The Weekend Roundup: Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km

The 2020 GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season concluded last weekend with the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km. And, in what was the 50th race for the Endurance Cup, we saw the kind of decider that has become very familiar to the series.

There were multiple contenders, a team coming from behind to snatch the title, and some of the best class competition seen in recent years. Fittingly, each Endurance Cup crown was taken by Sunday’s winner.

AF Corse triumphed overall, scoring victory to capture Ferrari’s maiden top-tier title, while the long-serving Alessandro Pier Guidi was a popular drivers‘ champion. For the final time this year, here are the stories and statistics behind the action.

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For the third season in succession, the overall Endurance Cup title was clinched by a race victory in the finale. This was also the second straight season in which a team came from behind to take the crown following Orange1 FFF Racing in 2019.

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Remarkably, last weekend’s race was AF Corse’s first overall win under its own name. The Italian outfit had previously taken two victories under the SMP Racing banner, as well as many class triumphs. The team has been ever-present in the Endurance Cup and was contesting its 50th race in succession at Circuit Paul Ricard.

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Despite being the most experienced driver on the #51 crew, this was Alessandro Pier Guidi’s maiden overall win. Tom Blomqvist added a second having previously triumphed at the 2018 Total 24 Hours of Spa, while Come Ledogar is a three-time winner having won twice in a McLaren in 2016.

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The result hinged on two important factors. Firstly, Pier Guidi made up significant time on the leading GPX Racing Porsche during the fifth hour, reducing Mathieu Jaminet’s advantage by five seconds. Secondly, AF Corse’s bold decision to change only its left-side tyres at the final round of pit stops allowed the Italian to emerge in the lead.

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Pier Guidi has had a long association with the Endurance Cup, including Total 24 Hours of Spa Pro-Am class victories with AF Corse in 2012 and 2015. On Sunday he became the first driver to take the overall Endurance Cup title alone since Laurens Vanthoor in 2014.

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Though ultimately beaten by AF Corse, the #12 GPX Racing Porsche crew delivered a magnificent drive and would have been equally worthy champions. The car stormed to the front during the opening 90 minutes and appeared set for victory until AF Corse’s brilliant strategic gamble.

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After fighting for victory at Spa, Orange1 FFF Racing was a factor once again at Circuit Paul Ricard. The #63 Lamborghini came home third to end the year on a positive note after the previous events ended in disappointment.

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Having shared the lead of the standings ahead of the weekend, the #54 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche and #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG did not look to be serious contenders during Sunday’s race. The Dinamic crew suffered a tough qualifying and started 26th, eventually making progress to 10th but falling some way short of the title.

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The AKKA ASP machine was still in the mix early on, but lost a minute in the pits due to a damaged splitter and could not recover the lost ground. Nevertheless, Timur Boguslavskiy was able to capture the overall GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS drivers‘ title, becoming the youngest person to do so at just 20 years of age.

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Bentley’s strong run at Circuit Paul Ricard ended this year, with the British marque’s best representative coming home 13th. The brand had not previously finished lower than fourth at the French venue, taking wins in 2014 and 2019.

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Having started from pole, the #72 SMP Racing Ferrari came home a solid seventh at Circuit Paul Ricard. This represented the first time that two Ferrari runners have finished among the overall top-10 since Silverstone in 2017.

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It would be fair to say that 2020 was not a great year for overall pole-sitters. P7 for the SMP Ferrari was the best finish for a car starting from P1 across the four Endurance Cup events, while this was the first season in which a pole-sitter did not score an overall podium.

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The #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini wrapped up the Silver Cup title in style with a second class triumph of the season. The crew of Patrick Kujala, Frederik Schandorff and Alex MacDowall were also second at the Nürburgring and competed for victory at the Total 24 Hours of Spa before being eliminated in an incident at Raidillon.

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The #15 Tech1 Racing Lexus secured second in the Silver class, its best Endurance Cup finish of 2020. This was despite taking a drive-through penalty after Thomas Neubauer made contact with the #14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini during the first hour.

