racing

2018 Rolex 24 GTLM Preview

The GTLM class is arguably the most competitive of all classes in the IMSA WeatherTech championship, and 2018 should again see no quarter given as nine cars from five factory supported manufactures will do battle. Last year saw Ford claim the spoils, with seven cars finishing on the lead lap showing how competitive this class is. This year see’s renewed input from BMW and Porsche, with choosing a winner for this class virtually impossible. If you have missed my first two prototype class previews, you can find them here. Part 1  Part 2

Let’s look at the class field, which may lack in numbers but certainly not in overall quality.

#3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Antonio Garcia/Jan Magnussen/Mike Rockenfeller

The defending GTLM class champions return with an unchanged line-up this year, unsurprisingly. The Pratt & Miller run Corvette racing programme are one of the slickest operations in the IMSA paddock, and have been a competitive factory GT outfit since the turn of the millennium.

Three wins last year, including the Sebring 12 Hours, secured the GTLM title for this #3 crew, something they will look to repeat this year. Both Garcia and Magnussen are vastly experienced in the C7.R and and have the pace to challenge at the front in the class. Audi DTM racer Mike Rockenfeller returns once again after joining the team last year, and provides added pace to an already strong line-up.  Fifth in the pre-race test for Antonio Garcia does not indicate strong pace, but Corvette racing should recover come race week.

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#4 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R: Oliver Gavin/Tommy Milner/Marcel Fassler

2017 was a down year for this always successful #4 crew. Full season drivers Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner only secured one class win, but should bounce back in 2018. Their previous success has meant GM has retained the duo for this year, with Swiss Audi factory driver Marcel Fassler returning once again to bolster the endurance line-up.

Gavin looked impressive in the pre-race Roar test, securing the second fastest time, 0.3s quicker than their team mates. Both the Corvette Racing entries are formidable opponents for their rivals, and their consistently strong results year after year show this team is one of the best in business.

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#24 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Jesse Krohn/John Edwards/Nicky Catsburg/Augusto Farfus

BMW have a much increased involvement in GTE class racing with a new M8 GTE car for this year. They have expanded into the WEC for this year, alongside their long running IMSA GT factory programme. The team have encountered some expected new car troubles, but the team will not be using that as an excuse during the race.

John Edwards has been a long-term BMW factory IMSA driver, and for the full season is joined by Jesse Krohn, who has impressed in the GTD class in recent years. Joining them for Daytona are WEC racers Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus. All four are very quick drivers, the only question mark for this team in a highly competitive class is their new M8 car.

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#25 BMW Team RLL BMW M8 GTE: Alex Sims/Conor de Phillippi/Bill Auberlen/Philipp Eng

The second of the factory BMW entries has another all-star cast of factory drivers, with Alex Sims joined by new signing Conor de Phillippi for the full season. Sims was very quick in the old M6 last year and Phillippi was a standout in the GTD class in an Audi R8.

Long term factory pilot Bill Auberlen has stepped back into an endurance-only role this season, and Philipp Eng has proved very quick with various customer teams in the GT3 spec M6. As with their other entry their result will depend on the new M8 GTE and its reliability. Ford hit the ground running with their GT several years ago, so anything will be possible for the German marque.

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#62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE: James Calado/Toni Vilander/Alessandro Pier Guidi/Davide Rigon

This family run factory supported team return for a partial campaign this year, after an abrupt end to their 2017 season after the Le Mans 24 Hours. They return to Daytona after finishing a close third in the Rolex 24 last year.

On the driving front the team have 2017 WEC GTE Pro champions James Calado and Alessandro Pier Guidi, with fellow factory drivers Toni Vilander and Davide Rigon  completing the line-up. Rigon was a late addition and missed the pre-race test, but he has enough experience of the GTE spec Ferrari.   This is a seriously strong line-up of Ferrari GT talent, although they did appear to struggle for ultimate pace at the test. The fact this is a one-car team may hinder them against their well stocked factory opponents, but this team will be pushing them all the way in the race.

