Six-hour race returns to popular day-night format
French venue set to stage Endurance Cup action for 10th season in succession
Virtual competition resumes with second Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series event of 2021
An ultra-competitive 47-car field will race into the setting sun next weekend (28-30 May) when Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS tackles the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km.
It marks the French venue's 10th year as part of the Endurance Cup schedule and will see the event make a popular return to its traditional early-summer date. A firm favourite among competitors and fans alike, the race is second only to the Total 24 Hours of Spa in terms of distance and creates one of the most spectacular backdrops of the season as day gives way to night.
As well as a packed on-track programme, the weekend will also feature the second Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series contest following last month's successful launch at Monza. The Fanatec Esports Arena will play host to a one-hour Assetto Corsa Competizione race in which real-world drivers will battle for crucial points towards their teams' championships.
Porsche the brand to beat as battle for overall honours resumes
The 2021 season began in spectacular fashion last month with a rain-hit three-hour race at Monza. Amid the drama, Porsche squad Dinamic Motorsport delivered an assured performance to capture overall victory and steal an early march in the battle for the Endurance Cup title.
The #54 crew of Christian Engelhart, Matteo Cairoli and Klaus Bachler were the class of the field in Italy and will now go in search of the Stuttgart marque's maiden overall win at Circuit Paul Ricard. Dinamic will also field the sister #56 entry for Romain Dumas, Andrea Rizzoli and Mikkel O. Pedersen, while GPX Racing will rely on leading Porsche racers Earl Bamber, Matt Campbell and Mathieu Jaminet.
Mercedes-AMG squad AKKA ASP finished as runner-up at the opener and its all-star crew of Raffaele Marciello, Jules Gounon and Dani Juncadella is among the hot favourites to seal top spot this weekend. HRT also represents Mercedes-AMG in the hunt for overall victory and the German outfit will look to bounce back after Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Vincent Abril endured a difficult day at Monza.
Circuit Paul Ricard holds very happy memories for Ferrari following its superb victory in last year's race, which sealed the Endurance Cup drivers' title for Alessandro Pier Guidi. The reigning champion leads the #51 Iron Lynx crew and will have aspirations of a repeat performance alongside Nicklas Nielsen and Côme Ledogar, while the sister #71 machine showed excellent pace at Monza with Davide Rigon, Antonio Fuoco and Callum Ilott at the wheel.
The most recent overall win for a McLaren came at Circuit Paul Ricard in 2016. Long-serving factory driver Rob Bell was at the wheel on that occasion and will look to guide series newcomer JOTA Sport to a strong result this weekend alongside fellow McLaren men Ben Barnicoat and Oliver Wilkinson. A second 720S GT3 joins the field at Circuit Paul Ricard as JP Motorsport returns to the series with Patryk Krupinski, Karol Bascz and Christian Klien, the latter an overall winner at this event in 2018.
BMW will be gunning for the top of the order with a two-car effort from Walkenhorst Motorsport. In the #35 machine, French ace Thomas Neubauer will chase victory on home soil alongside Timo Glock and Martin Tomczyk, while the sister #34 features an equally strong line-up of Marco Wittmann, Sheldon van der Linde and David Pittard.
Orange1 FFF Racing put Lamborghini on pole at Monza. Technical problems ended the Chinese squad's chances, but the pace and experience of Andrea Caldarelli, Mirko Bortolotti and Marco Mapelli should ensure another shot at glory. Fellow Lamborghini squad Emil Frey Racing can also be a threat with its two-car line-up. Albert Costa, Norbert Siedler and Giacomo Altoè handle the #163, while young trio Jack Aitken, Konsta Lapalainnen and Arthur Rougier share the #114 Huracán.
An impressive Audi contingent completes the 18-strong field of Pro crews, with Saintéloc Racing fielding a pair of cars. Christopher Haase, Adrien Tambay and Alexandre Cougnaud share the #25 machine, while the sister #26 Audi features Markus Winkelhock, Frédéric Vervisch and Finlay Hutchison. The #66 Attempto Racing entry should also be a factor with Mattia Drudi, Chris Mies and Kim-Luis Schrmam at the wheel.
The #32 Team WRT Audi was a leading contender for victory at Monza before a puncture ended the Belgian squad's hopes. The talents of Dries Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts should ensure another strong run, though with such a competitive field they will need to be on top of their game.
Expanded grids for Silver and Pro-Am Cup
History was written at Monza when Emil Frey Racing became the first Silver Cup entrant to score an overall podium in the Endurance Cup. The Lamborghini outfit must be considered the team to beat again this weekend, with its all-Swiss crew of Alex Fontana, Ricardo Feller and Rolf Ineichen combining speed and experience. They are joined in the Lamborghini camp by Grasser Racing, which will look to post a strong result following a tough opener at Monza.
