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WRT Audi wins Imola opener, Rossi suffers pitlane mix-up

Team WRT's #32 Audi won the GT World Challenge Europe season opener at Imola, while 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 LMS GT3 Evo II 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 runner 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 car was soon spun around and ended up perpendicular on the track, ending the team's race on Lap 1 despite driver Rahel Frey being the quickest of all Ferraris in Q1.

After half an hour, Sainteloc's #25 Audi - driven by Lucas Legeret, Christopher Mies and Patric Niederhauser - had assumed the lead of the race. Weerts then went wide, which allowed Mies to easily take the race lead.

WRT outfoxed its rival when it came to pit strategy - 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.

Just after the halfway point, Legeret suffered a trip through the the gravel, causing him to fall from P2 to P14, placing him just behind Rossi in his debut in the series in car #46.

#46 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS evo II GT3: Nico Müller, Frédéric Vervisch, Valentino Rossi

#46 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS evo II GT3: Nico Müller, Frédéric Vervisch, Valentino Rossi

Photo by: SRO

Just after this dramatic drop, the #97 Beechdean Aston Martin Vantage GT3 came to a halt just off the circuit, causing a full-course yellow as it was retrieved.

As all the cars made the most of the situation by pitting, Rossi made a crucial mistake in his first GTWCE race on board the #46 Audi. He entered the pitlane but missed his crew, failing to pit, causing him to have to complete another lap before returning on the following tour.

After this error, Rossi eventually managed to jump out the car to be replaced by Frederic Vervisch, yet the whole mix-up caused the team to go 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 claiming the runner-up spot ahead of the #2 GetSpeed car.

The #46 car piloted by Rossi, who was joined by Vervisch and Nico Muller in the WRT-run entry, finished 17th overall.

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