Titles may well be decided at this weekend’s powerfest at the Indianapolis 8-Hour when SRO Motorsports Group’s GT3 series joins Fanatec GT World Challenge America at the Brickyard.
The US championship finale doubles as IGTC’s penultimate round following outings at the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour and TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa. The Gulf 12 Hours closes out 2022’s campaign in mid-December.
However, there’s a strong chance IGTC’s manufacturers’ title – and potentially even its drivers’ championship – will be decided at Indianapolis where a total of 25 GT3 cars are scheduled to race into the night on Saturday.
Jules Gounon and Mercedes-AMG both have maximum points from the first two events where the latter also finished first and second.
The drop-score system employed this year sees Mercedes-AMG start in a strong position and not least when considering that its closest rival – Audi Sport – is absent from IGTC’s entry list for the first time ever this weekend.
Instead, reigning manufacturers’ champions Ferrari, as well as Lamborghini and Porsche, will all be hoping to halt Affalterbach’s seemingly unstoppable march towards a first Intercontinental manufacturers’ crown.
Although each registered manufacturer can nominate a maximum of four entries, including three from the Pro class, only its two best placed finishers are eligible to score points. As such, a maximum of 43 points are available for finishing one-two on Saturday evening.
Also, and unlike at Spa for example, Indy’s Pro class comprises line-ups featuring a maximum of two Gold or Platinum graded drivers. Therefore, the relative strength of each crew’s third member could prove a decisive factor.
It’s been a highly impressive IGTC campaign so far for Mercedes-AMG, which locked out Bathurst’s podium and finished one-two at Spa. And it shows no sign of letting up at Indy where eight cars – half of which are Intercontinental nominees – carry the Three Pointed Star’s hopes.
But first, some maths.
IGTC’s drop-score system means each manufacturer’s worst collective result from Bathurst, Indy and Gulf will not count towards its end-of-season total. Mercedes-AMG has accrued the maximum 86 points so far – 51 more than Audi Sport whose absence from Indy effectively ends its title chances, while Ferrari is another 10 further back.
As such, a record-equalling fourth straight IGTC victory (Akkodis ASP also won 2021’s postponed Kyalami 9 Hour in February) would hand Mercedes-AMG the title regardless of where Ferrari’s two best placed entries finished. Indeed, the Scuderia must outscore its German rival by 18 points, or 19 if it doesn’t win the race, to have any hope of retaining the manufacturers’ crown in Abu Dhabi.
But that appears a tall order given the strength of Mercedes-AMG’s Indy contingent.
Fanatec GT World Challenge America’s class regulations prevent newly crowned European champions Gounon, Dani Juncadella and Raffaele Marciello from reprising their Spa-winning partnership. However, that has doubled Mercedes-AMG’s chances in the drivers’ standings where Gounon – who also won at Bathurst – leads Juncadella by seven points. The Frenchman joins Russell Ward and Phillip Ellis in Winward Racing’s entry this weekend, while his former team-mates are part of a Craft-Bamboo squad also featuring Daniel Morad.
The drivers’ championship also requires the lowest score outside of Spa to be dropped. Nevertheless, his third victory of the season – as well as a record extending fourth on the bounce – would see Gounon win the title regardless of where the likes of Juncadella finished.
Mercedes-AMG’s only previous overall IGTC title was won by Tristan Vautier who appears in the other nominated Pro entry, run by US RaceTronics, alongside Fanatec GT World Challenge America regulars Loris Spinelli and Steven Aghakhani.
Its final nomination is filled by Bathurst winners SunEnergy1 whose regular pairing of Kenny Habul and Martin Konrad can clinch the Pro-Am Challenge crown on Saturday. The car is overseen by crack factory squad Akkodis ASP, which arrives at Indy fresh from winning the Fanatec GT World Challenge Europe title at Barcelona.
The reigning champions arrive at Indy knowing that only a strong showing, plus a helping hand from Mercedes-AMG, will see IGTC’s manufacturers’ title decided in Abu Dhabi rather than this Saturday. However, 2021’s American round does provide some cause for optimism.
True, both factory-supported AF Corse – Francorchamps entries – which return this year – failed to deliver the results their pace warranted. But pole position for Alessandro Pier Guidi and the sister car’s starring role out front suggests the 488 GT3 will be at the sharp end.
Ferrari’s factory drivers, just like Mercedes-AMG’s, also reside in the top drawer. Platinum-graded duo Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina are joined by Pierre Ragues – someone perhaps better known for his sports-prototype exploits – while one of this year’s breakout European GT stars, Ulysse De Pauw, partners Antonio Fuoco and Daniel Serra.
American squad Conquest Racing also represents Maranello in the Pro category, while Ryan Dalziel heads up Triarsi Competizione’s Pro-Am entry.
Collectively, two of these four cars must outscore Mercedes-AMG’s nominees by 18 or 19 points if the 2022 IGTC manufacturers’ title is to remain unclaimed. Equally, Fuoco, Serra and Rigon must score 10 more points than Gounon to have any chance of winning the drivers’ crown at the Gulf 12 Hours.
Just like its main rivals, Lamborghini has loaded its IGTC bases by nominating the maximum number of cars at Indy where at least two will be fighting for overall victory.
Its formidable US squad, K-PAX Racing, finished on the podium there last season and has already retained its Fanatec GT World Challenge America teams’ and drivers’ titles with a race to spare. Now its focus switches to securing Lamborghini’s first-ever IGTC victory.
Its regular US crew of Michele Beretta and Andrea Caldarelli receive assistance from another Squadra Corse factory ace, Marco Mapelli, while Franck Perera joins Misha Goikhberg and Jordan Pepper.
TR3’s Pro-Am entry could collect a point of two for the manufacturer whose nominees also include Zelus Motorsports’ Am car.
On paper, Lamborghini heads to Indy three points behind Ferrari. However, that total has been accrued across two events instead of one, meaning its current drop-round – which cannot be Spa – actually leaves it a further 12 points adrift. Huracans must therefore out-score Mercedes-AMGs by 33 points (or 34 if one of them fails to win due to the countback rules in case of a tie) in order for Lamborghini to feature amongst the title contenders in Abu Dhabi.
A sum total of two Pro-Am cars means Porsche are unlikely to contend for victory at Indy where Wright Motorsports and GMG Racing are instead focusing on class honours.
Nevertheless, each team’s respective Pro – Jan Heylen and Klaus Bachler – undoubtedly has the individual pace to run with the overall victory contenders.
What’s more, Heylen and his co-driver Charlie Luck top Fanatec GT World Challenge America’s Pro-Am standings with just one race remaining.