Audi R8 LMS

2018 Rolex 24 GTD Preview Part 1

The GTD class, based around GT3 spec cars, has proved a great addition to the IMSA WeatherTech championship in recent years. It returns in 2018 stronger than ever, with 21 cars entered for the season opening Rolex 24. There is an increased international presence this year, and this only enhances the class battle that is likely to take place across the entire 24 hours. If you have missed any of my previous prototype and GTLM previews, they can be found here. Prototype Preview Part 1 Prototype Preview Part 2 GTLM Preview

Let’s take a look at the first half of the entry list.

#11 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Mirko Bortolotti/Rik Breukers/Rolf Ineichen/Frank Perera

The Austrian team have established themselves as the leading Lamborghini GT3 racing team on the planet, having been front runners in ADAC GT Masters and Blancpain GT champions in 2017. The team return to the Rolex 24 after making their debut last year, and have brought with them two very strong entries.

In this #11 car is Mirko Bortolotti, Rik Breukers, Rolf Ineichen and Frank Perera. Bortolotti has developed into one of the fastest GT3 racers in the world with this team, with young Dutchman proving very quick in the one-make Lamborghini Super Trofeo category. Rolf Ineichen is a developing talent and Frank Perera was often one of the biggest thorns for this squad in the ultra competitive Blancpain GT series for Mercedes. Fastest time at the Roar test highlights how strong this team will be in the race.

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#14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: Dominik Baumann/Phillipp Frommenwiler/Bruno Junqueira/Kyle Marcelli

It’s all change for the Paul Gentilozzi 3GT Racing team this year, after a difficult first year as a factory Lexus team. IMSA rules have forced the team to become independent of Lexus for this year, although the team have retained a strong driver line-up.

Dominik Baumann is a promising young Mercedes factory GT driver who joins the team for the full season. He will be partnered by Kyle Marcelli, a quick driver who has raced in various American GT series over the past few years.

Joining them for Daytona will be Bruno Junqueira and Philipp Frommenwiler. Junqueira is a quick and experienced sportscar racer and Frommenwiler proved quick in the International GT Open series with this car last year.

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#15 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3: Dominik Farnbacher/Jack Hawksworth/David Heinemeier Hansson/Scott Pruett

This #15 has a similarly strong line-up to it’s sister #14 entry, and now have a years experience with the car to help them move up the grid. Expect to see an improvement from this team this year, with a possible top six result achievable for the team.

On the driving front the team retain former Indycar racer Jack Hawksworth, but he will be partnered for this year by Dane David Heinemeier Hansson. He has established himself as one of the quickest amateur sportscar racers in the world, and moves across from the Rebellion WEC LMP2 team.

Dominik Farnbacher rejoins the team after racing for them at this race last year, with Scott Pruett completing the line-up. Joint record winner of the Rolex 24, Pruett recently announced that this will be his final race before retirement. The team will be doing everything it can for him to go out on a good result.

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#19 GRT Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Christian Engelhart/Christoph Lenz/Louis Machiels/Ezequiel Perez Companc/Max van Splunteren

The Lamborghini entries have looked the class of the field in pre-race testing, which bodes well for this #19 GRT Grasser entry. The team are Lamborghini experts and return with experience of this race from last year. Whilst this driver line-up may not contain the overall quality of the #11 entry, this is still a contender for class victory.

Christian Engelhart heads the driving crew, look for the car to be very quick in his hands. Ezequiel Perez Companc showed flashes of promise last year in Blancpain for the team, with Max van Splunteren an ever improving silver rated driver. These have become increasingly crucial in pro-am classes such as GTD. Christoph Lenz and Louis Machiels are two gentlemen drivers who bring plenty of GT racing experience.

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#29 Montaplast by Land Motorsport Audi R8 LMS: Kelvin van der Linde/Sheldon van der Linde/Christopher Mies/Jeffrey Schmidt 

The German Land Motorsport team have risen massively in the past few years to become one of the premier Audi customer GT teams on the planet. After success in Europe the team make their full season debut in the IMSA series after several one-off entries last year that culminated in a class win at the season finale Petit Le Mans race.

South African brothers Sheldon van der Linde and Audi factory driver Kelvin will team up for the full season, and are ably supported by Christopher Mies and Jeffrey Schmidt. Mies won the Nurburgring 24 Hours with the team last year and is a very quick factory GT racer, with Schmidt well known to the team after a top ten ADAC GT Masters season with them last year. This team came within 0.3s of winning last year, so will hope they can be in the hunt again this time around.

