F1

What F1 Can Learn From Le Mans?

This article is something that came about because of two factors. The obvious one is of course the latest edition of the Le Mans 24 Hours. Even 24 hours after the race finished the raw emotion the race produces in fans is still evident. The race produced drama for the entire 24 hours and once again proved very exciting for motorsport fans.

The second less obvious reason was a recent tweet from former F1 racer and commentator Martin Brundle. This is what he said. https://twitter.com/MBrundleF1/status/876548908297707520 . He has highlighted a genuine question that Formula One should take some time to answer. Formula One is increasingly struggling to maintain it’s fan base happy and excited with the racing on track, something Le Mans never struggles in this department. So just what can Formula One learn from the Le Mans 24 Hours?

Le Mans 24 Hours is one of the great motorsport races in the world, yet it has evolved into more than that. It has developed into a festival where fans treat the event in a similar manner to a music festival for example. The fans flock to the event every year with the race build up beginning the week before when scrutineering takes place. Now of course Formula One cannot make every race meeting a week long, there is some other things they can do to replicate the success of Le Mans.

Le Mans breeds this festival vibe by the things they do to keep all fans excited all week. They have various fun fair rides across the circuit and host events like music concerts which ensure that even people who don’t have an interest in motorsport could have an enjoyable experience at the race. F1 has already taken these steps as they often host concerts after grand prix’s when they can, which shows they are clearly taking steps to improve the overall experience at grand prix’s.

Recent years have seen Le Mans produce crowds of over 260 000 people, and this is much higher than the biggest grand prix crowd of last year, the British Grand Prix which had a crowd of 139 000 people for the race. Whilst a direct comparison cannot be made as Le Mans is a whole week for most fans and not simply one day, it’s easy to see that F1 can learn from Le Mans in terms of attracting a crowd.

Whilst many would think that the ticket prices are a easy route to attract more fans, this may not be the magic bullet some people would think it would be. Tickets for the British grand prix are £210 for the cheapest weekend ticket, and for Le Mans they are £209. This shows that for the same money Le Mans seems to produce something more for it’s fans that F1 doesn’t.

Sportscar racing is currently experiencing a resurgence since it’s hybrid regulations came into place early this decade. The profile has risen mightily since the creation of the World Endurance Championship in 2012, with many young drivers abandoning single seaters to switch to sportscar racing.

The racing currently in sportscars is always providing exciting racing across all four classes. Unlike F1 the cars can follow each other and battle and this area is where something can be done to attract fans. Fans are increasingly frustrated with the lack of overtaking in F1, something where sportscars have no issue. The Le Mans 24 Hours is very exciting for fans simply because in each class the battle for the lead lasts throughout the entire race.

Whereas in the past the race was a strict test of endurance, thanks to the increase in mechanical reliability the race has now become a 24 hour sprint race. This is what the fans want to see and this is where the rule makers can do to improve racing. If F1 can return to more pure racing where the cars are not affected so much by aerodynamics this will dramatically increase the overtaking in the eyes of fans and will bring them back to F1 and excitedly watching the racing as they do at Le Mans.

Thank you for reading this article and if you enjoyed it please leave a comment below. You can find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

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Fernando Alonso News A Throwback

It’s not often the motorsport world is collectively left in shock by a piece of news, but that’s exactly what happened this week. Formula One legend Fernando Alonso announced he would miss the Monaco Grand Prix to instead contest the Indianapolis 500. Both races are prestige events in the world of motorsport, and this exciting news shows Alonso is in touch with the history of this sport.

One of the key reasons Alonso gave for wanting to do the race is so he can attempt to win the triple crown of motorsport. He has already won the Monaco GP twice, in 2006 and 2007, and has already made his intention to try to win the Le Mans 24 Hours in the future widely known, therefore the Indianapolis 500 was the only race left to win.

It appears that the initial idea for contesting the race came as a light hearted joke from McLaren executive director Zak Brown about doing Indy together. It appears from here the idea settled and began to grow in the mind of Alonso, before crunch talks at last weekends Chinese Grand Prix solidified the idea.