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The #159 Garage 59 Aston Martin was still in the hunt for the Silver Cup title ahead of the finale but completed just three laps of Sunday’s race. The car met an unfortunate end after being struck by a piece of debris, which punctured the radiator and dashed the British squad’s hopes of contending for the championship.

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Madpanda Motorsport wrapped up the combined Silver Cup teams‘ and drivers‘ title at Circuit Paul Ricard. Established this season by Ezequiel Perez Companc, the Barcelona-based outfit was a winner in the Sprint Cup and scored its maiden Endurance podium at the Nürburgring. As the squad’s only full-season representative, Perez Companc is the drivers‘ champion for 2020.

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The battle for Pro-Am victory – and with it the Endurance Cup title – was perhaps the most exciting aspect of the race. The advantage swung between the #93 Sky Tempesta Racing Ferrari, the #77 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini and the #188 Garage 59 Aston Martin, the latter ultimately taking the win. Strategy played a major role, with Barwell and Garage 59 electing to run their pro drivers at different times.

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Garage 59 drivers Alexander West and Chris Goodwin earned a class title in their fourth season as Endurance Cup teammates. They were supported by Aston Martin star Jonny Adam in the first three events, while Marvin Kirchhöfer drove superbly in the finale to help the squad capture victory.

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Sky Tempesta Racing missed out on a title sweep, having already sewn up the Sprint Cup and GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS championships. After leading early on the Ferrari squad finished third at Circuit Paul Ricard, a drive-through denting their chances of fighting Barwell and Garage 59 for victory.

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French squad CMR took Am Cup honours to secure the class title, while full-season driver Stephane Tribaudini was also crowned champion. The #108 Bentley enjoyed a strong season, taking the chequered flag at all four events and capturing class victory at the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

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This year’s Endurance Cup campaign played out over 965 laps and a little over 6,000km. By going the distance at Circuit Paul Ricard, three cars completed the full duration: the #4 HRT Mercedes-AMG, the #25 Sainteloc Racing Audi and the #54 Dinamic Porsche. The #4 Mercedes-AMG has missed only one lap from the past 11 Endurance Cup races, including three editions of the Total 24 Hours of Spa.

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SMP Racing secured Ferrari’s first pole position since Monza in 2018. This also came courtesy of the Russian-backed squad, though the line-up on that occasion was Rigon/Molina/Aleshin. With the #51 AF Corse car lining up second, Ferrari locked out the front row for the first time since the 2016 Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km.

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The qualifying result gave Ferrari its 11th overall pole, more than any other brand in the Endurance Cup. Coincidentally, the Italian marque also started the very first race, at Monza in 2011, from pole position.

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Sergey Sirotkin set the fastest qualifying time of the weekend (1m53.301s) to guarantee pole for the SMP Ferrari. Ezequiel Perez Companc was the fastest Silver Cup driver in the #90 Madpanda Motorsport Mercedes-AMG (1m54.175s), while the fastest bronze-graded competitor was Sky Tempesta Racing’s Chris Froggatt (1m55.064s)

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Dries Vanthoor set the fastest lap of the race during his closing double stint. The #32 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT driver posted a 1m54.024s on route to fourth overall. This helped the team to capture the combined GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS title for the third time, and the first since 2015.

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Mercedes-AMG successfully defended the global GT World Challenge Powered by AWS manufacturers’ title at Circuit Paul Ricard. The German marque was a regular winner in Europe and America this year, securing notable class victories at the Total 24 Hours of Spa and Indianapolis 8 Hour. It beat Audi to top spot, with Ferrari edging fellow Italian marque Lamborghini for third.

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With the 2020 season complete, attention can turn to the winter break and preparations for next year. After a hard-earned rest, competitors will be back at Circuit Paul Ricard on 12/13 March for the traditional pre-season test days. This will be followed by a welcome return to Monza, which will begin the 11th Endurance Cup campaign on 16-18 April 2021

Text & Foto: SRO GTWC