It was a season of great grids, excellent level, and exciting racing for the GT Cup Europe, but also of unexpected champions, Jorge Cabezas and Iván Velasco. No doubt that the Spanish pair of Mertel Motorsport, at the wheel of their Ferrari 488 Challenge, won the title with full merits, but few expected them to be so competitive or even knew them.
Their double win at the season-opener in Portimão set the scene but came as a total surprise, … to them in the first place. “It was my first race ever with a GT car, on a track I didn’t know”, reckons Velasco, “and I wasn’t planning to do the entire season. I just wanted to have a try with a GT car and my friend Fernando Navarrete [one of the drivers of the other Mertel car] put me in contact with the team.”
Velasco was virtually unknown on the international scene, but the 34-year-old from Toledo has spent his entire life in national racing since his father put him in a kart at the age of … four. In Spain, he has raced in, and won, virtually all the mono-brand trophies (Saxo, Clio, BMW) and in the CER touring car series. In parallel, he works as a driving instructor and runs his own team, VSR.
To add further uncertainty to the debut, the driver foreseen to partner with Iván discovered two days before the start of the Portimão event that he couldn’t get an international license in time, and Cabezas was called in last minute. Luckily the journey was short for the 30-year-old born and based in Málaga, who has to his credit successful campaigns in the European GT4 and Italian GT3 series.
“Given the success in the season-opener”, explains Jorge, “we felt encouraged to continue and both Iván and myself pulled all the strings to make it possible. The team also helped a lot and eventually, we managed to do the entire season.”
Adding one other win and three more podium finishes and scoring points in all nine races, the Spaniards deservedly netted the crown. “It has been a fantastic season, the series has grown a lot in all aspects and the level was very high”, says Cabezas, “but we have been consistently competitive, and working with Mertel was an amazing experience, they are so professional and such nice people. Also from a personal view, it was eye-opening. The cultural blend between Germans, Italians, and us worked beautifully, and I can now tell that German can be very fun, contrary to all stereotypes…”
Velasco echoes the same satisfaction: “I have enjoyed every second, it was a pleasure to work with these guys and a joy to drive this car. Despite not knowing the tracks, except Barcelona, I felt perfectly at ease and realized that GT racing is what I want! Another thing I loved in the series is that the atmosphere is great, there was never a bad feeling or a bad word with anyone. Coming from a national racing scene and mono-brand trophies, where there are always suspicions and little rivalries, this was quite refreshing for me.”
For 2024, the plans of the champions are still being worked out. While Cabezas admits that he would like to go back to GT3 racing and Velasco sees it difficult to drive anything else than a GT car from now on, both are working closely with Mertel for their future plans, not willing to leave their new home!