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2017 Total Spa 24 Hours Pro Cup Preview Part 4

This is the fourth and final portion of my Pro Cup class preview for this weekend’s greatly anticipated Spa 24 Hours.  Let’s take a look at the final seven entries from the huge 37 car Pro Cup class this year.

#88 Mercedes AMG Team AKKA ASP Mercedes AMG GT3: Felix Serralles/Dani Juncadella/Tristan Vautier

The French AKKA ASP team are another Mercedes factory assisted team and this #88 entry is their premier entry in this hugely competitive Pro Cup class. The team finished a very good 4th last time out in what is known as the warm up for the Spa 24 Hours. The team will therefore hope their confidence is well founded come Sunday afternoon.

On the driving front Mercedes factory driver Dani Juncadella has took to GT cars like a duck to water after switching from the DTM series. He is proving why he was a former European F3 champion and is very quick behind the wheel of a SLS.

Tristan Vautier is very quick in GT cars and is an underrated talent at this level despite a successful American open wheel racing career. Felix Serralles is another former single seater racer who has brought his considerable speed to GT racing, showing this consistently in his first season at this level.

#90 AKKA ASP Mercedes AMG GT3: Michael Meadows/Raffaele Marciello/Edoardo Mortara

The second of the AKKA ASP Mercedes entries may not have factory support, however this car is just as strong as it’s other entry. The team have established themselves and with such a strong driver lineup they can potentially win this race. Their results have been better in the Sprint Cup, although this is unclear why as their third driver is of the highest quality.

The stand out driver is the Italian Raffaele Marciello, who was a high profile addition to the team after he switched from GP2 to GT racing this season. He has proven very quick and consistent and is a great addition to the team. Brit Michael Meadows is an underrated GT driver who anchors this lineup, with Mercedes DTM racer Edoardo Mortara the strongest possible third driver they could have added to the team.

#98 ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3: Bruno Spengler/Nick Catsburg/Tom Blomqvist

The German ROWE racing outfit are the top ranking BMW team in this series, and will be hoping for a repeat victory after last years success. The team return with two strong entries again and this #98 car will be hoping to turn their season around after a difficult build up to Spa.

On the driving front the team utilizes the talents of DTM racer Bruno Spengler, someone who is both quick and experienced in an M6 which seems ideally suited to the Spa circuit. Nick Catsburg has developed his reputation as a under the radar talent at this level thanks to his performances in this race over the past several years, something he will be keen to repeat this time out. Tom Blomqvist is another DTM standout who is prodigiously fast and leaves the team with seemingly no weaknesses going into the weekend.

#99 ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3: Alex Sims/Maxime Martin/Philipp Eng

In the #99 it’s the case of if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. The squad were victorious in a hugely competitive lead battle last year, and will be looking for a another win in the Ardennes. The team currently have only one top ten in three endurance rounds, however they will still have some quiet optimism going into race week.

Alex Sims has established himself now as a BMW factory driver and is on a good run of form in the IMSA WeatherTech series recently. Switching back to the GT3 car will hopefully not change his recent run. Maxime Martin is a local legend of the race and finally won last year after many years of trying, he is seriously quick and knows this track as well as anyone else on the grid. Philipp Eng is a regular in the series and knows this M6 GT3 very well, with all three very quick around this circuit as they proved last year.

#114 Emil Frey Racing Jaguar G3: Christian Klien/Jonathan Hirschi/Marco Seefried

This privately run Emil Frey racing team have in recent seasons added a second Jaguar to their entry, and last year surprised a lot of people by running well in the opening hours before mechanical ailments hobbled them. This year they have again shown flashes in the endurance rounds, without putting it all together to achieve a top result they deserve.

In terms of driving talent the team have three very good drivers, with ex-F1 racer Christian Klien the high profile signing. He’s a very quick driver at this level and along with the very talented Marco Seefried anchors this lineup. Jonathan Hirschi has a lot of sportscar experience and can be trusted to keep the car out the trouble, whilst running very quick lap times.

#117 KUS Team75 Bernhard Porsche 911 GT3-R: Laurens Vanthoor/Kevin Estre/Michael Christensen

Porsche at the last minute announced this much anticipated factory assisted entry for Spa, and the team are clearly here to try and win the race. They topped the pre-race test and have assembled a very strong team for the race. The only possible unknown is how the Timo Bernhard led outfit will handle the step up from ADAC GT Masters to Blancpain.

The team have three Porsche factory drivers for the race, with Laurens Vanthoor the most experienced in this race. He has driven here for the WRT Audi team a lot and his knowledge of the track at this level will be invaluable to the team. Kevin Estre and Michael Christensen are both very quick factory drivers who will need next to no time to get up to speed with the rest.

That wraps up my previews looking at the Pro Cup class for the Spa 24 Hours. I hope you enjoyed reading this and any feedback would be greatly appreciated in the comments section below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and the first portion of my preview of the Pro-Am class will be online very soon!

