- Defending two-time champions back on top as title rivals hit problems
- De Pauw/Jean continue fine Silver Cup form with fourth win from five races in #53 AF Corse Ferrari
- AF Corse takes one-two in Pro-Am as Costantini/Sbirrazzuoli triumph in #21 Ferrari
Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts are back on top of the Fanatec Sprint standings after the #32 Team WRT Audi crew earned a comfortable victory in the weekend's opening race at Zandvoort.
Marking the mid-way point in the short-format championship, the 60-minute contest saw the points advantage swing yet again. Qualifying had suggested that this was to be Team WRT's day, with Weerts narrowly edging Simon Gachet (#11 Tresor by Car Collection Audi) to secure pole, while chief title rival Timur Boguslavskiy (#89 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG) could only manage 14th.
Weerts made a clean getaway, maintaining the lead as the field streamed into turn 1. There was action behind as Ulysse De Pauw moved the #53 AF Corse Ferrari up one spot from third to second, while Jules Gounon gained two places in the #88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG to run third. Their progress came at the expense of Gachet, who slipped from second to fourth on the opening tour and was then passed by Aurélien Panis (#25 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi) before the 10-minute mark.
Initially it seemed that Silver Cup standout De Pauw might be able to challenge Weerts for the lead of the race. Indeed, the Ferrari driver closed to within just a few tenths during the early stages, but once Weerts had settled into a rhythm the Audi was beyond reach. He was able to establish a comfortable gap at the front, while De Pauw's attention came to be focussed on the charging Gounon.
Much of the action during the opening stint seemed to centre around Valentino Rossi (#46 Team WRT Audi). The Italian was rarely without work to do, whether it was passing Christopher Froggatt (#93 Sky Tempesta Racing Mercedes-AMG) with a decisive move or recovering from a spin that dropped him to the rear of the pack.
Once the pit window opened the #53 Ferrari and the #88 Mercedes-AMG stopped together, while the #32 Audi ran one lap longer. Akkodis ASP beat AF Corse out, allowing Jim Pla to return to the track in a net second place ahead of Pierre-Alexandre Jean. A particularly fast stop from the #88 mechanics applied some extra pressure to Team WRT, but when Weerts ducked in next time around his crew made no mistakes and Vanthoor exited pit lane in the lead.
The next hurdle to overcome was a safety car restart. The race was neutralised a little before the 40-minute mark to clear the stricken JP Motorsport McLaren of Vince Abril and to remove a cone from the middle of the circuit. The field was closely packed when the green flag was shown, but despite a good start from Pla the Frenchman was unable to challenge Vanthoor.
As the leaders pulled away the focus fell on the battle for the final step of the podium. Though holding a comfortable Silver Cup advantage, Jean was in no mood to play it safe. The Frenchman faced significant pressure from behind as Christopher Haase charged forward in the #11 Tresor by Car Collection Audi, resulting in an entertaining scrap during the closing stages.
Haase ultimately prevailed, using all his experience to force Jean off-line before grabbing the position. The Ferrari driver then faced an attack from another Audi Sport ace in Patric Niederhauser (#25 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi), but again offered a robust defence and this time maintained P4.
Vanthoor, meanwhile, was untroubled at the front and came home 2.8 seconds clear of Pla, a margin that does not fully demonstrate to Team WRT's dominance. Runner-up spot for the #88 Mercedes-AMG was enough to ensure that Akkodis ASP maintains its lead in the teams' standings, but it is now Weerts/Vanthoor on top in the drivers' classification. Tresor by Car Collection completed the overall podium with its #11 Audi, continuing a fine debut season for the Italian outfit
P4 overall ensured that De Pauw/Jean clinched a fourth Silver Cup win from five races and tightened their grip on the class championship. Indeed, the young pairing remain competitive in the overall Fanatec Sprint standings after showing front-running pace at each track this season. The second step on the Silver Cup podium belonged to the #99 Attempto Racing Audi of Alex Aka and Nicolas Schöll, who were seventh overall and one place clear of the rival #87 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG.
Pro-Am honours went to the #21 AF Corse Ferrari of Stefano Costantini and Cedric Sbirrazzuoli, the former having been drafted in this weekend as a substitute for Hugo Delacour. The pole-sitting #188 Garage 59 McLaren led early on but was forced to retire with gearbox problems before the 15-minute mark. The #111 JP Motorsport McLaren moved to the front, only to be hit with its own issues during the second stint. This ensured a Ferrari one-two as the #52 AF Corse machine of Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini came home second in class, with the #111 McLaren of Patryk Krupinski and Christian Klien completing the podium.
The other major story of the day was the #89 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslavskiy, who surrendered the championship lead with a disastrous opening contest. After struggling in qualifying Boguslavskiy’s race was blighted by contact with the #33 Team WRT Audi, which sent Jean-Baptise Simmenauer into the gravel at turn 1. Marciello was able to move into the top-10 but was facing a penalty, though this became irrelevant when contact with the #12 Audi resulted in a puncture. He eventually finished 23rd and will hope for considerably better tomorrow.
Sunday's action gets underway with qualifying at 09:30 CEST, while the weekend's second race begins at 14:00. Live coverage from both will be shown across a variety of online platforms, including the GT World YouTube channel, with commentary available in English, French, Italian and German.
Photocredit Chris Schotanus