Kelvin van der Linde finishes 14th in his #66 Audi R8 LMS
Antonio Fuoco, James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi led home a Ferrari and AF Corse – Francorchamps Motors one-two at the Gulf 12 Hours, while Daniel Juncadella secured the 2022 Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli drivers’ championship despite his GruppeM Racing Mercedes-AMG’s early retirement.
The #71 488 GT3 clinched a record extending seventh victory for its manufacturer at the event after beating the sister machine shared by Nicklas Nielsen, Davide Rigon and Alessio Rovera by 14.4 seconds.
Audi Sport Team Sainteloc’s Patric Niederhauser, Christopher Haase and Erwan Bastard completed the podium to salvage silverware for Ingolstadt whose other factory entry retired while effectively leading with just over three hours to go.
It was also a bittersweet race for Juncadella who clinched IGTC’s drivers’ title despite failing to complete a lap. A cooling system issue and subsequent water loss forced GruppeM’s #89 entry to unofficially retire in the second hour – not long after its #98 stablemate was forced out with an issue related to Friday’s practice accident.
That prevented Juncadella’s co-drivers Raffaele Marciello and Jules Gounon from potentially sharing the crown after drop scores were applied, and left the door open for Luca Stolz to pinch the championship. Victory would have handed him the title, but while Al Manar Racing by GetSpeed spent periods of the race up front, it never quite looked capable of beating AF Corse. The Mercedes-AMG also shared by Fabian Schiller and Al Faisal Al Zubair ultimately finished fourth.
SunEnergy1 by SPS came home fifth overall and first in the Pro-Am class to cap Kenny Habul and Martin Konrad’s IGTC Pro-Am Challenge title-winning campaign. A harmless spin aside, the Mercedes-AMG that also featured Philip Ellis didn’t put a foot wrong across the 12 hours.
Juncadella seals title despite early retirement
Mercedes-AMG were guaranteed to add the overall drivers’ crown to their manufacturers’ and Pro-Am Challenge titles. The only question was which of their four contenders would be champion or champions come 22:00 on Sunday.
Juncadella began the day as an overwhelming favourite given the points permutations and GruppeM’s entries locking out the front row in qualifying. The unusual strategy of pitting at the end of lap one then caught many by surprise, but that decision soon became irrelevant.
Maro Engel, who’d started the other factory Mercedes-AMG from pole, was forced into the garage before the end of the opening hour after which his co-driver Lucas Auer only briefly reappeared. That moved Raffaele Marciello up to a net second behind Kelvin van der Linde whose Audi Sport Team Tresor squad had mirrored GruppeM’s bold strategy call. However, it wasn’t long before a space was cleared in GruppeM’s garage for another ailing Mercedes-AMG.
With two victory contenders and the championship leader both out in short order attention switched to the proxy battle developing between AF Corse’s Pro Ferraris – which had split their strategies – and Tresor’s Audi. The latter appeared to have a slight edge as the race developed despite Van der Linde and his co-drivers Mattia Drudi and Dennis Marschall seldomly running in first place.
A minimum of 10 Imposed Time Pit Stops had to be served before the final 45 minutes, and it was the #66 Audi that found itself ahead on that count as the race developed thanks to a combination of pace, Full Course Yellow/Safety Car timing and the #71 Ferrari making an additional stop to change brakes.
Still, there was little to choose between the two cars as the race ticked towards its final three hours and completion of the mandatory 100-second pitstops.
Marschall’s collision while lapping the #92 Porsche changed all of that, though. And what at first appeared to be a puncture ultimately proved terminal when the car pulled over just after leaving the pitlane.
The ball was now firmly in AF Corse’s court, and especially that of its #71 entry shared by Pier Guidi, Calado and Fuoco whose decision to make an early first pitstop had proven decisive. Two more Safety Cars – both to recover Audi IGTC entries – gave the chasing pack hope before Pier Guidi and then Fuoco edged clear once again.