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#66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Sebastien Bourdais/Joey Hand/Dirk Muller

The factory Ford GT programme enters its third year, but already has claimed some major honours. This #66 car claimed GTE Pro victory at the Le Mans 24 Hours in its debut year, and claimed the GTLM Rolex 24 class victory last year.

The team retain an unchanged line-up, of full season drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Muller, with Indycar racer Sebastien Bourdais joining them for the endurance rounds. All three are very quick in this Ford GT, and with Bourdais having firmly put his severe Indy 500 practice accident behind him, the team will be hoping their good form can extend into a third year. A fastest time at the Roar test is a good omen for this #66 team.

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#67 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT: Ryan Briscoe/Richard Westbrook/Scott Dixon

This #67 crew have been forced to watch on as their teams other entry has claimed major successes across the world for the past two years. They seem to have attracted the majority of the teams bad luck in that time, because in a straight fight they are evenly matched with their intra-team rivals.

Ryan Briscoe and Richard Westbrook are a very talented pairing, with multiple Indycar champion Scott Dixon a very strong third addition to the team. Ryan Briscoe set the third fastest time at the test, and with the top six cars separated by only a second this class battle will be on for the entire 24 hours.

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#911 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Frederic Makowiecki/Patrick Pilet/Nick Tandy

This CORE Autosport led factory Porsche GT outfit enter the second year of their new mid-engined Porsche 911 RSR car. With their withdrawal from the LMP1 class Porsche have put renewed investment into their GT racing across the world, something that is shown with their IMSA programme.

Patrick Pilet returns, but has a new team mate this year with LMP1 racer Nick Tandy moving across to replace Dirk Werner, who likely moves across to the WEC. Joining them for the long distance rounds is WEC GT racer Frederic Makowiecki. Last year this team were the closest challengers to the winning #66 Ford entry this year, and with a renewed emphasis on GT racing can they go one step further this time around.

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#912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR: Earl Bamber/Laurens Vanthoor/Gianmaria Bruni 

The #912 car in the hands of Earl Bamber was the fastest of the two Porsche’s at the pre-race test, showing they are definite contenders for victory. The #912 crew struggled last year, with only two class podiums and no wins across the year.

The team retain the very quick Belgian Laurens Vanthoor for his second season with the team, with former LMP1 factory driver Earl Bamber coming across to IMSA as his new full season team mate. Italian Gianmaria Bruni rejoins the team for Daytona after a truncated 2017 season.

That wraps up my preview looking at the fiercely competitive GTLM class. It’s not an exaggeration to say that any one of the nine entries could win this class, and expect the class lead battle to go on for the entirety of the race.

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I want to say a massive thank you for anyone who has read this article and I hope you enjoyed it. If you did, feel free to comment, like or share. I have to say a final massive thank you to Motorsport.com for their high quality photos which grace this page. For all the latest motorsport news please visit their website.  You can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Coming up next is a two-part preview of the GTD class. Stay tuned!

2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 2

Here is a look at the second half of what is an ultra competitive Prototype class entry for this year’s Rolex 24 Hours, the opening round of the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech Championship season. If you missed my preview of the first half of the class, you can find it here Part 1.

#37 Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota Oreca-Gibson: Robin Frijns/Dani Juncadella/Felix Rosenqvist/Lance Stroll

Jackie Chan DC Racing have been very competitive in the WEC last season, and now make the trip Stateside for the Rolex 24. The team have mastered the LMP2 class in the WEC, but now come up against the favoured Daytona Prototypes for the first time. The LMP2 cars struggled last year to match the DPI entries on overall pace, something the series was keen to rectify for this season.

