World GT Challenge Series : The Weekend Roundup Magny-Cours

Just a few days separated GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS departing the Nürburgring and arriving at Magny-Cours. September is a busy month for the championship, with the dash from Germany to France highlighting the speed with which the 2020 season is progressing.

Indeed, the Sprint Cup campaign reached its halfway point at the weekend, when a pair of 60-minute races played out in very different conditions. The first took place in darkness, with a 22.15 start on Saturday night creating a unique competitive challenge. Sunday’s afternoon second contest began at a more familiar hour, but it produced a surprise winner as the Silver Cup crew of Simon Gachet and Steven Palette took a sensational overall win for Sainteloc Racing.

This was also a crucial event for the championship. HRT drivers Luca Stolz and Maro Engel made their ambitions clear with victory in Saturday night’s contest, taking full advantage of a circuit that perfectly suited their Mercedes-AMG. As we prepare for the second half of the season, these are the stories and stats from another busy weekend.

Luca Stolz and Maro Engel took a commanding victory on Saturday to earn Hubert Haupt’s HRT squad its maiden series win. For the established German pairing, it represented a first Sprint Cup triumph since Brands Hatch last year.

Stolz secured his third overall Sprint Cup pole during Saturday afternoon’s qualifying session, while also registering the first for HRT. The German previously took top spot at the Nürburgring in 2018 and at Brands Hatch in 2019. His first two poles were for the Black Falcon squad, while all three have come in Mercedes-AMG machinery.

Sainteloc Racing earned its second overall triumph thanks to Simon Gachet and Steven Palette, who became only the second Silver Cup crew to win outright following Nico Bastian and Thomas Neubauer (AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG) at Brands Hatch last year.

Gachet has been involved with both of the Saint Etienne squad’s wins, having triumphed at Zandvoort in 2019 alongside Christopher Haase. Gachet took his maiden overall pole on Sunday morning, while last year’s win came after Haase took top spot in qualifying.

Emil Frey Racing scored its first podium as a Lamborghini squad on Saturday night thanks to a runner-up finish for the #14 crew of Norbert Siedler and Mikael Grenier. This was Siedler’s first top-three result in the Sprint Cup since he took third at Brands Hatch in 2017. Canadian racer Grenier stood on the podium for the first time and displayed impressive speed throughout the weekend.

Magny-Cours saw several new names hit the top of the timesheets. Gachet set the fastest qualifying time of the weekend, posting a 1m35.468s lap to take pole on Sunday morning, while the best racing lap was Grenier’s 1m36.800s during the second contest.

The AKKA ASP mechanics worked on their #88 Mercedes until the small hours of the morning after it suffered damage in Saturday night’s race. Their hard work was rewarded when Raffaele Marciello qualified on the front row for Sunday’s contest, where the Italian combined with Timur Boguslavskiy to secure a runner-up finish.

This was an especially impressive weekend for the AKKA ASP mechanics. Their pit stop for the #88 car was clocked at 39.600 seconds in race two, the quickest of the event and the only stop to break the 40-second barrier. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT also came close, with their crew turning the #31 car around in just 40.096 seconds.

Sainteloc Racing stole the show in the Silver Cup class by winning overall on Sunday, but Saturday’s race saw Toksport WRT bag its maiden series victory thanks to the #2 Mercedes-AMG of Juuso Puhakka and Oscar Tunjo. This was a perfect comeback from the duo, who were forced to sit out the Misano opener following a technical failure in the pre-event test.

Series newcomer Puhakka was especially impressive at Magny-Cours, contending for the top of the overall order throughout the weekend. It was the Finn’s maiden GT3 outing, with his previous experience having come in a variety of Lamborghini Super Trofeo series.

Mick Wishofer made his series debut, joining the Toksport WRT squad in the #6 Mercedes-AMG alongside Robin Rogalski. The 20-year-old Austrian is set to contest the remainder of the Sprint Cup season for the team.

The #108 CMR Bentley suffered a fire during Thursday evening’s official test, which forced the crew to miss all of Friday’s running. However, the team was able to compete with a replacement chassis, which they shook down on Saturday morning. This effort was rewarded with a Silver Cup points finish in the first race.

The new crew of Jonathan Hui and Giancarlo Fisichella swept the Pro-Am class at Magny-Cours. The duo led a Sky Tempesta Racing one-two in both races, with the #92 Ferrari beating the #93 of Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III. Ferraris locked out the podium in race two, with the #52 AF Corse machine taking third.

Hui and Fisichella made their Sprint Cup debuts at Magny-Cours, though both have contested full Endurance Cup campaigns. They also shared a Tempesta Ferrari at last year’s Total 24 Hours of Spa and are in line to do so again this season.

Fisichella’s P6 in Sunday’s qualifying secured the best starting position for a Pro-Am car since Jim Pla took the same position at Zandvoort last year. It was also the highest Sprint Cup starting spot for a Ferrari since Carlo Van Dam qualified fifth at the Nürburgring in 2018.

This was the series’ first event to be held at Magny-Cours since an Endurance Cup race in 2011. The only driver to have contested both is Louis Machiels, who won the Pro-Am class in 2011 and scored a race two podium this season. On both occasions, Machiels was at the wheel of a Ferrari.

Among the teams, Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, AF Corse and Jerome Policand’s Auto Sport Promotion (now AKKA ASP) were all on the grid in both 2011 and 2020. Policand drove one of his team’s entries in the 2011 race, while Emil Frey Racing team principal Lorenz Frey Hilti was also competing that day at the wheel of a Lotus GT4.

The Sprint Cup event formed part of a packed weekend of action at Magny-Cours, with a total of eight series staging 19 races at the French venue. Simon Gachet, Aurelien Panis and Jim Pla contested both GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS and the French FFSA GT Championship, while AKKA ASP, CMR and Sainteloc Racing all ran cars in both series.

With five races down and five to go in the Sprint Cup, Luca Stolz and Maro Engel have put themselves firmly in title contention. They trail championship leaders Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts by just 3.5 points heading to Zandvoort thanks to a win and third-place finish in France. Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy sit third, 19.5 points back on the young Belgian pairing.

Gachet and Palette now hold a lead of 13.5 points at the top of the Silver Cup standings having claimed three wins from five races. The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT pairing of brothers Hamza and Jusuf Owega are second with five successive podiums, while Madpanda Motorsport drivers Ezequiel Perez Companc and Axcil Jefferies also remain in the hunt.

The biggest points advantage belongs to Pro-Am leaders Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III. The Sky Tempesta Racing duo top the class standings by 26.5 points following the Magny-Cours weekend, with Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini (AF Corse Ferrari) their nearest challengers.

The battle for the combined GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS title also gained momentum at Magny-Cours, developing into a four-way contest. Vanthoor and Weerts lead with 81.5 points, followed by Marciello/Boguslavskiy (77), Stolz/Engel (73) and Kelvin van der Linde (71.5). Four events remain, with a particularly big points haul on offer at the Total 24 Hours of Spa (22-25 October).

The season continues with another Sprint Cup doubleheader at Zandvoort, which stages the third of four events on 25-26 September. This will be followed by the Total 24 Hours of Spa test days on 29-30 September, which act as a prelude to this year’s running of the Belgian endurance classic.

Adelheid Terryn,

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