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Alonso and McLaren exec director Zak Brown at his Indy 500 announcement. Can the Spaniard win first time out? Photo: LAT.

 

Within the Indycar series there appears to have been a lot of support for the idea, with Stefan Wilson parking his own Indy 500 plans to accommodate Alonso, along with huge support from Indycar, Honda and the Andretti Autosport team that will run Alonso on behalf of McLaren. A weird coincidence is that Andretti Autosport team principal Michael Andretti drove for McLaren during the 1993 season.

The reason why this news was so shocking to many motorsport fans is because of the speciality of modern drivers.  In the modern age drivers are usually regimented in one series, especially at the top levels of racing. Whilst it’s not uncommon for drivers to do on-off races like this in other series, that is largely true in Sportscar or American racing rather than F1.

Alonso taking part in this years Indy 500 will make him the first driver to compete in the race and F1 in the same season since Brit cult hero Nigel Mansell halted his Indycar campaign for a late part-season at Williams in 1994. Whilst German driver Nico Hulkenberg surprised the racing world by first confirming and then winning the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours with Porsche, this did not generate as much headlines as Alonso.

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Nico Hulkenberg celebrating with teams mates Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber in 2015. Photo: Motorsport.com

 

Whilst Indycar has risen in popularity and prestige since the American open wheel reunification in 2008, the series is still no where near its previous popularity of the early 1990’s when Mansell was racing in the series. A lot of shock will have likely been the fact that a lot of people would not have thought Alonso would want to compete in the race. He has not mentioned his dreams of winning the triple crown a lot and no body would have predicted he would miss the Monaco GP to compete in the race.

A big reason why a lot of F1 drivers in the modern era do not compete in other races is because their teams are very regimented in what they allow them to do. Teams worry about another disaster situation such as what happened to Robert Kubica in 2011, where a big rally crash badly injured his hand and effectively forced a early retirement from F1. Many would have thought McLaren would have prevented Alonso from skipping the Monaco race for Indianapolis, but perhaps this is an attempt to appease a man unhappy with the current performance of his McLaren-Honda package.

This news is very exciting for motorsport fans because its a chance to see someone many people call the benchmark driver in F1 compete against the best American open wheel racers. The news will also remind many fans of a bygone era in F1. From the beginning of F1 in 1950 right up until the early 1990’s drivers would routinely add races such as the Le Mans 24 Hours to their F1 schedule.

It was not uncommon for drivers to compete in several different types of car throughout the season, and this diversification with F1 drivers is what fans loved to see. This is why the news is so exciting, as for the first time in a long while we will get to see a F1 world champion competing with the heroes from another series.

All fans of motorsport are winners with this latest news, with the announcement undoubtedly raising the profile of both Indycar and the Indianapolis 500 internationally. Hopefully the buzz surrounding this announcement and his performance in the race will convince some more F1 drivers to branch out and try the big events such as the Indy 500 or the Le Mans 24 Hours in the future. One thing is for certain however, as a fan I cannot wait to see how Alonso fares next month.

Any thoughts on this article? Please feel free to give your opinion in the comments section below and a huge thank you for reading. Follow me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Initial Observations From F1 Pre-Season Testing

This week Formula One 2017 fired into life with the first pre-season test at the Barcelona circuit, the venue for the Spanish Grand Prix in May. After the initial launches of the new 2017 spec cars last week, many questioned whether the established order from years previous would be shaken by the new 2017 regulations?

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Lando Norris on Way to The Top

 

What a twelve months it has been for young English driver Lando Norris. This time in 2016 he was still basking in the glow of his dominant Toyota Racing Series triumph. With this and a MSA Formula title to his name, he had cemented himself as one of Britain’s best young drivers. In the space of a year he has gone from this to an internationally recognised talent with a reputation which has now caught the attention of the Formula One paddock.

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Lando Norris: A Feature

Lando Norris is a spoilt teenager who is indulging his passion thanks to daddy’s money. At least that’s what some fans and people in the paddock may assume. They may label him selfish or ungrateful. After all, just look at his father’s success and his upbringing.