On the driving front the team arrive with a very strong line-up. Williams F1 racer Lance Stroll returns to the race after an up-and down rookie season in F1. Partnering him is Blancpain GT champion Robin Frijns, Former FIA European F3 champion Dani Juncadella and Swedish jack of all trades Felix Rosenqvist. Whilst this line-up does not possess much prototype experience, all four are seriously quick drivers who are contenders for the most formidable line-up on the grid. Stroll set the cars fastest time at the test, but was a massive 1.7 seconds down on the overall pace. The team will need to close this gap if they want a shot at victory in such a competitive entry.

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#38 Performance Tech Oreca-Gibson: James French/Kyle Masson/Pato O’Ward/Joel Miller

Performance Tech were the IMSA PC class champions in the final year of the class in 2017, and have now stepped up to the prototype ranks with a new Oreca-Gibson. The team were dominant last year but will face a much tougher test this year in such a strong and competitive field.

The team have retained both James French and Kyle Masson from last year, with both impressing with their overall speed. Pato O’Ward joins them for the endurance rounds and the young Indy Lights racer is very quick.  Youth is the theme with this line-up, as all three are all under 26 and despite having an all silver line-up they could spring a surprise come the end of the race. Former Mazda factory driver Joel Miller was a late addition to the team, and provides added experience to a very promising line-up.

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#52 AFS/PR1 Mathiasen Ligier-Gibson: Sebastien Saavedra/Gustavo Yacaman/Roberto Gonzalez/Nic Boulle

This #52 AFS/PR1 entry will be the most recognisable on track thanks to it fluorescent red and yellow livery, in the debut race for this team with former PC front runners PR1 Mathiasen motorsport joining forces with Indy Lights team AFS racing. The PR1 crew found the step up to the prototype class last year tough initially, although showed flashes of potential on which we should see more regularly this season.

The team have signed promising young Indycar racer Sebastien Saavedra and fellow Colombian Gustavo Yacaman for the full season. Yacaman is an experience prototype racer who is joined by Nic Boulle and Rodolfo Gonzalez. Boulle drove for the team last year and brings some experience to line-up, with Gonzalez a quick and underrated driver who gets a big chance to impress with this drive. The team struggled for ultimate pace in the Roar test, finishing 19th overall with a quickest lap two seconds off the top end pace. The team may struggle to match the front running entries, but they could spring a surprise if they get some luck along the way.

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#54 CORE Autosport Oreca-Gibson: Jon Bennett/Colin Braun/Romain Dumas/Loic Duval

CORE Autosport make their debut in the prototype class after a year racing a GTD Porsche. The former dominant PC class champions have made the jump with a Oreca-Gibson package, which has proved the dominant of the LMP2 chassis across the globe. The LMP2 spec cars appear to have a slight deficiency in overall space compared to the DPI entries, but anything can and most likely will happen at the Rolex 24.

The long-term driving duo of Jon Bennett and Colin Braun stay on for another year, with the pair working very well together. Joining them for this race are two stud racers in factory Porsche and Audi drivers Romain Dumas and Loic Duval. Both are very quick drivers who will fly at the wheel of the car. In the pre-race test Braun took the plaudits for setting the cars quickest time, quick enough for tenth overall. Whilst the team may struggle to match the ultimate pace with gentlemen driver Bennett in the team, they will likely surprise many with how strong they are in their debut prototype race.

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#55 Mazda Team Joest Riley-Mazda: Jonathan Bomarito/Harry Tincknell/Spencer Pigot

Along with Penske and Acura, the improving quality of the IMSA series is shown with this factory Mazda entry. After parting ways with long-term partners SpeedSource the Japanese manufacturer joined forced with former Audi factory team partners Team Joest. After an intensive test programme over the second half of last year the team will be as prepared as they can be going into the Rolex 24.

At the test it was Brit Harry Tincknell who set the cars quickest lap, 1.4 seconds off the fastest overall lap. Tincknell is the new signing for this #55 entry, and has plenty of success including a LMP2 class win at the Le Mans 24 Hours on his debut. Joining him for the season is Jonathan Bomarito, whose experience and pace is being carried over from the old regime. Completing the trio for Daytona is Indycar racer Spencer Pigot, who drove for the team in this race last year. In such a competitive field the team may struggle to trouble the podium unless they can improve their overall speed quickly.

