2017 Total Spa 24 Hours Pro Cup Preview Part 2

This is the second portion of my preview of the hugely talented Pro Cup class for this weekend’s Spa 24 Hours. The first part can be viewed here and without further ado I think it’s time to preview some of the entries.

#14 Emil Frey Jaguar Racing Jaguar G3: Lorenz Frey/Stephane Ortelli/Albert Costa

The two Emil Frey Jaguar entries are both paddock and fan favorites, with the Emil Frey doing a remarkable job in turning the car into a reliable and very quick GT3 car without any factory support from Jaguar.

The team have shown flashes of promise all season but have yet to pull it all together to gain the result they likely deserve. They showed well last year before reliability issues and avoiding these will be key to the team finally showing the true potential of the Jaguar.

Stephane Ortelli is a very quick and established talent, perfect to lead this team. Albert Costa is an underrated driver at this level who is very quick over a stint. Completing their trio is Lorenz Frey, an ever improving silver who is consistent however lacks the ultimate pace across his stints in the car.

#17 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Stuart Leonard/Jamie Green/Jake Dennis

This #17 is an amalgamation of several Team WRT Sprint cup drivers, with silver ranked Stuart Leonard in particular impressing this season. He has developed into a very quick and consistent driver at this level, as evidenced by his fifth in the current Blancpain GT rankings.

Brit F3 convert Jake Dennis is improving every race weekend, with two top ten results in his last two races. Audi DTM racer Jamie Green completes this all British line-up, and for this entry they’ve been on an upward trend with a sixth at the last race at Paul Richard boding well for Spa, a circuit the Audi R8 always goes well at.

#19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Ezequiel Perez Companc/Rolf Ineichen/Raffaele Giammaria

The Grasser racing team have shown this year that they have made significant step forward with the Huracan, but unfortunately it’s the teams other entry that has been taking the wins instead of this car.

Raffaele Giammaria heads the driving talent, someone who is very experienced and quick at this level after switching across from single seaters over a decade ago.  Ezequiel Perez Companc and Rolf Ineichen are both solid drivers for this entry and will provide some consistently quick times throughout the race, although they will have yet to show this season that they can consistently run at the front like their team mates.

#22 Motul Team RJN Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3: Matt Simmons/Matt Parry/Struan Moore

This RJN Nissan team are another paddock and fan favorite, with the GT-R still proving competitive despite being in the last year of it’s performance cycle. The team have been on the edges of the top ten on a number of occasions this season, although in the past Spa has not played to all of the GT-R’s strengths.

Matt Parry and Struan Moore are both recent single seater converts with good pedigree, Parry having finished 9th in GP3 last year and Moore eighth in the 2015 Japanese F3 series. Parry has impressed in his first season in GT racing, whilst Moore is adapting to the GT-R much better than the McLaren 650S after a difficult first season in Blancpain last year. 2015 GT Academy winner Matt Simmons completes the lineup and is a very good racer considering two years ago he was racing solely on his Playstation.

#23 Motul Team RJN Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3: Alex Buncombe/Lucas Ordonez/Katsumasa Chiyo

This #23 car is the more established entry amongst the Nissan team, with the car proving competitive now for a number of seasons in Blancpain. The team that won the 2015 Blancpain Endurance series have found results slightly tougher to come by in the recent two seasons as their competition keep improving.

A fifth at Paul Richard last time out bodes well for Spa, however the French is one more suited to the Nissan’s top end pace than Spa is. The driver trio of Alex Buncombe, Lucas Ordonez and Katsumasa Chiyo are well established at this level. All three are very quick and consistent driver who epitomize the Pro Cup class of the Blancpain series.

#25 Audi Sport Team Sainteloc Audi R8 LMS: Markus Winkelhock/Christopher Haase/Jules Gounon

This year Audi revealed a statement of intent in the buildup to the race as they announced that French Sainteloc and the Czech ISR team would join WRT as Audi factory supported entries. This #25 entry from Sainteloc therefore has a roster filled with top line Audi GT drivers. The team scored a top ten at Paul Richard and will be hoping they can improve upon that at Spa.