His father Adam Norris sits equal 501st on the 2016 Sunday Times Rich List, having a net worth of £207 million from the financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown and his investment company Horatio. This money has proved a massive help but also in some aspects a hindrance to his son’s career. Motorsport is a juxtaposition as increasingly major financial backing is needed for young drivers to progress to Formula One, yet when a young driver already has that backing they are labelled a pay driver. Whilst Norris has not yet been fully tarred with this brush, much like recently promoted F1 driver Lance Stroll, questions linger as to his ultimate potential.

At age 17 it has been a life of privilege so far for young Lando. Born and raised in the village of Glastonbury, his father’s success with the financial services company Hargreaves Lansdown has allowed him some of the finer things in life. He was educated at Millfield School, who for a mere £35 000 pounds a year will give your child the finest education money can buy from the ages of two right through to age 18.

He has only recently turned 17 on November 13th, and yet he has already been racing cars for three years. He made his debut in a 150mph Formula Three Dallara at the end of October, yet he could only start learning to drive a month later. To insure him to drive on the road would cost £9000, yet for his family this is not an issue.

So, for a lot of you reading you may assume the stereotype is true. He’s your typical rich kid who gets everything he wants. What does he know about real life? In fact, this could not be further from the truth. He is a wise head on young shoulders, and gives off the impression as a remarkably calm and down to earth young man. There is no element of aloofness or ego that come across when chatting to him, even though his exemplary junior racing CV would allow him to get away with having one.

“Yeah that’s the aim is to win championships in Formula One”. These are lofty goals for a 17-year-old, but Norris is no ordinary 17-year-old. He’s already been a karting world champion and is coming off a 2016 season where he won an astonishing three junior championships, ranging from New Zealand to Central Europe.

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Lando cemented himself as one of the rising stars of karting from a young age, culminating in world title triumphs in both 2013 and 2014. Photo copyright CIK/KSP.

As the sun shines down on a mild Friday afternoon in November, the sounds of the passing lorries on a busy A road dominate the air. Looking across at the sign for Coxbridge Business Park the silver letters reflect in your eyes when meeting their gaze. Here in a nondescript business park in a town which prides itself as having won an in-bloom award, it almost seems like it can’t be the right place. Walking along the winding road is industrial units for every trade imaginable, but reaching the far corner of the park hides a cornerstone of British motorsport. As employee’s hose down the race trucks I’m met with the sight of an all-glass foyer and adjoining race bays tell me I’m at the right place without even looking at the signs. Here is Carlin Motorsport, one of the most important junior racing team on the planet.

Getting set up in the conference room it’s impossible to miss the success of this team. Lining every flat surface is trophies of all shapes of sizes, ranging from former F1 driver Jean Eric Vergne’s 2010 British F3 trophy to various GP3 and Macau Grand Prix trophies. And that is exactly why I’m here. His busy schedule ensures it’s here that I meet Norris, as he takes a break from simulator sessions, prepping himself for the F3 World Cup on the streets of Macau.

Norris was interested in motorbikes initially “before I was seven I was into motorbikes and I had a motorbike when I was six, my hero at the time was Valentino Rossi, so I watched quite a bit of the MotoGP.” His interest in motorsport however wasn’t sparked until a chance opportunity aged seven. “One day after school my dad took me to the local kart track which was Clay Pigeon, because it was the national championships in karting, I said that I wanted to have a go, and yeah I think then for my seventh birthday I got a Bambino go-kart and I guess it basically all started from there.”

He still holds the record for being the youngest karter to secure a pole position at a national karting meeting, but strangely enough for someone so talented he was not obsessed with the sport growing up. “I wasn’t hugely into motor racing when I was younger, I never really watched every Formula One race, I just watched a few, from when I started karting I started watching more and more and got more interested in Formula One.”

