Written by Owen Bradley, Edited by Ishani Aziz
Valentino Rossi began his 2023 GT World Challenge Europe championship campaign on Sunday, for the opening round of the championship. It was the Three Hour Endurance race at Monza, and was unfortunately a weekend that never really quite got going for Valentino Rossi and WRT #46.
It started during Free Practice on Saturday, Rossi spun his BMW around on the entry to Monza’s final corner, the Parabolica, where the car ended up beached in the gravel. Sunday morning began with Qualifying, and the #46 car had been inside the Top Three for both Qualifying 1 and Qualifying 2. Your Qualifying result is determined by an average of the best laps from Qualifying 1, 2 and 3. And whilst Rossi’s teammates had both been able to set their lap times in Q1 and Q2, his turn was meant to be in Q3. By which time, unfortunately for “The Doctor”, there was a major power outage at the circuit, causing live timing to be disabled and leading to a 45-minute delay to Q3. It was eventually cancelled, meaning Rossi would not get to drive the car.
As a result of which, Rossi went into the main three-hour endurance race, having last driven the car on Saturday, when he beached it in the gravel. It would be a difficult task to keep on pace with the front-runners, especially as this is Rossi’s second season with the GT cars, and he hasn’t driven Monza with these cars either.
The good news for #46, was that the team had managed to get a place on the front row, Qualifying in P2. This is Rossi’s and #46’s best qualifying result so far in his GT career, and it set up a brilliant race.
In fact, the first four cars on the grid were all BMW’s. Rossi would be the one to start the race for #46, planning to pit at the one hour mark, and hand the car over to Augusto Farfus.
The race began with Rossi just trying to stay in the slipstream of Rowe Racing’s BMW, and he seemed to be doing a tidy and fine job. With the first 30 minutes of the race plagued by yellow flags and safety cars, he was able to stay within a second of the BMW in front of him. But, after being passed by the Mercedes of Maro Engel, Rossi overshot the braking zone into the first corner, running wide. Instead of taking the escape road, Rossi managed to stop it in time for the corner, but clattered the sausage kerb on the inside of turn Two, the infamous kerb where Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton collided, back in 2021. This resulted in some damage to Rossi’s right rear tyre, and he also struggled to get the car going again. He later revealed that the car went into Anti-Stall, and lost 12 seconds to the leaders. He dropped down from P2, to P14.
Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of problems for the #46, as Rossi handed the car over to Farfus, he was visibly angry with himself for his mistake. And then, further disaster struck the BMW, as it was revealed that the rear diffuser had come loose, and was rubbing up against the frustratingly-fragile Pirelli tyres, giving the BMW a puncture. After going an entire lap down, WRT decided to retire the car, bringing the weekend to an abrupt end for the hard-working Belgian squad.
Whilst this does seem like a pretty horrendous weekend for the #46 team, it wasn’t all “doom and gloom”. Rossi himself had set the fastest lap of the race, which was eventually beaten, when over half the race distance had been run, leaving Rossi’s time robust in theory. Had it not been for the error, it could have been a dream podium in front of his home crowd, but alas it was not to be. Rossi was one of the quickest drivers on the grid, despite him only just starting his second season in the series. The BMW’s were also exceptionally fast, taking the first four positions in Qualifying. Overall, Rossi showed that all his pre-season training and testing had been put to use, and he’ll be back in the BMW in just over three weeks time, at the GT World Challenge Europe Round 2, Sprint Cup - which will be held at Brands Hatch on May 13th (watched via YouTube “GT World” or on Sky Sports, when a Formula One Grand Prix is not on Sky’s schedule).
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