2017 Total Spa 24 Hours Pro Cup Preview Part 3

This is part three of my preview of the Pro Cup class at this weekend’s Spa 24 Hours.  The 37 car strong Pro Cup entry is almost half of the entire 64 car grid, and will be a closely fought battle for the entire 24 hours. Let’s take a look at the third portion of this class entry.

#55 Kaspersky Motorsport Ferrari 488 Italia GT3: Giancarlo Fisichella/James Calado/Marco Cioci

This #55 Kaspersky Motorsport, AF Corse run team had plenty of expectation, with Ferrari’s first foray into the Pro Cup in Blancpain. Going into the Spa weekend the team have so far only shown flashes of their full potential however. A 4th at Monza, a Ferrari friendly circuit, is their best so far and this just shows how competitive the series is in 2017.

On the driving front all three drivers need no introduction. Giancarlo Fisichella was a long established F1 racer before making the switch to GT cars seamlessly. James Calado abandoned a promising single seater career to join Ferrari and has now established himself as one of the best GT drivers in the world behind the wheel of the 488. Marco Cioci is a long established Ferrari GT specialist and with such a strong team this team will be hoping for the victory come Sunday afternoon.

#58 Strakka Racing McLaren 650S GT3: Come Ledogar/Rob Bell/Ben Barnicoat

This #58 entry is another car which has perhaps slightly under performed this season in comparison with the outside expectation going into the year. The team will hope this can be rectified for Spa, however it may prove tough for the team to consistently match the pace of their rivals thanks to the tyres.

All three drivers are seriously quick with Come Ledogar and Rob Bell  are already very experienced McLaren GT drivers who are as fast as anyone else in this series. Ben Barnicoat is another promising single seater driver who made the leap across to sportscar racing, so far he has shown well despite the car not running at the front much this season.

#59 Strakka Racing McLaren 650S GT3: Andrew Watson/Jazeman Jaafar/Pieter Schothorst

McLaren’s struggles this season are being exacerbated in this #59 entry, as they have really struggled to match the pace in a series where one second frequently covers the top 20.

29th so far is the teams best result although in a one-off race such as Spa prior form is not so much of a factor going into the race. Andrew Watson is one of the young drivers McLaren is grooming to be a top line GT racer, and so far he is showing well in his third season with the team.

Jazeman Jaafar showed promise in single seaters and so far shown similar flashes in GT racing.  Dutch racer Pieter Schothorst is a last minute replacement for Dean Stoneman, who has stepped aside for an unknown reason. He has been racing a WRT Audi up to this point and how quickly he adapts to the 650S will play a huge factor in how this car performs.

#63 GRT Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Mirko Bortolotti/Christian Engelhart/Andrea Caldarelli

The Grasser team have unlocked something in the Lamborghini Huracan that has put them in a class of their own for large portions of this season. The team have secured two out of the three Blancpain Endurance wins so far and will be hoping to make it three out of four in the center piece race of the season.

Regular drivers Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart currently lead the points standings and both are very quick racers, with Bortolotti in particular really impressing this season with his overall speed both in qualifying and races. Japan based racer Andrea Caldarelli has shown well in the Endurance rounds and in overall terms this has been the best overall package in Blancpain this season.

#66 Attempto Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Mikael Grenier/Jaap Van Lagen/Christopher Zoechling

The Attempto racing team have struggled, like every other Lamborghini team, to match the pace that GRT Grasser have unlocked from the Huracan. They have flown under the radar so far this season, something they will look to change at Spa.

Mikael Grenier is a quick young Canadian driver who is rebuilding his career after a two year break from the sport. Spa is his debut at this level, and in such a high profile race he may struggle to match the pace of his rivals. Jaap Van Lagen brings some experience to the car, although he has not driven the Huracan this season so may need some time in free practice to adjust to the car and find it’s limits.

Austrian Christopher Zoechling has provided some solid showings at this level after stepping up for the full season after some good performances in the Porsche Carrera Cup Germany.

#72 SMP Racing Ferrari 488 Italia GT3: Victor Shaytar/Miguel Molina/Davide Rigon

This SMP Racing entry has so far been the best placed of the many Ferrari entries this season. The AF Corse assisted team have three top five finishes in the Blancpain Endurance season, including a second place last time out at Paul Richard.

Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina are both very quick Ferrari factory drivers, who can provide blisteringly quick lap times stint after stint. Joining them is Russian silver driver Victor Shaytar, who has been very impressive this season as he’s held his own against much more accomplished drivers in the Pro Cup class. Watch out for this car as a contender for victory.

#75 ISR Audi R8 LMS: Filipe Albuquerque/Clemens Schmid/Filip Salaquarda

The Czech ISR Audi team have been mainstays in Blancpain and this season are producing some good results which are going largely unnoticed so far. The team will be boosted this weekend with Audi factory backing, which is bound to help the team possibly achieve their best result of the season.

