Monza magic for BMW as ROWE Racing opens Fanatec GT Europe season with faultless one-two 

Monza magic for BMW as ROWE Racing opens Fanatec GT Europe season with faultless one-two 

ROWE Racing made a dream start to the 2023 Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS season with a one-two finish for the BMW squad launching the new campaign at Monza. The #98 machine of Philipp Eng, Marco Wittmann and Nick Yelloly started the opening Endurance Cup race from pole and was never under serious pressure for the win. For much of the three-hour run it was perused by fellow BMW squad Team WRT, only for both of the Belgian squad's cars to hit problems before the chequered flag. 

Eng earned his third overall Endurance Cup win – and his first outside the CrowdStrike 24 Hours of Spa – while experienced factory drivers Wittmann and Yelloly both secured their maiden victories. ROWE Racing claimed its third Endurance Cup win, which also marks its first Fanatec GT Europe triumph away from Spa-Francorchamps.

The #32 Team WRT entry had looked on course for runner-up spot only to suffer a puncture with less than 30 minutes to run. This promoted the #998 ROWE Racing BMW of Neil Verhagen, Dan Harper and Max Hesse to second spot, ensuring the young trio their first trip to the podium.

Iron Lynx began its new partnership with Lamborghini on a strong note thanks to a third-place finish for the flagship #63 crew of Mirko Bortolotti, Andrea Caldarelli and Jordan Pepper. This was the best result for a new car, the Italian brand having unleashed its new Huracán EVO2 GT3 for the 2023 season. 

A pair of Audi runners rounded out the top-five. The #25 Saintéloc Junior Team entry was within a second of the final podium spot as Patric Niederhauser closed in on Bortolotti during the final phase of the race. Next across the line was the #40 Tresor Orange1 machine, ahead of the recovering #32 Team WRT Audi. 

Of the front-runners not to see the chequered flag, the #6 K-PAX Racing Lamborghini showed very well and was challenging for a top-five finish until a problem at the start of the final stint ended its charge. The Mercedes-AMG challenge faltered in the middle stint when both the #777 Mercedes-AMG Team AlManar and the #88 Akkodis ASP entries retired. The former had run as high as second overall after a sensational opening stint from Maro Engel. 

Comtoyou Racing enjoyed a sensational start to its Fanatec GT Europe adventure by winning both the Gold Cup and Silver Cup classes at the first attempt. In the former, the #21 Audi was an impressive seventh overall. Max Hofer took the start for the Belgian squad, followed by youngster Nicolas Baert and the returning Maxime Soulet.
The #5 Optimum Racing McLaren was second in class after a strong run from its all-new line-up. Charlie Fagg delivered an especially impressive first stint, running comfortably with the overall leaders during the opening 60 minutes. Team WRT completed the class podium with its #30 BMW. 

In the Silver Cup, Comtoyou Racing's #12 Audi was comfortably clear of the competition in 16th overall. Finlay Hutchison took the start and was involved in some especially close racing, followed by Loris Hezemans and finally Sam Dejonghe. The #12 came home a lap clear of its nearest challenger to compete a dream debut for Comtoyou Racing. 

Madpanda Motorsport gave Mercedes-AMG something to cheer about by finishing second in the Silver Cup with its #90 machine. The experienced Ezequiel Perez Companc was involved in a close final-stint battle with debutant Sam Neary, the latter completing the podium in the #58 Grasser Racing Lamborghini. 

The Bronze Cup was also won by a new team as Pure Rxcing triumphed with its #911 Porsche. The Lithuanian squad started from 25th with Alex Malykhin at the wheel before the owner/driver handed control to Joel Sturm. Klaus Bachler took the car to the finish and, having already won overall twice at Monza, there was no question that the Austrian would get the job done. 

For much of the race, Bronze Cup victory had looked set to go to the #188 Garage 59 McLaren, which started from class pole and led handily during the opening two stints. A 30-second delay at the final stop ended its hopes of a win, with Henrique Chaves ultimately battling in vain to recover the lost ground. The #93 Sky Tempesta Racing McLaren came home second among the Bronze Cup runners, followed by the #79 HRT Mercedes-AMG.

Pro-Am went down to the wire and was settled with just seven minutes left on the clock. The #15 BMW Italia Ceccato Racing entry had looked on course for victory only for a late spin to cost the local squad crucial time. This opened the door for Dennis Lind in the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini and then Dane took full advantage by making a winning pass. Lind shares the victory with two Britons: series debutant Adam Balon and the returning Rob Collard.

Remarkably, the fastest time of the weekend was shared by two drivers as both Sheldon Van der Linde (#32 Team WRT BMW) and Marco Wittmann (#98 ROWE Racing BMW) both posted laps of 1m45.957s during qualifying. What's more, this establishes a new series lap record for Monza.

The fastest race lap was a 1m47.234s from the #96 Rutronik Racing Porsche of Thomas Preining during the final stint. Valentino Rossi was the fastest man in the opening phase, while Chris Mies led the way during the middle stint. 

In the opening round of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series, Alexey Nesov delivered on his pre-season promise to win overall and in the Silver Cup for Madpanda Motorsport (#90 Mercedes-AMG). Marius Zug was second overall and took Gold Cup honours in the #157 Winward Racing Mercedes-AMG, while Jordan Pepper (#63 Iron Lynx Lamborghini) completed the outright podium and earned Pro victory.

For the first time, a second Assetto Corsa Competizione race was staged on Sunday afternoon in the Fanatec Esports Arena. The inaugural SRO Esports SIM Pro Series contest was won by Tobias Pfeffer, who came out on top for Mercedes-AMG Esports Team HRT by UOL.

On-track support action came from the Fanatec GT2 European Series, GT4 European Series and Clio Cup Series. As such, well over 100 GT cars were competing at Monza this weekend. They lined up for a spectacular SRO family photo, which took place on Friday evening. 

The return to Monza proved a major hit with fans. An estimated crowd of 30,000 spectators were in attendance, creating a bustling atmosphere in the paddock and around the venue. After pre-weekend showers, they were treated to a perfect Sunday with blue skies and sunshine throughout. 

The 2023 Fanatec GT Europe season continues with the opening Sprint Cup round at Brands Hatch in three weeks’ time. The series will travel to the British venue on 13–14 May, kicking off the short-format championship with a bumper grid. 

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