The 2020 GT World Challenge Europe Powered by AWS championship finally got underway at the weekend with the first round taking place at Imola, having been delayed by several months due to the coronavirus pandemic and has replaced Monza on the revised 2020 schedule.

The race took place behind closed doors with no fans being allowed access at the track – a new experience for all. There was also a restriction on the number of members each team was allowed to bring to the track, and those present at the track must follow social distancing and other strict guidelines issued by the SRO Motorsports Group.

Further to the recent announcement Leonid Machitski has moved across from the Am Cup to the Pro-Am class in the driver’s seat with the Barwell Motorsport team.

The race weekend started off very well for the team having qualified in P2 in category earlier on Saturday. The highly-competitive trio Leonid Machitski, Sandy Mitchell and Robert Collard started the race weekend strongly with clear intentions to raise the winners trophy after claiming race victory come the chequered flag.

There were a total of 46 cars that were set to contest the opening round, with 12 in the Pro-Am category. Barwell’s Pro-Am Lamborghini Huracan GT3 Evo backed by Vimetco Extrusion, Asterus, and Black Bull Scotch Whisky started the 3-hour race in P34 overall on the grid with Rob Collard behind the wheel.

He showed a true fight from lights out and moved the car up to P33 just before a long Safety Car period. No less than three, almost consecutive, “Full Course Yellow” periods which had characterized the first hour of the race, when the #23 Lamborghini went off the track and into the gravel most of the teams took this opportunity to make the first mandatory pit-stop under FCY conditions.

Rob Collard, who moved across from racing in the British Touring Car Championship did a great job and handed-over the #77 to Leo Machitski soon after. The double Am Cup Champion showed strong performance, good speed and continued to improve the teams position, fighting a great battle with the Sky-Tempesta racing Ferrari for P2 in Pro-Am until Leo unfortunately suffered some right front suspension damage after being pushed onto a big curb! This made the car very difficult to drive for the remainder of the race but Leo found a way to drive around the problem and did a great job.

When Sandy Mitchell took over the car, the team were fighting for 3rd place. However, an unfortunate incident with the Aston Martin (Silver Cup) forced him into the pits to assess the damage. The team did a fantastic job, repaired the car and put the car back out in the race for the last two laps.

It was an unfortunate finish to the first race of the season for Barwell Motorsport, but the team can take more positives of finishing the race and scoring valuable championship points.

There are still three races to go in the Endurance Cup, including the blue-riband event of the calendar in the 24-hours of Spa.

Leonid Machitski: “It was very unfortunate result and not what we deserved. I think the car performance, the performance of the drivers and the crew of the #77 car surely was set for podium. We had unfortunate luck with a mechanical issue that fundamentally cost us the race and then didn’t help with the tight chicane with a lot of cars coming through, and then the accident at the end. But I think we are looking very strong as a driver line-up and I think we are certainly going to be challenging for podium positions through the season.”

Sandy Mitchell: “We had a good start to the race battling in the top 2 or 3 and Leo in the middle part of the race had good speed and was keeping with the AM drivers in the Pro-AM class. Two cars at the front that had the Pro drivers had pulled away but we managed to keep up the pace with them. When I was in the car we were fighting for 3rd place, but I felt there was something broken on the front right of the car after making contact with the kerb early on in the race. Which meant it made it difficult to control the car during the race, it got worse as the race progressed and after a small contact with one of the silver cup cars we had to make a pit-stop because the car was too difficult to drive, but we managed to finish the race and score some points. So hopefully we can continue our good speed and have a strong round at the Nurburgring 6 hours in the next round.”

Mark Lemmer (Team Principal): “It was great to be back racing again after the problems that we’ve all faced with Covid-19. Leo has been working on his left foot braking over the winter and it’s really paying off! Leo, Rob and Sandy have really formed a great partnership and although today luck wasn’t on our side I’m sure it won’t be long before we have our first podium of the season.”