After a stunning start to the 2013 racing season at Monza last month, the Blancpain Endurance Series arrives at Silverstone with the form book and predictions blowing away in the famous Northamptonshire wind after a sensational season opener in April. Yet again a superb field of 60 GT3 cars are on the bulging entry list for the second round of the series which takes place on Sunday 2nd June.
The three hour, multi-class epic at Monza six-weeks ago proved to be an electrifying encounter with famous brands like Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Mercedes, McLaren, Nissan and Porsche going head-to-head. For 2013 the Blancpain Endurance Series has consolidated upon its successful format and stable regulations to put clear distance between itself and any other GT based series. If anything, Silverstone is set to see even more excitement and racing combat at the venue of the British Grand Prix.
It was Ferrari that had the upper hand at Monza with the Kessel Racing-run 458 Italia of Davide Rigon/Daniele Zampieri and Cesar Ramos completing a richly merited victory, taking full advantage of slick pit work and stellar stints from all three drivers. Delighting the tifosi on their home turf, the Swiss team now has the scent of a title campaign and will be looking for more big points this weekend.
Completing the overall podium at Monza were the two McLaren MP4-12C entries from ART Grand Prix and Gulf Racing respectively. The former, spearheaded by 2009 FIA Formula Two champion, Andy Soucek, took a clear runners-up position after a well-judged drive by the Spaniard and his French team mates Mike Parisy and Antoine Leclerc. Behind them raged an unforgettable battle between Adam Carroll’s Gulf McLaren, Andrea Bertolini in the leading PRO-AM class AF Corse entered Ferrari 458 Italia and one of three Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8’s, driven by Swede Edward Sandström.
Beware of the Brit-Pack !
Carroll, who eventually won-out in an old-fashioned ‘Parabolica to chequered-flag slip streamer’ called the fight at Monza ‘the toughest I have ever been involved in.’ He returns to Silverstone for the first time since making his GT3 debut at the corresponding fixture last season and the Northern Irishman usually excels here, having won previously in GP2 and F3. He shares the Gulf Racing McLaren MP4-12c with fellow Brit, Rob Bell and Belgian, Nico Verdonck.
There will be plenty more hometown cheer at Silverstone this weekend as at least 11 British teams and 31 drivers plan on exploiting home advantage at the Home of British motorsport. In the PRO class, well known and experienced names such as Peter Dumbreck (JRM Nissan) and Oliver Jarvis (Phoenix Audi) are joined by relative GT3 newcomers but proven talents, Steven Kane (JRM Nissan) and Alexander Sims (Hexis McLaren).
Surprise – Return of the Mak!
In addition to this deeply impressive list of British talent is Darren Turner, who joins Stefan Mucke and Frederic Makowiecki in a ‘works’ run Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT3. A relatively late but very welcome and significant addition to the entry list, this trio will pose a formidable threat to the season entered regulars in the Blancpain Endurance Series.
For ‘Mako’ who won the season finale at Navarra last autumn for Hexis Racing, it is a welcome return to the Blancpain Endurance Series.
“It is great for me to come back to the Blancpain Endurance Series, especially as it is Aston Martin’s home race at Silverstone,” said Makowiecki. “It is clear to me that the series has gone up another level this season, so it will be a nice challenge for the Aston Martin Vantage GT3.”
Belgian battles continue to rage
Other likely contenders for outright victory and PRO class honours this weekend will come from 2012 race winners Marc VDS Racing Team, who field their regular strong driver line-up of Bas Leinders/Yelmar Buurman and Maxime Martin in one BMW Z4 and Nick Catsburg/Markus Palttala and Henri Moser in another. Martin in particular has become something of a driving benchmark in recent seasons and isn’t known as ‘the Special One’ for nothing when it comes to the Blancpain Endurance Series.
The Marc VDS Racing Team’s 2012 title sparring partners – Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi’s have committed three Audi R8 LMS ultra models once again and always feature at the front. Among a well-known squad of talented drivers is Rene Rast, who has had a stellar start to the 2013 with mighty performances for the Vincent Vosse led team. He shares the #1 car with Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor.
Another Belgium based team who always go well at Silverstone is ProSpeed Competition who enter their familiar Porsche 997 GT3. Marc Hennericci, Xavier Maassen and Maxime Soulet were quick at Monza and the Rudi Penders run team will be aiming to channel their 2012 race when they scored a fighting 5th place.
PRO-AM – Impossible to predict
In the hugely competitive PRO-AM class there are no less than 23 teams representing 9 different manufacturers. At Monza it was the AF Corse entry of reigning champions Niek Hommerson and Louis Machiels that took glory after they laid solid foundations for works Andrea Bertolini to mount that astonishing final hour drive to harass the PRO class top three.