Mercedes-AMG remains the best-represented Silver Cup brand and has a number of potential winners among its contingent. Winward Racing sealed a podium finish last time out, while AKKA ASP, SPS automotive performance and Toksport WRT also began the season among the points scorers. In contrast there was no reward for the pace shown by Madpanda Motorsport or HRT, providing both with plenty of motivation for this weekend's event.
Team WRT took second and fourth in class at Monza and should be a leading contender once again at Circuit Paul Ricard. Fellow Audi squad Attempto Racing also began the season positively thanks to a sixth-place finish and brings in youngster Max Hofer for the upcoming contest. German outfit Car Collection will add a further Audi to the grid at Circuit Paul Ricard, with the returning Milan Dontje joined by series newcomers Patrick Kolb and Simon Reicher in the #24 machine. Garage 59 will chase a strong finish with its Aston Martin, while Ferrari squad Rinaldi Racing will have high hopes for its revised crew, with Benjamín Hites joined by David Perel and Nicolas Varone.
The new Pro-Am season began as the previous one ended: with Garage 59 on the top step of the podium. The Aston Martin crew of Alexander West, Chris Goodwin and Jonny Adam will look to secure the British squad its fourth successive Circuit Paul Ricard win. Lamborghini representatives Orange1 FFF Racing and Barwell Motorsport joined Garage 59 on the podium last time out and both can be relied upon to pose a serious threat for victory at Circuit Paul Ricard.
If we are to see a first-time winner at Circuit Paul Ricard, Inception Racing is a strong candidate. The British squad scored class pole at Monza and has since enjoyed a race-winning debut in Fanatec GT World Challenge America Powered by AWS. Regular drivers Brendan Iribe and Ollie Millroy are joined by Nick Moss for the upcoming event.
Boutsen Ginion Racing attracted plenty of positive attention at Monza thanks to its stunning Michel Vaillant livery and will look to build on the pace it showed early in the race. The opener proved disappointing for Porsche squad Allied-Racing, which withdrew from the event following an accident in free practice. Circuit Paul Ricard will therefore represent the German outfit's series debut.
Mercedes-AMG squad GetSpeed was just one spot shy of a podium at Monza and will target further improvement this weekend. SPS automotive performance and RAM Racing will also field AMG machinery, the latter adding Fabian Schiller to its line-up for the Circuit Paul Ricard event.
Ferrari will be the best-represented Pro-Am squad with five cars, two of which join for the upcoming weekend. AF Corse will field a pair of 488 GT3s, with the #53 making its first appearance of the season in the hands of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin. Kessel Racing is unchanged from Monza, while Jonathan Hui retakes his spot at Sky Tempesta Racing after missing the opener.
History will be made at Circuit Paul Ricard when the first all-female crew tackles an Endurance Cup event. Ferrari squad Iron Lynx will field a Pro-Am entry for Katherine Legge, Sarah Bovy and Doriane Pin as part of its Iron Dames initiative, which aims to develop and inspire the next generation of women in motorsport. The grid is completed by French squad CMR, which will compete in either the Pro or Pro-Am class with its #108 Bentley.
Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series joins packed weekend scheduled
This year’s Circuit Paul Ricard 1000km resumes its traditional two-day schedule, which begins at 09:00 CEST on Friday with a 60-minute bronze test. The full field will be on-track at 15:00 for free practice and again at 20:40 to tackle pre-qualifying, both of which last 90 minutes.
All of the competitive action takes place on Saturday, beginning at 10:45 with qualifying. This will set the grid for the evening's six-hour race, which is scheduled to begin at 18:00 and will run until midnight.
The event will also feature round two of the groundbreaking Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series. The 60-minute Assetto Corsa Competizione race forms part of a packed Saturday, with qualifying set for 13:05 and the race following at 13:35. Once again, the action will take place on-site at the Fanatec Esports Arena.
The on-track support package includes action from the GT4 European Series and Lamborghini Super Trofeo, both of which will stage their second events of the 2021 season at Circuit Paul Ricard. The Formula Regional European Championship by Alpine arrives direct from a slot on the Monaco Grand Prix support package and will add a pair of single-seater races to the line-up, while TCR Europe makes the first of five appearances alongside Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS.
As ever, the Circuit Paul Ricard weekend will be one of the busiest of the season. With expanded grids and the awesome spectacle of GT3 cars competing at sundown, it also promises to be among the most memorable.
Image: Monza 3hr Endurance