03 April, 2022-
Team WRT took it where it left it and started the 2022 season of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS in the best possible way, with a double win in the opening round of the Endurance Cup at Imola, where the Belgian squad had already triumphed in 2020.

Dries Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts took the overall win after having signed the pole while Benjamin Goethe, Thomas Neubauer and Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer won in the Silver Cup.  The race marked also the excellent  debut in the GTWCE of Valentino Rossi. Together with Nico Müller and Frédéric Vervisch, he missed a likely top-10 finish because of a miscommunication issue during the second pit stop.

Today’s overall race win is also the 50th of Team WRT (out of 56th scored by an Audi) since 2011 in the following SRO-organized championships: Blancpain Endurance Series, FIA GT World Championship, FIA GT3 European Series, Blancpain GT Series and GT World Challenge Europe.

Team Principal Vincent Vosse was a happy man after the race: “It has been a very positive weekend and I am very proud of the entire team. Car #32 made a perfect race and only left P1 for a few laps in the first stint. It’s a great win after having signed our first pole in the Endurance Cup in two years. Car #46 also made a very good race, despite starting from P15 and having to struggle with traffic. All the attention, obviously, was on Valentino, he did  a very good job, no mistakes and had a good pace. He is not at fault in the pit stop issue, it is something that we have to analyze but that can happen when almost the entire field comes into the pit lane at the same time. Car #30 took a great P1 in the Silver Cup after a faultless race and also car #31 finished strongly. We still have to investigate precisely what happened in car 33, which couldn’t take the start. Overall, a great start of the season and we’ll try to keep the momentum.”

The team worked well through the free practice and pre-qualifying sessions and the good results came in the Qualifying sessions on Saturday morning. Dries Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts put a very consistence performance to take the first pole of the year. Car #46 qualified 15th, while car 30 and 31 were 6th and 12th respectively in the Silver Cup and car #33, 9th in the Gold Cup.

On Sunday, under grey skies but in dry conditions, a first deception came early as car #33 could not take the start because of a  technical issue. At the green lights, Weerts kept the advantage and led with authority throughout the first laps and a first safety-car period. Unfortunately, in lap 9, the young Belgian exited wide at the Villeneuve chicane, losing the lead but remaining a very close second throughout the entire stint. Nico Müller in car #46, ran consistently in P14, with the two youngsters, Benji Goethe (car #30) and Lewis Proctor (#31) climbing the field, up to 4th and 12th in the Silver Cup respectively.

It was car #46 to pit first, in lap 31, with Valentino Rossi taking the wheel under the cheers of Italian fans, followed by car #31 one lap later and Diego Menchaca jumping into the driving seat.  Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer (car #30) and Kelvin van der Linde (car #32) took over in lap 37 and perfect strategy and pit stops allowed the South-African to retake the lead of the race and the Frenchman to go 2nd in the Silver Cup, in P13 overall. At the half-race mark, car #32 had a 9-second advantage, Simmenauer (2nd in the Silver Cup) and Rossi were 13th and 14th, with Menchaca 11th in the Silver Cup.

The second stint came to a virtual end earlier than expected because of a long safety-car period, which was used by every contender to perform the second pit stop. Unfortunately, due to miscommunication in the heavy traffic in the pit lane, Rossi overshoot the box position and had to do another lap before handing over to Fred Vervisch. Following all stops, still behind the safety-car, Vanthoor was in the lead, and Thomas Neubauer, eighth overall, took P1 in the Silver Cup, with Vervisch having rejoined in 28th right ahead of Finlay Hutchison, 9th in the Silver Cup.

After yet another safety-car period, the third stint would be relatively uneventful. Vanthoor kept and increased the advantage to take a great win, Neubauer secured Silver Cup win, Vervisch climbed back to P17 and Hutchison finished in P6 of the Silver Cup after close fighting in the group.

Dries Vanthoor: “It was a great day, it was nice to start from the pole and win the race. Yesterday, we were a little bit concerned about where we were, but the team did an amazing job and today the car was very nice to drive. We had great pit stop calls and we could keep enough margin over the Mercedes.”

Kelvin van der Linde: “Great race and very nice to be a double winner at Imola, this time with Dries and Charles. Everything went very well from the start and now I can go back home to South Africa and relax for a couple of weeks!”

Charles Weerts: “I am very happy about things turned out, frankly, we weren’t expecting to be as competitive as we were. The entire team worked a lot and it paid off, first with the pole and then with a super race. I did a small mistake in my stint and we provisionally lost P1 but luckily, we could compensate that and I want to thank my teammates and all the guys for the excellent job.”

Benjamin Goethe: “It’s a perfect start of the season, we couldn’t ask any better. I am very happy and now, let’s hope we can continue with the same pace and the same mentality.”

Thomas Neubauer: “When I got the car, it was already in P1 in the Silver Cup, so I only had to finish the job and tried to do my best and no mistakes. Everything went well and it’s a great result to start the season with.”

Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer: “It was a very good race, we had a great pace. I am very happy to start the season and my career in GTWCE with a win.”

I still have to cope with a lot of new things in GT racing, where you have so many variables and information to handle, I guess this is what you call experience…

Valentino Rossi: “It was a very good weekend, we worked a lot and well, and I enjoyed every moment. In the race, I was strong, we could have gone for a good result, in the top-10, but unfortunately, there was this mistake at the pit stop, but we will learn from it. I still have to cope with a lot of new things in GT racing, where you have so many variables and information to handle, I guess this is what you call experience…”

Nico Müller: “Qualifying could have been better, especially for Vale and me, but we were stuck in traffic. Still, in the race, despite starting from P15, we were competitive, had a good pace and could have been in the top-10. Vale would have deserved that because he did a really good job, no mistakes, good pace, but unfortunately, there was this miscommunication in the pit stop. It’s a pity, but there is a lot of positive to take into the next race.”

Frédéric Vervisch: “We finished the race, which was the target, but we could have had a much better result without the confusion in the pits. Still, the positive is that we were competitive, Valentino had a very good race pace. Overall, we have a very good base from where to improve further.”

Diego Menchaca: “We had a challenging weekend but also constructive in many ways, as we progressed in working and knowing things from the inside. We recovered from a difficult qualifying to finish sixth, now we need to see where we can improve individually, because clearly the team has a great potential.”

Maxime Robin: “It was a good first week of work, we improved a lot throughout the sessions. Unfortunately, we could not take the start of the race, but for sure all the work will be useful for the next race at the Paul Ricard.”

GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup – Round 1
Imola, Italy, 1-3 April 2022

Race results:

1.    Vanthoor-van der Linde-Weerts (Audi R8 LMS)     94 laps
2.    Marciello-Juncadella-Gounon (Mercedes AMG) + 6s200
3.    Engel-Schothorst-Stolz (Mercedes AMG) +12s180
4.    Haase-Drudi-Ghiotto (Audi R8 LMS)  +12s941
5.    Klien-Abril-Lind (McLaren 720S)  +20s635
14. Goethe-Neubauer-Simmenauer (Audi R8 LMS)  +27s424
(1st Silver Cup)
17. Müller-Rossi-Vervisch (Audi R8 LMS)  +39s871
24. Hutchison-Menchaca-Proctor (Audi R8 LMS) +1m00s394
(6th Silver Cup)
DNS A.Robin-M.Robin-Tomita (Audi R8 LMS)  (mechanical)