The 2023 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season is officially underway following two days of extensive running at Circuit Paul Ricard.
The annual prologue brought 49 cars representing eight brands to the French venue in preparation for the year ahead. With clear skies and sunshine prevailing for much of the test, they were able to complete considerable work ahead of the season-opening trip to Monza on 21-23 April. These are the key stories to emerge from the prologue.
The fastest time across the two days was set on Wednesday morning when Thomas Drouet posted a 1m52.701s at the wheel of the #88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG. This marks the fourth time in succession that the German marque has topped the prologue, with Akkodis ASP (2020 & 2021) and Haupt Racing Team (2022) leading the previous editions.
This was a very impressive test for Akkodis ASP, which amassed four overall Fanatec GT Europe titles in 2022. The team's flagship #88 machine also recorded the best average result across the test, finishing each session among the top-four and undertaking a total of 167 laps.
Among the other brands, the most consistent performers across the test were the #25 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi; the #46 Team WRT BMW; the #28 Nova Race (Honda); the #5 Optimum Motorsport McLaren; the #52 AF Corse Ferrari; the #96 Rutronik Racing Porsche; and the #63 Iron Lynx Lamborghini.
Four brands were running new machinery at the test days. Ferrari put the 296 GT3 through its paces, while Porsche was on-track with the latest-generation 911 GT3 R. Lamborghini ran its upgraded Huracán EVO2 model, while McLaren rolled out the 720S Evo.
The first track action of the prologue saw Comtoyou Racing emerge on top from Tuesday morning's run with its #11 Audi. Gilles Magnus set a 1m53.294s for the Belgian squad, which makes its Fanatec GT Europe debut this season. This time could not be beaten in the afternoon, ensuring that Magnus was quickest overall on Tuesday.
Tresor Attempto Racing kept Audi on top for Tuesday afternoon. Factory ace Mattia Drudi posted a 1m53.726s aboard the #40 machine, which is set to compete under the Tresor Orange1 banner this term. Saintéloc Junior Team (Audi), Akkodis ASP (Mercedes-AMG) and Rowe Racing (BMW) also showed front-running pace on Tuesday.
Akkodis ASP led a Mercedes-AMG one-two on Wednesday morning, with the #57 Winward Racing entry lapping 0.175s shy of the overall pace, while Boutsen Racing was third with its #17 Audi. These cars would prove to be the top-three overall at the test.
Mercedes-AMG Team AlManar by GetSpeed completed a strong test for the German marque by pacing the final session with its #777 entry. Luca Stolz posted a 1m53.423s to beat the ever-present #88 Akkodis ASP machine and the #888 Audi from CSA Racing.
The #25 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi completed the most mileage at the test, logging a total of 252 laps across both days. The #11 Comtoyou Racing Audi (246 laps), #911 Pure Rxcing Porsche (242 laps), and #30 Team WRT BMW (240 laps) also posted impressive totals. The most running in a single session was 81 laps for the #2 GetSpeed Mercedes-AMG on Tuesday morning.
Wednesday morning was the only session in which all 49 participating in the test completed running. The #18 GSM AB1 Lamborghini missed Tuesday morning while the #888 CSA Racing Audi skipped Tuesday afternoon and the #38 ST Racing with Rinaldi Ferrari was absent from the final session.
The 2023 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season entry lists were revealed on Wednesday morning. A record 40-car field will contest this year's Sprint Cup, while 56 crews are confirmed for the Endurance Cup.
Among the teams on-track during the test days, seven are set for their first season of Fanatec GT Europe competition this year. Comtoyou Racing and CSA Racing will compete with Audi machinery, while CLRT and Rutronik Racing will both run with Porsche. ST Racing with Rinaldi (Ferrari), Theeba Motorsport (Mercedes-AMG) and Nova Race (Honda) are also set to join the grid this term.
ST Racing with Rinaldi was among a number of teams to confirm its 2023 plans during the prologue. Samantha Tan will contest the Fanatec GT Endurance Cup in a Ferrari, initially using the 488 model before potentially moving to the new 296 during the campaign.
French squad AGS Events will continue in the Fanatec GT Endurance Cup with a new crew of drivers – Léonardo Gorini, Antonin Borga and Nicolas Jamin – sharing the #8 Lamborghini. They will contend for class honours in the Bronze Cup.
7TSIX will add another new name to the grid after confirming plans to step up to the Fanatec GT Endurance Cup with a McLaren. The British squad missed the prologue due to conflicting activities, while details of its driver line-up and class will be confirmed in the coming weeks.
Grasser Racing will return to the Fanatec GT Endurance Cup with a two-car Lamborghini entry. The Austrian squad has named the composition of its #85 crew, with Clemens Schmid, Glenn van Berlo and Benjamin Hites set to contest the Silver Cup. The sister #58 car was driven by Ricky Capo, Sam Neary and Gerhard Tweraser at the prologue, though a final decision on the line-up has not yet been made.
Mercedes-AMG Team AlManar Racing by GetSpeed confirmed its full line-up during the test days. The Omani-licenced squad will field factory drivers Maro Engel and Luca Stolz – who are set for their sixth successive season as teammates – alongside fellow countryman Fabian Schiller.
Optimum Motorsport will field an all-British crew in its McLaren, with Sam De Haan, Charlie Fagg and Dean MacDonald confirmed for an Endurance Cup assault. They will compete for Gold Cup honours, defending the title that Optimum won last term under the Inception Racing banner.
With testing complete, the focus now switches to the first competitive action of the 2023 season. The campaign will begin with a three-hour Fanatec GT Endurance Cup race at Monza on 21–23 April, followed by the opening Fanatec GT Sprint Cup action at Brands Hatch on 13–14 May. Tickets for these and other several events – including the marquee CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa – are on sale now.