Audi factory driver Filipe Albuquerque is a very quick racer who has plenty of experience in the GT3 spec R8 LMS. He will lead the driver line up, with his co-drivers both likely to improve their pace this weekend under his guidance.

Clemens Schmid is improving in his second Blancpain season, although has found the step up from being a double Carrera Cup Middle East champion understandably tough. Silver ranked Filip Salaquarda has been a mainstay of the family run ISR team throughout his racing career, and is showing some good form after several years in the series. A 4th in one of the Sprint Cup rounds at Zolder shows he is quick enough to match most other drivers in this class.

#76 Audi Sport Team ISR Audi R8 LMS: Pierre Kaffer/Kelvin Van Der Linde/Frank Stippler

This #76 entry is the one with the Audi factory backing for Spa, which brings it’s own good and bad points. The team receiving a full factory support package will elevate the ISR team for the race, however the fact this team have only competed in the Paul Richard race will mean they may be still experiencing niggling problems during the race week.

Frank Stippler has been racing for the team all season and is a very quick and consistent driver at this level, exactly what you need for a 24 hour sprint race. Pierre Kaffer is massively experienced and despite not racing in the series this season will need only a few laps to get up to speed. South African Kelvin Van Der Linde is a rising star in GT racing and is already a ADAC GT Masters champion despite only being 21. He has a big future in sportscars and makes up a very strong ISR Audi entry.

#84 Mercedes AMG HTP Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3: Jimmy Eriksson/Maxi Buhk/Frank Perera

This Mercedes backed HTP Motorsport entry has been one of the very few cars to consistently challenge the GRT Grasser #63 Lamborghini for the season, looking very strong despite a DNF at the last round at Paul Richard. This team has been very strong all season and don’t expect that to change at Spa.

Maxi Buhk anchors this lineup and is a very quick GT racer. He is a former Spa 24 Hours winner and has a great chance to add a second victory to his CV. Frank Perera has been a revelation since signing for the team this season, showing remarkable pace over a stint and adding something extra to the team. Swede Jimmy Eriksson has shown some good pace after switching across from GP2, and looks to be a very good young driver at this level in the coming years.

#85 HTP Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3: Edward Sandstrom/Fabian Schiller/Dominik Baumann 

For this #85 HTP Motorsport entry they have spent the season in the shadow of their sister #84 car, as they have struggled to match their pace over a race distance. The team are arguably the best Mercedes GT3 team on the planet and with a good driver trio a top ten result is possible for this team.

Edward Sandstrom moved across from Audi and has so far found the transition tough, with 37th the cars best result in the Endurance rounds this season. Sandstrom has experience at this level and can be trusted to bring the car back in one piece, which is crucial in a 24 hour race.

Fabian Schiller has stepped up to Blancpain this season after a successful year in the Renault Megane Trophy last season, but the step up to Blancpain has not been anywhere near as successful so far. Austrian Dominik Baumann will likely lead the trio, as he is coming off a very successful 2016 season in which he finished 2nd in the Endurance series and 3rd in the Sprint Cup. He is a very talented young racer who will likely remain a name mentioned a lot in this series in coming years.

This wraps up part three of my preview of the huge Pro Cup class for the upcoming Spa 24 Hours. I hope you enjoyed this preview and any feedback would be hugely appreciated in the comments section below. The fourth and final preview post will be online very soon so stay tuned and a huge thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

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!

2017 Total Spa 24 Hours Pro Cup Preview Part 1

The Spa 24 Hours began only a month after the Le Mans 24 Hours, but throughout its history has struggled to match the Sarthe for mass appeal. The race has developed and grown from a touring car event into the unofficial GT3 world championship. Since moving to the GT3 platform in 2011 the race has thrived with every year seeing an increase in the quality and quantity of the entry.

This year is no different, with a staggering 66 cars set to compete on the 7km circuit throughout the 24 hours. The top level Pro cup sees an incredible 36 entries, and ten different manufactures, with almost all having some form of factory support, competing fiercely for the win.  In a series of blog posts I will be previewing the upcoming race, with this being the first post looking at a portion of the incredible Pro cup entry.

#00 Good Smile Racing & Team UKYO Mercedes AMG GT3: Nobuteru Taniguchi/Tatsuya Kataoka/Kamui Kobayashi 

The Japanese Super GT team embark on their maiden assault on the Spa 24 Hours, something that will not prove easy despite having a very strong team. The Goodsmile  team are very successful in the GT3 spec GT300 class in recent years. The team and their regular driver line-up have won the class in 2011 and 2014, and they could not have added a higher quality driver to complete their trio.

The regular season pairing of Nobuteru Taniguchi and Tatsuya Kataoka have been competing together since 2012 and won the class in 2014, with Taniguchi making a name for himself in the world of D1 drifting.

