Teams complete two days of extensive preparatory running at Circuit Paul Ricard
AKKA ASP fastest overall as #88 Mercedes-AMG tops Thursday afternoon and Friday morning
#26 Saintéloc Racing Audi tops Thursday morning, #54 Dinamic Motorsport Porsche leads Friday afternoon
The 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season is officially underway following two days of testing at Circuit Paul Ricard.
Taking place on Thursday and Friday (25/26 March), the annual event brought 35 cars representing nine brands to the south of France to prepare for the upcoming campaign. Excellent weather conditions allowed them to undertake significant running, with several logging in excess of 200 laps of the 5.8km venue.
This allowed teams to gather data, work on race simulations and maximise their one-lap performance on the Pirelli tyres. With several drivers making their official series debuts at Circuit Paul Ricard, the track time on offer was all the more crucial ahead of next month's season-opening event at Monza (16-18 April).
The test also featured a trio of new teams that will join the championship this season. Allied-Racing was present with its Porsche, which will undertake the full schedule in the Pro-Am class. Iron Lynx will chase overall Endurance Cup honours with a pair of Ferrari entries, while Winward Racing will also contest the long-distance championship with a Mercedes-AMG in the Silver Cup.
One of the series' longest-serving teams emerged fastest at the conclusion of the test, with Jules Gounon making the perfect start to his new challenge at AKKA ASP. The French driver posted a 1m52.960s in the #88 Mercedes-AMG, making the most of optimum track conditions on Friday morning. This represents the second year in succession that the team has topped pre-season testing after Raffaele Marciello posted the best effort in 2020.
Gounon edged out the #25 Audi of Alexandre Cougnaud, who showed impressive pace on his first outing with Saintéloc Racing. The Frenchman recorded the second-best time of the test, while the sister #26 car of Frédéric Vervisch was fastest on Thursday and third across both days. The closing session on Friday afternoon saw Dinamic Motorsport go quickest with its #54 Porsche. Matteo Cairoli was at the wheel for the lap, placing the Italian squad fourth overall for the test days.
There were developments away from the track, too. The full entry list for the upcoming Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season was revealed on Thursday morning, with an expanded grid of 29 cars set to contest the Sprint Cup and 40 committed to the Endurance Cup. Several teams took the opportunity to confirm their 2021 driver line-ups, with Allied-Racing (Porsche), Garage 59 (Aston Martin), Toksport WRT (Mercedes-AMG), Sainteloc Racing (Audi) and Walkenhorst Motorsport (BMW) all naming impressive crews this week.
Lamborghini, Bentley and Honda were also represented at the test, the later in preparation for its participation at this year's Total 24 Hours of Spa. McLaren was not on-track, but the marque will be on the grid for the full campaign courtesy of British outfit JOTA. The 2021 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season is scheduled to begin with a three-hour Endurance Cup contest at legendary Italian venue Monza, while the opening Sprint Cup event will bring the series back to France for a pair of one-hour races at Magny-Cours (7-9 May).