Successful Carlisle GT racing driver Alex MacDowall made the perfect start to the delayed 2020 GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup campaign at Imola in Italy with a sensational Silver class victory during the opening three-hour race of the season.

Driving for top British team Barwell Motorsport, partnering Finland’s Patrick Kujala and Denmark’s Frederik Schandorff in the No.78 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO, Carlisle 29-year-old MacDowall was elated to get the squad’s championship bid off to a near-faultless start.

Beginning Sunday's race third in class and 20th overall on the 46 car grid, Schandorff took the opening hour, MacDowall contested the middle stint and Kujala got behind the wheel for the final hour of a very dramatic encounter. As well as winning the Silver class, the team-mates were a strong 13th overall against some of the world’s very best professional factory GT racing drivers.

“It was a really tough race, but we knew we had a quick car and a really strong line-up”, reflected MacDowall, “All three of us stayed out of trouble and made it a clean race, we definitely had the pace to be there and challenge for the win. Our aim was to come away in the top three, so to win the first race of the year is obviously fantastic.

“We don’t have the best BOP [Balance of Performance], we’re 40kg heavier, so we’re slow on the straights compared to the others. I was quite happy with my stint but, unfortunately, I did lose a few places at the re-start – mainly because of being slower on the straights. But when I settled I gained a lot back and I think I set the fastest lap for our car. It’s been a great start to the season.”

Barwell’s Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO was quick from the outset across all track sessions and after ending pre-qualifying on Saturday, third in Silver, 12th overall, the team-mates took third in class in final qualifying later in the day.

Schandorff took the opening stint of Sunday’s race and the Dane was third in class and 22nd overall when in a cautionary period, Barwell took the opportunity to make an earlier pit-stop than scheduled and so Schandorff handed the Lamborghini over to MacDowall.

When the race order settled, the action resuming at the end of the first hour, the Cumbrian was third in Silver and 16th overall.

Although shuffled back to fifth in class and 23rd overall after the re-start, he hit back strongly and inside 10 minutes MacDowall was up to fourth in Silver and the outright top 20. Lapping quicker and quicker, he reeled off some impressive times but midway through his stint the No.78 car was one of several served with drive-through penalties for speeding under the earlier Full Course Yellow.

Dropping him to seventh in Silver and 29th overall, he charged back through into the class top five before pitting again to hand over to Kujala for the final hour.

After another Full Course Yellow period was required Kujala held second in class and 17th overall. Racing resumed with 37 minutes on the clock and Kujala moved up into the outright top 15.

Then, dramatically, a spin for Silver leader Valentin Hasse-Clot’s Aston Martin elevated Kujala into the class lead and 13th place overall and he duly held the Silver lead comfortably to the flag.

“Barwell is a great team, they’ve got a good relationship with Lamborghini and I’ve got two really quick team-mates who are making me raise my game”, commented MacDowall, “I think we have the best line-up to be honest, it’s only the BOP which will make things difficult but we just have to dig deep every weekend and get the car working to its maximum which we will do. This is a great start.”

Round two of the rescheduled GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup season will take place over September 5/6 at the Nurburgring in Germany.