Team mate Tatsuya Kataoka a similarly talented driver who has come up  through the single seater ranks before switching across to GT racing.Completing the line-up is factory Toyota LMP1 and former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi. He’s a seriously quick driver and despite having never driven a GT3 car before he should provide some quick times in the car. For this team a top ten or fifteen result would be a huge achievement in such a highly competitive field.

#1 Audi Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Antonio Garcia/Nico Muller/Rene Rast

The #1 entry was the most successful of the Audi entries at the preceding Paul Richard six hours last month, and amongst a very strong Team WRT Audi stable any of their pro cup entries could win this race.

The Audi R8 appears to have been disadvantaged by the new spec Pirelli tyre, aside from a dominant double victory in the two Sprint cup rounds at Zolder. The Belgian team however always manage to put themselves in contention in Belgium’s most famous GT race.

Nico Muller is a very quick factory Audi DTM driver with experience in this race, and factory Corvette racing driver Antonio Garcia adapted well to both the car and the team last time out in France. The trio is completed by double Spa 24 winner Rene Rast, and this team are definite contenders for the win if they can remain trouble free.

#2 Audi Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Conor de Filippi/Christopher Mies/Frederic Vervisch

The WRT Audi team are factory supported and have a huge arsenal of entries for their highlight of the season. The #2 entry is another contender for the victory in this hugely competitive pro cup class entry.

Conor de Filippi and Christopher Mies are well versed as successful team mates, having won the German ADAC GT Masters title together last year and only several months ago they won a dramatic Nurburgring 24 Hours. Frederic Vervisch is another Audi factory driver who can deliver a very quick consistent stint.

To discount any WRT Audi at the GT3 level is a mistake but this entry in particular will be one of the pre-race favorites amongst their massive stable.

#4 Black Falcon Mercedes AMG GT3: Adam Christodolou/Yelmer Buurman/Luca Stolz

The Black Falcon outfit have established themselves as one of the leading Mercedes teams at this level, much like rivals WRT are for Audi. These three have been the full season Blancpain Endurance triumvirate this season, and despite a difficult start to the season the strength of this team and its drivers means you cannot read too much into their results this season.

Mercedes factory driver Adam Christodolou is a former Nurburgring 24 Hours winner and deserves the respect that comes with being a Merc factory driver. Dutchman Yelmer Buurman is a former single seater hotshoe who has now established himself an an excellent GT driver in a Mercedes in particular. German Luca Stolz has risen from the German sportscar ranks to reach the Blancpain level and has so far established himself as a very good driver at this level.

#5 WRT Audi R8 LMS: Marcel Fassler/Dries Vanthoor/Andre Lotterer

This season so far has been slightly underwhelming in comparison with their usual very high levels of success. This #5 entry has been up there with the best WRT Audi’s in Blancpain this year, yet they have struggled for consistently top line results in such a highly competitive series.

Audi LMP1 refugee Marcel Fassler has adapted well to the R8 LMS GT3 car this season along with team mate Dries Vanthoor, a pairing that have worked so well despite being a very different spectrum’s of their careers. Partnering them in a late addition to the lineup is Porsche LMP1 driver Andre Lotterer, who replaces Will Stevens for this race. Him and Fassler were Audi factory drivers last year and he should show well in the car despite limited experience.

#6 WRT Audi R8 LMS: Nathanael Berthon/Stephane Richelmi/Benoit Treluyer 

This #6 entry has suffered some terrible luck this season, failing to finish either of the first three Blancpain Endurance series races. This does not bode well going into a 24 hour sprint race, but the WRT are the premier Audi GT3 team so if anyone can get the car running it’s them.

Another Audi LMP1 refugee is the Frenchman Benoit Treluyer, who is greatly enjoying his debut GT3 racing season despite the cars struggles. Partnering him are two recent F2 converts, Nathanael Berthon and Stephane Richelmi. Berthon is in his first GT season whilst Richelmi has shown flashes of promise in his opening three seasons at this level. This team will be hoping their bad luck is done for the year and on a upward swing beginning at Spa.

#7 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3: Steven Kane/Guy Smith/Oliver Jarvis

The factory Bentley M-Sport team have been winning races at this level since entering the Blancpain series in 2014, however unfortunately this season it has been that way for the other #8 entry.

This car has suffered the lions share of the teams bad luck this season, most notably the teams bizarre disqualification at the opening Blancpain Endurance round at Monza. Steven Kane has been competing well in the full Blancpain GT series, meanwhile Smith and Jarvis has only been competing in the Endurance rounds. All three are very quick GT drivers and cannot be discounted on a circuit which seems to have always suited the Bentley.

#8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3: Andy Soucek/Maxime Soulet/Vincent Abril

This #8 has led the Bentley charge in recent months, and is coming into Spa on the back of a huge confidence boost with their victory last month in the Paul Richard six hours. The race is known as the warm-up for the Spa 24 Hours and this bodes well for the team.

