It was a challenging and closely-fought Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 kms as predicted, but it left a sweet-sour taste to Team WRT, who saw its two best-placed cars’ races ruined by incidents. The final P5 of Valentino Rossi-Nico Müller-Frédéric Vervisch was the positive note and the best result scored so far by the Italian former motorbike star. There were class podium honours for Finlay Hutchison-Diego Menchaca-Lewis Proctor in the Silver Cup and for Maxime and Arnold Robin and Ryuichiro Tomita in the Gold Cup.

Benji Goethe-Thomas Neubauer-Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer eventually took a brilliant fourth in the Silver Cup after dominating the first two hours and then suffering a high-speed puncture. For Dries Vanthoor-Charles Weerts-Kelvin Van der Linde, it was a contact with a lapped car putting them out of contention in the final third of the race, when they were third.

Free Practice and pre-qualifying, despite car #30 taking a stunning P1 in the first session, proved the challenging task ahead of the Audi R8 LMS on a track that has never been its favorite. In qualifying though, Team WRT was able to extract the most out of the situation, with three cars making the top-10: #32 took third, #30 fifth and #46 seventh, with the other two cars sharing row 15. 

On Saturday, on a warm afternoon, Weerts and Rossi kept their positions, with Goethe gaining one up to 4th in first lap, before a first safety-car period to clear the track from the inevitable first lap contacts. After the restart, the Audi had trouble keeping the pace of the faster cars, with Charle Weerts sliding to P5, Benji Goethe to P7 but keeping solidly the lead in the Silver Cup and Valentino Rossi to P10, but showing great maestria in managing traffic and duels amongst much more experienced pro GT drivers. Further back, Finley Hutchison climbed to P20 and Arnold Robin to P38.

The end of the first stint, though, would bring some tyre drama for Team WRT: Goethe, whose race until then had been impressive, suffered a high-speed puncture in the rear left, and a similar misfortune would hit Weerts a couple of laps later. All Team WRT drivers were on a double stint, except for car #31 where Lewis Proctor took the wheel. The second hour saw Weerts stabilizing in sixth, with Rossi concluding in P11, while Proctor climbed back to P15, Arnold Robin stable in P36 and Goethe charging from the very back after losing two laps. The second pit stop saw an issue with the refueling system of car #46 which forced Nico Müller, to a short stop for refueling, luckily using a full course yellow period. 

In the central part of the race, van der Linde raised up to and maintained P4, with Müller rejoining progressively the top-10, Diego Menchaca in car #31 running P4 in the Silver Cup, with a charging Simmenauer in P9, and Maxime Robin in P8 in the Gold Cup. 

Unfortunately, the last two hours of the race yielded a blow for the Belgian squad, when Vanthoor, then running third, was involved in a contact with a backmarker, which resulted in damage to the rear left and forced the car to the pit. 

The last hour started with Vervisch in P6, with Menchaca third in the Silver Cup and Neubauer in fifth, and both in the top-15 overall, and Tomita fifth in the Gold Cup. Everyone climbed positions in the closing stages, with Vervisch finishing fifth, Menchaca and Neubauer taking third and fourth in the Silver Cup, and Tomita also reaching the podium of the Gold Cup. 

Nico Müller: “It’s a good result but it could have been even better and could have been a first podium. Unfortunately, that extra pit stop cost us time but we managed to be back in the game and take good points. The positive is that we had really good pace”.

Valentino Rossi: “I am very happy, P5 is a good result and we had a very positive weekend. We were strong and fast, and proved to be a good line-up. I am happy with my pace and also with how I could fight in the traffic of the first stints.”

Fred Vervisch: “It’s a great result and I think P4 was in it, but a final P5 is very positive. We had a good quali, Vale did no mistakes in his stints and Nico could recover from the extra pit stop. At the end, I was fighting for P4 that we missed narrowly.”

Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer: “We came back a long way, it’s a shame we had that puncture, but the pace was really good and everybody did a fantastic job. Let’s build on that for the 24 Hours.”

Benji Goethe: “A disappointing result, of course, as we were running comfortably first in the Silver Cup. The puncture ruined our race but we catch back from last to fourth and we had a really great pace.”

Diego Menchaca: “I am very happy with the result and with my triple stint, it has been one of the toughest races I have done, but everything went well, pit stops and strategy were perfect, my teammates did a great job and at the end, we managed to get into the podium”.

Maxime Robin: “We took the revenge on Imola! It was a good race and a good result, everybody did a great job and we are back in the Gold Cup championship.”

Ryuichiro Tomita: “Frankly, I didn’t expect a podium at the beginning of the race, but little by little we emerged. I had a very good feeling with the car and could catch a lot of cars to finish third. Congratulations to all the team.”

Dries Vanthoor: “A contact with a lapped car ruined our race. It was some time that I had been stuck behind that car and eventually I went for it and there was contact. Blue flags have been a real issue this weekend and it is a matter that needs to be addressed before the 24 Hours.”

Charles Weerts: “A difficult weekend, although it started well. We qualified well, the start of the race was ok, but then a puncture put us in P6. Still, we managed to recover and could have been on the podium, then Dries had this incident. It happens when you are always pushing and he had been stuck behind that car for a couple of laps. Let’s focus on the next one.”

GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup – Round 2
Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 kms, France 3-4 June 2022

Race results:
1. Serra-Rigon-Fuoco (Ferrari 488) 176 laps
2. Nielsen-Calado-Molina (Ferrari 488) + 7s829
3. Marciello-Juncadella-Gounon (Mercedes AMG) + 8s668
4. Harper-Verhaegen-Hesse (BMW M6) +22s100
5. Müller-Rossi-Vervisch (Audi R8 LMS) +23s469
14. Hutchison-Menchaca-Proctor (Audi R8 LMS) +1 lap (3rd Silver Cup)
15. Goethe-Neubauer-Simmenauer (Audi R8 LMS) +27s424 (4th Silver Cup)
18. A.Robin-M.Robin-Tomita (Audi R8 LMS) +2 laps (3rd Gold Cup)
DNF Vanthoor-Weerts-Van der Linde (Audi R8 LMS) 125 laps (damage)

Photo: Michele Scudiero, Brecht Decancq