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Season Review

Sportscar365’s GT Drivers of the Year

Sportscar365 selects its top GT drivers of 2020 from each discipline…

Photo: Rick Dole/IMSA

Sportscar365 is recognizing its top performers and key events from the 2020 racing season. Up next are the GT drivers of the year per category, as selected by website staff.

GTE/GTLM – Antonio Garcia

Garcia turned 40 this year but showed no signs of letting up the mesmerizing pace that he has consistently produced for Corvette Racing over the last decade.

In 2020 the Spaniard had arguably his strongest-ever campaign, in which he claimed a third IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship GT Le Mans title alongside his new full-season co-driver Jordan Taylor.

Having paired with Jan Magnussen for every season since the 2012 American Le Mans Series, a lineup change combined with the arrival of the Chevrolet Corvette C8.R presented an opportunity for Garcia to experience a fresh start.

The rejuvenation was evident early in the season when Garcia set the fastest lap en route to scoring his and Taylor’s first victory as a duo at Daytona in July. That represented Garcia’s first GTLM win since August 2017.

He also took pole for the Motul Petit Le Mans and Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring endurance classics, which combined with three of Taylor’s qualifying bests to create a five-event pole streak for the No. 3 Corvette at the tail end of the season.

In total, the pair won five races. Garcia’s highlights included prevailing through torrential rain at Road America as his rivals ahead faltered, and reeling in BMW’s John Edwards in a wet second stint to triumph at Charlotte.

Following Oliver Gavin’s departure from Corvette Racing’s driver lineup after almost two decades, Garcia becomes the team’s longest-serving driver heading into 2021.

If his performances and achievements from the 2020 season are anything to go by, he is firmly on course to remain in that position for many years to come.

Honorable mentions: Nicki Thiim (FIA World Endurance GTE champion with Marco Sorensen), Kevin Estre (Won Spa, Bahrain WEC races), Nick Tandy (12H Sebring, Petit Le Mans winner), Maxime Martin (2nd in WEC standings, won 24H Le Mans)

Photo: Daniel Kalisz/SRO

GT3 – Jordan Pepper

Other drivers won more trophies in GT3 racing this year, but Bentley ace Pepper still stood out as one of the category’s top performers.

The 2020 season marked Pepper’s fifth in Bentley machinery and saw him tackle the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli, GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup and ADAC GT Masters.

The 24-year-old South African has matured greatly since his early days driving the first-generation Bentley Continental GT3, to the point that he has become a leading member of the British marque’s talented factory squad.

Pepper claimed a single race win this year, but it was a significant one.

Victory in the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour with his IGTC co-drivers Jules Gounon and Maxime Soulet was the reward for an outstanding race run by the M-Sport crew.

Pepper’s IGTC drives were particularly strong: he scaled the order in the opening half of the 24 Hours of Spa, stood out in the wet at Indianapolis and pressured the leading Honda in the early stages at Kyalami before an engine issue dashed his team’s title hopes.

Pepper also impressed in GTWC Europe Endurance Cup driving for K-PAX Racing and was always among the fastest drivers in the super-competitive field on average.

A highlight performance was his charge from 18th on the grid to fourth in the first two stints of the Nürburgring six-hour race, which involved taking 11 positions in hour one.

While Bentley is ending its factory GT3 program after this year, there can be little doubt that Pepper’s impressive driving and value as both a squad member and a manufacturer representative will have piqued the interest of several other brands and teams.

Honorable mentions: Raffaele Marciello (linchpin for Mercedes-AMG and AKKA-ASP), Mario Farnbacher (IMSA GTD champion), Nicky Catsburg (IGTC champion, won Nürburgring 24), Christian Engelhart (ADAC GT Masters champion, 3rd in GTWC Europe Endurance Cup), Dries Vanthoor (GTWC Europe Sprint Cup champion)

Photo: Audi

Class One – Rene Rast

It only took four seasons, but Rast can now be considered one of the series’ all-time greats following his capture of a third drivers’ championship this year.

The Audi Sport Team Rosberg star successfully defended his 2019 title with an even stronger 2020 campaign in which he never failed to score and banked 31 more points.

