Ultra-competitive season in prospect as 27-car field prepares for Sprint Cup opener Magny-Cours

Ultra-competitive season in prospect as 27-car field prepares for Sprint Cup opener Magny-Cours
  • Hotly anticipated Sprint Cup campaign set to launch in France 
  • Eight brands represented on expanded 27-car entry list
  • Day and night racing form part of action-packed schedule

The 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season will shift up a gear next weekend when the Sprint Cup campaign launches at Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours.

A field of 27 cars representing eight brands will tackle the opening event, including returns to the short-format championship for Aston Martin, McLaren and Porsche. They join continuing marques Audi, Bentley, Ferrari, Lamborghini and Mercedes-AMG on a diverse and highly competitive entry list.

The schedule is varied too, with Saturday's opening race taking place more than an hour after sunset and Sunday's second contest staged during mid-afternoon. As such competitors will face a unique set of circumstances in each, while fans can look forward to two very different contests on the 4.4km circuit.

Champions and Sprint Cup newcomers ready to battle for overall honours

As defending Sprint Cup champions, Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts (#32 Team WRT Audi) must be considered the pre-season favourites to retain their crown. Indeed, should they pick up where they left off in 2020 the young Belgian duo will be difficult to topple.  

When considering their opposition, Vanthoor and Weerts will first need to look across the Team WRT garage. The sister #30 Audi features a new pairing of Kelvin van der Linde and Benjamin Goethe, the latter coming off a breakthrough performance at Monza. Paired with the established Van der Linde, more success could be within the youngster's grasp.

Saintéloc Racing should be on the pace, too. For the sixth season in succession they are led by Christopher Haase, who shares the #25 Audi with newcomer Léo Roussel. The #26 machine is also a potential winner in the hands of Frédéric Vervisch and Aurélien Panis, bolstering the Saintéloc squad's championship chances. Attempto Racing adds a fifth top-tier Audi, with Italian pairing Mattia Drudi and Tommaso Mosca extending their partnership into a second season.

Having rapidly established a winning reputation in the Endurance Cup there is significant interest in what Dinamic Motorsport can achieve during its maiden Sprint campaign. The Porsche squad looks capable of contending at the front, with full-season driver Christian Engelhart joined by Adrien De Leener in the #54 machine. McLaren is also back in Sprint Cup competition this term with accomplished British outfit JOTA and will rely on factory drivers Ben Barnicoat and Oliver Wilkinson. 

Lamborghini squad Emil Frey Racing will field a pair of Pro line-ups at Magny-Cours. The vast experience of Albert Costa and Norbert Siedler will give the #163 a clear shot at success, while the sister #114 brings together young talents Jack Aitken and Konsta Lappalainen. Bentley is represented by French squad CMR, which fields a Pro car for Benjamin Lessennes and Stéphane Richelmi, the latter returning to the Sprint Cup following a six-year absence.   

There is no doubt that Mercedes-AMG will be a serious factor at the front, particularly after its excellent showing during last season's trip to Magny-Cours. AKKA ASP will field Raffaele Marciello and reigning overall series champion Timur Boguslavskiy in its #88 AMG GT3, while Jules Gounon is joined by Petru Umbrarescu in the sister #89.  

Toksport WRT has expanded its effort this term and can rely on the established pairing of Maro Engel and Luca Stolz, who are contesting the full Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season with two different teams. The German duo have their sights set on the overall title and a strong weekend at Magny-Cours will be crucial to their aspirations. 

Competitive grids for Silver Cup and Pro-Am

This year’s Silver Cup grid remains highly competitive, continuing the trend seen in recent seasons. A field of 10 cars will tackle the opener, led by the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini that finished on the overall podium at Monza. With the experience of Alex Fontana and pace of Ricardo Feller, the Swiss outfit has emerged as early favourite for Silver honours. 

A clear rival will be the #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG. French ace Jim Pla is regularly the class pace-setter and will share with experienced prototype and single-seater racer Konstantin Tereshchenko. Madpanda Motorsport put in a good performance at Monza and will tackle Magny-Cours with its full-season pairing Ezequiel Perez Companc and Rik Breukers, while TokSport WRT will hope to maintain its excellent 2020 form with the unchanged crew of Óscar Tunjo and Juuso Puhakka.

CMR will continue to field a Bentley in the Silver Cup and has retained the services of Pierre-Alexandre Jean. The French ace will be joined by Ulysse De Pauw, who makes the transition to GT racing having previously achieved top-three finishes in Championnat de France F4 and BRDC British F3. Aston Martin is back in Sprint Cup competition thanks to Garage 59, which will field Nicolai Kjaergaard and Tuomas Tujala.

Sky Tempesta Racing took the Pro-Am title in 2020 and has now set its sights on Silver Cup glory, with Chris Froggatt and Giorgio Roda piloting the British squad's #93 Ferrari. Rinaldi Racing will also field the Maranello brand’s 488 GT3 model for Finnish ace Patrick Kujala and Chile’s Benjamin Hites. A pair of Audi entries complete the Silver Cup contingent: Team WRT will field Ryuichiro Tomita alongside Frank Bird, while Attempto Racing has paired Dennis Marschall with Alex Aka.

The Pro-Am class will see four teams representing as many brands at Magny-Cours. Having taken last year's Endurance crown Garage 59 will now look to earn further success in the Sprint Cup, with full-season drivers Alexander West and Jonny Adam sharing the #188 Aston Martin. They will be joined by long-time rival Barwell Motorsport, which will run a Lamborghini for Portuguese duo Miguel Ramos and Henrique Chaves. 

Ferrari squad AF Corse will count on its firmly established line-up of Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini, while SPS automotive performance retains the pairing of Valentin Pierburg and Dominik Baumann in its #20 Mercedes-AMG. This brings the total number of AMG GT3s competing at Magny-Cours to seven, tying with fierce rival Audi as the best-represented brand on the grid. 

Nine series descend on Magny-Cours for packed weekend of action 

As was the case last year, Magny-Cours will host one of the busiest and most varied events of the season. Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS begins its preparations on Friday with free practice (14:35) and pre-qualifying (21:55), both of which run for 80 minutes. 

Qualifying 1 takes place on Saturday at 17:05 and will set the grid for the opening 60-minute race, which begins more than an hour after sunset at 22:25. The same format will be repeated on Sunday, with qualifying 2 at 10:00 and the second race going green at 14:40.  

Championnat de France FFSA GT shares the headline slot and has attracted a superb grid of more than 30 cars this season. They include entries from AKKA ASP, Saintéloc Racing and CMR, while Jim Pla will pull double duty by contesting both championships.

Further support comes from the new Championnat de France FFSA Tourisme, which features tin-top machinery from the likes of BMW, Peugeot and Alpine. Championnat de France F4 adds single-seater action to the bill, while one-make categories Porsche Carrera Cup France, Renault Clio Cup Europe and Alpine Elf Europa Cup should ensure plenty of close competition. Trophée Mitjet 2L and Sprint Cup by Funyo complete a packed weekend that features non-stop action from no fewer than nine series.

For the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS hopefuls, the chief objective will be to make the strongest possible start at Magny-Cours. Hitting the ground running will be crucial in what promises to be a close fought battle for the Sprint Cup crown.