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#77 Mazda Team Joest Riley-Mazda: Oliver Jarvis/Tristan Nunez/Rene Rast

The second factory Mazda Joest entry is this #77 car, another that will have been bolstered by both updates to its Riley chassis and the input of the highly successful Joest team. The team bring with them a winning mentality from their highly successful sting masterminding 13 Le Mans 24 Hours victories for Audi, and have now turned their attention to the Mazda DPI programme.

The team have switched things slightly for this year on the driving front, drafting in former Audi factory driver Oliver Jarvis for the full season to partner the young American racer Tristan Nunez, who has been nurtured and developed over several years at this level by Mazda. Completing the line-up for the endurance rounds is current DTM champion Rene Rast, who is a very quick sportscar driver who finished third overall last year in an unfancied VisitFlorida.com racing Riley. Much like their sister entry the overall pace is unknown from this Mazda package, therefore it’s hard to predict what this factory outfit can do in the race. They may need some luck to challenge at the sharp end, but discount them at your peril.

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#78 Jackie Chan DC Racing Jota Oreca-Gibson: Alex Brundle/Antonio Felix da Costa/Ho-Pin Tung/Ferdinand Habsburg

Jackie Chan DC Racing have proved to be class leaders in the WEC and Asian Le Mans Series, so have now set their sights on cracking America. The team have brought two entries for this Rolex 24, but will face stiff competition from not just the LMP2 field but the DPI entries also. The team enjoyed a good pre-race test at Daytona, gaining valuable data and Alex Brundle showed the cars potential with the ninth fastest lap.

Brundle has been a mainstay of LMP2 racing and massively impressed with the team last year. Joining him for the race is another regular driver in Chinese talent Ho-Ping Tung, a front runner in the teams ALMS entries. New to the team are two very talented young racers in Antonio Felix da Costa and Ferdinand Habsburg. Felix da Costa is a quick single seater convert who has been picked up by BMW as a factory driver and Habsburg came of age with a very impressive display at the Macau Grand Prix last year. The teams lack of experience in this series may hamper them in the race, but the team have brought a very high-quality line-up and add an extra element of competitiveness to this prototype entry.

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#85 JDC-Miller Oreca-Gibson: Robert Alon/Simon Trummer/Austin Cindric/Devlin DeFrancesco

The #85, affectionately dubbed the yellow boat, returns for another year at this level after a very impressive debut campaign last year. The team stick with their trusted Oreca-Gibson package, although have made some slight changes on the driving front for this year.

The team have retained Robert Alon after his impressive displays last year, but with the team expanding to two entries this year he’s been split up from his team mates of last year. Partnering him is former GP2 front runner Simon Trummer. He is a very quick young driver who makes the switch across to sportscar racing. He immediately set the cars fastest lap at the test, 1.5 seconds down on the #31 Whelen entry. Completing the line-up is talented young Nascar racer Austin Cindric and FIA European F3 racer Devlin DeFrancesco. The team are prime candidates for a giant-killing act this year, so keep an eye on their progress in the race.

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#90 Spirit of Daytona Dallara-Cadillac DPI: Matt McMurry/Tristan Vautier/Eddie Cheever III

Long term IMSA entrants Spirit of Daytona are much changed this year, after a difficult 2017 season for the Daytona based team. The team ditched their Riley LMP2 chassis halfway through last year, and have now switched to the dominant Cadillac DPI package. The team have also lost title sponsor VisitFlorida.com so return this year under the Spirit of Daytona banner.