The team are hoping they are just as competitive as last year, although will be hoping to better the 4th place from last year after late race drama. Something just seems to be clicking for this Bentley team this year, with the trio of Soucek, Soulet and Abril all combining to create a formidable trio going into the race.

#9 Bentley Team Abt Bentley Continental GT3: Nico Verdonck/Christer Jons/Jordan Pepper 

The Bentley team have added another weapon to their arsenal for Spa this year, enlisting the help of factory partner team, the German Team Abt. The Nurburgring 24 hour regulars are new to the Blancpain series but are a well known force in German motor racing.

Belgian Nico Verdonck is an underrated GT driver who will likely anchor this lineup. Christer Jons has established himself in both the ADAC GT Masters and VLN series, although may struggle slightly with the step up from national to European GT3 racing. Completing the trio is young South African Jordan Pepper.

He has risen through the ranks of the VW Cup in South Africa and then Germany, adapting well to the GT3 level in Germany. Much like Jons however he may struggle to match the ultimate pace, which is no shame in your first race at this level against such established talent.

#12 Ombra Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Andrea Piccini/Michele Beretta/Stefano Gattuso

For the Italian Ombra racing team it’s not been the year they will have hoped for this season. Their best result in the Endurance round was 15th at Silverstone, and with an influx of international drivers and entries for Spa it may be difficult for the team to improve upon this result.

On the driving front Andrea Piccini will lead this trio, as he has extensive GT racing experience effectively since the beginning of the millennium. Partnering him are two silver drivers, Stefano Gattuso and Michele Beretta. They are two good drivers and Gattuso indeed was the 2015 Italian GT champion, however they may struggle against the plethora of gold and platinum drivers they are competing against. This does mean they have nothing to lose however and potentially everything to gain.

This wraps up part one of my preview of the upcoming Total Spa 24 Hours, beginning with the Pro Cup class. Coming very soon is the second part of my preview looking at the Pro Cup class. I hope you enjoyed reading this and any comments or feedback would be hugely appreciated!

 

 

 

2017 Le Mans 24 Hours GTE Am Preview Part 2

This is part two of my preview looking at the upcoming Le Mans 24 Hours, one of the centre piece races on the motorsport calendar. To view part one of the preview click here . Let’s take a look at the second half of the 16-car GTE Am class entry for this years race.

#83 DH Racing Ferrari 488 GTE: Tracy Krohn/Nic Jonsson/Andrea Bertolini

DH Racing earned their invite to the worlds greatest sportscar race by winning in the Asian Le Mans series, and with AF Corse supporting their entry they could spring a surprise during the race week.

On the driving front they bring a familiar colour scheme back to Le Mans, with the distinctive green and blue Krohn livery indicating long time driving partners Tracy Krohn and Nic Jonsson make up two thirds of this entry.

Both are experienced and this will ensure they should stay out of trouble during their stints, the first basic aim for every sportscar driver. Completing the line-up is Italian Andrea Bertolini, someone is a proven commodity at this level. He is very quick in Ferrari GT cars and won this class in 2015, showing he can provide an edge for this team. Whilst it may be difficult on pure pace don’t count this team out for a chance of a podium.

#83

DH Racing have an outside chance of a podium if they can keep a consistent pace throughout the race. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#84 JMW Motorsport Ferrari 488 GTE: Rob Smith/Will Stevens/Dries Vanthoor

The popular JMW team returns to Le Mans after a years absence, as they transition from their faithful Ferrari 458 Italia to the newer 488 GTE car for this race. This could potentially prove problematic for the team, but with the package already proven internationally they could find themselves on the podium Sunday afternoon.

Am driver Rob Smith has been solid so far in the European Le Mans Series, which is all you can ask from your bronze rated driver. Alongside him are two very capable GT racers, former F1 racer Will Stevens and young Belgian Dries Vanthoor.

Both have come on very well this year with the WRT team in the Blancpain GT series, with the only slight question mark being how quickly they find the limit with the step up to the GTE spec racer. Expect both of these two to impress and produce consistently quick times which could put them into contention for the podium as the race wears on.

#84

JMW are outsiders for a podium, depending on how quickly they get to grips with the new Ferrari 488. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#86 Gulf Racing Porsche 911 RSR: Mike Wainwright/Ben Barker/Nick Foster

Gulf Racing come into Le Mans having flown slightly under the radar in the WEC this season. The team have been compromised by having to run a 2015 spec Porsche 911 as opposed to their rivals in 2016 cars.

The team will be led by Ben Barker, a driver who has proved he can be very quick at this level. Australian Nick Foster has showed plenty of speed even though he is still adjusting to the series, with am driver Mike Wainwright improving with his consistency over stints even if he does seem to last a tenth or two compared to some of the quickest am drivers.

For this team a top six in this highly competitive class would be a massive achievement for them, and something that would greatly bolster their WEC campaign. The team will need to have a clean and consistent run, but this is well within their reach.