#71’s cause was helped by AF Corse’s other car having to save fuel over the final hour, which restricted its pace and shifted Nielsen’s focus to Niederhauser whose Audi had been a solid top-six contender all day. The R8’s challenge appeared to have faded with 10 minutes remaining before a renewed assault saw it cross the line just seven tenths behind.
Strategy also helped Al Manar’s Mercedes-AMG move up and down the order. A victory for Stolz would have seen him beat Juncadella to the title, but he and his co-drivers didn’t quite have the pace of the Ferraris and ultimately slipped to fourth behind Sainteloc’s Audi.
The other remaining R8 – Tresor Attempto Racing’s example shared by Alex Aka, Finlay Hutchison and Pietro Delli Guanti – collected IGTC manufacturers’ points in eighth overall, while Herberth Motorsport and Saalocin Racing scored for Porsche.
The 2023 Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli campaign begins at the LIQUI MOLY Bathurst 12 Hour on February 3-5.
INTERCONTINENTAL GT CHALLENGE POWERED BY PIRELLI
Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli represents the highest echelon of long-distance GT racing.
Established in 2016, the series’ purpose couldn’t be simpler: reward the manufacturer and drivers who achieve the best collective results in the world’s greatest standalone endurance events.
The proliferation of GT3, built on more than a decade of manufacturer involvement and SRO’s Balance of Performance stability, has resulted in it becoming the de facto senior class for all of the world’s most prestigious GT races. This, as well as using the same Pirelli tyres, offers manufacturers an incentive to compete in all such events by employing regional customer teams without the expense of freighting cars around the world.
As many as five events on as many continents have comprised each campaign, although the recent global pandemic prevented the likes of the Suzuka 10 Hours and Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12 Hour from going ahead in recent seasons. Happily, the latter returns to kickstart 2022 in May before GT3 racing’s crown jewel – the TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa – takes centre stage. It’s then on to North America for the Indianapolis 8 Hour Powered by AWS – an event shared with Fanatec GT World Challenge America – before the Gulf 12 Hours closes out the season.
PIRELLI – OFFICIAL TYRE SUPPLIER
Pirelli is a tyre manufacturer and world leader in the automotive industry. It has an exclusive relationship with over 50 racing series worldwide, including Formula One.
Pirelli has a long and illustrious history in endurance racing, and has also claimed a huge variety of class wins in GT racing all over the world. The design of the new Pirelli GT tyres meets the needs of GT racing while maintaining the performance characteristics that endurance drivers have appreciated in the past. The slick tyres used for GT racing are branded Zero: just like the slicks that have become a central feature of Formula One. The name P Zero is used in the highest categories of motorsport such as GT racing.
SRO MOTORSPORTS GROUP – THE GLOBAL LEADER IN GT RACING
With three decades’ experience at the forefront of a continuously evolving industry, SRO Motorsports Group is the established global leader in GT racing. A busy 2022 season will see events staged under the SRO banner on five continents, highlighted by the prestigious TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa.
The company’s expanding portfolio of series includes Fanatec GT World Challenge Powered by AWS categories in America, Asia, Australia and Europe. Each retains its unique identity, while also allowing competing manufacturers to dispute a global title through their continental representatives.
Staged since 2016, the flagship Intercontinental GT Challenge Powered by Pirelli sees world-leading automotive brands tackle marquee events across the globe. Considerable emphasis is placed on amateur competitors thanks to a range of series combining a relaxed environment with highly professional standards, while SRO also works with the FIA to organise and promote the FIA Motorsport Games, a multi-disciplinary event in which drivers compete in the colours of their national flag.
A wide variety of international and domestic categories catering for GT2, GT3, GT4 and touring car machinery add further strength to the extensive on-track programme, while the burgeoning sim racing scene has taken on considerable importance in recent years. This includes the ground-breaking Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series, where professional drivers compete virtually to score points towards the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS teams’ championship, as well as online competitions for leading sim racers.
In addition to promotion and organisation, the company operates the SRO Race Centre by MMC service facility at Circuit Paul Ricard, and provides the ultimate driving opportunities at world-renowned venues through Curbstone Track Events. Combining a passion for performance with industry-leading experience, SRO continues to play a key role in shaping the future of global GT racing.