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GTWC 2024 Round 1 - Rowe Racing BMW Dominate Race, Valentino Rossi in Top 5

Written by Owen Bradley

Credit: SRO/JEP

The GT World Challenge begins the 2024 Season at Paul Ricard in France, with the 3-Hour Endurance race. Featuring incredibly well-known drivers such as, Valentino Rossi, Mirko Bortolotti, Maxime Martin, Andrea Caldarelli, Lorenzo Patrese, Jake Dennis and Aurelian Panis.

GT World Challenge Europe - Endurance Round 1 Pro Class Top 5

1st - #998 Rowe Racing BMW

2nd #63 Iron Lynx Lamborghini

3rd #2 Mercedes

4th #46 WRT BMW

5th #96 Porsche

6th #99 Audi

7th #7 Aston Martin

8th #911 Porsche

9th #51 Ferrari

10th #64 Ford Mustang

Paul Ricard 3-Hour Endurance: Race Report

Credit: SRO/JEP

Driver 1 - Race Start

A chaotic start led to contact between the leaders, Mirko Bortolotti in his #63 Iron Lynx Lamborghini would lead the way from the #22 Porsche. #46 BMW's Maxime Martin would make contact after a spinning GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini.

BMW #46 Ran 6th, holding the Fastest Lap and overtaking the sister #32 BMW driven by Charles Weerts. Debris on circuit, the Safety Car was deployed just 10 minutes into the opening round of the GT World Challenge Europe season.

The brand new #64 Mustang driven by Frederic Vervisch would make an excellent start, gaining six places off the start. Paul Ricard Circuit would also have a small issue with the lights system, meaning they needed to put out a Safety Car and neutralise the pace once again.

Another restart as the #46 BMW battled with the #51 Ferrari and the #2 Mercedes. A double overtake from the #46 BMW coming down the main straight on the Ferrari and Mercedes, as the #32 BMW follow the sister car through down the straight, phenomenal action. The BMW's evidently using their straight line speed, as the #46 BMW closes down on the Top 3 after just half an hour gone.

#159 McLaren would have suspension damage, crabbing as Ben Goerthe attempted to bring it back to the pits, as the car sat stationary in Sector 3. The #64 Mustang seemingly making contact with the McLaren. Moments later, the #32 WRT BMW driven by Charles Weerts would be hit by the #51 Ferrari, giving the BMW a puncture as it limped home, a Full Course Yellow deployed and the pace neutralised which was then upgraded to a Safety Car once again, meaning three Safety Cars within the first hour of the race.

A much cleaner restart, as the BMW's started to run nose to tail. Whilst the BMW's were running incredibly well individually, whilst battling one another they appeared to not be able to close the gap to the Top 2, the #63 Lamborghini and #22 Porsche both running at the front, with the first pit stops on the way.

Suddenly, the #34 Aston Martin caught fire and pulled off to the side of the circuit down the long back straight. Bringing out another Full Course Yellow as the pits window opened and driver changes began.

Driver 2 - Pit Stop 1

Credit: SRO/JEP

Valentino Rossi would climb aboard the #46 BMW, running in 8th position after being jumped in the pits by a number of cars and waiting for the Full Course Yellow to be cleared. Raffaele Marciello in his debut race for BMW in the GTWC would therefore finish the race.

#63 Lamborghini leaders would be jumped in the pit lane by the #22 Porsche under the Full Course Yellow, as the #64 Mustang ran in 10th Place, gaining eight places after the first hour. However, the #22 had a piece of wiring hanging off the side of the car, and was given the technical black and orange flag, meaning they had to come back into the pits from the lead, a bitter blow for the Porsche #22 team.

The #64 Mustang making incredible progress, as Dennis Olsen edged up to the back of the #46 BMW running in P7. Meanwhile, Dan Harper of the Rowe Racing BMW #998 would attempt a move on Andrea Caldarelli #63 Lamborghini, separated by half a second a move seems inevitable.

Valentino Rossi would be hunted down and overtake by the #64 Mustang for seventh position, the Italian MotoGP legend struggling to settle in slightly. Surprisingly, Harper #998 BMW running in P2 was being investigated for an illegal overtake under the Safety Car.