Things moved quickly for Norris and by the end of 2013 he could call himself a karting world champion at the tender age of thirteen. He won both the 2013 CIK-FIA European KF Junior championship along with the world title in Bahrain, but for Norris it was winning the senior world championship a year later which he holds up as a career highlight up to date. “I think the main one for me was probably the world championship in karting, I wasn’t the fastest at all really on that weekend, I was just pretty good but we basically never gave up, kept fighting throughout the weekend, and yeah I mean obviously to come away as a world champion.” At this point he pauses and allows a broad smile to creep onto his face as he reflects on his achievement before adding “is something pretty cool to have your name on”.

The 2014 season was a busy one for Norris, who was combining his final season of karting with his debut season in cars. He stepped up to the Ginetta Junior Series, specifically aimed at 14-17 year olds. Stepping up with champion team HHC Motorsport he acquitted himself very well, taking four wins and eight poles to end the year second in the points, although he would drop to third once dropped scores had been taken.

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Celebrating his debut title in British F4 in 2015, so far winning has proved a habit for Lando. Photo copyright FIA Formula 4.

A switch to single seaters was always on the cards for 2015, as he switched across to the inaugural season of the new MSA Formula series, the UK equivalent of the FIA F4 entry level concept. Joining a high profile experienced team in Carlin proved an inspired move as he found himself in a title battle all year with Ricky Collard. Norris eventually sealed the title with a victory in the first race of the final weekend, ending the year with eight wins as he firmly put himself on the radar with such an impressive debut season in single seaters.

2016 started with a trip down under for the Toyota Racing Series, a long running national championship in New Zealand which in the last decade has attracted an increasing number of young drivers from around the world, all looking for extra track time in the winter of the European season. This is something Norris admits attracted him to the series’ “I think the reason I did it last year was, it’s pretty much one of the only things you can really do during the winter, especially racing wise.” The trip proved worthwhile for Norris as he proved himself the class of the field, taking six wins from 15 races, including the prestigious New Zealand Grand Prix which boasts former winners such as Stirling Moss, Graham Hill and Keke Rosberg.

Norris returned to Europe ready to take on a season in Formula Renault and BRDC F3, a lot for such a young driver. The Formula Renault campaign took priority, however the BRDC series would also prove useful. “the whole purpose of doing the BRDC races was more track time and it’s a very competitive series there’s obviously a lot of good drivers in it, and it’s a new car, so it helps me learn how to adapt from one car to the other. I think all together it was the track time and more experience in racing and everything which was the reason of doing the BRDC F3.” Four wins and eight podiums from eleven races proved his adaptability, having served its purpose.

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Norris on route to one of his four poles in a partial BRDC British F3 campaign in 2016. Photo copyright BRDC F3.

Formula Renault would prove more of a challenge. A dual campaign in the centre -piece Eurocup and regional Northern European Cup was a major challenge for a driver in his first year of the category. “the plan was always to do the Renault, it’s obviously a very competitive series and obviously quite a bit of track time in both series so I think overall Renault was definitely the right decision to do, and you know obviously, we got to go to Monaco this year, which was definitely very cool, very different to anything I’ve ever done.” The smile and excitement that creep into his voice as he mentions Monaco shows the passion he has now for the history of the sport.

What followed next was a season unlike other in Formula Renault since it established itself as the single seater benchmark in the mid-2000’s. Five wins and twelve podiums in Eurocup was matched by six wins and eleven podiums in the NEC series, resulting in a double championship win that impressed a lot of people within the motorsport community. Whilst from the outside it didn’t seem as if he had any hiccups all year, for Lando it was a lot different.

He secured the Eurocup title at Spa with a round to spare, but he very nearly didn’t race at all thanks to a mystery injury. “On Sunday I had a bad neck injury and I was not expecting to even go out for the race, we were probably going to sit it out or sit qualifying out and maybe do the race, but probably just leave it until the last round. “

“We thought we would give it a go so I would do a few laps or just a lap to see what it was like in qualifying and we had to put all the pads in on my neck just so it kind of didn’t move at all which is very different to how I normally drive, it was very weird to get used to a different driving style. I really, really struggled on the first lap, I came on the radio and said I have to box I couldn’t, I couldn’t do it anymore, but as soon as a bit of adrenaline starting to kick in, you just forget about it,, it kind of goes to the back of your head, and yeah I think I ended up P4,P5 or P6 I can’t remember, but I was even more surprised by that because I was only like two tenths off pole.”

