- Season-opener at Monza to feature 44 cars representing nine brands
- Italian venue makes popular return as Endurance Cup celebrates 10th anniversary
- Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series set to launch with one-hour Assetto Corsa Competizione race
Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS will launch its 2021 season next weekend (16-18 April) when a 44-car field featuring nine brands contests a three-hour Endurance Cup race at Monza.
The hotly anticipated event represents a welcome return to the calendar for the Italian venue following a one-year hiatus. Located within scenic parkland on the outskirts of Milan, the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza holds unparalleled history, while its idyllic setting contrasts with the ferocious sound of GT3 cars on the 5.8 km circuit.
This will be especially significant weekend, as it marks 10 years since the Endurance Cup staged its maiden race at Monza in 2011. A highly competitive field of 44 cars will tackle the 2021 season opener, raising the curtain on what promises to be another action-packed campaign.
Battle for overall glory more competitive than ever
Ferrari captured last year’s Endurance Cup titles thanks to victory in a dramatic decider at Circuit Paul Ricard. Series newcomer Iron Lynx will carry the Italian marque's hopes of overall honours in 2021, with Alessandro Pier Guidi defending his drivers' crown in the #51 car alongside Nicklas Nielsen and Côme Ledogar. The #71 line-up is led by Ferrari expert Davide Rigon, who is joined by rapid youngsters Antonio Fuoco and Callum Ilott.
Audi will be the best represented top-tier brand at Monza, where its contingent will feature two strong crews from Saintéloc Racing. Christopher Haase anchors the #25 alongside French duo Alexandre Cougnaud and Adrien Tambay, while the experienced pairing of Frédéric Vervisch and Markus Winkelhock are joined by youngster Finlay Hutchison in the #26. Team WRT will entrust its #31 machine to Dries Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts, while the vastly experienced Chris Mies switches camp to join Mattia Drudi and Kim Luis Schramm at Attempto Racing.
BMW has returned to the fight for overall honours and will hope to give its long-serving M6 GT3 a fitting farewell ahead of the M4 model arriving next year. A two-car Walkenhorst Motorsport effort will see Marco Wittman, Sheldon van der Linde and David Pittard in the #34 machine, while Timo Glock, Martin Tomczyk and Thomas Neubauer share the #35.
A pair of impressive Mercedes-AMG crews will compete for overall glory this season. In the #88 AKKA ASP entry, established team leader Raffaele Marciello is joined by returnees Jules Gounon and Daniel Juncadella to form a formidable trio. HRT has named an unchanged line-up, with Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Vincent Abril also sure to feature at the front.
There's renewed strength among the Lamborghini squads, too. Orange1 FFF Racing will look to recapture the Endurance Cup title with an Italian super team of Andrea Caldarelli, Mirko Bortolotti and Marco Mapelli. Swiss outfit Emil Frey Racing will field established stars Albert Costa, Giacomo Altoè and Norbert Siedler in its #163 Huracán, while the #114 crew combines young talents Jack Aitken, Konsta Lappalainen and Arthur Rougier.
Porsche has earned a clutch of silverware during recent seasons, including a pair of overall wins at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, but is still searching for its maiden Endurance Cup title. GPX Racing will field an ace crew of Earl Bamber, Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet, while Dinamic Motorsport has two 911 GT3-R entries. The #54 features Christian Engelhart, Klaus Bachler and Matteo Cairoli, while Romain Dumas, Andrea Rizzoli and Mikkel O. Pedersen will handle the #56.
McLaren will also be firmly in the hunt thanks to series newcomer JOTA, which will mount a single-car assault for factory drivers Rob Bell, Ben Barnicoat and Oliver Wilkinson. They complete a Pro contingent that ranks among the strongest ever seen in the series and promises to put on a spectacular show at Monza.
More action in prospect with competitive Silver Cup and Pro-Am grids
The battle for overall victory is by no means the only source of interest. The Silver Cup will feature 13 cars, six of which represent Mercedes-AMG. They include last year's Total 24 Hours of Spa class winner HRT, which is joined by fellow German squads Toksport WRT and SPS automotive performance.
