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GT World Challenge Europe

Rossi Feels Own Pace is “Not So Bad” at First Round with WRT

Valentino Rossi liking “challenge” of GTWC; feels happy with pace but room to improve…

Photo: Gruppe C Photography

Valentino Rossi has assessed his pace in an Audi GT3 car around the Imola circuit as “not so bad” but with some room for improvement, ahead of his first race with WRT to kick off a 10-round Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS campaign.

Rossi contributed to the No. 46 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II qualifying 15th for Sunday’s three-hour Endurance Cup season-opener, which he is contesting with Audi Sport factory drivers Nico Mueller and Frederic Vervisch.

The nine-time Grand Prix motorcycle racing world champion identified the hilly second sector at Imola, a circuit he has not raced at since 1999, as the area in which he would like to find some more time.

He noted that the main challenge has been to “try to be strong and fast with a lot of confusion around” considering there are more than 50 cars taking part in the event.

Rossi produced his fastest lap of the weekend so far – a 1:41.027 – during Pre-Qualifying practice on Saturday.

He then banked a 1:41.132 during the third qualifying session, in which he ranked 37th out of 51 drivers with a time that kept the No. 46 Audi in the top third of the grid based on three-driver averages.

By comparison, Vervisch went fourth-fastest in Q1 with a 1:40.618 while Mueller achieved a 1:40.849 to go tenth in Q2.

“A big difference compared to the bikes is that the car is always very different from one practice to another: if you have more fuel, less fuel, new or old tires,” Rossi said.

“It makes a big difference. The fast guys are always fast and they are able to arrive at the limit of the car in a small time.

“I am quite fast in the first part of the track, until Turn 7 which is the uphill Tosa hairpin.

“After that, Piratella, Acque Minerali, and Variante Alta, are the places where the other guys, my teammates, are stronger than me. In the last part, the Rivazza, I am good. So I have to work.

“But it depends on track to track. I don’t have a particular weak point like fast or slow corners.

“I just need to take it corner by corner, to find the right line and use the grip of the car 100 percent.

“Everything changes very fast. I drive quite well and I’m not very far from Nico and Fred. But there are some places where I need to improve.

“We need to work and the engineers are top-level, so we can see the laps and we are working well with the data.”

Rossi arrives into the GTWC Europe season with prior GT3 experience. He has also driven at seven tacks with WRT as part of his pre-season testing schedule.

“I already did some endurance races, two times [at the Gulf 12 Hours] with Ferrari in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain with [Alessio Salucci] and Luca [Marini],” he said.

“But we only had about 16 cars, so I am interested to see what happens [here].

“I understand that if you have a guy who is similar to you, it is very difficult to overtake. So you need to understand if you risk it.

“I will not start the race. I think I will drive in the middle. But for sure during the season I will have other chances to make the start.”

Rossi added that he is enjoying the challenge of this latest motorsport venture, which contains many differences from the world of two-wheel racing.

The 43-year-old retired from MotoGP at the end of last season but continues to work in motorcycle racing as a team boss in addition to his four-wheel competition commitment.

“For me, motorcycles is the first love and nothing will be comparable,” Rossi said.

“But it is a great challenge and I enjoy it a lot. The car is fast. When you drive the car and you try to bring it to the limit, it’s a great emotion.

“I will try to do the maximum and I will try to have fun. To have fun, you need to fight for the important positions and be competitive.”

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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