GTWCE Imola: #32 WRT wins from pole, Rossi suffers pitlane mix-up
Team WRT's #32 team won the GT World Challenge Europe season opener at Imola, as a pitlane mistake from Valentino Rossi shuffled the sister #46 entry well down the field.
It was not all smooth sailing for the #32 Audi R8, piloted by Dries Vanthoor, Kelvin van der Linde and Charles Weerts, although through pit strategy they reclaimed first place after losing it to fellow Audi runners Sainteloc Junior Team's #25 entry.
WRT's #32 team had bagged the first pole position of the 2022 season, kicking off the new-spec Audi R8's great debut at Imola.
The first corner was drama free, yet the #83 Iron Dames Ferrari was spun out of the race on lap one, following driver Rahel Frey setting the quickest time of the 488 contingent in Q1.
After half an hour, Sainteloc's #25 machine driven by Lucas Legeret, Christopher Mies and Patric Niederhauser had assumed the lead of the race; Weerts went wide, which allowed Mies to easily take the race lead.
But WRT outfoxed its rival when it came to pit strategy, with an undercut that proved to be the best strategy to reclaim track position - which allowed the #32 to take the lead back from the #25 around an hour into the race.
The #32 played it steady as they extended their lead to over 6.6 seconds by the end of the race.
Just after the halfway point, Legeret lost the #25 to the gravel, causing him to fall from second to P14, placing him just behind MotoGP legend Rossi in his first appearance in the series since 2012.
#46 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS evo II GT3: Nico Müller, Frédéric Vervisch, Valentino Rossi
Photo by: SRO
Just after this dramatic drop by Sainteloc, the #97 Beechdean Aston Martin halted just off the track, causing a full course yellow as its retrieval was attempted.
This preceded the next 30 minutes of the race, in which a flurry of safety cars somewhat halted any action.
But as all the cars made the most of the situation by pitting, Rossi made a crucial mistake in his first race aboard WRT's #46 Audi. The Italian entered the pitlane but missed his crew, failing to pit, causing him to complete another lap before returning on the following tour.
After his mistake, Rossi eventually returned to the pits and was replaced by Frederic Vervisch, but the whole mix-up caused the team to drop from P13 to P23.
Once the barrage of safety car periods had ended, the #32 team extended its lead for the duration of the second half of the race while two Mercedes-AMG GT3s followed; the #88 AKKodis ASP entry shared by Jules Gounon, Raffaele Marciello and Dani Juncadella claiming the runner-up spot ahead of the #2 GetSpeed car driven by Maro Engel, Luca Stolz and Steijn Schothorst.
The #46 WRT Audi in which Rossi was joined by Vervisch and Nico Muller finished 17th overall.
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