On the driving front it’s also all change for the team, with 2017 drivers Marc Goossens and Renger van der Zande replaced by Tristan Vautier and Matt McMurry. Vautier moves across from Blancpain GT in Europe and has plenty of American racing experience. He is joined by young American Matt McMurry in what is a very strong line-up for this team. A late addition to the team is young racer Eddie Cheever III. He impressed at the Roar test with the second fastest lap time, just 0.2 seconds off top spot. The team took third last year in an uncompetitive package so with the Cadillac DPI package the team have all the necessary ingredients for success this year.

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#99 Gainsco JDC-Miller Oreca-Gibson: Stephen Simpson/Chris Miller/Misha Goikhberg/Gustavo Menezes

A fans favourite returns in 2018, with the iconic red Gainsco red dragon appearing with this expanded JDC-Miller team. The most surprising team of last year have expanded to two entries this year, and will look to build on a very good year for the team in 2017.

The team have retained their drivers from last year, namely Stephen Simpson, Misha Goikhberg and Chris Miller. All three-impressed many with their consistently fast driving last year although Simpson is the stand-out in this entry. He set the fastest lap at the test and has consistently been a tenth or two ahead of the rest in this car. Completing the driving talent is young WEC LMP2 racer Gustavo Menezes, and the addition of such a highly regarded and very quick prototype racer only enhances their chances of a good result. If the team can run cleanly expect a surprise from this team.

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That wraps up my prototype class preview for the Rolex 24, who are your favourites for victory? Let me know in the comments section below and a very big thank you for reading this article. A final massive thank you must go to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality photos which grace this page. For all the latest motorsport news please visit their website here Motorsport.com . You can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and if you liked this article then stay tuned for my preview of GTLM class coming very soon.

2018 Rolex 24 Prototype Preview Part 1

The IMSA WeatherTech Championship fires back into life in 2018 with its longest race kicking off the season. The Rolex 24 is an event that has been growing in stature every year since the American sportscar community merged in 2014. This year the race is set to yet another classic, with arguably its strongest ever field competing tooth and nail for victory.

The race is usually decided by a matter of seconds, and this year twenty high-quality prototype entries will be fighting it out for the victory. There are some off-season driver changes from the top returning teams and some very strong new entries along with a host of top international teams and driving talent descending on Daytona International Speedway this week. Let’s take a look at the prototype entry first.

#2 Tequila Patron ESM Ligier-Nissan DPI: Ryan Dalziel/Olivier Pla/Scott Sharp

Extreme Speed Motorsport return to IMSA competition this year with another two-car entry. This #2 entry of Ryan Dalziel and Scott Sharp is returning from last year, but they have a new partner for their Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup events. Frenchman Olivier Pla is world renowned for being seriously quick in Ligier LMP2 entries, and it was him that set the quickest time for the team at the pre-race Roar Before the 24 tests, although it was still 1.7 seconds off the ultimate pace of the Cadillac’s.

The team appeared to focus on endurance runs throughout the test, with their fastest lap only good enough for 15th overall. All three have plenty of experience of the IMSA series, although the Nissan Ligier DPI will need to be at its best to match the seemingly dominant Cadillac DPI entries. It will be interesting to see if the team can improve their ultimate pace during the race week, with rumours of some team’s sand bagging at the Roar.

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#5 Mustang Sampling Action Express Dallara-Cadillac DPI: Filipe Albuquerque/Joao Barbosa/Christian Fittipaldi

This #5 Mustang Sampling Action Express entry has proved one of the leading entries in IMSA competition for the past several seasons. They were usurped by Wayne Taylor racing last season, but look to reclaim their crown this year.

On the driving front the team have made a minor change with the Portuguese Audi factory driver Filipe Albuquerque replacing long-term driver Christian Fittipaldi for the full season. Fittipaldi has scaled himself back to NAEC entries only, so for the Rolex 24 at least nothing has changed.

Albuquerque set the cars fastest lap at the test, a 1.36.135, which put him third overall. Since the new rules came into effect last season the Dallara-Cadillac DPI entries have dominated the series, and based on the Roar this doesn’t look likely to change. If the other teams cannot make improvements expect this #5 entry to be fighting it out for the victory amongst the other Cadillac DPI entries, despite attempts from IMSA to peg back the dominant Cadillac’s.