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#33 Team Riley Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3: Ben Keating/Jeroen Bleekemolen/Adam Christodolou/Luca Stolz

The Riley motorsport team are a recent mainstay of American GT racing, returning for another year of IMSA racing with their Mercedes AMG GT3 car. The long term pairing of Ben Keating and Jeroen Bleekemolen are coming off a standout year, with class victory at the Sebring 12 Hours and a close 2nd place finish in the championship.

They are joined for the Rolex 24 by Mercedes factory driver Adam Christodolou and his Blancpain GT team mate Luca Stolz. Christodolou was key to their third overall result last year with developing young driver Stolz the team can hope to achieve another class podium this year.

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#44 Magnus Racing Audi R8 LMS: Andy Lally/John Potter/Andrew Davis/Markus Winkelhock

The John Potter run Magnus racing team have proven very popular since their inception in 2010. After a year away from IMSA racing in the Pirelli World Challenge, the team return this year for another full season effort.

Long term team mates John Potter and Andy Lally are very experience and with the support of Lally Potter is improving as a driver every year. Joining them for the endurance rounds is another experienced Audi racer, Andrew Davis. Factory Audi GT driver Markus Winkelhock adds some star power to this team, watch out for him at the wheel. A win on their debut would be the dream storyline for the team, but a top six result would be a great result in their first race back at this level.

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#48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3: Andrea Caldarelli/Bryce Miller/Bryan Sellers/Madison Snow

The Paul Miller racing team return this year as the only team running a full season programme with the Lamborghini Huracan. The Italian car has struggled to match its success in Europe in the IMSA series but the team are sticking with what they have this year.

This also applies to their regular season pairing of Bryan Sellers and Madison for the third consecutive year. The team finished ninth last year with one podium but the Rolex 24 is always an anomaly at the start of the year, so the team could spring a surprise with a class podium if they can keep out of trouble. The team are bolstered for Daytona by Lamborghini factory driver Andrea Caldarelli and Bryce Miller. In Caldarelli’s hands the car will fly and Miller provides speed and experience at this level.

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#51 Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3: Pedro Lamy/Mathias Lauda/Daniel Serra/Paul Dalla Lana

The Spirit of Race, factory AF Corse supported team have filed a very strong single-car entry for this years Rolex 24. The team have vast experience from racing in Europe and in the WEC, with the Ferrari 488 proving a very competitive package last year also.

In terms of driving talent, with team have signed a bevy of drivers who are usually associated with Aston Martin’s. All four drivers have strong connections to the British marque, with Lamy, Lauda and Dalla Lana all WEC GTE Am champions last year. Brazilian Serra won the GTE Pro class at the Le Mans 24 Hours as a factory Aston Martin driver. All four are very quick with Dalla Lana a very competent am, which is a crucial part of this pro-am class.

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#58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3 R: Mathieu Jaminet/Patrick Long/Christina Nielsen/Robert Renauer

Porsche racers Wright Motorsports return to the IMSA series this year after winning the Pirelli World Challenge title last year. Porsche factory driver Patrick Long returns to the team this year, and the team have partnered him with two-time reigning class champion Christina Nielsen.

The signing of Nielsen is a real coup for the team and gives them one of the strongest pairing for the season. For the Rolex 24 the team have drafted in Porsche factory driver Mathieu Jaminet and experienced Porsche customer GT exponent Robert Renauer. This team has a very strong driver line-up, ensuring that if they run cleanly they almost certainly be fighting for the win come Sunday afternoon.

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#59 Manthey Racing Porsche 911 GT3 R: Matteo Cairoli/Sven Muller/Harald Proczyk/Steve Smith/Randy Walls

Porsche’s WEC GTE factory team Manthey Racing have put together this customer programme for this years Rolex 24. The team are one of the leading Porsche motorsport teams on the planet, and the team have some very talented factory drivers heading this line-up.

Both Matteo Cairoli and Sven Muller are very quick young professional drivers who consistently shine at the wheel of Porsche GT cars. These two will be as quick as anyone in the class, but the other three gentlemen drivers will struggle to match their ultimate pace. Harald Proczyk makes the step up to this level after being a consistent top five runner in the burgeoning TCR Germany touring car series. Steve Smith has primarily raced in the German VLN Endurance series along with Randy Walls, all with the Manthey team.

