From the heat of Magny-Cours two weeks ago, GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS moved to the much cooler sea air of Zandvoort for a pair of Sprint Cup contests.
In doing so it became the first international series to compete on the Dutch venue’s revised layout, which includes the spectacular new banking at Hugenholtzbocht and Arie Luyendijkbocht. The drivers suitably were impressed, while some of the imagery captured by photographers was nothing short of spectacular.
From a competitive standpoint the event was anything but predictable, with both overall winners taking top spot for the first time this season and a pair of Silver Cup crews standing on the podium in race one.
The weather played its part, with tyre choice proving pivotal in the opening contest as rain swept in from the North Sea. Competitors were forced to make fast decisions with only limited information, and those who judged correctly reaped the rewards.
With the official Total 24 Hours of Spa test days (29-30 September) and the Sprint Cup finale at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (9-11 October) soon to follow, the 2020 season is fast reaching its conclusion. These are the stories and stats from another packed weekend of GT3 action.
Emil Frey Racing waited seven years to score its maiden overall pole, then just 20 minutes to add its second. The Swiss squad’s #14 Lamborghini became the first car this season to sweep qualifying, with Mikaël Grenier scoring his maiden pole in Q1. Norbert Siedler took his first since October 2015, when he put a Rinaldi Racing Ferrari on top at Misano, by topping Q2.
Victory in Saturday’s opening race saw Ryuichiro Tomita become the first Japanese driver to win overall in the Sprint Cup. His Belgian Audi Club Team WRT crewmate Kelvin van der Linde took his second Sprint win, having previously triumphed for Attempto Racing at Zolder in 2018. Van der Linde is the first driver this season to register overall wins at both Sprint and Endurance events.
Emil Frey Racing took victory on Saturday afternoon to earn its first win in the Sprint Cup and its first with Lamborghini. Its only previous victory, which came in Endurance competition, was at Circuit Paul Ricard in 2018 with Lexus machinery. Coincidentally, the Japanese brand also took its first win since that event on Saturday afternoon, with Tech1 Racing capturing Silver Cup honours.
The second Zandvoort race saw Giacomo Altoè become the fourth teenager to win overall in the Sprint Cup. The others are Dries Vanthoor (2017), Charles Weerts (2019 & 2020) and Thomas Neubauer (2019). Born in October 2000, Altoè is the second child of the 21st century to take an overall win following Weerts’ breakthrough last term.
Three cars were hit with 30-second time penalties after race two, all of which had an impact on the final classification. The #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini was punished for an unsafe release from its pit stop; the #31 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car for making an aggressive move on the #163 Lamborghini; and the #90 Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG for running its engine while four wheels were off the ground. This means that the #14 Lamborghini drops from second to 10th overall, while the #31 Audi falls from third to 11th. The #90 Mercedes-AMG slips to 15th in the overall classification, while also dropping from third to sixth in the Silver Cup.
Saturday’s opening race was the first time that two Silver Cup cars finished on the overall podium. It was a particularly sweet result for CMR after the Bentley squad suffered a trying home event at Magny-Cours. The pairing of Pierre Alexandre Jean and Hugo Chevalier made up 16 positions on Saturday morning to earn a maiden Silver win and a superb overall result.
Tech1 Racing earned its maiden Silver class win in race two. The #15 Lexus has shown front-running pace all season, scoring a pair of overall pole positions at Misano, but had yet to record a strong result. Saturday afternoon finally changed that, with Thomas Neubauer and Aurélien Panis ultimately classified fourth overall.
The #93 Sky Tempesta Racing Ferrari took a fine P9 overall in race one. This represented the first time that a Pro-Am car finished inside the overall top 10 since the Sprint Cup visited the Nürburgring in 2018. With the #18 ERC Mercedes-AMG coming home next, two Pro-Am entries were among the top 10 at the same race for the first time since the Algarve round in 2015.
Sky Tempesta Racing has now scored six Pro-Am wins from seven Sprint Cup races. Full-season drivers Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III have earned four, as well as three runner-up finishes, while Jonathan Hui and Giancarlo Fisichella added two more in their one-off appearance at Magny-Cours.
ERC Sport scored its maiden Pro-Am podium in race one. Lee Mowle vaulted to the front during the opening stint after the team correctly chose to start on wet tyres, while reigning class champion Phil Keen completed the job by bringing the car home 10th overall to secure a breakthrough result.
Neither overall pole-sitter, nor any of the class polemen, took victory at Zandvoort. Indeed, just one of them scored a podium: the #20 SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes-AMG, which finished third in race two. The best finish for an overall poleman was 10th, while in the Silver Cup both pole-sitters finished eighth.
The fastest lap of the weekend was set by a Silver Cup car. Aurelien Panis (#15 Tech1 Lexus) posted a 1m35.091s in race two, when improved track conditions allowed for much quicker running than in the morning race. Norbert Siedler recorded the best overall qualifying time, posting a 1m42.747s to capture pole in the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini. Louis Machiels was the top bronze-graded driver, setting a 1m45.882s in the #52 AF Corse Ferrari to bag Pro-Am pole for race one.
Just one Sprint Cup weekend remains, and it looks set to be a thriller. With 60.5 points on the board, Charles Weerts and Dries Vanthoor (#31 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) lead the overall standings by 6.5 from Maro Engel and Luca Stolz (HRT Mercedes-AMG) ahead of next month’s three-race decider at Circuit de Barcelona Catalunya. Kelvin van der Linde and Ryuichiro Tomita are third on 48 points, just 0.5 ahead of Timur Boguslavskiy (AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG). There are 52.5 points still up for grabs at the finale.
The teams’ championship is also far from over. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT leads the way on 77 points, just six clear of fellow Audi squad Sainteloc Racing. Emil Frey Racing has 59 points, followed by HRT (56) and reigning champion AKKA ASP (54.5). WRT had previously won six straight Sprint Cup titles before being defeated by the French squad last term.
The Silver Cup drivers’ championship looked to be almost settled in favour of Simon Gachet and Steven Palette (#26 Sainteloc Racing Audi), though a DNF in race two has trimmed their advantage. The French duo are 19.5 clear of Ezequiel Perez Companc and Axcil Jefferies (Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG) heading into the finale, while brothers Hamza and Jusuf Owega (#33 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) slip to third after a tough weekend at Zandvoort.
The Pro-Am classification is the closest to being decided. Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III hold a 29-point advantage heading to the finale following their excellent run of form in the #93 Ferrari. Indeed, they can guarantee the title in the opening Barcelona race by winning from pole. Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini (#52 AF Corse Ferrari) sit second, while Valentin Pierburg (#20 SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes-AMG) also retains an outside shot.
The combined GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS standings are closer than ever after the Zandvoort event. Kelvin van der Linde began the weekend fourth, but now tops the charts on 88 points, 1.5 clear of Timur Boguslavskiy. Erstwhile leaders Charles Weerts and Dries Vanthoor are third on 84.5, while Maro Engel and Luca Stolz are the other serious challengers on 73. With three Sprint races at Barcelona, the Total 24 Hours of Spa and the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000kms still to come, there are plenty of points left to score.
Before racing resumes competitors will travel to Belgium for the official Total 24 Hours of Spa test. Running on Tuesday 29 and Wednesday 30 September, the event will give contenders two days of running at the Belgian circuit ahead of next month’s twice-around-the-clock classic.