One time F1 racer Markus Winkelhock has been an Audi factory driver for a number of years and has always lived up to that billing in Blancpain. Christopher Haase is another very quick Audi factory driver, who has won everything from the ADAC GT Masters to FIA GT3 European Championship and Nurburgring 24 Hours in his career. Jules Gounon is a recent GT racing convert who impressed with third in the highly competitive ADAC GT Masters last season. He has shown well racing internationally in the IMSA series and looks a very exciting prospect for the coming seasons.

#27 Orange1 Team Lazarus Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Nicolas Pohler/Fabrizio Crestani/Luca Filippi 

The Orange1 Team Lazarus team have found the switch to Blancpain a struggle this season, with 14th their best so far in the opening rounds. The Italian team have a good pedigree in Lamborghini Super Trofeo and formerly GP2, therefore it’s only a matter of time before they find the sweet spot with the Huracan, much like the GRT Grasser team have.

On driving duties it’s former FIA European F3 racer Nicolas Pohler, who has proved consistent although has yet to show the blinding pace that would grab the attention of team bosses across the paddock. Italian

Fabrizio Crestani is in his first year of GT racing after a fragmented single seater career, and will only get better with every race weekend as he learns the intricacies of the Huracan. Former Indycar racer Luca Filippi completes the lineup, after a disappointing season that saw him dropped from his Attempto Racing driver after the opening round, only joining this team in time for Paul Richard. How quickly he adapts to the Huracan will prove a big factor in this teams fortunes in the race.

#43 Strakka Racing McLaren 650S GT3: Jonny Kane/David Fumanelli/Sam Tordoff

Before the season there will have been quiet optimism surrounding the Strakka McLaren team, as the former WEC LMP2 runners Strakka took over the factory McLaren effort. It appears however that the new spec Pirelli tyre for the Blancpain series just doesn’t seem to suit the McLaren, with the team struggling to find the results they did last season.

A best result of 11th is not what the team was hoping for, but it’s certainly not because of the driving talent. Jonny Kane is a very experienced and quick sportscar driver and long time Strakka favorite, whilst Sam Tordoff has adapted well to the McLaren after years in the BTCC. Italian David Fumanelli is another quick young driver who along with everyone else is maximizing the McLaren package right now.

#48 Mann Filter HTP Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3: Kenneth Heyer/Indy Dontje/Patrick Assenheimer

This #48 HTP Motorsport entry will definitely stand out at Spa, with the fluorescent yellow and green Mann filter livery seeing to that. On track the team have struggled however to stand out like their livery, having yet to score a point with 14th their best Blancpain result.

Indy Dontje has found the adaptation to GT racing a struggle since finished 3rd in the German F3 Series in 2014. He can relied upon to deliver a consistent stint but has yet to show the last tenths of pace that decide the top twenty in this series.

Kenneth Heyer has shown his speed with success in the 24 Hours series last season, but so far has struggled to produce similar results in Blancpain. Patrick Assenheimer is another driver who has shown talent in regional series such as the ADAC GT Masters, but much like his two team mates has struggled to replicate it in this series this season.

#50 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 Italia GT3: Pasin Lathouras/Michele Rugolo/Alessandro Pier Guidi

This AF Corse supported Spirit of Race team have shown they are contenders in this series this season. with two top six finishes in the opening two Endurance rounds. The team could prove an outside contender for the victory, although in the past the Ferrari entries have often qualified faster than they’ve raced.

Pasin Lathouras is an ever improving am driver, who despite still not quite being able to match his team mates has proven very quick in this car. Both team mates Michele Rugolo and Alessandro Pier Guidi are very quick Ferrari GT drivers who are amongst the fastest in the world in a 488 Italia. They will anchor the car throughout the race and keep the team at the front unless reliability hobbles the car.

This wraps up the second part of my Pro Cup class preview for the upcoming Spa 24 Hours. I would like to thank anyone reading this and the third installment of my previews will be posted very shortly. Stay tuned!

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