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GT World Challenge Europe

WRT Delivers Audi’s First Endurance Cup Win in Two Years

Audi returns to winning ways in Endurance Cup with new Evo II model and WRT…

Photo: Dirk Bogaerts/SRO

Dries Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts won the opening round of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Endurance Cup season at Imola to secure a first series victory in two years for both Audi and Team WRT.

The No. 32 Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo II won Sunday’s three-hour contest from pole position, however it required an undercut strategy at the first pit stop to return WRT to the lead after Weerts dropped to second during the opening stint.

Jules Gounon, Daniel Juncadella and Raffaele Marciello finished 6.2 seconds behind for Mercedes-AMG Team Akkodis ASP, while Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed completed the podium after Luca Stolz held off Mattia Drudi’s Tresor by Car Collection Audi.

The WRT Audi crew involving nine-time Grand Prix motorcycle racing world champion Valentino Rossi finished 17th in the first race of a 10-round program for the Italian, who had a solid middle stint but lost time when he effectively gave himself a drive-through by missing his pit box in a crowded pit lane when he was due to come in.

Weerts made a strong start from pole and held off Sainteloc Junior Team Audi driver Christopher Mies in the early laps, which included one of four Full Course Yellows after a JP Motorsport McLaren and the Iron Dames Ferrari collided at Rivazza.

Weerts kept Mies at bay for the opening 15 minutes, but the Belgian made a mistake at Villeneuve that saw him bounce across the gravel and the grass, promoting Sainteloc to the front.

Mies was unable to break away due to a second brief FCY for Rob Collard’s Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo getting stuck in the gravel.

The German driver led from Weerts, Marciello and a charging Nicki Thiim in the Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage GT3 through to the end of the first hour, when the opening pit stops took place.

WRT and Beechdean brought Weerts and Thiim into the pits one lap earlier than Sainteloc and Akkodis ASP, giving them an undercut advantage.

The lead changed when van der Linde, in for Weerts, sped past Lucas Legeret as the Sainteloc Audi exited the pits towards Tamburello, while Marco Sorensen similarly slotted the Aston into third ahead of Daniel Juncadella in the ASP Mercedes.

Van der Linde opened up a gap of almost 10 seconds during the middle stint as Sorensen got caught up behind a defensive Legeret.

The Aston Martin was released around halfway through the hour when Legeret ran wide into the Tamburello gravel, while a third FCY for the No. 97 Gold Cup-class Beechdean AMR stopping with a gearbox issue erased van der Linde’s advantage.

The intervention period was extended when the CMR Bentley Continental GT3 plowed into the back of the Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini under the safety car, causing an extensive cleanup on the straight before Variante Alta.

A GTWC Europe spokesperson confirmed that both drivers, Matthieu de Robiano and Jordan Witt, were OK after the collision.

Despite gaining ground, Beechdean’s challenge came undone when it made its final pit stop under the FCY one lap later than the majority of the field, including the No. 32 WRT and the No. 88 Mercedes-AMG.

Maxime Martin emerged from the pits down outside the top 20, while the Silver Cup-leading Attempto Audi also lost significant ground due to the timing of its stop.

At the head of the field, Vanthoor took over from van der Linde and rode through a final restart following an off for the No. 87 Akkodis ASP Mercedes at Rivazza.

The Belgian driver refused to let Gounon find space to make an overtaking move, putting in a strong final stint to claim a season-opening win for WRT.

Gounon crossed the line six seconds ahead of Stolz, who shared the GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG with Maro Engel and Steijn Schothorst.

Stolz came under pressure from Drudi, who got his Car Collection Audi alongside the GetSpeed car at one point through Tamburello, to put two AMG entries in the top three.

Dennis Lind was also part of that battle and ended up fifth in the No. 111 JP Motorsport McLaren 720S GT3 that he shared with Christian Klien and Vincent Abril.

Matteo Cairoli took sixth in the Dinamic Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 R after holding off the two Iron Lynx Ferraris with James Calado and Antonio Fuoco at the helm.

Patric Niederhauser brought the No. 25 Sainteloc Audi home in ninth, while the JOTA McLaren completed the top 10 ahead of the best of the ROWE Racing BMW M4 GT3s and the recovering Beechdean AMR Aston.

WRT also won the Silver Cup class courtesy of Thomas Neubauer, Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer and Benjamin Goethe.

Herberth Motorsport made GTWC Europe history by becoming the first team to win the new Gold Cup category after Robert Renauer made a final-stint overtake on AF Corse Ferrari driver Alessandro Balzan.

Renauer shared the No. 911 Porsche with his brother Alfred and Ralf Bohn.

Pro-Am honors went to the SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes-AMG crew of Dominik Baumann, Valentin Pierburg and Ian Loggie.


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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