Many other entries in the PRO-AM class can never be ruled out of challenging at the very front of the field and at Monza the French-duo of Henry Hassid and Ludovic Badey drove an inspired race to not only take 18-points for second in PRO-AM class but also register a remarkable 7th overall in their distinctive BMW Z4.
Completing the PRO-Am class podium last time out was the Black Falcon team from Germany. Well known to British fans is Adam Christodoulou, who together with Steve Jans and Klaas Hummel drove a clean and efficient race at Monza to rise up from 38th on the overall grid to highly respectable 10th overall with their Mercedes SLS AMG GT3.
Nissan GT Academy is coming home
At the very same venue where their GT Academy graduates are cherry-picked bringing us the extraordinary ‘Gamers to Racers’ story to the sport in such explosive fashion, ,the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN squad are ready to shake up the order once again at Silverstone.
It’s literally black and white for the team again this weekend as they field two PRO-AM entries with GT Academy graduate Lucas Ordonez joining, one of the undoubted stars of Monza – Alex Buncombe in the predominantly white Nissan, along with one of the new batch of students, German – Peter Pyzera. The other 2012 GT Academy contemporaries; Mark Shulzhitskiy,Wolfgang Reip and Steven Doherty share the purposeful looking #35 black Nissan GT-R Nismo.
Blancpain Racing – Going for the Silverstone double
Providing truly spectacular variety in the PRO-AM class will be the Blancpain Racing entered Lamborghini Gallardo GT3 FL II with familiar Dutch ace Peter Kox sharing with Marc A. Hayek. The pair will be aiming for a repeat of their 2012 performance at Silverstone when they claimed a superb PRO-AM class win and 4th place overall.
”Last year we finished with the best position in our category with Peter (Kox),” said Marc A. Hayek, President and CEO of Blancpain. “Silverstone has always been a good circuit for us, this F1 track fits us well. I hope that we are going to repeat last year’s result. With 60 cars on the starting grid, the qualifying session will be difficult but crucial!”
Another Lamborghini is entered by the impressive Austrian team Grasser Racing, who had a very competitive series debut at Monza with team owner Gottfried Grasser, Gerhard Tweraser and Hari Proczyk qualifying the mighty looking Lamborghini 6th in PRO-AM.
Gentlemen…start your engines
The Gentlemen’s Trophy has expanded significantly for 2013 and has so far provided some excellent racing action. 11 teams and 6 different manufacturers are in the mix for class honours this weekend as older and less experienced drivers do battle at Silverstone.
It was a Ferrari 1-2-3 podium lock-out in the first round at Monza with the SOFREV/ASP entered Ferrari 458 Italia driven by Jean-Luc Beaubelique/Patrice Goueslard and Jean-Luc Blanchemain claiming maximum class points. A race long battle with the #79 Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 Italia of Alessandro Garofano/Beniamini Caccia and Lorenzo Bontempelli, was sorted out in the final hour after Goueslard pulled out a slight gap from their fellow Prancing Horse rivals. The Portuguese duo of Filipe Barreiros and Francisco Guedes both enjoyed a competitive first race of the year in their AF Corse-run Ferrari 458 Italia taking third placed points after a stealthy run to 3rd in class.
An intriguing addition to the Gentlemen Trophy class at Silverstone will be the PGF-Kinfaun AMR entered Aston Martin GT3 of Phil Dryburgh and AMR’s Managing Director, John Gaw. The boss will be hoping that his exploits in last weekend’s British GT race at Silverstone reap dividends.
Applying a lot of recent knowledge of the Silverstone circuit will be Oman’s only professional racing driver – Ahmad Al Harthy. After three seasons in the Porsche Carrera Cup Great Britain, Al Harthy is relishing the chance to pit his racing wits against the best in Europe this season.
“If we can continue to show the promise we did at Monza then a podium position is definitely achievable,” said Al Harthy. “We had some good consistent pace there and as I have driven at Silverstone many times before, I believe that we can aim high this weekend.”
Apart from some epic GT3 action in the Blancpain Endurance Series this weekend there will also be two races for each of the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo, Auto GP Series and Formula Renault Northern European Cup.
SRO Motorsports Group Founder and CEO, Stephane Ratel said ahead of the weekend: “We have another bumper grid at Silverstone with some excellent additions to our record season entrants this year. The sheer variety of the grid shows how healthy GT3 racing is just now. The Blancpain Endurance Series brings dream cars and some of the best endurance racing drivers on the planet together to create a magnificent spectacle. British race fans are in for a real treat this weekend.”