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#6 Acura Team Penske Oreca-Acura DPI: Dane Cameron/Juan-Pablo Montoya/Simon Pagenaud

Team Penske are a giant of American motor racing, and this season have branched out into the IMSA WeatherTech series with a factory Acura DPI programme. The arrival of Penske and Acura is a real coup for the series and has drawn plenty of attention to the Rolex 24.

The team have enjoyed a good winter testing programme, but a 24-hour race for a debut is going to be very difficult. On the driving front the team have lured Dane Cameron away from Action Express, after he shone in the #31 Whelen entry last year. Partnering him for the year is the well-known Juan-Pablo Montoya, who returns to full time racing after losing his Indycar seat last year. Current Penske Indycar racer Simon Pagenaud is the team’s endurance rounds driver and this is a formidable driving trio. A debut victory may be very tough to achieve with a new car that was 1.1s off the fastest laps at the test, but if any team can do it’s Penske.

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#7 Acura Team Penske Oreca-Acura: Helio Castroneves/Ricky Taylor/Graham Rahal

The other Team Penske entry is this #7 car, with both cars proving tough opponents for their rivals. All three drivers in this car completed over 50 laps across the three days of pre-race testing, with Ricky Taylor setting the cars fastest time, although it proved 0.3s off his team mates fastest lap and 1.4 seconds off the pace of the Cadillac DPI entries.

On the driving front the team recruited 2016 champion and undisputed qualifying king Ricky Taylor away from his family Wayne Taylor racing team, to partner Helio Castroneves for the season. Castroneves has called time on a long and decorated Indycar career and although he was in the bottom half of fastest times at the test, expect him to make major improvements every time he gets in the car. Joining the duo for the endurance rounds is fellow Indycar racer Graham Rahal, who completes another top-quality entry in this stacked prototype field.

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#10 Konica Minolta Wayne Taylor Racing Dallara-Cadillac DPI: Ryan Hunter-Reay/Jordan Taylor/Renger Van der Zande

The Wayne Taylor racing crew return this year as defending champions after a dominant championship year in 2017. The team won the first five races so return as defending Rolex 24 winners, although this year has seen some changes on the driver front for the team.

Wayne Taylor’s two sons Jordan and Ricky were a dynamic duo for several seasons but have now been split up with elder brother Ricky defecting to the new factory Acura Team Penske entry.  Younger brother Jordan is now partnered for the year by the very quick Dutch driver Renger van der Zande. He set the cars fastest time at the test with a 1.36.481, 0.6 of a second off the fastest lap. Completing the line-up is Indycar racer Ryan Hunter-Reay, who has plenty of Rolex 24 experience with this likely being his best chance of victory. All three drivers set fastest laps within the top seven, which shows that this WTR Cadillac DPI entry once again looks very strong contenders for victory.

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#20 BAR1 Motorsport Riley Mk30-Gibson: Marc Drumwright/Eric Lux/Alex Popow/Tomy Drissi/Brendan Gaughan

Former PC team BAR1 Motorsport have made the step up to the prototype ranks, with the only Riley chassis in the field. The team acquired the ex–Keating Motorsport car and with new evo updates to the car it will be an improvement from a difficult debut season last year.

The team have finalised their driver line-up at the last minute, signing experienced PC runner Marc Drumwright, former PC class champion and PWC front runner Eric Lux, former Rolex 24 front runner Alex Popow, Trans-Am racer  Tomy Drissi and Nascar racer Brendan Gaughan. All five have plenty of experience however the team may struggle to match the ultimate pace with a silver and bronze rated driver crew. Compared to the platinum and gold crews in this class a good result for the team would be a clean run and a top eight finish in class.