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That wraps up the first half of my look at the very strong GTD class of this years Rolex 24, I want to say a massive thank you for anyone who has read this and don’t forget to comment, like or subscribe if you enjoyed this article. I have to say also a massive thank you to Motorsport.com for their incredible high quality photos which form part of this article. For all the latest motorsport news visit their website here. Motorsport.com . Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and stay tuned for part two of my GTD class preview, which is coming very soon!

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

Blancpain Sprint Cup Preview Part 1

It’s less than a month until the 2016 Blancpain GT season roars into life with the opening round of the Sprint Cup series at Misano. Most of the teams and drivers have been competing in the Blancpain pre-season test that at Paul Richard in France last week, as the teams and drivers get used to the equipment they will be using in 2016.

There has been plenty of change in the series for 2016, so the established order from 2015  will be shaken up this year. This preview of the Sprint Cup is first part of three looking at the grid for the Sprint cup, before switching focus to the Endurance series that runs concurrently to form the Blancpain GT series.

#1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Laurens Vanthoor/Frederic Vervisch

The Audi factory supported Team WRT of Vincent Vosse return to the Blancpain GT series this year, hoping they can resume their regular place at the front of the grid in both series. In the sprint cup the team returns with a colossal six car entry, and the #1 entry is one of the ultimate favourites for victory this year.

The driver line up of Laurens Vanthoor and Frederic Vervisch is arguably one of the best in the series. Vanthoor is a world renowned Audi GT expert who is as safe a pair of hands as you could put in the Audi R8 LMS, whatever the circuit he will get the best out of the Audi. Frederic Vervisch is a good partner to Vanthoor as he combines prodigious single seater experience from the likes of Superleague Formula and Formula Renault 3.5 series with GT racing experience from the past few years in Blancpain.

The combination of the highly professional Team WRT with the line up of Vanthoor and Vervisch surely makes them serious contenders for the title, although with the series being so competitive choosing an ultimate favourite is nigh on impossible.

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#2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Dries Vanthoor/Robin Frijns

The #2 Team WRT Audi entry is similarly strong to it’s sister #1 entry, and the similarities don’t end there. Not content with having one Vanthoor on the team they have now recruited Laurens younger brother Dries into the team. The 17 year old showed well with 6th in his debut car racing season in the Formula Renault 2.0L NEC series, but has now joining brother Laurens in GT racing with WRT.

Whilst Dries will need some time to learn and get comfortable with the Audi and the Blancpain series, he has the perfect team mate to help accelerate his learning curve. Dutchman Robin Frijns is someone who acquitted himself well in his debut season with WRT, and his talent should arguably be gracing the F1 grid and not this series. He is proving himself one of the best up and coming sportscar drivers in the world, and will be looking to continue the form that saw him claim the overall Blancpain GT title in his rookie year.

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#3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Sergio Jimenez/Rodrigo Baptista

The #3 Team WRT Audi has an all Latin American line up this year, with Sergio Jimenez linking up with the young Brazilian Rodrigo Baptista for a crack at the Sprint Cup title. Jimenez has plenty of experience since switching across to sportscars, and has switched to Team WRT and the Audi R8 LMS this year after spending last year with the BMW Team Brazil outfit.

He’s a proven commodity at this level and this will help the team greatly as he helps the young Baptista acquaint himself with European racing and the series itself. He has so far shown well in series such as Brazilian F3, although it will be a big step up for him to the cut and thrust of the world’s most competitive GT series. If Baptista can get up to speed quickly this car has every chance of being an outside contender for race victories, although currently there are a lot of unknown’s surrounding this entry.

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#4 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS: Stuart Leonard/Michael Meadows

The #4 entry is another one of the massive Team WRT Audi entries in the Sprint Cup this year, and will be piloted by two Brits who have shown their talents in other GT3 machinery. Stuart Leonard has progressed into GT3 racing with Aston Martin, but this year has ditched running his own team and jumped across to the Belgian team.

Leonard a very quick am driver last year in the Pro-Am class of the Blancpain Endurance Series, and took was victorious in one of his first races with Team WRT at last December’s Sepang 12 Hours. Joining Leonard is the very quick Michael Meadows, his team mate from last year. Meadows made a name for himself in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB as a multiple champion, and has translated this form into the Blancpain series.

Both of them work well together as team mates and with the pace and experience they both possess the #4 entry should be one of the favourites to win the Silver Cup for Pro-Am drivers.