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Norris about to enter the daunting Eau Rouge at Spa in a crucial Eurocup weekend. Lando was able to win the title, however he came close to sitting out with a neck injury. Photo copyright Diederik van der Laan/Dutch Photo Agency.

Things were not much easier come the race in the afternoon “I still really struggled but I think I kind of didn’t give up and I beat Max Defourny in both, not in qualifying but in the race, and ended up winning the championship on that weekend so I think that was definitely one of the hardest weekend’s I’ve had.”

With the Formula Renault titles secured Norris progressed up to Formula Three for the end of year F3 World Cup at Macau. With experience from the final FIA European F3 series round Norris impressed all weekend, running in the top ten for most sessions, before an opening lap accident during the qualifying race ruined any chances of a great result. Starting 27th, Norris still managed to salvage some pride with a brilliant drive to finish eleventh, a very impressive result considering Macau is notoriously difficult to pass on.

Sandwiching Macau was the hugely prestigious BRDC McLaren/Autosport award, where four of the U. K’s best young drivers are pitted against each other in a Mercedes DTM car, McLaren 650S GT3 and a F2 car. All of them provide a stern challenge for the young drivers and from here the expert judging panel look for anyone who stands out.

The great and good of the motorsport world gathered in London on December 4th to celebrate the season, with the most nervous people in the room being the four nominees for the McLaren/Autosport award. With a prize including a maiden Formula One test and paid simulator role with McLaren, it was with great anticipation that Norris was announced as the winner, joining the likes of David Coulthard and Jenson Button on the winners list.

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Norris tackling the world’s most demanding street circuit in Macau, in only his second F3 race he rose from 27th to 11th against the best F3 drivers in the world. A promising sign for 2017 and his FIA European F3 campaign. Photo copyright James Gasperotti/ JGP Motorsport Images.

A perfect season for Lando is now ending, and thoughts are moving towards the 2017 season. In the run up to Christmas it was announced that he will be stepping up to the FIA European F3 championship next year with Carlin, a team he is comfortable with. “I have a great history with them over the past two years, and yeah I basically grew up in car racing effectively with them so they’re definitely a good bunch of guys I get along with.”

After such an impressive season for Lando it’s no surprise he is attracting interest from Formula One, with teams keen to add him to their junior driver programmes, but for now he remains focused on his own racing. “I’ve been in contact with a couple of teams but it’s not kind of been anything serious. I’m happy leaving it till next year, where we really kind of try to get on board or in contact with some serious teams, but yeah I think it’s possibly a bit early now to do anything.”

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Lando Norris and his closest friends and family embrace after being announced as the winner of the 2016 BRDC McLaren/Autosport Award. Photo copyright LAT Photographic.

It’s clear that Norris is currently on course to realise a dream and reach Formula One as he ascends the single seater ladder. With his father’s financial backing he can focus on his driving, something that he is clearly very talented at. Whilst it’s easy to make the comparison with new Williams driver Lance Stroll because of their record of winning everywhere they have gone, in my opinion Norris has a higher ceiling than the Canadian. To win two Formula Renault titles in your rookie season is unprecedented whilst his outings in F3 so far have proved he can step up to an even higher category. McLaren will be watching intently when he earns his test prize next year, who knows where it may lead.

So just how good can Lando Norris be? Former grand prix driver and world sportscar champion Derek Warwick outlined his thoughts when handing Norris the award “this guy has got a great career in front of him, we’ve got a future Formula One driver, and even a future world champion.”

By Jordan Wilkins

 

Strange Timing for Verstappen Promotion

This morning Red Bull Racing finally dropped the news many within the F1 paddock had been predicted over the past few weeks. The decision to swap Max Verstappen and Daniil Kvyat at this moment seems a strange one, especially at this early stage of this season.

