ROWE Racing opens the season in style with commanding Endurance Cup win at Circuit Paul Ricard

ROWE Racing opens the season in style with commanding Endurance Cup win at Circuit Paul Ricard

• Perfect display sees ROWE triumph in season-opening contest
• Gold Cup victory at home for Saintéloc Racing with #25 Audi
• Winward leads Mercedes-AMG podium sweep in Silver Cup
• Bronze Cup victory on return for Kessel Racing Ferrari
• Result: Circuit Paul Ricard

ROWE Racing opened the 2024 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season with victory at Circuit Paul Ricard thanks to a stellar drive from the #998 BMW crew of Augusto Farfus, Dan Harper and Max Hesse. 

The new campaign opened in typically competitive fashion, with multiple changes at the head of the order and plenty more drama among the class contenders. As if to underline this fact, four different brands secured a win at the French venue, while eight manufacturers were among the overall top-10 at the conclusion of the three-hour contest.

What’s more, 23,100 fans attended the event – a 24% increase over 2023.

The race began with the pole-sitting #63 Iron Lynx Lamborghini retaining its advantage with Mirko Bortolotti at the controls, followed by the #22 Schumacher CLRT Porsche and the #2 Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed machine. The opening hour was punctuated by a number of caution periods, giving the new Lamborghini Huracán Tecnica Safety Car an opportunity to stretch its legs at the head of the field. 

Iron Lynx briefly lost the lead when the Schumacher CLRT Porsche jumped ahead during the first round of pit stops. However, part of the refuelling gear remained connected when Dorian Boccolacci rejoined the track, requiring a return to the pits and scuppering the French team's chances of a home victory. 

But it did not leave the way clear for Iron Lynx to score an easy win. As the second hour developed, it became clear that the #998 ROWE Racing BMW – which had been started by Augusto Farfus and taken over by Dan Harper – was the fastest car on the circuit. Harper quickly ate into Andrea Caldarelli's advantage at the front and was all over the Italian as the race reached half distance. 

 Caldarelli held on for several laps, but when the Lamborghini ran a little wide into Beausset the BMW dived through the gap and into the lead. Finally in clean air, Harper quickly built a cushion. The final round of pit stops ran smoothly for both leading cars, though with Iron Lynx making up a second there was briefly the possibility of a fight to the finish. Hesse quickly dispelled this by posting a new fastest lap of the race, leaving Matteo Cairoli to settle for runner-up. 

The ROWE BMW came home 13.5 seconds clear at the head of the field to secure maiden Fanatec GT Europe victories for young stars Harper and Hesse – as well as the vastly experienced Farfus. Iron Lynx earned Lamborghini a first overall podium since the opening round of 2023, while the #2 Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed entry of Jules Gounon, Fabian Schiller and Luca Stolz ran a solid race to complete the podium.

A flying final stint from Raffaele Marciello gave Team WRT fourth with its #46 BMW. The Swiss ace made a very late pass on Sven Müller (#96 Rutronik Racing Porsche) to seal a good haul of points along with Maxime Martin and Valentino Rossi. The #99 Tresor Attempto Racing Audi was sixth, followed by the #7 Comtoyou Racing Aston Martin after a stellar finish from Nicki Thiim in the new Vantage GT3. Pure Rxcing (#911 Porsche), AF Corse (#51 Ferrari) and Proton Competition (#64 Ford) completed the top-10. 

Saintéloc Racing secured Gold Cup honours on home soil with its #25 Audi. Jim Pla moved into the lead around mid-distance by passing Dominik Baumann (#777 AlManar Racing by GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG) and handed over to Gilles Magnus to finish the job. Paul Evrard had laid the foundations by running the first stint in the Saintéloc car. The #777 Mercedes-AMG finished second thanks to a strong finish from Mikaël Grenier, with the #111 CSA Racing Audi making it two French teams on the podium in third. 

Silver Cup victory went to Winward Racing, which led a Mercedes-AMG podium sweep with its #57 entry. The American squad ran third until mid-distance before jumping to the front and pulling away. Tanart Sathienthirakul took the start, followed by the Dutch duo of Daan Arrow and Colin Caresani. Boutsen VDS edged the battle for runner-up spot thanks to a fast finish from Aurélien Panis, beating the pole-sitting Madpanda Motorsport entry. 

Kessel Racing made a triumphant return to Fanatec GT Europe by taking victory in an extremely competitive Bronze Cup class. The #8 Ferrari started from the rear of the field but made gradual progress up the order before hitting the front in the final stint with pro driver David Fumanelli at the wheel. He shared victory with Nicolò Rosi, who took the start, and Niccolò Schiro. AF Corse made it a Ferrari one-two with its #52 entry, while Comtoyou Racing completed the class podium with the #11 Aston Martin. 

This weekend marked the first time that Circuit Paul Ricard has opened the Fanatec GT Europe season, and it proved a major success with the public. Aided by perfect weather, the event drew an enthusiastic crowd of 23,100 spectators, a significant increase on last year’s attendance. The next stop on the calendar is the Sprint Cup opener at Brands Hatch on 4/5 May.

As for the Endurance Cup, the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa is already on the horizon. The centenary edition of the Belgian endurance classic will take place on 26–30 June, preceded by the official Prologue on 21/22 May.

Images 1 and 3–5 © SRO Motorsports Group. Image 2 © Gruppe C Photography.