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#5 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS: Markus Winkelhock/Niki Mayr-Melnhof

Another factory Audi supported team is the German Phoenix racing outfit, as they return to the Blancpain series for another crack at the overall Blancpain GT title. This #5 entry is led by former F1 racer Markus Winkelhock, who is a factory Audi driver and stunningly quick in an R8 LMS. His results speak for themselves and will always be someone to watch this year.

Joining Winkelhock is the Austrian Niki Mayr-Melnhof. He has progressed from GT4 into the GT3 ranks and has proven he can cut it at this level for the past few seasons. He finished third in the 2013 FIA GT series and was in the top ten of the Pro Cup last year in the Blancpain Endurance Series. Both of these drivers have extensive experience with the Audi R8 LMS, and as such expect this team to be taking the fight to Team WRT and the rest this year.

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#6 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS: Markus Pommer/Nicolaj Moller Madsen

The second Phoenix Audi entry is piloted by two sportscar rookies this year, so how quickly they can adjust to the car will be a huge factor in how well this car does. Markus Pommer will likely be the quicker of the two drivers, as he has extensive experience in junior single seater racing. Having jumped from the European F3 series to Blancpain he will be looking to show his pace as he looks to build a career as a professional in sportscar racing.

Partnering Pommer will be the similarly young Danish racer Nicolaj Moller Madsen. He has carried over his impressive karting success into cars, and finished second in the inaugural year of the Audi TT Cup last year. He now progresses into GT racing as he builds towards his goal of competing at Le Mans in 2017. How quickly both Pommer and Madsen can develop across the year will be an indication of their competitiveness, although maybe by the end of the year they could spring a surprise or two.

#7 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continential GT3: TBC/TBC

#8 Bentley Team M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3: TBC/TBC

The factory M-Sport Bentley GT3 operation returns again this year with an updated Continental GT3. As of yet the team have not announced their driver line up’s for their two entries in the Sprint Cup, although the team have a bevy of factory drivers to choose from.

Bentley and M-Sport quickly adjusted to GT3 racing, and the Continental is now a very quick as well as proven reliable car. The manufacture has six works drivers to choose from. They consist of German GT specialist Maxi Buhk, Spanish former GP2 racer now sportscar ace Andy Soucek.

They also have young Frenchman Vincent Abril, the talented Belgian Maxime Soulet along with the two experienced Brits Steven Kane and former Le Mans 24 Hours winner Guy Smith. Whichever pairing they choose both Bentley’s will be serious contenders for both the Sprint series and overall Blancpain GT title. Now is the perfect time for this factory effort to bring home a title.

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#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3: Michael Broniszewski/Giacomo Piccini

Long time Ferrari customer team Kessel racing return with the latest Ferrari 488 GT3. Very few Blancpain team have more experience with Ferrari GT machinery than Kessel, therefore they will have plenty of experience to get to the bottom of the new 488 contender and what is needed to get it running at the front of the Pro-Am class.

On the driving front they have signed the pairing of experienced am rated racer Michael Broniszewski with the similarly experienced Giacomo Piccini. Broniszewski is one of several am rated drivers who has plenty of experience from the last few years, and will do everything that is asked of a silver or bronze rated driver. His stints across the year will be important to how they finish.

Piccini has been and done almost everything in sportscars, with two Italian GT titles and top five placings in everything from the Le Mans Series LMP2 class to International GT Open. The Italian will bring even more experienced to this team along with a fast pace that they hope will seperate this #11 entry from the rest in the Pro-Am class.

08This is the Kessel racing 458 Italia GT3 as the 488 is not yet ready for public on track action.

#12 Boutsen Ginion Racing BMW M6 GT3: TBC/TBC

Boutsen Ginion are yet another team who return to the Blancpain GT series this year but with a new car. The team have traded in their Z4 GT3 for a new M6 GT3, as they look to improve on what was an understated 2015 for the team.

In the Endurance series the team have resigned long time team mates Karim Ojjeh and Oliver Grotz along with Julian Darras. It’s likely that for this Sprint entry the team will partner am rated driver Karim Ojjeh and Oliver Grotz. They have proven themselves to a very solid driver pairing in Blancpain and will be yet another good contender for the Pro-Am honours.

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That’s it for part one of my Blancpain Sprint series preview, I would like to thank Dailysportscar.com for their help with the high quality information and pictures that grace this page. I would finally like to say a huge thank you for reading and any comments would be greatly appreciated!

