April 8, 2024

Oman’s Al-Faisal bin Khalid Al-Zubair, Austrian Dominik Baumann and Canadian Mikaël Grenier got their campaign for honours in the 2024 Fanatec GT World Challenge powered by AWS Endurance Cup off to an excellent start with second place in the Gold Cup category at the opening race in France.

The trio guided the Al-Manar Racing by Getspeed Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo to the runner-up spot on the world-famous 5.791km Paul Ricard circuit, sandwiched between the two Audis of Saintéloc Racing and CSA Racing. 

Al-Faisal said: “It was a positive race weekend in general. We started off with solid practice and pre-qualifying sessions where the car felt quite good. I think it wasn’t the best weekend for the Mercedes. But, nonetheless, it was a solid result. We started qualifying with pole in our Gold class and beat some of the Pro guys as well. We were P15 overall. 

“I started the race for the first hour and came back into the pits after a good stint. We were still leading the class. Dominik, my team-mate, went into the car for the second stint. Unfortunately, he struggled a bit with the tyre management and we went back to third place. Luckily, in the third stint, Mikaël had a very strong session and he took us back to second place. For sure, we are happy with second place and pole position in terms of points for the championship but I think the win was there for us this weekend. I think we just keep this momentum up for the next one in this championship, which is Spa 24, the biggest race of the year.”

Al-Zubair took the wheel for the opening stint of the three-hour race and delivered a solid performance that saw him stay well ahead of his Gold Cup rivals and move up a couple of places in the overall classification. Despite a full course yellow after around 40 minutes of his time at the wheel of the Mercedes, the Omani was well clear of Evrard in the Saintéloc Racing Audi.

Baumann took over for the second stint under a full course yellow and maintained the team’s advantage for a time before slipping behind Saintéloc Racing’s Jim Pla and coming under pressure from Adam Eteki in the CSA Racing Audi.

After the final driver change, Grenier held third place behind Gilles Magnus in the Saintéloc Racing Audi and Arthur Rougier in the CSA Racing machine. Magnus held on to earn the first victory of the season for Saintéloc Racing but Grenier passed Rougier late on to wrap up a first podium of the season for Al-Manar Racing by Getspeed with second place.

The compact weekend’s action for the Gold competitors began with a free practice session on Saturday morning. The Al-Manar Racing by Getspeed crew made an inauspicious start to their weekend’s campaign and were classified down in third of the Gold Cup crews with a best lap of 1min 54.696sec.

The early bragging rights went to the 2 Seas Motorsport Mercedes crew of Martin Kodric, Isa Al-Khalifa and Lewis Williamson, who are making their debut in the series this weekend. They posted a lap of 1min 54.026sec to finish just behind the Silver Cup Getspeed crew of Lucas Stolz, Fabian Schiller and Jules Gounon. Saintéloc Racing’s Gilles Magnus, Jim Pla and Paul Evrard were second of the Gold Cup teams in their Audi R8 LMS GT3.

The Al-Manar Racing by Getspeed Mercedes then topped the Gold Cup times in the afternoon’s pre-qualifying session that preceded the three qualifying stints on Sunday morning.

CSA Racing’s Arthur Rougier was the quickest of the Gold Cup runners in Q1 and a lap of 1min 54.113sec enabled the Audi team to gain the early advantage. Gilles Magnus came home second and Al-Zubair put the Al-Manar Racing by Getspeed Mercedes in third.

Baumann took the wheel in Q2 and headed the Gold runners with a best lap of 1min 53.694sec during his five laps. That put the Austrian well ahead of Saintéloc Racing’s Jim Pla and, with the two sessions combined, Al-Manar Racing topped the standings with Grenier rounding off the stint in Q3.

The Canadian didn’t disappoint and he topped the Gold category times with a lap of 1min 53.425sec with Lewis Williamson of 2 Seas Motorsport coming home in second. That put the Al-Manar Racing by Getspeed Mercedes ahead of their Gold Cup rivals with Saintéloc Racing in second and CSA Racing in third. 

