The Final Word: Circuit Paul Ricard

The Final Word: Circuit Paul Ricard

The Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season is up and running. Circuit Paul Ricard staged the opening Endurance Cup contest last weekend, bringing many thousands of spectators to watch a 54-car field lauch the 2024 campaign.

A new season always brings change. Indeed, this was the first time that the series has begun at the French track, while the grid was bolstered by the addition of new models from Aston Martin and Ford, and several drivers were in new surroundings.

But in some ways, it felt as though Fanatec GT Europe had never been away. Sunday's race picked up where 2023 left off: a huge grid, intense competition, and a superb paddock atmosphere. If this is any guide, we're in for another captivating campaign. 

That is still to come. For now, this is the final word on the opening weekend of 2024.

• ROWE Racing bagged the overall win with its #998 BMW shared by Augusto Farfus, Dan Harper and Max Hesse. Each driver scored his maiden Endurance Cup victory, while ROWE Racing took its fifth in the series. This is the second season in a row that the team has opened the campaign with a win. 

• This was the 11th overall victory for BMW, which puts the Bavarian manufacturer back on top as the most successful brand in the Endurance Cup. It was the marque's first triumph at Circuit Paul Ricard since 2013. 

• Iron Lynx gave Lamborghini its first podium since the opening event of 2023, with Matteo Cairoli claiming a top-three finish on his first Fanatec GT Europe outing for the brand. Mirko Bortolotti and Andrea Caldarelli both earned their 10th overall podiums.

• Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed completed the podium by maximising the potential of its AMG GT3 EVO. Luca Stolz and Fabian Schiller were on the podium for the German squad at Circuit Paul Ricard last term, while GetSpeed newcomer Jules Gounon secured his fifth top-three finish at the track.

• Eight brands finished in the top-10 at Circuit Paul Ricard. BMW and Porsche each had two cars among the points-scorers, while Lamborghini, Mercedes-AMG, Porsche, Audi, Aston Martin, Ferrari and Ford all had one.

• Notably, both of the new cars competing at Circuit Paul Ricard scored points on debut. The Aston Martin Vantage was seventh thanks to Comtoyou Racing, while Proton Competition took 10th spot with its Mustang. Both cars have proven immediately popular among fans.

• A fourth-place finish for the #46 Team WRT BMW gave Valentino Rossi his best Endurance Cup result to date. A podium might have been possible but, after a strong opening stint from Maxime Martin, crucial time was lost during the first round of pit stops. Raffaele Marciello finished strongly, showing that he has lost none of his pace since swapping Mercedes-AMG for BMW.

• Grasser Racing produced a stellar comeback drive that very nearly earned a point. After qualifying fourth, the #163 Lamborghini was involved in a collision on the opening lap and dropped to 45th. Christian Engelhart, Marco Mapelli and Franck Perera climbed all the way back to 11th at the chequered flag, missing out on a point but still demonstrating impressive race pace. 

• Saintéloc Racing won at home with its new Gold Cup crew in the #25 Audi. Best known as a Mercedes-AMG specialist, Jim Pla was victorious in his first GT3 outing at the wheel of an R8. Paul Evrard and Gilles Magnus both secured their maiden class wins in the Endurance Cup.

• Mikaël Grenier (#777 AlManar by GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG) was the fastest driver in the Gold Cup. The Canadian posted the best time in pre-qualifying, qualifying and during the race, but ultimately finished eight seconds behind Evrard in the winning Audi. 

• Mercedes-AMG swept the Silver Cup podium with Winward Racing leading the way. The Texan squad’s only previous win was in the Gold Cup at the Nürburgring last year. Tanart Sathienthirakul and debutants Daan Arrow and Colin Caresani were all first-time winners; the latter set the fastest lap of the race in the Silver class. 

• Ferrari squad Kessel Racing made a winning start with its Bronze Cup line-up of Niccolò Schirò, Nicolò Rosi and David Fumanelli. This was the Swiss team's first Fanatec GT Europe appearance since the 2021 season. Prior to Sunday, its most recent victory had been in the Am class at the 2017 edition of the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. 

• The Bronze Cup continues to go from strength to strength, with 19 cars competing at the weekend. It has effectively superseded Pro-Am, which was absent from an Endurance Cup event for the very first time at Circuit Paul Ricard. However, entries are possible at the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa.  

• Garage 59 started from Bronze Cup pole having shown excellent pace throughout the event, but faded during the second half of the race to finish outside the points. Adam Smalley, James Cottingham and Louis Prette were all fast, the latter posting the best lap of the weekend for a McLaren driver.

• Cottingham was a late call-up to replace Miguel Ramos, who was absent after recently undergoing surgery. Ramos, who is among the most successful Bronze drivers in Fanatec GT Europe, hopes to be back behind the wheel for the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa. 

• A total of 85 laps were completed on Sunday, with 25 cars finishing on the lead lap. Five cars were not classified, with the #27 Optimum Motorsport McLaren the first retirement of the season after six laps. 

• Iron Lynx took overall pole with its #63 Lamborghini, the Italian marque's first since Nürburgring 2021. This was Mirko Bortolotti's 10th Endurance Cup pole – more than any other driver – and came at the same track where he scored his first in 2015. Bortolotti has been part of every Lamborghini pole in Endurance Cup history.

• Fabian Schiller set the fastest overall time of the weekend. The #2 Mercedes-AMG Team GetSpeed driver posted a 1m52.752s lap in the second segment of qualifying, helping his team to secure third on the grid. This was a little shy of Jules Gounon's record, 1m52.671s, set at the wheel of a Bentley in 2019. Max Hesse posted the fastest race lap, a 1m54.918s, in the winning BMW.

• The fastest Silver-graded driver at the event was Louis Prette (#188 Garage 59 McLaren), whose 1m53.294s was the 13th best time of the 161 drivers competing at Circuit Paul Ricard. Alex Malykhin (#911 Pure Rxcing Porsche) was the quickest Bronze with a 1m53.909s, which placed him 61st overall.

• This was Fanatec GT Europe’s earliest visit to Circuit Paul Ricard. If anything, it made for a better event: there was sunshine from start to finish, while the cooler April temperatures were perfect for fans. The weekend also featured a pit walk and autograph session with the entire 54-car field. This all helped to ensure a significantly increased attendance of 23,100 spectators.

• The new Lamborghini Safety Car and Leading Car debuted at Circuit Paul Ricard. The Huracán Tecnica – a high-performance model powered by a 630 bhp V10 engine and capable of up to 325 km/h – is utilised for both roles. 

• This was the first of five events at which Fanatec GT Europe will be joined by the Fanatec GT2 European Series Powered by Pirelli and the GT4 European Series Powered by RAFA Racing Club. The full line-up of European championships will also be present at Misano (17–19 May), the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa (26–30 June), Hockenheim (19–21 July) and Monza (20–22 September).  

• The event began with a spectacular group photo that captured 99 of the 120 cars competing at Circuit Paul Ricard, as well as the new Official Cars from Lamborghini. It took 90 minutes to set up, with particular focus on the first three rows to ensure the positioning of the cars behind. The photo, which has been a huge hit on social media, required the combined efforts of Fanatec GT Europe’s logistics, team relations, photography, TV, video and media teams.

• The 2024 season continues in three weeks’ time at Brands Hatch, which stages the opening Sprint Cup contest of the year on 4/5 May. The Endurance Cup resumes with the biggest event of all – the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa – which marks its centenary edition on 26–30 June.