 

 

 

 

Robin Frijns: A Talent Missed By F1

October 11th 2015: The Formula One paddock is eagerly anticipating the second ever Russian Grand Prix. 24 year old Dutchman Robin Frijns is eagerly anticipating race day. But whereas Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez steal the headlines in Sochi, Frijns is racing hundreds of miles away from the F1 paddock at the Zandvoort track in his native Holland. Now, you may ask what is surprising about this seemingly innocuous fact.  A look at his junior single seater racing CV will tell all as to why this is a very strange occurrence indeed.

Frijns was a regular go-karter in both France and Belgium, finishing his final year of karting in 2008 coming third in the highly competitive KF2 European championship and second in the French KF2 series. Having shown his talent on the highest level of junior karting, logically the next step was a move into cars.

Before Max Verstappen blazed a trail last year by jumping straight from karting to the phenomenally difficult FIA European F3 championship, Frijns raised eyebrows in 2009 by making a similarly difficult step up to the Formula BMW Europe series. The series list of champions reads like a printout of the 2015 Formula One grid.

Despite being a rookie Frijns made his mark on the series, finishing the year third in the points with one win and five further podiums. At age 18 Frijns had marked himself out as a young driver to watch in the motorsport universe. 2010 saw Frijns return to the series with the same Josef Kaufmann Racing team that propelled him to third the year before.

Frijns was considered the pre-season title favourite, but he found himself in a close title battle all year with British driver Jack Harvey. Six wins and a penultimate race retirement for Harvey meant Frijns was crowned the 2010 Formula BMW Europe series champion by a scant margin of 11 points.

Frijns tops the podium at the Hungaroring round of his victorious 2010 Formula BMW Europe campaign. Photo credit is unknown.



Having taken the title in front of the Formula One paddock, Frijns was moving up to the next rung of the single seater ladder. Frijns had shown further proof of his talent with a guest appearance in the equally competitive Formula Renault 2.0 category. In a one-off outing for Kaufmann in the offshoot Northern European Cup series at Spa, Frijns made up for his lack of experience by claiming a second,fifth and a win in the three races.

It was time for Frijns to move into the Formula Renault category full time in 2011, sticking with Josef Kaufmann racing to compete in the super competitive Formula Renault Eurocup.  As a rookie Frijns once again left the motorsport community drooling, claiming the title in his first year with five wins and four other podiums. It’s notable that he beat current F1 drivers Carlos Sainz Jr, Daniil Kvyat and Will Stevens along with the F1 bound Stoffel Vandoorne to win the title, with all of them being Eurocup rookie’s.

With Renault providing significant support through a scholarship scheme it was a obvious Frijns would be stepping up to the Renault World Series for 2012. With 3.5 litre engines and tons of downforce the series is seen as a rival of the GP2 series, the predominant F1 feeder series.

The established Fortec motorsport team were the one’s to sign Frijns, with a top five in the championship the target for the talented rookie. Whilst the Eurocup title success had been a surprise, winning the Renault World Series title as a rookie shocked the single seater community. A third and a win on his debut weekend was a statement of intent, something he followed up with two further wins and four podiums.

The final round at the Circuit de Catalunya was a three way title showdown between Frijns and the more experienced duo of Jules Bianchi and Sam Bird. His two rivals were both vastly more experienced and were closely affiliated with F1 teams. With the title coming down to the final race of the season, fireworks were predicted.

Late on, the race exploded into life. On lap 21 Bianchi found his way past Frijns at the first portion of the lap, with Kevin Magnussen close behind. Several corners later Magnussen attempted to also pass Frijns, who moved to block him passing. This quick change of direction left him nowhere to go as it then appeared he pushed title rival Bianchi into the gravel trap as he attempted to stay on the track.

Frijns celebrating with his Fortec team after a contentious final round incident sealed the Renault World Series title for him. F1 beckoned. Photo sourced from automobilsport.com .



This highly contentious collision led to a 25 second time penalty for Frijns, dropping him out of the points. In the end this penalty had no effect as Frijns was still able to claim the title over a disappointed Bird and furious Bianchi. Allegations were made by Bianchi post-race that Frijns deliberately made contact with Bianchi to push him off the track, allegations were were not investigated and furiously denied by Frijns himself.

Despite the contentious nature of the victory, it was nevertheless a huge achievement for Frijns to win the Renault World Series title in his first season. This title win propelled Frijns into Formula One community. After a stellar junior racing career with little financial support, it at last appeared that Frijns was destined for F1.

Frijns took part in the post-season F1 young driver test for the small Swiss Sauber team in Abu Dhabi, impressing enough on his day in the car to be announced at the team’s reserve driver soon after. Whilst it was not a race drive, it was a way to impress the F1 paddock with his time in the car throughout 2013.

