There are plenty of upcoming milestones to tell us that the GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season is not far away. Today, for example, marks 100 days until cars are on-track at Magny-Cours for the second Sprint Cup event of the 2020 campaign.
GT World Challenge Europe will share the bill with the FFSA French GT Championship for a double helping of supercar action, while support comes from Formula Renault Eurocup and the French F4 Championship. It promises to be a packed weekend during a particularly busy period of racing.
The event will also mark a return to Magny-Cours for GT World Challenge Europe, which last visited the track in 2011, during the inaugural season of what was then known as the Blancpain Endurance Series.
Plenty has changed in the following nine years: a Sprint category has been created, combined titles are now awarded, while this year the series has been re-named GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS. Back then GT4 cars ran alongside their GT3 counterparts; this year, we could see the new breed of GT2 machinery on-track.
Another change is that the 2020 event will be part of the Sprint Cup, with Magny-Cours staging a pair of one-hour races on 11-13 September. In 2011 it ran to an Endurance format over the final weekend of August.
This was just the fourth race in series history and followed the 2011 Total 24 Hours of Spa. The #33 Team WRT Audi had triumphed at the Belgian endurance classic, giving Greg Franchi a chance to clinch the drivers' title at Magny-Cours with a round to spare. He was joined for the French contest by Marcel Fässler and Andrea Piccini.
35 cars took the start for a three-hour race, with the Vita4One Ferrari leading the field away thanks to Michael Bartels' rapid qualifying effort in the #29 machine. But the day belonged to BMW as the Z4 run by Marc VDS Racing emerged victorious thanks to Bas Leinders, Markus Palttala and Maxime Martin.
Ultimately it was a fairly comfortable win, with Martin crossing the line more than 20 seconds clear of his closest challenger. This represented a maiden win for the team, its drivers and the BMW brand. Across the classes there were victories for five different manufacturers, with Ferrari taking Pro-Am, a Lamborghini triumphing in the Gentlemen Trophy, Nissan winning GT4 and a Porsche clinching the GT3 Cup category.
While Martin was untroubled at the front, behind him there was a crucial late pass. Four laps from the finish, the AutOrlando Porsche of Paolo Ruberti overhauled Fassler in the WRT Audi to clinch runner-up spot. This was enough to ensure that the championship battle went to the wire at Silverstone in October, with the AutOrlando crew of Ruberti, Raffaele Giammaria and Gianluca Roda staying within striking distance of Franchi. Despite this, WRT was still able to wrap up the teams' title at Magny-Cours.
The event kicked off a superb run for the Marc VDS BMW crew. Martin, Leinders and Palttala would go on to secure four successive wins, taking the season finale at Silverstone and the opening two events of 2012, to establish a record that still stands.
Repeat wins are a rare commodity these days, even in the Sprint Cup. This year's trip to Magny-Cours will be rather different in that respect, while the series and its machinery have also developed considerably in the past nine years. It will be interesting to compare between the past and present when GT World Challenge Europe makes its Magny-Cours comeback on 11-13 September.