The #3 Team Speedcar Audi had dominated the event up until the start of the first race of the 2023 GT4 European Series: fastest in both free practice sessions and fastest in qualifying. And after a good getaway, polesitter Benjamin Lariche also managed to keep the lead of the almost 50-car-strong pack.
But the circuit in the Monza Royal Park does not lend itself to gentle walks. After a mere five laps, race direction called for a Full Course Yellow when the #78 Elite Motorsport McLaren came to a halt near the Ascari chicane. Some drivers were slow to react to the speed reduction, causing an incident in the middle of the pack. The race had to be red flagged to repair the damaged safety barriers.
After a 25-minute interruption, the remaining drivers could get back underway, with Lariche holding off a chasing Gael Castelli in the #111 CSA Racing Audi. Just before the pit window opened, Castelli managed to take the lead, after which Lariche immediately decided to go for the mandatory driver change.
An important call, for Castelli stayed out and lost some time in traffic. When co-driver Alexandre Cougnaud took over the wheel of the #111 Audi, his lead was so slim that he could not resist the attacks of Robert Consani, now driving the #3 Team Speedcar Audi.
A few laps later, Cougnaud lost another couple of positions when the #12 Borusan Otomotiv Motorsport BMW of Tom Edgar and the #2 Hofor Racing BMW of Gabriele Piana steamed past the black and gold Audi. Both BMW drivers quickly closed the gap towards Consani – Edgar even came alongside in the braking zone before the first chicane – but the Audi driver managed to hold on to the lead, crossing the line with both BMW cars close behind. The top three were separated by under a second.
In Pro-Am everything went smoothly for the #42 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi. In the first half of the race, Grégory Guilvert even managed to have a go at overall leader Castelli, and after the driver change, Christophe Hamon looked set to finish the job.
But Loïc Villiger had other ideas. In his #36 Code Racing Development Alpine the French driver swiftly closed the gap towards the class-leading Audi. At the start of the final lap, he even managed to claim first position with a daring move in the first chicane. Villiger eventually finished in ninth overall as well, a second clear of the #42 Audi. The #44 Allied Racing Porsche finished third in Pro-Am.
There was a similar story in the Am class. Laurent Hurgon built a comfortable lead in the #55 Autosport GP LS Group Performance Alpine, but in the second half of the race Alban Varutti, at the wheel of the #10 AVR-Avvatar Porsche, closed that gap. He overtook the Alpine and eventually finished with a two-second lead, claiming 15th overall in the process. The #83 Team Speedcar Audi, the sister car of the overall winning machine, finished in third.
Sunday sees the second race of the opening weekend of the GT4 European Series, with the start scheduled for 12 noon CEST. The 60-minute spectacle will be streamed live on the GT4 Facebook page and the GT World YouTube channel.