Four races into the 2016 season and the career of Kvyat has taken a significant turn, after only just over a season with the main Red Bull Racing team. Many have lamented the fact that Kvyat secured a podium only two races ago in China, yet after a poor Russian Grand Prix last weekend he is being replaced for the rest of the season by Max Verstappen.

Ever since his incredible debut year in cars, where he challenged for the highly competitive FIA European F3 title, Verstappen has carried the tag of a future F1 world champion. He made headlines for being the youngest ever driver to enter F1 at age 17, after a single year racing cars.

He has been in demand since he started his career, with both AMG Mercedes and Red Bull competing to sign him in his debut F3 season in 2014. He has so far impressed in his short F1 career with Scuderia Toro Rosso, and will now have a great opportunity to compete against Australian team mate Daniel Ricciardo, arguably the best of the current crop of younger drivers some may say.

For Daniil Kvyat this must be the hardest point of his career so far, as he finds himself demoted to the junior Toro Rosso team, and it will be very hard for him to reclaim his Red Bull seat now. He knows the Toro Rosso team well from his previous stint there in his rookie F1 season in 2014.

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Verstappen in action for Toro Rosso during pre-season. He will return to Barcelona next weekend having swapped his Toro Rosso for a Red Bull. Photo copyright XPB Images.

Much like Verstappen he impressed that year and earned a promotion to the main Red Bull Racing team after quadruple world champion Sebastien Vettel left for Ferrari. At age 22 being so publicly demoted must be very difficult to deal with, and will surely be something that lingers in his mind for a long time.

He will now have to seriously impress starting with next weekend’s Spanish Grand Prix, if he wants a return to the Red Bull team. At this moment it’s difficult not to think of previous Red Bull young drivers who were discarded such as Jaime Alguersuari, Sebastien Buemi and Jean Eric Vergne and wonder if this is their plan for Kvyat too.

From the early news surrounding this story it appears this move has been discussed for the past few weeks even longer perhaps, suggesting this is not a decision the Red Bull management have taken lightly. Only two races ago team principal Christian Horner was publicly supportive of Kvyat and his podium place, however it seems a lot can change very quickly in Formula One. Some have suggested that Red Bull motorsport programme chief Helmut Marko has been looking for an opportunity to promote Verstappen this season, and Kvyat gave him the perfect chance after his poor Russian GP.

It may seem harsh to demote a driver after only one poor race, but clearly for Red Bull management they have had concerns on Kvyat in terms of long term potential. This move would appear to be thinking towards the future, as they would appear to feel Verstappen is the better, longer term option for the team.

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Daniil Kvyat celebrating his podium in the Chinese GP. How quickly things can change in F1 as two races later he finds himself demoted to the junior Toro Rosso team. Photo copyright Motorsport.com

For now the future is unclear for Kvyat. He remains in F1 and is a very talented driver, but he will likely not be given too long with the Toro Rosso team. The team is primarily a junior Red Bull team, therefore their drivers are usually not given a lot of time before they are either promoted to dropped from the team. With the likes of Pierre Gasly waiting in the wings, the future of Daniil Kvyat may not feature F1 in three-five years time.

The future is also unclear for Verstappen. Whilst his career trajectory continues to skyrocket, we must remember he is still only 18 years old, and now finds himself in the media spotlight and competing at the front of the Formula One grid. He finds himself in a car that is capable of podiums, although the team finds itself behind both AMG Mercedes and Ferrari in the overall pecking order.

His team mate Ricciardo is in top form and is one of the best drivers in F1 right now, providing a stern test for Verstappen. He will receive plenty of advice and support, and he will need to learn from the mistakes of his father Jos Verstappen. He was promoted to F1 in 1994 at a young age, and found himself unable to meet expectation as he carved out an average F1 career.

Red Bull have now put a lot of expectation and pressure on the shoulders of Max Verstappen, but will be able to cope with it and still upstage his team mate. If he can do this, then he will have lived up to his hype as a future world champion. Only time will tell whether he can produce results whilst under major attention and scrutiny.

 

 

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!