- Rigon/Fuoco/Serra unstoppable as Italian squad conquers six-hour contest
- Silver Cup triumph for Al Manar Racing by HRT Mercedes-AMG entry of Al Zubair/Jefferies/Schiller
- Inception Racing McLaren takes outstanding Gold Cup victory with Iribe/Millroy/Schandorff
- Last-lap drama sees Pierburg/Konrad/Baumann win Pro-Am for SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG
Ferrari returned to the top of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS podium in emphatic style as the Iron Lynx crew of Davide Rigon, Antonio Fuoco and Daniel Serra led home a one-two finish for the Italian marque at the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000kms.
The race began with a breathless opening stint that saw the top-six cars running almost nose-to-tail. The star of the show at this stage was Mirko Bortolotti (#63 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini), who charged from sixth on the grid to lead by the 30-minute mark. Raffaele Marciello (#88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG) followed him to the front, while Serra slipped to fourth behind the #54 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche.
The #88 Mercedes-AMG cycled to the lead during the first round of pit stops and was still there when the race was neutralised shortly before the two-hour mark after the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini hit the tyre barriers at Signes. As the third hour began the Akkodis ASP car remained out front with Daniel Juncadella at the wheel, followed by Albert Costa in the #63 Lamborghini and the #71 Ferrari of Rigon.
The lead trio were never separated by more than a few seconds and this was to prove crucial at the next round of pit stops. The Iron Lynx crew was two seconds faster than both of its rivals, allowing Rigon to emerge at the head of the field.
The Italian driver was the fastest man in qualifying and he showed the same pace once out front in the race. Over the next hour he pulled out a lead of 10 seconds, leaving Juncadella and the #63 Lamborghini of Jack Aitken to dispute second. The #32 Team WRT Audi ran fourth at this stage, with the #51 Iron Lynx Ferrari completing the top-five.
There was drama at the two-thirds distance mark when the #88 Mercedes-AMG served a 15-second penalty for a pair of pit infringements, while the #32 Audi required repairs to its rear lights. Dries Vanthoor chased Jules Gounon off pit lane and within a few laps the Belgian was up to third. It didn't last, however, as Vanthoor made contact with a lapped car and caused terminal damage to the #32 Audi.
There were no such problems for the leading Ferrari, with Rigon handing over to Fuoco for the final third of the race and the younger Italian proved as quick as his more experienced compatriot. He was more than 30 seconds clear when a late safety car period bunched up the field, though with lapped cars between himself and Gounon there was no real chance of a lead change.
The race went green again with less than 10 minutes remaining and Fuoco brought the #71 Ferrari home as the winner, giving Iron Lynx its first victory since last year's TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa and providing the perfect confidence boost ahead of the 2022 edition.
While the win was not in doubt there was a grandstand finish for runner-up spot. Gounon took the restart in P2 but was immediately under attack from the #51 Iron Lynx Ferrari of Miguel Molina. The Spaniard drew alongside on the Mistral straight and made the move stick, securing a one-two for his team and a hard-fought podium alongside Nicklas Nielsen and James Calado.
The #88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG completed the podium, while ROWE Racing was a brilliant fourth with its #50 crew of Dan Harper, Neil Verhagen and Max Hesse. The BMW junior line-up produced a mature performance to earn the new M4 GT3 a breakthrough points finish in the gruelling six-hour contest.
The #46 Team WRT Audi finished fifth, giving Valentino Rossi the best result of his fledgling GT racing career alongside Frédéric Vervisch and Nico Müller. The Italian took the start and held his own during the opening stint, which included an impressive opportunistic pass on the #50 BMW. The car lost ground when it was forced to make two pit stops in quick succession, but Müller had climbed back into the points by half-distance and Vervisch made more progress to take the chequered flag as the best Audi.
Bortolotti brought the #63 Lamborghini home in sixth, though it could have been a runner-up finish were it not for a late puncture and a lengthy stop to replace the car’s rear lights. He was followed by the Silver Cup-winning #777 Al Manar Racing by HRT Mercedes-AMG entry of Al Faisal Al Zubair, Axcil Jefferies and Fabian Schiller. The battle for class honours was highly competitive, with Akkodis ASP (#87 Mercedes-AMG) and Attempto Racing (#99 Audi) in the thick of the action.
Having run among the top-three throughout the #777 moved into the lead at two-thirds distance and was able to pull away from the #87 machine, which finished one spot back in eighth overall. Late contact eliminated the #99 Audi from the fight, promoting the #31 Team WRT Audi (14th overall) to the final step on the Silver Cup podium.
Gold Cup honours went to the #7 Inception Racing McLaren, which produced one of the most impressive performances of the race as it clinched ninth overall and a resounding class win. The car started from pole but was quickly overhauled by the #57 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG, which shot up the order thanks to Lorenzo Ferrari.
The McLaren remained in the hunt with Brendan Iribe and then Ollie Millroy at the wheel, retaking the lead before two-thirds distance and only briefly surrendering it to the #83 Iron Dames Ferrari. It led throughout the second half of the race, with Frederik Schandorff taking over for the final two-hour run. The Danish driver was in scintillating form, moving up the order to add overall points to his squad's class triumph. The #83 Ferrari was second, followed by the #33 Team WRT Audi.
Remarkably, the Pro-Am win changed hands on the final lap. The #188 Garage 59 McLaren dominated the opening phase of the race but was jumped at the half-way mark by the #52 AF Corse Ferrari of Stefano Costantini. By two-thirds distance they were running at close quarters, with the #20 SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG joining the contest in third spot.
Garage 59 was back out front for the final two-thirds but with smoke coming from the McLaren there was cause for concern. The late safety car put Henrique Chaves under serious pressure, and on the very last tour Dominik Baumann snatched a dramatic victory in the car he shares with Valentin Pierburg and Martin Konrad.
The Circuit Paul Ricard contest represents the final Fanatec Endurance race before the marquee TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa (28-31 July). Having taken overall honours in 2021, Iron Lynx and Ferrari have made a clear statement about their intention to retain the big prize this year. But, if anything, their rivals will be all the more determined to topple the Italian squad when the action moves to the main event in the Ardennes.