Dan Harper #998 BMW continuing to battle against the #63 Lamborghini as we approached half distance, as Valentino Rossi #46 BMW closes back in on the #64 Mustang for P7, although overtaken by Ricardo Feller #99 Audi, Rossi down to P9 at half distance.

Rowe Racing #98 running in P3 then closed in on the leaders, the pair at the front have been scrapping one another all race so far, with the BMW looking exceptionally strong in the second half of the lap. Fabian Schiller, winner of the Gulf 12 Hours 2023, was also beginning to close in on the Top 3, Schiller aboard the #2 Mercedes.

Dan Harper's #998 BMW finally gets past the #63 Lamborghini in Sector 3, the pair of them fighting each other in Touring Car style fashion. Nick Yelloly #98 BMW now given the opportunity to close right up to the back of the former leaders #63 Lamborghini, and scrapping for P2.

#51 Ferrari and #96 Porsche made contact as they battled for P5. The #12 Aston Martin would also be in strife, pulling into the pitlane to fix their issues.

Ricardo Feller #99 Audi would overtake the #96 Porsche of Andlauer, with the #51 Ferrari running just behind them. Running just a second behind was the Mustang #64 and #46 BMW.

Driver 3 - Final Pit Stop

Credit: SRO/JEP

Valentino Rossi #46 BMW along with a few of the Audi's, would be the first to make their final pit stop. Raffaele Marciello would climb aboard the #46 BMW, gaining multiple places with a shorter pit stop, not needing to take any further amount of fuel as they attempt to get back inside the Top 5 in the final hour.

Leader Dan Harper #998 BMW would make their final stop, maintaining their lead as Le Mans 24 Hours 2023 Winner, Alessandro Pier Guidi got into the #51 Ferrari to finish their race for points inside the Top 5, as they had the #46 BMW driven by Marciello right on their tail, and eventually passed the #51 Ferrari just one lap later. Marciello metaphorically on fire aboard the #46 BMW, as he makes yet another move down the long straight.

#98 Rowe Racing BMW eventually made their own way past Pier Guidi #51 Ferrari, the Ferrari GT3 just looking defenceless on the straights as the BMW's started to come back strong in the final hour.

Philipp Eng #98 Rowe Racing manages to get past the #46 BMW of Marciello, as the BMW pair are still trying to hunt down the #99 Audi of Christopher Haase, as Eng #98 closes to within a few tenths of the Audi.

A strong showing from the new Aston Martin Vantage GT3, Nicki Thiim #7 battling with the Ford Mustang #64 throughout the race for a Top 10 finish. Marciello #46 BMW now battling #99 Audi of Haase, as Eng #98 BMW battles the Porsche #96 of Muller for 4th place just up the road. Eventually, Eng #98 BMW would dive around the outside of the #96 Porsche, having to cut the chicane of the opening section of corners. Meanwhile, Nicki Thiim #7 Aston Martin would find a way past the #64 Mustang, the pair of them now hunting down the #51 Ferrari of Pier Guidi.

Marciello #46 would get ahead of Chris Haase #99 for P6, at the same time as #98 BMW Rowe Racing made their way into P4 ahead of the #96 Porsche. The BMW's making serious ground in the final hour, and looking very strong at the back half of the circuit.

However, #98 BMW of Philipp Eng would pit from P4 for fuel, which was disastrous for the #98 crew, and put Valentino Rossi's #46 BMW into the Top 5, being driven by Raffaele Marciello. Nicki Thiim #7 Aston Martin would also get in front of the #51 Ferrari, the Ferrari having a major drop in pace during the final hour.

#48 Mercedes has major bodywork damage, scraping along the floor within the final five minutes of the race, smoke pouring as the Mercedes flies down the straight.

Max Hesse #998 BMW rounds the final corner, to take victory at the GT World Challenge Round 1 of the Endurance Cup at Paul Ricard. A well-fought victory from the Rowe Racing BMW squad who operated inside the Top 3 the entire race.


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