver championship win with Audi, Sainteloc ended a run of three straight class titles for Mercedes-AMG squads. The French squad previously won the Pro-Am teams’ and drivers’ titles in 2018.

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While the Sainteloc squad was celebrating, it was the #14 Emil Frey Racing crew that showed best during the Barcelona weekend after the addition of Ricardo Feller alongside Mikäel Grenier added the Lamborghini to the Silver Cup entry list. They were competitive in all three races, ending the event with two Silver wins and a third-place finish, while also fighting for the front of the overall order. 

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The Barcelona weekend was a breakthrough event for Silver Cup crew Jim Pla and Benjamin Hites. The #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG finished a fine fourth overall and second in class in race 1, with Hites remaining cool under pressure from Maro Engel. This was followed by a maiden Silver Cup win in race two and another class podium in the final contest.  

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Pro-Am champions Sky Tempesta Racing faced a challenging weekend at the finale, though a superb comeback in the second contest saw Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III capture the title with a race to spare. The weekend ended with Cheever hitting the wall hard in race 3, having been the innocent party in a multi-car clash.

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Despite its challenges, the Tempesta squad was still able to show its pace in Spain. The #93 Ferrari dominated qualifying, taking all three Pro-Am poles, while Froggatt completed a dramatic last-lap pass to snatch class honours in race 2 and wrap up the title in style. Having performed so well in the earlier races, the team could afford a little bad luck at the finale. 

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AF Corse enjoyed an excellent weekend in Spain, with Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini taking a brace of wins in the #52 Ferrari. While they missed out on the Sprint Cup crown, the extra points will be crucial in the fight for the GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS Pro-Am title. 

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SPS Automotive Performance driver Valentin Pierburg took his ninth Pro-Am podium from 10 Sprint Cup races at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, but narrowly missed out on a maiden victory. The German was re-joined by regular teammate Dominik Baumann for the event and finished third, second and second again in the #20 Mercedes-AMG. 

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ERC Sport matched its best Pro-Am finish of the season by taking runner-up spot in race 1. The British squad also finished third in the closing contest, making this the most successful weekend yet for the #18 Mercedes-AMG crew of Lee Mowle and Phil Keen.

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The Barcelona event saw TCR Europe compete alongside GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS for the first time, joining regular support series Formula Renault Eurocup and Lamborghini Super Trofeo. All three will be part of the action at the upcoming Total 24 Hours of Spa.

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The overall championship situation looks increasingly interesting ahead of the closing Endurance Cup races. Boguslavskiy is the new leader with 124.5 points, while Marciello has 114.5 but can only take the title if his teammate misses a race. Vanthoor and Weerts have 113 but will compete separately at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, while Kelvin van der Linde is fourth on 106 points. With two long-distance events remaining, it remains finely balanced.

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Next stop: Spa-Francorchamps. With the Sprint season complete GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS moves to its biggest event of the year, with the Total 24 Hours of Spa set to run from 22-25 October. Teams will arrive in the Belgian Ardennes on Monday 19 October, while the first track action takes place the following day. Qualifying is run across Thursday and Friday, followed by the start of the twice-around-the-clock contest at 15.30 CET on Saturday 24 October.