Highly competitive 23-car field confirmed for Sprint Cup launch
Trio of races scheduled, opening run set for sunset start on Saturday evening
GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS will hit full speed next weekend (7-9 August) when the Sprint Cup campaign kicks off with a trio of races at Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli.
It comes shortly after the opening Endurance Cup contest at nearby Imola (26 July), which launched the long-awaited 2020 season in style with an action-packed three-hour contest.
Not to be outdone, the Sprint Cup is set for an equally spectacular return at the 4.2km Misano circuit. A highly competitive field will undertake a trio of races on the Adriatic coast, the first of which begins shortly before sunset on Saturday evening. All three will last for one hour, with mid-race driver changes and the same points awarded for each.
The expanded format has been introduced following the reduction in Sprint Cup weekends from five to four, with added contests at Misano and the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya finale ensuring a complete complement of races. A 23-car field will tackle the event, with 10 full-pro crews leading the charge for overall glory.
Reigning teams' champion AKKA ASP will once again count on Italian ace Raffaele Marciello, who has recorded five victories and 10 podiums during the past two seasons. The 2018 Sprint Cup title-winner is joined in the #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 by Timur Boguslavskiy, who earned his maiden Endurance podium last time out at Imola.
Having finished second in last year's Sprint Cup standings, the #4 Mercedes-AMG duo of Maro Engel and Luca Stolz have only one objective this term. They will chase title glory as part of the new Haupt Racing Team, though much of what made the German pairing so formidable in 2019 remains in place.
Audi heads to Misano in particularly strong form. The German marque began the Endurance Cup campaign in style, with overall pole position for Attempto Racing and victory for Belgian Audi Club Team WRT ensuring a perfect return to action.
WRT has enjoyed considerable success at Misano, taking main race honours in 2016, sweeping the weekend in 2018 and adding another victory last year. The most recent triumph came courtesy of Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts, who are set to join forces for the full 2020 campaign in the #32 Audi R8 LMS. WRT will also field its #31 machine for Japanese racer Ryuichiro Tomita and Kelvin van der Linde, the latter having secured a maiden Endurance Cup triumph at Imola.
Attempto Racing is set to run a pair of Audi crews at Misano. Frederic Vervisch is paired with Nicolas Schöll in the #66 machine and will hope to maintain the pole-winning speed he showed at Imola, while local ace Mattia Drudi partners fellow countryman Tommaso Mosca in the #55 car.
Audi squad Sainteloc Racing will deploy Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock in the #25 R8 LMS. Though both are highly experienced, this will be the first time that the 2017 Total 24 Hours of Spa winners share a car in the Sprint Cup, adding further interest to what should be a very competitive crew.
Lamborghini is represented by a pair of cars from series returnee Emil Frey Racing, whose #163 Huracan could be a leading contender with Alberto Costa and young talent Giacomo Altoè at the wheel. In the #14 machine, Mikäel Grenier will compete alongside Norbert Siedler, who took qualifying and main race honours in 2015 as part of the Rinaldi Racing squad.
Bentley has expanded its customer roster this year, ensuring that the brand is represented by a full-pro Sprint Cup effort for the first time since 2017. French outfit CMR will field the #107 Continental GT3 for factory ace Jules Gounon and the experienced Nelson Panciatici, forming an all-French effort that should be an immediate contender.
A further eight cars will compete for Silver Cup honours while also gunning for a spot at the top of the overall order. In the Mercedes-AMG camp, back-to-back class champion AKKA ASP pairs young Chilean racer Benjamin Hites with the established Jim Pla. Madpanda Motorsport will also field an AMG GT3, with team principal Ezequiel Perez Companc set to lead the driver line-up, while TokSport WRT joins the series with two cars. Oscar Tunjo and Juuso Puhakka will handle the #2 machine, while Kris Heidorn and Robin Rogalski will team up in the #6.
Tech 1 Racing showed excellent pace at Imola, with its #15 Lexus fighting for the overall top-10 amid a 46-car field. Reigning class champion Thomas Neubauer is a new addition to the team, where he will compete alongside fellow countryman Aurelien Panis. CMR also has an all-French line-up in its Silver class Bentley, with Pierre-Alexandre Jean sharing the #108 Continental GT3 with Hugo Chevalier. In the Audi camp, Sainteloc Racing will field overall race winner Simon Gachet alongside Steven Palette, while Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will run brothers Hamza and Jusuf Owega in the #33 machine.
A quintet of Pro-Am runners will compete the Misano grid. A pair of Ferrari 488 GT3s are set to line up at the Italian venue, with the longstanding AF Corse duo of Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini sharing the #52 machine. The sister Sky Tempesta Racing car of Chris Froggatt and Eddie Cheever III will be aiming high at Misano, having taken class pole and a runner-up finish at Imola.
The Italian machines will be joined by three Mercedes-AMG entrants. Having clinched last year's Pro-Am crown in an FFF-run Lamborghini, Phil Keen will look to add another title at the wheel of an AMG GT3 for ERC Sport, sharing with experienced gentleman driver Lee Mowle. At SPS Automotive, Valentin Pierburg will join 2016 Blancpain GT Series champion Dominik Baumann in the #20 machine, while a second entry will see Christian Hook and Tom Onslow-Cole competing in the #44 car.
With three qualifying sessions and three races on the schedule, the Misano weekend will be busier than ever for GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS competitors. It also means a tweak to the format: in each crew, the nominated ‘Driver 1’ will tackle qualifying 1 and 3, while also starting the corresponding races. ‘Driver 2’ will handle the other qualifying session and start race two. At the Circuit de Barcelona finale, their roles will be reversed to ensure that each driver contests five qualifying sessions and starts five races this term.
Preparations for the Misano event begin on Friday 7 August with 80-minute free practice sessions at 13.10 and 18.35, while an additional pre-qualifying session will run on Saturday morning, also lasting for 80 minutes. The serious business begins at 13.20 on Saturday afternoon when a pair of qualifying sessions will run back-to-back. These will set the grid for the opening two races, the first of which begins at 19.15 and concludes just as the sun sets over the Misano venue. At 09.00 on Sunday another qualifying session will run, establishing the grid for the weekend's third race. Race two gets underway at 11.15, while the final contest starts at 15.00.
The weekend's support action includes GT4 European Series and Lamborghini Super Trofeo, with each set to contest a pair of sprint races at Misano. There will be further on-track entertainment courtesy of TCR DSG Europe Series, which will make its debut with a two-hour endurance event on Sunday afternoon. With an unprecedented three-race format launching the Sprint Cup season, it promises to be a packed weekend of international motorsport on the Adriatic.