Frijns driving the title winning Red Bull RB9-Renault at the post-season young driver test in Abu Dhabi. The test is a prize for winning the Renault World Series. Photo credit thanks to Motorsport.com



Both Frijns and Sauber were keen for him to continue racing in 2013, but with little financial support it was tough for him to progress into GP2. Impressive pre-season tests for the Trident and new Russian Time team showed Frijns deserved to be on the grid, but a lack of funding kept him off it for the opening round in Malaysia.

For the second weekend of the season in Bahrain it was announced that Frijns would join the new Hilmer Motorsport team for a number of rounds. He qualified a respectable 10th on his debut, but an accident and his struggles adapting to the Pirelli tyres prevented him from attaining a good result.

With a race by race shoestring budget Frijns was confirmed for the next round in Spain, and he showed his talent by claiming the feature race victory, cementing his status with a second in the shorter sprint race on Sunday morning. With the weekend supporting the Spanish Grand Prix, Frijns had once again shown the F1 paddock his talents as a driver.

Frijns on his way to his only GP2 win of 2013 for the new Hilmer Motorsport team at Catalunya. Photo sourced from Formule1.nl .



Alas, budget concerns and the lack of experience from the new team hindered Frijns for the rest of the season. He was only able to produce two more points scoring finishes as he completed only six of the eleven rounds in the championship.

2013 can be seen as the year his career momentum stalled, with a part GP2 season not offering much and his opportunities at Sauber were severely limited thanks to their grave financial concerns. He was not in the car much and at the end of the season was dropped because of his lack of funds he could bring to the team.

Despite his turbulent 2013 season Frijns was allowed a glimmer of hope going into 2014. His F1 career was rescued thanks to the back marker Caterham team, who appointed him their reserve driver. Whilst it must of been frustrating to have Swede Marcus Ericsson ahead of him in a race drive, considering he’d beaten him on occasion in GP2 the year despite his lack of budget, he could at least say he remained in F1.

One of the rare occasions Frijns was behind the wheel of a Sauber in 2013. Here he is at the mid-season young driver test at Silverstone. Photo sourced from Worldcarfans.com .

Sadly for Frijns his bad luck from Sauber followed him to Caterham, as he only drove in two practice sessions for the team. He drove in Bahrain and Britain, yet the team were taken over mid-season with chronic financial issues. This left Frijns washed up and seemingly out of F1 for good now.

Whilst the future in single seaters looked bleak for Frijns at the ripe old age of 23, his talent would take him in a different direction. He was handed a lifeline by the Belgian WRT GT racing team, who offered him a test at the end of 2014. His impressive showing was enough for WRT team principal Vincent Vosse, a former GT driver, to offer him a drive with his Audi works supported team.

Partnering fellow single seater convert Laurens Vanthoor for the Blancpain Sprint Series and Jean Karl Vernay supporting them in the Blancpain Endurance Series, he was for the first time in his career a professional racing driver. After a small hiccup at the opening round of the Sprint series, Frijns took to GT racing and his Audi R8 LMS like a duck to water.

An even rarer occurrence. Frijns behind the wheel of a Caterham in 2014. Here he is in Bahrain free practice. Photo sourced from F1fanatic.co.uk . Copyright Caterham and F1.

Ably led by Audi GT superstar Vanthoor, Frijns was able to secure the combined Blancpain GT series title at Zandvoort last Sunday, despite missing Vanthoor thanks to an injury several weeks ago which prevented him from claiming the title with Frijns.

Now is where we go full circle, as I mentioned at the start of the article. Whilst Frijns was claiming the Blancpain GT title last Sunday, his talents should have propelled him to a place on the Russian Grand Prix grid last Sunday. Thanks to extreme bad luck and a lack of funding it hasn’t happened for Frijns in F1 yet. For now his story joins a long list of very talented young drivers who should reach F1, but don’t for whatever reason.

For now Frijns must be content with a growing reputation in GT racing with WRT and Audi, along with a recently announced drive for Andretti Autosport for the second season of the Formula E championship. This new electric series is growing and could offer Frijns a chance to showcase his talents to the single seater community. One thing is for sure though. Motorsport fans will hear a lot more about Robin Frijns for the duration of his career.

Frijns on his way to the Blancpain GT series title last weekend at Zandvoort to complete a great first season in GT racing. Sourced from RaceXpress.nl copyright Miguel Bosch .

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