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Paul Ricard Weekend Notebook

Sportscar365’s notebook from the GTWC Europe Endurance Cup finale at Paul Ricard…

Photo: Dirk Bogaerts/SRO

***This edition of the Paul Ricard 1000km marks the 50th race for GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup. The Total 24 Hours of Spa was originally expected to be the 50th race as round four of the 2020 season, but the switch to a four-round calendar ending at Paul Ricard in response to the coronavirus pandemic means the French circuit gets the honor of hosting Endurance Cup’s half-century event.

***Nine circuits have held an Endurance Cup round since the inaugural season in 2011: Monza, Navarra, Spa-Francorchamps, Magny-Cours, Silverstone, Paul Ricard, Nürburgring, Barcelona and Imola.

 ***Sam Bird is no longer driving the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020. The Brit, who was brought in to solve Ferrari’s multi-driver commitment clash with the FIA World Endurance Championship 8 Hours of Bahrain, will be replaced by former BMW factory driver Tom Blomqvist.

***It’s understood that Bird has Formula E commitments with Jaguar that have prevented him from taking part. His stand-in Blomqvist drove a HubAuto Racing Ferrari in the previous Endurance Cup round at Spa, as part of the Intercontinental GT Challenge powered by Pirelli field.

***AF Corse has brought in new recruits for this race, with many of its full-season staff working in the WEC paddock. AF Corse manager Philippe Dumas told Sportscar365 that the race engineer and data systems engineer from European Le Mans Series outfit Iron Lynx, plus some of Dumas’ former colleagues from Ligier, are among the additions to the No. 51 Ferrari crew.

***Andrea Bertolini has been ruled out due to a positive COVID-19 test. The Italian, who is asymptomatic according to Ferrari, will be replaced in the Pro-Am No. 52 Ferrari 488 GT3 Evo 2020 by Lorenzo Bontempelli. Additionally, Niek Hommerson has withdrawn for “personal reasons”. Ex-Michelin Le Mans Cup competitor Maurizio Mediani has joined the AF Corse crew in his place.

***Porsche Carrera Cup France competitor Nicolas Misslin has joined CMR for this weekend and will share the team’s No. 108 Bentley Continental GT3 with Stephane Tribaudini and Philippe Chatelet. Misslin’s most recent GT3 appearances came in 2016 when he drove a Ferrari 458 Italia in GT Sports Club.

***The SRO event stewards have deemed Misslin a Bronze-rated driver for this event. This measure was required because Misslin does not have a registered FIA driver rating.

***Madpanda Motorsport is competing with a two-driver lineup, the only one of its type in the field. Ezequiel Companc and Patrick Assenheimer, who have been joined by different co-drivers at previous rounds, will run the six hours as a pair. Companc is expected to drive the No. 90 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo in hours one, two, five and six, while Assenheimer is due to take over for hours three and four.

***GetSpeed Performance is racing in different colors this weekend. The German team’s No. 100 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo is sporting a red design, rather than the fluorescent yellow ‘Race Taxi’ livery seen at Imola and the Nürburgring.

***Optimum Motorsport decided not to contest Paul Ricard with its McLaren 720S GT3 after evaluating “travel options, potential risk and the rewards of competing at the season finale,” according to team principal Shaun Goff. Its absence means no McLarens are on the grid for the season finale.

***Goff added that Optimum plans to return to GTWC Europe next year with an expanded program: “We have enjoyed a great season of GT3 racing in three superb championships and we’re now busy working on the winter program – as well as our plans for 2021 – where we aim to be a regular in both the Sprint and Endurance Cup.”

***Lamborghini is set to take on a new factory driver next year, from its pool of 18 GT3 Junior academy members. The manufacturer appears in need to expand its current seven-driver pool with GRT Grasser Racing, Emil Frey Racing and Orange 1 FFF Racing Team all potentially competing in Endurance Cup next year.

***Lamborghini Super Trofeo Europe is staging its final round of the season this weekend, as part of a support bill that also includes FFSA French Formula 4, Formula Renault Eurocup and the GT4 European Series.

***Kevin Gilardoni holds a 7.5-point championship lead over Dean Stoneman heading into Super Trofeo Europe’s title-deciding pair of 50-minute races. Gilardoni is rejoined by his regular co-driver Dorian Boccolacci, who skipped the Spa Lamborghini race to focus on his 24 Hours of Spa commitments with Audi Sport Team Sainteloc. Boccolacci is again with Saintelic at Ricard and is therefore on double-duty.

***French drivers Christophe Hamon, Michael Blanchemain and Fabien Michal are driving the No. 26 Sainteloc Racing Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo. The car did not have any drivers listed next to it on the provisional entry list. Its rival in Am Cup is the No. 108 CMR Bentley.

***A series of class-by-class highlights videos and a ‘super highlights’ package from the 24 Hours of Spa are now available on the GT World YouTube channel.

***Prodrive has released a dyno video of its rebuilt Ferrari 550 GTS V12 engine that won the 24 Hours of Spa in 2004 with Fabrizio Gollin, Lilian Bryner, Luca Cappellari and Enzo Calderari. The car recently sold for $4.29 million, an online auction record.

***A total of 22 drivers are in mathematical contention for the Endurance Cup overall title, while the top two crews from AKKA-ASP and Dinamic Motorsport are on even points.

***There is also a tie at the top of Pro-Am. Sky-Tempesta Racing’s Jonathan Hui, Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III are on 59 points, the same as Garage 59’s Chris Goodwin and Alexander West who are joined by Marvin Kirchhofer this weekend.

***The Silver Cup title race is slightly clearer cut with Barwell Motorsport’s Alex MacDowall, Frederik Schandorff and Patrick Kujala holding a 17-point cushion over Haupt Racing Team’s Hubert Haupt and Sergey Afanasiev. Victory at Ricard offers 33 points.

***Rinaldi Racing’s Manuel Lauck set the pace in Friday’s Bronze driver test. Lauck posted a time of 1:58.336 aboard the No. 95 Ferrari he shared with David Perel and Christian Hook. Sky-Tempesta Racing’s Froggatt was second, just 0.098 seconds behind.

***This weekend’s schedule is a tight one with official track action only taking place on Saturday and Sunday. The first session is Free Practice starting tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. CET (2 a.m. ET).

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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