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The Weekend Roundup: Monza

20 April 2021

The 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season launched in spectacular fashion on Sunday afternoon when Monza played host to another rain-hit Endurance Cup classic.

The weather proved to be a crucial aspect of this race, though it was by no means expected. Not a drop of rain had fallen in the week leading up to the event, but while the grid began to form shortly before the start there were dark clouds gathering above. 

The ensuing downpour shuffled the pack and allowed Dinamic Motorsport to once again demonstrate its ability to thrive in changeable conditions. The trio of Christian Engelhart, Matteo Cairoli and Klaus Bachler was flawless, the Italian producing an especially impressive middle stint that sent the #54 Porsche to the front. 

These are the key stories and stats to emerge from a thrilling return to Monza. 

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Dinamic Motorsport and Porsche have enjoyed outstanding form over the past few seasons. For the team, Sunday's triumph represented a third in 10 Endurance Cup starts, two of which have come at Monza. It was also Porsche's fifth from 10 events and its seventh since the series was launched, placing the Stuttgart marque just one victory shy of equalling Audi and BMW's record of eight. 

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Engelhart earned his fifth overall win in the Endurance Cup, placing the German driver just one shy of Maxime Martin's record of six. Cairoli and Bachler both secured their second triumphs on Sunday afternoon, the latter having been part of Dinamic’s previous Monza win two years ago.

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There were similarities, but this was not carbon copy of Dinamic's 2019 victory at Monza. On that occasion, the #54 Porsche came from 23rd on the grid and only led for the final seven laps. This time, it took control on the 39th tour and was not in serious danger for the remaining 40 laps. The crucial similarity was the composure with which the Italian squad managed the conditions and Bachler’s ability to maintain a gap at the end. 

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AKKA ASP finished second overall to bank its third Endurance Cup podium in five races. This gave Mercedes-AMG its fifth successive top-three finish at Monza, a run that stretches back to 2016, though the German brand is still yet to leave the circuit with a winner’s trophy. 

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By taking third, the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini became the first Silver Cup car to finish on the overall podium at an Endurance event. Alex Fontana, Rolf Ineichen and Ricardo Feller had served notice of their pace by taking class pole and seventh on the grid, but a top-three overall finish was nothing short of exceptional. Fontana previously came close in 2018 by finishing fourth at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya in Emil Frey's Jaguar. 

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Feller's performance was particularly eye-catching. The 20-year-old set the second-fastest qualifying lap of the weekend and then applied major pressure to established front-runner Jules Gounon's #88 Mercedes-AMG during the final stint, while also keeping the charging #71 Ferrari at bay to secure a spot on the podium. 

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Series newcomer Iron Lynx made a strong start on home turf as its pair of Ferrari entries came home fourth and fifth at Monza. Callum Ilott was especially busy in the #71 after switching to slick-compound Pirelli rubber during the middle stint and making up significant ground as the track dried out. "It was awesome, I've never raced like that," the English driver said afterwards. Team-mate Antonio Fuoco went on to post the fastest racing lap, a 1m48.322s, during the final stint. 

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The Emil Frey crew was not the only Silver Cup standout, with three more cars coming home in sixth, seventh and eighth. The #30 Team WRT entry was the best-finishing Audi and gave the crew of James Pull, Stuart Hall and Benjamin Goethe a fantastic start to the season. The #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG was also a strong contender throughout the race on its way to third in class and P7 overall. 

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Garage 59 picked up where it left off in Pro-Am. The British squad took its third class victory from five races with a typically well-executed performance and good work behind the wheel by Alex West, Chris Goodwin and Jonny Adam. Between the Pro-Am and Am Cup classes, the combination of West and Goodwin has accumulated six wins since the start of 2018.

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The final stint began with the #77 Barwell Motorsports Lamborghini leading Pro-Am. The British team had elected to run its pro driver during the middle phase of the race, while Garage 59 and Orange1 FFF Racing waited until the end to deploy Jonny Adam and Phil Keen respectively. Keen was also able to pass the #77 Lamborghini to secure runner-up spot alongside Hiroshi Hamaguchi, while Miguel Ramos held on to third for Barwell.  

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The weekend had looked promising for newcomer Inception Racing, which took class pole on debut only to be forced out by first-lap contact. Brendan Iribe was the second-fastest Pro-Am runner in Q2, lapping just 0.049s shy of the vastly experienced Chris Goodwin. Pro driver Millroy was also showed good speed as he returned to the series after an absence of eight years. His last start came in an Ecurie Ecosse BMW at Navarra in 2012, setting a record of 39 Endurance Cup races between consecutive participations. 

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On Sunday morning, Orange1 FFF Racing took its first overall pole in the Endurance Cup. The all-Italian trio of Andrea Caldarelli, Mirko Bortolotti and Marco Mapelli looked set to compete for the race win until an electric issue cost them significant time during the first hour. This was the seventh overall pole in the Endurance Cup for Lamborghini, equalling Audi and Mercedes-AMG. Ferrari holds the record with 11. 

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The star of qualifying was undoubtedly Jules Gounon, who posted the fastest lap of the weekend in Q3 to put the #88 AKKA ASP car second on the grid. This was Gounon's first qualifying outing since joining Mercedes-AMG as a factory driver after three years with Bentley. His time of 1m46.442s broke a six-year-old lap record at Monza. The previous best was set by Norbert Siedler (1m46.571s) in 2015. 

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An excellent qualifying showing by Rik Breukers went unrewarded at Monza. The #90 Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG man was a superb second overall in Q2, but the car was unable to run in Q3 due to an engine problem. It was forced to start from the rear of the field and retired from the race with electric issues.

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A total of 17 drivers made their series debuts at the weekend. Callum Ilott was the best finisher in fourth overall and also showed brilliantly in qualifying by topping Q2 in the #71 Iron Lynx Ferrari. In Pro-Am, Henrique Chaves scored a class podium on debut as part of the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini crew.

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Emil Frey Racing won Saturday evening's inaugural Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series event. Arthur Rougier (#114 Lamborghini) beat Dani Juncadella (#88 AKKA ASP, Mercedes-AMG) in the 60-minute Assetto Corsa Competizione race to score maximum points towards the real-world teams' championship. Nicklas Nielsen (#51 Iron Lynx Ferrari) completed the overall podium

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Team WRT took Silver Cup honours after Ryuichiro Tomita (#31 Audi) climbed 11 places to finish fourth overall and first in class. He beat Ezequiel Perez Companc (#90 Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG) and Benjamin Hites (#33 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari) to give WRT the Fanatec Points Boost for the Silver Cup.

Following its successful maiden event, the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series will return for its second outing at Circuit Paul Ricard on 28-30 May.

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The Fanatec GT2 European Series staged its maiden event at Monza. Audi, KTM, Lamborghini and Porsche were represented by official GT2 cars, while Ferrari was also involved as an invitational entry. Audi swept the Pro-Am victories, while Lamborghini and KTM shared the Am Cup spoils. 

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The GT4 European Series was also part of the support package, providing the perfect opportunity for a group photo comprising machinery from all three SRO series and a pair of Fanatec rigs. They were lined up on the grid after Friday evening's bronze test, bringing together more than 100 GT cars in a single photograph.  

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Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS will be back in action on 7-9 May when the series travels to Magny-Cours for the opening Sprint Cup contest. This will be the first of back-to-back French events, with Circuit Paul Ricard staging the season's second Endurance outing on 28-30 May.