The ROWE Racing team had a fantastic start to the new Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup season with a one-two finish in the three-hour opening round at the historic Monza circuit in Italy. The win went to the #98 M4 GT3 with Nick Yelloly, Marco Wittmann, and Philipp Eng doing the driving, and they were followed in second place by the #998 M4 GT3 of Max Hesse, Neil Verhagen, and Dan Harper. They did it against a packed field, with 55 GT3 cars on the entry among the various classes.
The M4 GT3s were not the fastest cars in any of the practice or pre-qualifying sessions at Monza and were one of a few cars that were given a balance of performance (BoP) adjustment just before qualifying, which in the BMWs case was a weight decrease of 10 kg (22 pounds). GT World Challenge Europe qualifying has three sessions with three different drivers in each session, with the average of the three fastest lap times used to determine the grid. Strangely, the circuit had a power outage after the first two qualifying sessions, so the third session was canceled, and the grid was set by the average fastest laps in the first two sessions. BMWs were ranked first through fourth on the grid, with the #98 car on the pole.
The BMWs performed so well in qualifying that the SRO (sanctioning body for the series) reversed the BoP adjustment they gave them before qualifying before the race, adding back 10 kg and also giving the cars a turbo boost reduction. In the end, it didn’t matter all that much. Philipp Eng took the first stint in the #98 car, which ended up leading for the entire race except for when the cars cycled through pit stops. There was more drama behind them. The #46 Team WRT M4 GT3 of Augusto Farfus, Maxime Martin, and Valentino Rossi suffered diffuser damage after hitting a curb and ended up retiring.
With less than a half-hour left in the race, it looked like it was going to be a BMW one-two-three overall and in the Pro Cup class as Dries Vanthoor was running in second in the #32 Team WRT car, but he pulled in for an unplanned pit stop to replace a punctured tire, which moved the #998 car of Hesse, Verhagen, and Harper into second. The #32 which was shared by Vanthoor, Sheldon van der Linde, and Charles Weerts ended up finishing in sixth. There were also BMW successes in the other classes. The #30 Team WRT entry of Jean Baptiste Simmenauer, Calan Williams, and Niklas Krütten finished on the podium in third in the Gold Cup class, and the #15 BMW Italia Ceccato Racing car driven by Stefano Comandini, Marco Cassara, and Francesco Guerra finished second in the Pro-Am Cup class.
The success at Monza put the ROWE Racing team in a great position in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, which includes the five longer races on the schedule highlighted by the Spa 24 Hour race in Belgium in late June, but the next race on the schedule is coming up at the Circuit Paul Ricard in France on the weekend of June 2nd-4th. “It’s an amazing start to the season,” said Nick Yelloly after the race. “To be honest, my two team-mates left me a pretty easy job. I knew I had a gap to Dries (Vanthoor) of four or five seconds, my biggest headache was definitely lapping the traffic because they weren’t getting out of the way. Once I could pass a few of those cars and had a little bit of margin between myself and Dries, I knew I was going to be safe. The car was fantastic. I think this shows that BMW and ROWE Racing are working really well together.”
You can watch the replay of the Monza race on the SRO GT World YouTube site. —David Haueter
[Photos by SRO, ROWE Racing]