The first two races of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Sprint Cup were held this past weekend at the Brands Hatch circuit in England, and it was a solid weekend for BMW Team WRT. Like the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship here in the US, GT World Challenge Europe has separate Sprint Cup and Endurance Cup championships. The Sprint races are set at 60 minutes each with two races per weekend, while the Endurance races range between three and 24 hours, highlighted by the Spa 24-Hour race in late June.
Team WRT has a total of four M4 GT3s competing in the Sprint Cup races, and they are the only BMW team competing in the series. Three of the cars compete in the top Pro class, with Maxime Martin and Valentino Rossi in the #46 car, Charles Weerts and Dries Vanthoor in the #32, and Thomas Neubauer and Jean-Baptiste Simmenauer in the #31. Team WRT also has an entry in the Gold Cup class, with Calan Williams and Niklas Krütten sharing the #30 car. There were 29 total cars from eight different manufacturers racing at Brands Hatch.
In pre-qualifying, all the BMWs were setting similar times but were over a second off the pace of the fastest cars. In qualifying for the first race, Charles Weerts was the fastest BMW in the #32. He had only the fifth fastest time but was only around six-tenths off the pole time of the #88 Mercedes-AMG. The #46 driven by Maxime Martin was the fastest of the BMWs in the qualifying session for the second race and like Weerts was fifth fastest but was only around four-tenths off the pole-sitting Audi. The top fourteen cars were all within one second of each other in the second qualifying session.
As in qualifying, the BMWs were not the fastest cars in the two races at Brands Hatch and were plagued by understeer issues. However, if you have a good pit crew you can gain positions in the pits, and that’s exactly what happened in both races. The #32 car started by Weerts was running in sixth place in race one before pit stops, but was up to third after all the teams had cycled through their stops. They finished third in the Pro class behind the winning #88 Mercedes-AMG and the #40 Audi. The #31 car ended up in thirteenth while the #46 finished in fourteenth. In the Gold Cup class, Williams and Krütten finished fourth.
It was more of the same in race two, but the BMWs were even more competitive, with the #46 of Martin and Rossi finishing in second behind the winning #40 Audi, and the #32 M4 GT3 of Weerts and Vanthoor finishing on the podium in third. The #30 BMW of Williams and Krütten won the Gold Cup class and finished an impressive seventh overall.
The podium finish in race two was the first in the series for multiple Moto GP motorcycle champion Valentino Rossi and was a great start for Team WRT in the Sprint Cup championship. “Reaching the podium today almost feels like winning the title,” said Team Principal Vincent Vosse. “Sometimes, winning almost feels too easy but here at Brands Hatch we perhaps didn’t have the fastest car in terms of pure pace, but the BMW M4 GT3 worked perfectly in the race, the pit stops were superb, and the drivers gave a faultless performance. It is extremely satisfying to reach the podium with such a fantastic team performance. The Sprint Cup is a top-notch competition and a huge challenge. We are very competitive, and we will now continue to work on this very good foundation.”
The next round of Sprint Cup races take place in mid-July at the Misano circuit in Italy. There are two Endurance Cup races before those, with a race at Circuit Paul Ricard in France in early June and the Spa 24-Hour in late June. For more information on the series, visit the GT World Challenge Europe website. —David Haueter
[Photos by SRO]