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GT World Challenge Europe

Paul Ricard Test Notebook

News and notes from official GTWC Europe pre-season testing at Paul Ricard…

Photo: Dirk Bogaerts/SRO

***A field of 33 cars took part in day one of the two-day Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS official pre-season test at Paul Ricard. Each day is split into two sessions, building to a total of 14 hours of track time.

***35 cars are on the testing entry list. Of note, CMR’s Bentley Continental GT3 and one of the four registered AKKA-ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evos did not run today. CMR tested at Magny-Cours yesterday and is therefore not on-site at Paul Ricard. 

***Other notable absentees include GPX Racing and FFF Racing Team, both of which pulled out early on due to an overlap with this weekend’s NLS race. JOTA, Grasser Racing Team and Haupt Racing Team have also opted to skip Paul Ricard.

***HRT initially planned to be on-site with a single Mercedes-AMG for Vincent Abril that appeared on an early version of the entry list. However, a spokesperson for the team told Sportscar365 that it withdrew at late notice in order to allocate all of its resources to the NLS where it is running two cars. HRT is set to skip next month’s second NLS race in favor of competing at the 3 Hours of Monza.

***JOTA is testing its McLaren 720S GT3 at Silverstone this week, rather than Paul Ricard. Its absence from the official test is understood to have come down to a mixture of travel restrictions from the UK, where the team is based, and a move to save time in the early stages of its new program.

***Grasser is absent because of the Paul Ricard test’s close proximity to the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, which the Austrian Lamborghini team featured in last weekend. It’s understood that Grasser is planning to test at the Nürburgring soon, to fulfill its pre-season itinerary ahead of its GTWC Europe return in Silver Cup.

***Multiple sources have indicated that SRO Motorsports Group made a strong push to encourage teams not to withdraw from the official test after it was postponed from its original early March date. Sportscar365 understands that sanctions for the opening races of the season, such as the removal of prize money, were proposed by the series organizer but it’s currently unclear what the full impact will be for the absent teams.

***Walkenhorst Motorsport is splitting its operations between the Nürburgring and Paul Ricard. The German squad was a surprise addition to the full-season Endurance Cup entry with two Pro-class BMW M6 GT3s. Walkenhorst attended last year’s pre-season test but only entered the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

***Mercedes-AMG squad AKKA-ASP has brought its Fanatec GT Rebellion Series entry along to Paul Ricard. Eric Debard and former French national team goalkeeper Fabien Barthez are teaming up for the new GT3 series for amateur drivers.

***Of note, reigning Sprint Cup Silver class champion Simon Gachet, who won the title with the Sainteloc Racing Audi squad, is testing for AKKA-ASP. On the flip side, one of AKKA-ASP’s 2020 Sprint Cup drivers Benjamin Hites is now working with Rinaldi Racing, and brings Fiat backing to the German team’s Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020.

***As was the case last year, SRO is implementing its own COVID-19 protocol at all events in 2021. The Paul Ricard test is operating under Phase 1, which is the strictest designation prohibiting spectator access. Teams are limited to bringing 15 people per car.

***BMW says that its new M4 GT3 has completed more than 12,000 km (7456 miles) in testing. In addition to a track outing at Almeria last week, the car has undertaken acoustic tunnel sampling to measure and define its noise output. Team RMG is leading the development of BMW’s new GT3 racer, which is set for its first full season in 2022.

***ADAC GT4 Germany teams’ champion Allied-Racing will field a single Porsche 911 GT3 R in the Pro-Am category. Nicolas Schoell, Julien Apotheloz and 2020 GT4 European Series Pro-Am champion Jan Kasperlik will team up for the Endurance Cup rounds as Allied steps up to GT3 competition. The team is also signed up for Sprint.

***JAS Motorsport is running a Honda NSX GT3 Evo this week, but is not signed up for the season. The Italian team, which builds Honda’s GT3 models in Europe, is attending the test with Driver Development Programme member Reece Barr, in preparation for the International GT Open race at Paul Ricard in May. Barr is driving for Reno Racing in GT Open.

***Reigning IMSA GT Daytona champion Mario Farnbacher is also on-site with JAS Motorsport. In addition to standard testing duties, Farnbacher is filling in as Barr’s DDP advisor and coach, in a role that is normally held by Marco Bonanomi.

***HP Racing International is another team without a full-season commitment that is taking part in the test. The German squad is running a Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo.

***Madpanda Motorsport is testing two new drivers in Max Hofer and Rik Breukers. The Spanish squad is currently evaluating future signings for its second season in GTWC Europe, with 2020 lineup member Patrick Assenheimer now at HRT. Hofer is a GT Masters race winner while Breukers drove a WRT Audi last season.

***There are three new faces testing for WRT, which hasn’t announced its 2021 driver lineups. Occasional LMP2 competitor Gary Findlay and 18-year-old Danish driver Valdemar Eriksen are sharing one of the team’s Audis. Former Garage 59 Aston Martin driver James Pull and Ryuichiro Tomita, who partnered Kelvin van der Linde in Sprint Cup last year, are also present.

***WRT came to Paul Ricard straight from a test at Monza earlier this week. Attempto Racing, Dinamic Motorsport and AF Corse made the same journey. Several teams have visited Monza recently to run there with the retained Pirelli tire. The current Pirelli specification was not used at Monza in 2020 because the Italian circuit was dropped from last season’s heavily revised calendar.

***Thursday’s afternoon session was given a 30-minute head start to compensate for the time lost during a red flag near the end of the first run. The stoppage occurred after an off for the Sky-Tempesta Racing Ferrari, which didn’t return for session two.

***Friday’s opening session is due to run from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time followed by another from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m (4 a.m. to 8 a.m and 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. EST).

Daniel Lloyd is a UK-based reporter for Sportscar365, covering the FIA World Endurance Championship, Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, among other series.

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