#86

The iconic Gulf livery once again graces Le Mans, so can Gulf Racing do the colours proud? Photo: LAT Images.

 

#88 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR: Klaus Bachler/Khaled Al Qubaisi/Stephane Lemeret

Proton competition are a very experienced team at this GT level, and despite having two year old Porsche’s they are still in with an outside shot of a podium, such is their quality.

Proven Porsche specialist Klaus Bachler was a late addition to the team, although he is already well known to the team from previous years. Partnering him is former team mate Khaled Al Qubaisi, who returns for this one-off race after taking the year off because of business commitments. He has proven himself as a very capable driver and should pick up right where he finished last season.

Completing the trio is Le Mans rookie Stephane Lemeret. He’s proven his pace by winning the GT class of the Asian Le Mans Series with DH  Racing, and if he can adapt quickly to Le Mans and the jump in standard expect this team to be in outside contention for a podium.

#88

This Proton entry has the potential for a class podium despite the two year-old 911. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#90 TF Sport Aston Martin Vantage: Euan Hankey/Rob Bell/Salih Yoluc

This young British team have taken the GTE class by storm in the ELMS this season, leading the class after the first two rounds. This is despite the team being novices at this level.

The team have already have a proven competitive package with the 2016 spec Aston Martin Vantage claiming the GTE Pro WEC class title. Whilst the team will not a trio of professional drivers at their disposal, they do have a very good line-up for this pro-am class.

Euan Hankey and Salih Yoluc have proven an increasingly potent partnership in recent seasons, with Hankey continuing to mentor Yoluc. Completing the trio is McLaren factory GT driver Rob Bell, a very quick GT driver who claimed the class pole last year when with Clearwater Racing. This team have the potential to fight for the class win and should not be taken lightly as contenders in this competitive class.

#90

TF Sport are the rising team in the GTE ranks, can they continue their good form with a Le Mans class win? Photo: LAT Images.

 

#93 Proton Competition Porsche 911 RSR: Patrick Long/Mike Hedlund/Abdelaziz Turki Al Faisal

The third and final Proton entry numerically speaking perfectly fits the pro-am format of this class. The team will be undoubtedly be led by Porsche factory driver Patrick Long, who is a very quick professional driver of whom very few racers could get more out of a GTE spec Porsche 911 than him.

Alongside him are drivers Mike Hedlund and Abdelaziz Turki Al Faisal. Hedlund makes his debut at the race and will provide some consistency for this entry. Abdelaziz Turki Al Faisal is an experienced and solid driver, the kind of driver who is pivotal to any teams chance of victory in these pro-am classes. For this team the name of the game appears to be consistency, which can prove the key to a class podium in this class.

#93

This #93 entry will rely on the pace of Porsche factory Pat Long, how far will this take them? Photo: LAT Images.

 

#98 Aston Martin Racing Aston Martin Vantage: Paul Dalla Lana/Mathias Lauda/Pedro Lamy

This #98 Aston Martin racing entry will likely enter the race as favourites for the class victory, with bad luck seeming to be the only reason why the team have not previously won this class.

The team are currently leading the class in the WEC and with the might of the factory Aston Martin team behind them they have a great chance of victory. With the 2016 spec Aston Martin Vantage already a proven reliable and very quick car, it really seems like nothing but misfortune can stop this team.

The trio of Pedro Lamy, Mathias Lauda and Paul Dalla Lana are a proven package and can be argued to be the highest quality line-up in this class. The team are very well prepared and it is hard to bet against this team finally winning the GTE Am class after years of misfortune.

#98

This #98 Aston Martin Racing entry is undoubtedly the class favourite, will they finally end their misfortune at this race? Photo: LAT Images. 

 

#99 Beechdean AMR Aston Martin Vantage: Ross Gunn/Andrew Howard/Oliver Bryant

Beechdean AMR have established themselves at this level after winning the 2016 GTE Am class of the ELMS. Over the winter a lot has changed for this team however, with the team now badged as Beechdean AMR as opposed to a full factory Aston Martin Racing entry.

On the driving front the team have once again built a very good line-up this year. Team boss Andrew Howard is an ever improving am driver and will likely prove one of the faster am’s in this class. Aston Martin factory driver Ross Gunn is improving with every year and appears to be being groomed for a future role with the factory GTE Pro class effort.

Oliver Bryant completes the trio and is a quick GT driver who could prove to be the teams secret weapon. The team have a proven Aston Martin package and with this quality line-up the team could well prove enough to secure a class podium.

#99

Beechdean could spring a surprise with a class podium in only their second Le Mans 24 Hours. Photo: LAT Images.

 

This wraps up the second part of my look at the GTE Am class for the Le Mans 24 Hours. This 16 car class is increasing in quality every year and with such a competitive class any number of a half dozen entries can realistically win.

I would like to thank LAT Images and Dailysportscar.com for their high quality images and research which greatly helped with this article. Finally I would like to everyone for reading this you can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Next up I will preview the GTE Pro class, which should be posted very soon.