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#22 Tequila Patron ESM Ligier-Nissan DPI: Pipo Derani/Johannes van Overbeek/Nicolas Lapierre

This #22 entry is the second Extreme Speed motorsport car entered, and just like their #2 entry has a strong chance of victory this year. The team have proved themselves in IMSA and were winners of the Rolex 24 only two years ago. The team have maximised their Nissan DPI package although they struggled for ultimate pace at the Roar test.

On the driving front the team have a full season pairing of Pipo Derani and Johannes van Overbeek. Derani is returning to the team where he made his name two years ago thanks to blistering pace and van Overbeek brings a wealth of experience to the team. They are joined this year by Frenchman Nicolas Lapierre, a very distinguished prototype racer who has previous experience at the Rolex 24. The team are the most likely team to challenge the Cadillac DPI teams dominance, but may need a pinch of luck along the way if they want overall victory.

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#23 United Autosport Ligier-Gibson: Fernando Alonso/Phil Hanson/Lando Norris

United Autosport go into this race with the highest amount of press attention surrounding them, thanks to the presence of double F1 world champion Fernando Alonso. The Zak Brown affiliated team have used his connections to entice McLaren racer Alonso to the team for his sportscar debut, in likely preparation for a crack at Le Mans 24 Hours victory in the coming years.

United Autosport were front runners in the European Le Mans Series last season, and are amongst an influx of very impressive international one-off entries for this race. Partnering Alonso is young sportscar talent Phil Hanson and single seater racer Lando Norris. Hanson has impressed with the team in the ELMS last year, and Norris claimed the FIA European F3 Championship at his first attempt. Although this is an inexperienced line-up they have enough quality to pressure the Cadillac DPI entries, although they may struggle for ultimate pace with their LMP2 spec Ligier-Gibson.

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#31 Whelen Engineering Action Express Dallara-Cadillac: Felipe Nasr/Eric Curran/Mike Conway/Stuart Middleton

This #31 entry is the Whelen backed Action Express entry, and may prove a surprise winner at the Rolex 24. Despite an off-season that has seen some driver changes this crew aced the pre-race Roar test, setting the fastest overall lap and unofficial lap record with a 1.35.806 from Felipe Nasr.

Nasr replaces the departing Dane Cameron in this #31 entry, partnering Eric Curran. The team have also signed Mike Conway and Stuart Middleton to bolster their driver line-up. Nasr is a former F1 racer with Sauber and along with Toyota LMP1 driver Conway they will be the quickest two drivers in this car. Curran brings a wealth of experience and Middleton is the winner of the Whelen Sunoco challenge, which grants the most successful British club racer with this coveted Rolex 24 seat. Whilst Curran and Middleton may lack the last tenth of pace compared with Nasr and Conway with such a strong package this team can absolutely win this race.

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#32 United Autosport Ligier-Gibson: Will Owen/Paul Di Resta/Bruno Senna/Hugo de Sadeleer

This #32 entry may not have the ultimate star power of its sister #23 entry, but the second United Autosport car is another promising one-off entry for the race. The team will be learning the nuances of IMSA racing with every session they complete, and they are a threat to the established order on track.

The team have brought in two high-profile racers in former F1 drivers Paul Di Resta and Bruno Senna. Di Resta is making his sportscar debut but has the talent to adapt well in the car, with Senna being the current LMP2 WEC champion. He set the cars fastest lap at the test, and was just under a second quicker than his team mates. Will Owen and Hugo de Sadeleer are two young drivers who were very impressive in the European Le Mans series last season. The team lacks in overall IMSA experience but have enough talent to have other teams worried going into the race.

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That wraps up part one of my prototype class preview for the Rolex 24, who are your favourites for victory? Let me know in the comments section below and a very big thank you for reading this article. A final massive thank you must go to Motorsport.com for their amazing high quality photos which grace this page. For all the latest motorsport news please visit their website here Motorsport.com . You can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and if you liked this article then stay tuned for part two of my preview of the prototype class at the Rolex 24!

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!