If the prospect of 57 of the world’s most desirable supercars representing 11 luxury brands was not enticing enough, then the addition of Valentino Rossi to the cast list for the opening round of the 2012 season brings star quality to Monza this weekend.
The nine-time motorcycle world champion has chosen the citadel of Italian motorsport for his first competitive GT outing in the Blancpain Endurance Series.
‘Il Doctore’ (The Doctor), will share a Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 Italia with Alessio Salucci in the Pro-Am Cup class. The car will carry his famous No.46 and the unmistakable VR-46 Monster livery.
The 11 brands assembled are Audi, Aston Martin, BMW, Dodge, Ferrari, Jaguar, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes, Nissan and Porsche with teams and drivers representing more than 20 nations.
Stephane Ratel, Founder and CEO of SRO Motorsports Group, promoters of the Blancpain Endurance Series, says the line-up is truly daunting for a series in only its second year.
“To have 57 cars on the grid, with the calibre of brands, teams and drivers represented, underlines the Blancpain Endurance Series as the standout GT endurance competition in Europe,” he said.
“Add in the fact that local fans and a global television audience will also have the chance to witness Valentino Rossi at the wheel of a Ferrari 458 Italia on Monza’s high-speed straights makes for a spectacular opening to the 2012 season.”
Rossi will be in exalted company. The entry list includes former Formula One drivers Karl Wendlinger (AUT) and Mark Blundell (GBR), Le Mans 24 winner David Brabham (AUS) and sportscar specialists like Stephane Ortelli (MON), who last weekend completed a double race victory in round one of the FIA GT1 World Championship at Nogaro, France.
The Monegasque will spearhead the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Team’s defence of their Pro Cup teams’ title in one of two Audi R8 LMS Ultras.
Ten teams line up to challenge the Belgian outfit including Marc VDS Racing (BMW Z4) with Bas Leinders (BEL), Mike Hezemans (NDL) and Markus Palttala (FIN), runner-up in 2011, among their ranks.
Also lying in wait are the 2011 drivers’ champion Greg Franchi (BEL) in the Vita4One Racing Team BMW Z4, Wendlinger in the KRK Racing Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 while Boutsen Ginion Racing (BEL) and United Autosports (USA) lead the McLaren challenge in their MP4-12Cs. Kessel Racing (CHE) carry the baton for Ferrari and Prospeed Competition (BEL) and SMG Challenge (FRA) lead the Porsche 997 GT3
In Pro-Am Cup, Rossi’s domain, AF Corse (ITA) field four Ferrari 458 Italias including the current drivers’ champions Louis Machiels (BEL) and Niek Hommerson (NDL).
The vastly-experienced Andrea Bertolini completes the AF Corse trio in car No.52.
The category also features the Jaguar XR-R of Emil Frey (CHE), while the famous Ecurie Ecosse colours return in the shape of a BMW Z4 run by Barwell Motorsport (GBR).
The Italians Mirko Venturi, Andrea Invernizzi and Tommaso Maino, pole sitters in 2011, leads the challenge of the Black Bull Swiss Racing (CHE) Ferrari 458 Italia.
ART Grand Prix (FRA) make their GT debut with FIA GT1 World Championship regular Gregoire Demoustier (FRA) paired with Duncan Tappy (GBR) in a McLaren GT MP4-12C.
The Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 is also entered with the GT4 Cup winner in 2011, Alex Buncombe, stepping up in the GT Academy Team RJN car.
In the Gentleman Trophy class, Georges Cabannes defends his crown in the Ruffier Racing Lamborghini LP 520+. Fellow French outfit Sainteloc Racing, who tasted victory in the FIA GT3 European Championship at Nogaro, run the Audi R8 LMS along with JB Motorsport (SWE), Kessel Racing bring a Ferrari 430 Scuderia while GCR Racing (FRA) campaign a Dodge Viper.
The action starts in Monza on Friday 13th with Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying. Saturday features 60 minutes of Qualifying ahead of the three-hour Race starting at 14:15 local time on Sunday.
Blancpain is the title sponsor and official timekeeper with commercial and technical support for the series comes in the shape of Michelin as the official tyre supplier and Audi as the official car supplier. Hexis, a long-time supporter of the SRO Motorsports Group, continues as official partner.
Blancpain Race Weekends
For 2012, the event programme is expanded. Under the moniker of The Blancpain Race Weekends, the track action will also include the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo with two 50-minute races during the weekend.
The Monza weekend also features the Cooper Tires British F3 International Series. In a nod to nostalgia, the Blancpain Revival Series, new for 2012, will be staged at Blancpain Race Weekends. The series is the domain of GT cars which raced between 1994 and 2004.
There will also be a series of exclusive activities for members of the newly-launched World Supercar Club.
How to follow the Blancpain Endurance Series
The series will feature in live broadcast across 22 channels globally with a number of other key broadcasters showing extended highlights in territories such as Europe, Australia, North America and Latin America.
Bloomberg Television will also broadcast highlights worldwide (Americas, Pan Euro, Middle East, Africa and Asia-Pacific). That all adds up to a global audience reach of over 350 million homes.
Motors TV will carry live coverage to viewers in over 20 countries across Europe.
Live streaming of each race will also be shown on the official web site www.blancpainendurance-series.com
German viewers can watch on http://eurovision.digotel.com/gt1/index.html
Watch the 2012 season preview on the Blancpain Endurance Series Youtube channel.
Read David Addison’s blog Moonlighting at www.blancpain-endurance-series.com
(Image: © JohnBrooksPhoto.com)