2017 Le Mans 24 Hours GTE AM Preview Part 1

It’s the time of year when the motorsport world turns it’s attention to the centre-piece Sportscar race of the year, the fabled Le Mans 24 Hours. The race has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years as Sportscar racing proves more popular with fans, who prefer the flat out nature of Sportscar races in comparison with the conservation races that Formula One have become.

The GTE Am class may be struggling for numbers in the World Endurance Championship, for Le Mans the class has returned to a far more healthy number of entries with 16 cars set to battle it out for class honours. The class enjoys a truly worldwide entry with teams and drivers who compete in the WEC, IMSA WeatherTech and Asian Le Mans series all competing against each other.

The overall quality of the entries in this class improves with every passing year and this edition is no different. Just like with every other class winning is very tough with every team needing to have a faultless run along with a helping hand from lady luck to prevail over the 24 hours. Let’s take a look at the first half of the class entry for this year.

#50 Larbre Competition Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Fernando Rees/Romain Brandela/Christian Philippon

The French Larbre team are always a welcome addition to the GTE Am class over the last few years, as they return this year after a failed attempt to move into the GTE Pro class of the WEC for this year after Chevrolet factory backing couldn’t be agreed.

The team will definitely stand out this year, and not simply because they are the only team fielding a Corvette in the class. This year the team have a striking art car livery, done by French street artist Ramzi Adek. It appears to have come about thanks to driver Romain Brandela through his connections as BMW France public events manager, the manufacture being known for its art cars.

On track the team may struggle slightly to match the front running pace as the team are one of the few teams in class to have two bronze drivers. Completing the trio is former factory Aston Martin driver Fernando Rees, someone who is both blindingly fast and is well known to the team having driven for them before he joined AMR. With him behind the wheel the car will fly, however they will struggle to maintain this pace once the other two drivers get in.

Larbre

Larbre will catch the attention of the crowd with their thundering Corvette and distinctive art car livery. Photo: LAT Images.

#54 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE: Thomas Flohr/Francesco Castellacci/Olivier Beretta

This Spirit of Race entry is run by the Ferrari GT specialist AF Corse team, who return to Le Mans with an arsenal of entries across the two GT classes. The team have showed flashes of promise in their first season at this level, with gentleman driver and team backer Thomas Flohr improving under the tutelage of his pro team mates.

AF Corse is the perfect team to run their entry, making their debut at the race that much easier. Flohr is the teams bronze rated driver and has improved already this year, with help from his full season team mate Francesco Castellacci, an Italian who has found a full season drive after bouncing around partial seasons with the likes of Aston Martin and AF Corse over the past five years. He is a talented driver who will prove the surprise for this entry over the course of the race.

Completing the line-up for Le Mans is Ferrari factory driver Olivier Beretta, who replaces fellow factory driver Miguel Molina who is being called up to the factory Ferrari GTE Pro entry. Beretta is a proven winner at Le Mans with six class wins along with five further podiums across his Le Mans career. Adding such a high calibre factory driver vastly improves this entry and should put them in contention for the class podium with a clean run. The only potential worry will be how quickly Flohr adapts to the circuit across the week.

#54

Spirit of Race have a chance of a class podium in their debut Le Mans, with Ferrari factory driver Olivier Beretta spear heading their entry. Photo: LAT Images.

#55 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GTE: Duncan Cameron/Aaron Scott/Marco Cioci

Spirit of Race have two entries in this years race and this #55 entry is their regular European Le Mans Series entry. It’s been a rough start to the season for the team in the ELMS but they have the potential to bounce back with a great result at this blue riband event.

Regular driver pairing Duncan Cameron and Aaron Scott a good driver pairing. Cameron has improved greatly as a bronze rated driver and has plenty of experience at this level in recent seasons. Team mate Aaron Scott has put in good performances in the opening rounds of the season and will be the teams hidden gem come race week, much like Castellacci in the teams other entry.

Completing the entry is the teams hired gun Marco Cioci, a very quick Italian who is vastly experienced with Ferrari GT cars. He has proven himself at this level with several GTE Am podiums in his racing career, with the only potential question mark for this team going into the week being their tyre choice. They have been running on spec Dunlop rubber all year yet for this race have switched to Michelin tyres. What effect will this have on their pace throughout the week.

#55

This gorgeous #55 Spirit of Race entry will be led by Marco Cioci, but Aaron Scott could prove their secret weapon. Photo: LAT Images.

#60 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE: Richard Wee/Hiroki Katoh/Alvaro Parente

Clearwater racing have grabbed headlines previously with their striking chrome livery, yet with a years experience they are returning to Le Mans with hopes of a class podium. This is their one-off second entry for the race, and with AF Corse providing assistance they have everything in place.

