Both Audi and Mercedes-AMG will have reduced efforts in next month’s Indianapolis 8 Hour due to travel challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The German manufacturers, which have historically made up the majority of the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli grid with factory-supported GT3 cars, look set to have only one Pro entry between them, and Mercedes-AMG relying on several Pro-Am entries from GT World Challenge America powered by AWS.
Combined with the a clashing GT Masters round on the same Oct. 2-4 weekend, where both brands are present with numerous factory drivers, it’s created a logistical headache for the two manufacturer’s customer racing departments.
While currently having entered a single Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo with an expected all-pro lineup, head of Audi Sport customer racing Chris Reinke admits there’s still a number of options on the table for that entry.
“We weren’t sure if the race was going to happen or not,” Reinke told Sportscar365. “Still at the moment, even with Audi, we’re not clear if we’re allowed to travel at the moment in IGTC.
“We’ll have at least one car on the grid, which should be able to fight for the race win and for Audi and for the championship.”
Reinke said it’s “still too early to confirm” the team and drivers that will be in the car, with the possibility of using a U.S.-based entrant sill apparently an option.
“At the moment we’re looking at all of the options,” he said.
“We at Audi Sport customer racing never enter our own car. So it will be a customer with the expertise of our customer teams and partners.
“Obviously with the coronavirus we have to see options on how we ideally fly the Audi Sport flag in that race.
“We’re committed to the championship so and hopefully very soon we can confirm team, drivers and everything else.”
Mercedes-AMG, meanwhile, will not have a car in the Pro class for the first time in IGTC history.
A deal with GruppeM Racing failed to materialize, while other options would have potentially jeopardized the manufacturer’s effort in the Total 24 Hours of Spa later that month according to its head of customer racing Stefan Wendl.
“It started very early with calendar clashes,” Wendl told Sportscar365. “Drivers which are a major part of our IGTC program were double contracted for the Indianapolis event and also GT Masters.
“We tried with SRO to avoid this clash which suddenly was not possible at the end.
“But even with this, we had a Plan B. We worked with GruppeM until the end, and also with other options to find a solution. But, as described from Alex [Zoechling, GruppeM team director], I think travel restrictions and travel bans, and the danger of the current time on the way back was too high a risk for all the parties.
“For the team to send their people, for people who might be in duty before or after the event in Europe, [to ensure] that they are back in time. And it was the same for the drivers.”
Making the situation even more complicated for Mercedes-AMG is that its GTWC America customers, DXDT Racing and Winward Racing, are unable to run Pro cars due to the first three hours of the race serving as the points-paying season finale for the national series.
While running in the Pro-Am class, Wendl said Mercedes-AMG will support the entries “as best as possible.”
Mercedes-AMG currently leads the IGTC manufacturers’ championship, five points ahead of Bentley and Porsche.
“It’s so complex to set up the system if you do not have independent teams, or at least a national team which is there already, that makes Intercontinental, including traveling and logistics, nearly impossible or not affordable,” Wendl said.
“It is already in process how to set up the next season and what we can do together.
“This is what is now in front of us in the next weeks. It’s sad for the IGTC championship, for AMG, this year. But we will come back again and for sure fight for the championship.”
New Chassis for SunEnergy1; To-Be-Determined Team
A fourth Mercedes-AMG entry, under the SunEnergy1 Racing banner, will be driven by the Pro-Am class trio of Kenny Habul, Martin Konrad and Mikaël Grenier, although Wendl said he’s still working with the U.S.-based Australian to find a team to run the new car.
“We are just finishing the car now and sending it over to Indianapolis for him,” Wendl explained.
“But the problem is the same: it’s very hard to get the European stuff over to America because they are also contracted [elsewhere] for the same weekend or the weekend after.
“That’s why we are looking at several possibilities out of the states to service the car and find the right crew with enough experience of AMG GT3s that they can operate the car competitively.”
Lamborghini Still Working on Possible Indy 8H Presence
While not present with Orange1 FFF Racing Team, which had initially planned a full IGTC season with a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo, the Italian manufacturer hasn’t yet ruled out a late entry for the race according to its motorsports boss Giorgio Sanna.
“At the moment we are doing our best to participate in the race because I think it’s one of the most interesting races this year,” Sanna told Sportscar365.
“But unfortunately with the COVID situation, it is very difficult to being people from Europe.”
Sanna said they’re currently investigating options from U.S.-based customer teams although the timing of Motul Petit Le Mans, which occurs two weeks after Indy, has complicated matters.
“It’s still not a closed opportunity,” he said. “But on the other side, we have all [our] GT3 cars competing in WeatherTech, and the schedule is very tight there. That’s the situation.
“We also have a couple of teams from the Super Trofeo series that could participate. But at the moment, for different reasons, it’s difficult to bring a car.”
Daniel Lloyd contributed to this report