Whereas most races are won from the first few rows of the grid, this one came from a starting position of 15th. Only once in the 116 Sprint Cup contests staged since 2013 has a car triumphed from further back.
There was drama from the very beginning as the #46 Team WRT BMW of Maxime Martin took to the grass, the Belgian ace looking to vault from third to first after making a lightning getaway. But it was pole-sitter Simon Gachet who led into the opening corner, followed by the #69 Emil Frey Racing Ferrari of Albert Costa, while Vanthoor made crucial progress to seventh.
The safety car was deployed almost immediately due to a number of cars stranded on the circuit. They included the #46 BMW, the trip across the grass having caused a terminal radiator problem. Racing resumed with the #26 Audi at the head of the field, closely followed by the #69 Ferrari. Third was soon occupied by the #40 Tresor Orange1 Audi as Mattia Drudi made quick work of Maximilian Paul (#163 VSR Lamborghini) and then the sister #99 Audi of Lorenzo Patrese.
The lead trio remained unchanged until the pit window, which was preceded by a second safety car to clear two more stricken cars. Vanthoor stopped as soon as possible and received a stellar service from the Team WRT crew. Indeed, this was the fastest pit stop of the weekend and a crucial factor in what was to follow.
As the remainder of the front-runners stopped, the #32 BMW gradually climbed up the order. Crucially, it had beaten the #40 Audi out of the pits; when it edged clear of the #69 Ferrari, it seemed that the race was coming towards Team WRT. The #26 Audi was the last to pit, though Paul Evrard was some way short of Weerts when he pulled away.
But the race wasn't won just yet. Weerts had to sustain pressure from the #40 Audi, now driven by Ricardo Feller, who was quickly on the rear of the BMW. But the Swiss driver simply could not find a way to get alongside his rival, filling the M4's mirrors without ever launching a serious challenge.
There was a further safety car late in the race after the #33 Nova Race Honda spun, but Weerts was again equal to the challenge from Feller. The Belgian crossed the line less than one second clear of his rival, ending a 12-month spell without victory for the Sprint Cup's most successful pairing.
Third went to the #69 Ferrari, which remained in touch with the leaders but was unable to fight for the win. In fourth, the #11 Comtoyou Racing Audi extended its run of scoring points in every Sprint Cup outing this term thanks to another assured drive from Christopher Haase and Lucas Légeret.
Fifth went to the #99 Tresor Attempto Racing Audi, which completed a weekend sweep thanks to the efforts of Patrese and Alex Aka. They were followed by the #14 Emil Frey Racing Ferrari and #26 Saintéloc Junior Team Audi. The latter was unable to maintain its early lead, but could still celebrate a first Gold Cup triumph of 2023 for Gachet and Evrard.
Andrea Caldarelli (#60 VSR Lamborghini) crossed the line in eighth but was dropped down the order by a penalty for exceeding track limits. As such, P8 in the final classification went to Saturday's winner, the #88 Akkodis ASP Mercedes-AMG of Raffaele Marciello and Timur Boguslasvkiy. This result salvaged a few points for the championship leaders, who struggled to make serious progress after starting 18th on the grid.
The Bronze Cup concluded its Sprint season at Valencia, with Alex Malykhin emerging as class champion thanks to victory aboard the #911 Porsche. Team-mate Ayhancan Güven made a pass for the lead during the second stint, holding on to ensure that Malykhin clinched the title in perfect style. The #81 Theeba Motorsport Mercedes-AMG finished as runner-up, giving Reema Juffali and Fabian Schiller a first podium of 2023.
While the Bronze Cup is settled, all other Sprint Cup titles remain open ahead of next month’s finale. Indeed, the Valencia weekend has set up a fascinating fight for the Overall crown at Zandvoort (13-15 October). Marciello/Boguslavskiy lead the standings by 6.5 points from Drudi/Feller, with Vanthoor/Weerts a further seven points back. The #11 Comtoyou Racing and #69 Emil Frey Racing crews also retain an outside shot for what should be a thrilling decider on the Dutch coast.