Enlisting McLaren factory GT driver Alvaro Parente is a smart move from the team, as he has established himself as one of the fastest GT3 drivers in the world, and has Le Mans experience. Hiroki Katoh is a vastly experienced Super GT racer who is another great addition to the team, with am driver Richard Wee completing the line-up. He has Blancpain GT Asia experience and will have two very quick team mates to learn from over the course of the week.

The team has a great line-up for the race and with the team gaining experience at this level rapidly, they could be in with a chance of victory. In the hands of Parente and Katoh this car will be very quick, but as with every GTE Am entry the pace of the amateur bronze rated driver will dictate the cars chances of class honours.

#60

Clearwater Racing are an ever improving team and is a testament to the growth of the Asian Le Mans Series.  Photo: LAT Images.

#61 Clearwater Racing Ferrari 488 GTE: Weng Sun Mok/Keita Sawa/Matt Griffin

This #61 entry is the teams designated full season WEC entry, and this team keeps consistently surprising people with their pace. They claimed pole on their debut in the race last year and finished an impressive fourth in class. This year they claimed a debut victory in the opening round of the WEC at Silverstone several months ago, and will be an outside contender for victory if they have a good race.

This driver line-up may not necessarily be as highly rated as some others in this class, however they are definitely worthy of high praise. Led by experienced Irishman Matt Griffin, a very fast and consistent GT driver, along with team mates Keita Sawa and Weng Sun Mok.

Sawa is a very quick silver driver who is the reigning Asian Le Mans Series GT champion, with Weng Sun Mok another reliable bronze driver who has built up a good relationship with Sawa through the ALMS. The team could prove surprise winners as they have consistently exceeded expectations at this level.

#61

Don’t discount the Clearwater team, who are improving rapidly at the highest level of GT racing. Photo: LAT Images.

#62 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE: Cooper MacNeil/Townsend Bell/Bill Sweedler

This #62 entry is definitely one of the favourites in this class, with last years Am class winners Townsend Bell and Bill Sweedler returning with the team they claimed victory with. For this entry the mantra of what isn’t broke doesn’t need fixing is prevailing, with the only major change for the team being the addition of silver driver Cooper MacNeil, who will likely be one of the quickest silvers in the class.

Bill Sweedler is a very quick bronze rated driver and has a great working relationship with Townsend Bell, himself a very quick and experienced GT racer. This team has been very successful both at Le Mans and in the IMSA WeatherTech series, with able support from renowned Ferrari specialists Kessel Racing.

This entry has to be one of the top favourites for this class considering the high quality driver line-up which could be seen as the best in the class by some. After last years success it would be unwise to bet against this team repeating a class win this year.

#62

This Scuderia Corsa entry is one of the favourites going into the race, looking for a second consecutive class win. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#65 Scuderia Corsa Ferrari 488 GTE: Christina Nielsen/Alessandro Balzan/Bret Curtis

Scuderia Corsa has two strong entries this year, doubling their chances of a podium place come Sunday afternoon.

Reigning IMSA GTD class champions Christina Nielsen and Alessandro Balzan are together once again, and with such a successful partnership expect them both to lead this car in terms of pace.

Completing the line-up is bronze rated driver Bret Curtis, who is an experienced racer who will anchor this car and with such a competitive class the class contending cars will be the ones with the best bronze rated drivers. This team is highly professional and with a clean run they can easily compete for a podium place, however they may lack the last tenth or two compared to their sister car simply because of how strong Sweedler is as a am driver.

#65

Scuderia Corsa has a great chance to secure class victory with two very high quality entries this year. Photo: LAT Images.

 

#77 Dempsey Proton Racing Porsche 911 RSR: Christian Reid/Matteo Cairoli/Marvin Dienst

Dempsey Proton have established themselves as mainstays of this class recently and have a three car entry this year, beginning with this #77 car.

The team have had a good start to the WEC season, despite this car being two years old now. Competing against more modern machinery is going to prove extremely difficult, and the team may need to rely on misfortune or adverse weather to secure a top result this year.

On the driving front the team have a very good line-up with the experienced Christian Reid a good solid am driver and will be very consistent. He’s partnered with Porsche junior driver Matteo Cairoli, who has impressed massively so far with his consistently quick performances. Completing the trio is former single seater racer Marvin Dienst, 2015 German F4 champion and someone who will likely impress all week.

#77

Despite having a two year-old car, this team still has a chance of victory, such is the strength of the team and its drivers. Photo: LAT Images.

 

That sums up Part One of my preview for the GTE Am class at this years Le Mans 24 Hours. I would like to thank LAT Images and Motorsport.com for the high quality images and Dailysportscar.com for their expert knowledge, some of which helped when sourcing info for this article. I would lastly like to thank everyone who reads this blog as this is what I write for. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and Part two will be posted in the next few days!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2017 Indy 500 Preview Part 1

The 101st Indianapolis 500 should prove to be one for the ages, with its reputation as a landmark race only reinforced this year.

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