Mercedes-AMG Team Toksport WRT drivers Luca Stolz and Maro Engel took a clear victory in the first race of the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe powered by AWS Sprint Cup season finale at Valencia.
Stolz started Sunday’s opening 60-minute contest from second on the grid but Toksport WRT managed to undercut the pole-sitting JOTA McLaren 720S GT3 during the pit window, courtesy of an earlier stop and some quick early-stint laps from Engel.
The No. 6 Mercedes-AMG GT3 Evo went on to control the second half through a combination of pace and some drama within the chasing pack, resulting in Engel and Stolz earning their second consecutive Sprint Cup win and their third in total this season.
Christopher Haase and Leo Roussel finished second for Sainteloc Racing after a collision between the cars battling for second enabled their Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo to charge through for its best result of the year so far.
The first of two Sunday races started with Barnicoat leading away in the JOTA McLaren, from Stolz and AKKA-ASP Mercedes driver Timur Boguslavskiy.
However, Barnicoat was unable to repeat his opening stint at Brands Hatch when he built a huge early lead, due to a pair of safety car periods that kept the field close together.
Contact on lap one between two Silver-class Mercedes-AMGs resulted in a secondary collision that took out the Pro-Am title-contending Garage 59 Aston Martin GT3.
That safety car lasted until the 10-minute mark, after which the field managed just over eight minutes of racing before a second intervention occurred when Sprint Cup champion Charles Weerts tapped Ulysse de Pauw’s CMR Bentley into the Turn 8 gravel.
Barnicoat continued to lead from Stolz after the second restart, while Boguslavskiy slipped to fifth behind Silver Cup front-runners Ricardo Feller in the No. 14 Emil Frey Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo and Dennis Marschall in the No. 99 Attempto Audi.
A strong pit stop from Toksport WRT combined with Engel’s early form on fresh tires enabled the No. 6 Mercedes-AMG to leapfrog the McLaren, which had Oliver Wilkinson at the helm for the run to the line.
Engel’s gap over Wilkinson increased to 4.5 seconds with 15 minutes remaining, as the McLaren driver came under increasing pressure from Fontana aboard the Emil Frey Lamborghini and Raffaele Marciello at the wheel of Boguslavskiy’s AKKA-ASP Mercedes.
The fight for second reached its climax with 12 minutes to go, when Fontana tagged Wilkinson midway through the long, low-speed left-hand corner at Turn 8.
Wilkinson rotated, while Marciello briefly checked up behind the colliding pair to allow the fifth-placed Sainteloc Audi driven by Haase through into second.
Haase’s co-driver Roussel started 12th on the grid but had risen to sixth following the two safety cars. Haase then overtook Alex Aka’s Attempto Audi during the second stint to run behind Marciello, Fontana, Wilkinson and Engel.
Haase took the checkered flag 8.8 seconds behind Engel, while Marciello and Boguslavskiy ended up third in their Mercedes-AMG, a further two seconds back.
Fontana, who was fourth after the JOTA incident, received a drive-through penalty for turning Wilkinson around which impacted the Silver Cup championship scenario.
The Swiss driver arrived at the season-ending weekend with a 17.5-point lead and would have secured the title with the Silver Cup win that he was provisionally holding, but his drop to sixth in the class means the title remains available heading into the last race.
Third in class for Team WRT’s Frank Bird and Ryuichiro Tomita leaves Fontana’s advantage at a reduced, but still sturdy, 14.5 points with 16.5 available for a race win.
Marschall and Aka took the Race 1 victory in Silver and also finished fourth outright.
The drama between Fontana and Wilkinson enabled Robin Frijns, whose co-driver Benjamin Goethe started last, to cross the line in fifth for WRT but the result is provisional after Frijns turned Markus Winkelhock’s Sainteloc Audi around late on.
Jules Gounon and Petru Umbrarescu were sixth in the No. 89 AKKA-ASP Mercedes, while Albert Costa and Norbert Siedler came through in seventh for Emil Frey Racing.
Henrique Chaves and Miguel Ramos took a significant step towards the Pro-Am drivers’ title by finishing second in their Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini.
The Portuguese pair hold a buffer of 15.5 points over Dominik Baumann and Valentin Pierburg whose SPS Automotive Performance Mercedes-AMG completed the class podium, behind a victory for AF Corse’s Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini.
Chaves chased Bertolini to the line but was unable to find a way past despite drawing alongside the Ferrari driver on several occasions.
A win would have secured the Pro-Am championship for the Barwell duo, but the early retirement for their previous nearest rivals Alexander West and Jonny Adam of Garage 59 puts them in a commanding position ahead of the final race of the campaign.
Race 2 gets underway at 2:45 p.m. CEST (8:45 a.m. EST).
RESULTS: Valencia Race 1 (provisional)