AKKA ASP has been a regular contender for Silver Cup glory and should be a force once again this term. Ezequiel Perez Companc's Madpanda Motorsport took the combined series title in 2021 and will have high hopes of adding an Endurance crown this year, while American outfit Winward Racing is preparing for its maiden campaign.
Last year's runner-up Garage 59 is sure to be a strong Silver Cup contender and has added reigning class champion Alex MacDowall to its #159 Aston Martin. Ferrari squad Rinaldi Racing has proven winner Patrick Kujala alongside Chilean rising star Benjamin Hítes, who makes the switch to the 488 GT3 for his second season in the series.
There will be a trio of Audi entries, two from Team WRT and another from Attempto Racing, with the former handing Japanese ace Ryuichiro Tomita his Endurance Cup debut. Grasser Racing returns with a Lamborghini that includes Squadra Corsa juniors Kikko Galbiati and Tim Zimmermann, while Emil Frey Racing completes the Silver grid with another Huracán for an all-Swiss crew.
The Pro-Am class has also maintained an excellent level, with 14 cars set to tackle the season opener. Garage 59 will defend its 2021 title with an unchanged crew of Alexander West, Chris Goodwin and Jonny Adam, making the Aston Martin squad pre-season favourite to retain its crown.
The competition is led by a quartet of Ferrari entries. AF Corse will field past series champions Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin in the #53, while two-time title-winner Louis Machiels pilots the #52. Sky Tempesta Racing narrowly missed out on the Endurance crown last term and will start 2021 among the favourites, while Kessel Racing makes a welcome return to the series in 2021.
Known for its excellence at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, Barwell Motorsport will look to capture a maiden Pro-Am title with its #78 Lamborghini, while Orange1 FFF Racing has also put its faith in the Italian machine. French outfit CMR switches to the Pro-Am ranks this season with its Bentley Continental GT3, while Boutsen Ginion Racing will continue with its BMW M6 GT3.
Mercedes-AMG is represented by RAM Racing, GetSpeed and SPS automotive performance, while inception racing will field a McLaren for series newcomers Brendan Iribe and Ollie Millroy. The grid is completed by Allied-Racing, which will campaign a Porsche 911 GT3-R this term. The German squad clinched last season’s GT4 European Series title in the Pro-Am class and will now look to earn more success in Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS.
Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series set for debut, extensive on-track support action
The Monza weekend officially begins on Friday with a one-hour bronze test getting underway at 16.25 CET. Saturday will be about preparation, as free practice (09.00) and pre-qualifying (14.05) both run for 90 minutes. The main action takes place on Sunday, with qualifying getting underway at 09.00 and the season-opening three-hour contest going green at 15.00.
Alongside the on-track activity, the launch of the new Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series will also provide significant interest. Organised by SRO Motorsports Group in partnership with Fanatec, Assetto Corsa Competizione and AK Informatica, the groundbreaking series will stage one-hour races at each Endurance Cup event. Teams entering a Pro or Silver car in the full Endurance campaign must select one of their race drivers to compete, with points awarded to the top-three overall and Silver finishers.
At the end of the season, points earned in the virtual series will be added to scores from the Endurance Cup and Sprint Cup to determine the overall and Silver teams' titles for 2021. A significant prize pot of €25,000 will be up for grabs at each event, bringing the total for the season to €125,000. Qualifying will get underway at 18.20 on Saturday, followed at 18.55 by the inaugural race.
Back on the circuit, Monza will herald the beginning of a new era as the Fanatec GT2 European Series stages its maiden event with high-power machinery from Audi, KTM, Lamborghini and Porsche. The firmly established GT4 European Series will also kick off its season with a superb grid of more than 40 cars, while the long-running Lamborghini Super Trofeo begins 2021 on home soil.
All of the competitive action will be streamed live on the official series websites and social media platforms, as well as the GT World YouTube channel. It promises to be a thrilling weekend as the gladiators of GT racing do battle at the iconic Temple of Speed.