After qualifying their Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo in a superb pole position, they finished the first race in 10th and then lost an early lead in the second red-flag interrupted encounter and eventually reached the chequered flag in eighth after a drive-through penalty.

Al-Zubair said: “It was a very unfortunate weekend finishing P10 and P8 in the races after starting on pole and second place and feeling like we had a really good set-p with the car. Everyone was feeling good. I think with the championship on the line there were a few mistakes made by the team.

“Also, Anthony, my team-mate, made a mistake in the race which cost us a penalty. Taking that into account, coming back from the penalties and all, it was not so bad. With our goals, which he had to try and win the race, it was difficult to accept. We just prepare again and hopefully come more prepared for the next one.”

Liu moved ahead of the rest of the GT field at the start of Sunday’s second race and held a tiny advantage over Alex Malykhin in the Pure Rxcing Porsche before the race was red-flagged after a two-car accident at turn 11. The Al-Manar Mercedes was down in fourth behind Pure Rxcing, Optimum Motorsport and Saintéloc Racing.

After a substantial delay to remove debris from the trackside area, racing resumed with just under two hours of the race remaining. Liu pitted in a packed pit lane and Schiller took over but the car was down in 15th with 1hr 40min remaining. But the crew incurred a drive-through penalty for a pit lane infringement. Schiller slipped to 17th and then moved up to 13th with 80 minutes to go before climbing to 10th as the race approached the three-hour mark.

Al-Zubair took over for the final stint, managed to get into the top 10 and moved up to eighth but that left the team short of the position needed to challenge for the overall GT Team and Drivers titles.

Leipert Motorsport won the second race from Triple Eight and the Pure Rxcing trio of Klaus Bachler, Joel Sturm and Alex Malykhin, who clinched the championship in their Porsche 911 GT3 R, despite an accident in race one.

Liu took the wheel from pole position for the first stint in the opening four-hour race and reached the half-hour mark in second behind Christopher Haase in the Saintéloc Racing Audi. The Chinese driver slipped down to third behind the Pure Rxcing Audi as his stint progressed but moved back into second around the 90-minute mark.

The car had slipped down the running order as far as 16th before Al-Zubair took over for the second stint. Luca Stolz had pushed the Triple Eight Mercedes into the lead from the Saintéloc Racing Audi and Optimum Motorsport’s Tom Gamble in a McLaren.

Al-Zubair and Schiller managed to climb back through the field and reached the chequered flag in 10th with the victory going to Stolz, Jordan Love and H.H. Prince Abdul Rahman Ibrahim in the Triple Eight Mercedes. The Leipert Motorsport Lamborghini came home second ahead of the first of the Optimum Motorsport McLarens.

More importantly for the Al-Manar Racing by Getspeed crew was that fact that the series-leading Pure Rxcing Porsche only completed 43 of the 99 laps after an accident and the Saintéloc Racing Audi finished 11th.

Schiller took advantage of the first free practice session to run the Mercedes to a best lap of 1min 53.417sec in a stint where Davide Rigon claimed the fastest lap of 1min 53.116sec in the AF Corse Ferrari 296 GT3.

Al-Zubair took the wheel in the second practice stint and guided the Al-Manar Racing Mercedes to a best run of 1min 53.184sec but the team had work to do before the qualifying session to be on pace with the session-winning Riccardo Pera in the GR Racing Ferrari 296 GT3.

But the Al-Manar Racing Team delivered when it mattered and a lap of 1min 52.673sec during an eight-lap qualifying stint was sufficient to claim pole position for the first of the four-hour races. That lap put the Mercedes 0.266sec faster than their second-placed Getspeed team-mates Anthony Bartone, Aaron Walker and Martin Konrad in an historic 1-2 for the Getspeed team.

The Dragon Racing Ferrari qualified third but title rivals Pure Rxcing and Saintéloc Racing were down in fourth and eighth on the grid.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Characters: 0/2