Rast came out on top of a brilliant three-way championship fight against Abt Sportsline pair Nico Mueller and Robin Frijns during the latter half of the season.

After the second of the two Nüburgring weekends, Rast was trailing Mueller by 47 points and Frijns by 29, but the tables turned dramatically over the final six races.

Rast’s dominance of the two rounds at Zolder, where he won all four races including two from pole position, spectacularly overturned both deficits to thrust him into the points lead heading into the Hockenheim title decider.

At Hockenheim, Mueller won the first race after a brilliant scrap with Rast, who finished second, before the Rosberg driver produced a masterclass to win the season finale from pole and wrap up the championship.

Even though Mueller’s 330-point haul would have been enough to win any other DTM season, Rast still finished 23 points ahead.

Rast has now won a third of the DTM races he has entered, while his known GT3 prowess could lead to an extension of that success if he continues in the series.

Honorable mentions: Naoki Yamamoto (became double Super GT champion, winning the title with Tadasuke Makino), Nico Mueller (2nd in DTM), Robin Frijns (3rd in DTM), Ryo Hirakawa (2nd in Super GT)

Photo: Fabian Lagunas/SRO

GT4 – Michael Cooper

Spurred on by narrowly missing out on last year’s Pirelli GT4 America Sprint title to Ian James, Cooper had an untouchable season in the solo driver series this time around.

Cooper won 11 of the season’s 16 races at the wheel of his Blackdog Speed Shop McLaren 570S GT4, and only finished off the podium once in the opening race at VIR.

After dropping behind Drew Staveley and Spencer Pumpelly in the early-season standings, he reeled off six consecutive victories spanning the second and third VIR races, all parts of the Sonoma triple-header and the first Road America contest.

His streak was snapped by Pumpelly who won the second Road America bout by a whisker, but Cooper quickly returned to victory lane by winning the next four races.

The third of those wins – in race three at Circuit of The Americas after a late pass on Staveley – sealed the championship before the Indianapolis season finale had taken place.

Cooper also contested the two-driver SprintX season with Erin Vogel in a Flying Lizard McLaren, with the pair finishing ninth in Pro-Am.

While that wasn’t as glittering a result as his Sprint success, Cooper nonetheless had an excellent year that affirmed his reputation as one of America’s top GT4 racers.

Honorable mentions: Bastian Buus (GT4 European Series Pro-Am champion), Kyle Marcelli (IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge GS champion), Michael Dinan (Pirelli GT4 America SprintX Pro-Am, Sprint Am champion), Robby Foley (GT4 America SprintX Pro-Am champion, also starred in Pilot Challenge) 

Photo: Clement Marin

Best Bronze – Francois Perrodo

In the summer of last year Perrodo decided to return to the FIA World Endurance Championship’s GTE-Am class after two seasons racing in LMP2.

The 2016 GTE-Am champion appeared to enjoy his spell in the prototype ranks, but the rigors of competing in a much faster formula eventually instilled a desire to go back to his roots in an AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE Evo for the 2019-20 campaign.

That decision paid off as Perrodo was able to remind the field of his abilities in a GTE car by winning the class title alongside Nicklas Nielsen and Emmanuel Collard.

While Perrodo wasn’t the fastest of the WEC’s Bronze-rated GTE drivers, he performed consistently well in a car that was often ladened with heavy success ballast penalties.

The No. 83 AF Corse crew won the 6 Hours of Spa in August, off the back of finishing second in the European Le Mans Series race at the Belgian circuit one weekend prior.

Perrodo, Collard and Nielsen then  finished third Le Mans, before coming second with the largest ballast handicap at the 8 Hours of Bahrain to overturn their points deficit to TF Sport for the GTE-Am title.

Beyond his GTE success, Perrodo also remained active in the GT3 scene with a handful of NLS appearances at the wheel of a  GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo.

Honorable mentions: Rob Collard (British GT champion, 24H Spa Pro-Am winner), Egidio Perfetti (one of the quickest in WEC GTE-Am), George Kurtz (2nd in GTWC America Pro-Am), Zac Anderson (Pirelli GT4 America SprintX Am champion)

The latest news, photos and video features from the trusted Sportscar365 web staff.

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