Nissan GT Academy

Spa 24 Hours Set To Be A Classic

This weekend the sportscar world will once again focus on the annual Spa 24 Hours, which in recent years has become the home of GT3 racing as the category has breathed new life into this classic sportscar endurance race. The entry list excels in both quantity and quality, with 58 cars on the current entry list, all filled with the finest GT works supported drivers in the world.

GT3 racing has provided brilliantly competitive racing since it’s inception in 2006, and this years Spa 24 Hours will likely be a highly competitive sprint race for 24 hours. Last years winners Laurens Vanthoor, Rene Rast and Markus Winkelhock return this year with their new 2015 spec Audi R8 LMS run by the works supported Team WRT. Team WRT and fellow Audi R8 LMS works supported Team Phoenix will provide stern opposition to the rest of the field, although GT3 racing in 2015 boasts a bevy of manufacters and works drivers aiming to topple Audi this year.

Not that Audi have not fully prepared to defend their Spa victory from last year, with a further four works supported Pro cup class entries, with the likes of Robin Frijns, Stephane Ortelli, Andre Lotterer and Mike Rockenfeller joining high quality driver line up’s across all six works supported entries.

Bentley and Lamborghini are the new kids on the GT3 block, although both have shown tremendous pace and have scored some good results, as both will look for a upset victory in this years race. Both have the manufacters full support behind them, along with a bevy of very fast and consistent drivers. The only knock on both manufacters might be their sheer number of entries, as Bentley have three Pro cup cars across M-Sport and Bentley Team HTP, whilst the Grasser Lamborghini team field only two of the new Huracan GT3 cars, compared to the five Audi’s in the Pro cup.

The BMW effort will once again this year be led by the Belgian Marc VDS team, who will field their usual two car effort filled with a line up of factory BMW drivers such as Maxime Martin. BMW have also taken some of the pre-race headlines thanks to the sole Pro cup ROAL Italian BMW entry which will be driven by factory drivers Timo Glock, Bruno Spengler and Alex Zanardi. The Italian will receive a lot of attention throughout the week, and the incredible Italian will be keen to show his pace as he gets up to speed with the Z4 GT3 car.

Once again Mercedes return with four Pro cup SLS GT3 entries, which marks a downfall for the usual hordes of Mercedes SLS entries in the premier class of the Blancpain series. With a new spec SLS due next year this may help explain the slight drop in numbers for this year, however this does not mean a lack of quality from the Mercedes entries, as they will hope to all achieve a good result from the usually bullet proof reliability of the SLS AMG GT3.

As for Nissan, their GT-R Nismo GT3 racer has two Pro cup entries, one of which is the famous GT academy entry. This car is also a very reliable entry, although the relative strength of their two entries compared to the rest may leave them struggling to produce a top three result without any misfortune for others. Do not however underestimate the Nissan entries, including in the Pro-Am class.

For Aston Martin, the majority of their entries come in the Pro-Am class, with only one Pro cup entry for the privateer Oman racing team. Aston Martin has given a lot of support with factory drivers and crew for the Pro-Am entries over the past few years. For the Oman racing team they may also struggle slightly in the highly competitive Pro cup, although a top five result is definitely possible including for the Pro-am factory assisted teams.

McLaren bring two new 650S factory supported entries run by VonRyan racing, with an all star cast driver line up, which should give McLaren a good chance of a good result if they can get the car working with the circuit. If so, a repeat of their dominant Silverstone win earlier this season could be possible, although the old MP4-12C seemed to struggle at Spa in the past. The ultimate potential of the car is currently unknown, therefore the team can only hope the 650S runs reliably, leaving the experienced drivers to show their pace throughout the race.

The only majorly represented manufacter who is not in the Pro cup is Ferrari with their 458 Italia. On the other hand, the manufacter has a good selection of factory supported privateer teams in the Pro-am class, and any Ferrari GT entry with Gianmaria Bruni behind the wheel deserves to be seen as a serious contender in it’s class. Whilst their are no Pro cup 458 entries the driver line up’s in the Pro-am class are good enough for this very quick car to be contending in the top five overall, and most certainly for Pro-am class honors come Sunday afternoon.

That wraps up my look at all of the major manufacters entered in this weekend’s Total Spa 24 Hours, and in terms of predicting a winner it’s almost impossible to guess correctly who will win. This is because the Blancpain endurance series is so highly competitive, with different contenders at each track.

If I ultimately had to pick a potential winner for me it’s very hard to look past the reigning champion #1 WRT Audi R8 LMS entry. The new car has looked quick this year, and with such a stellar driver line up and well organised team behind this entry they surely have to be car to beat going into the race weekend. What are your thoughts on contenders for this weekend’s Spa 24 Hours, or do you disagree with my prediction. Please comment and let me know your prediction for victory contenders come Sunday afternoon.

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Nissan GT Academy winner Gaetan Paletou takes overall win

The final race of the contemporary Castle Combe 2014 season was an Open Sports Vs Saloons race at the end of the day, with the sunlight drawing in the grid lined up for their shortened 12 minute race. 2014 European Nissan GT Academy winner Gaetan Paletou was on pole in his works prepared Nissan Team RJN Nissan 370Z GT4 spec racer. Alongside was supposed to be the impressive flame spitting Mazda RX-7 Turbo of Steve Putt, however a problem in the earlier Sports @ GT race left Paletou alone on the front row. Team mate to Paletou Paul Brown was behind him in 3rd whilst Dylan Popovic completed the top 4 in his unique Marlin racer.

At the lights it was Dylan Popovic and the ungainly looking Rage buggy of Craig Moore who made the best starts whilst Paul Brown who had a nightmare and stalled, leaving old circuit favourite Russell Humphrey behind him to inadvertently give him a push start. Craig Moore held the lead in the under powered Rage until Quarry before he overcooked things and went off at the Esses, dropping himself from the lead to the back all on lap 1.

This left the Nissan of Paletou to open a huge lead over earlier Castle Combe Saloons winner Tony Hutchings, who valiantly tried to stay with the GT4 Nissan despite the obvious power and handling disadvantages for Hutchings. Hutchings had earlier stole on 2nd on lap 3 from Adam Prebble in his Rover 220 Turbo, and things soon got worse for Prebble on lap 6 as he was forced to give up a comfortable 3rd as he slowed going up Avon Rise and pulled off into retirement.

By lap 7 Paletou has used his obvious skills and car advantage to open a 16 second lead over Hutchings who was equally comfortable in 2nd, and that gap was further extended when the 3rd man Paul Brown was forced to retire at the end of the lap after receiving mechanical warning flags for noise nuisance. This therefore ended a remarkable recovery drive after the earlier stall on the line. From here until the end of the 12 minute race things were comfortable for the top 6 as Gaetan Paletou romped home for probably his first ever overall race victory, and he will be hard pressed to find a more comfortable one.

Tony Hutchings was also comfortable in 2nd to cap a brilliant end of the season for him after his earlier win, as old circuit favourite Russell Humphrey returned to Combe to complete the podium. Rob Ballard was 4th after his heroics earlier in the Combe Saloons, whilst Nigel Richards was 5th in his powerful BMW E36 M3 and Craig Moore hustled his Rage buggy back into the top 6 after his opening lap off at the Esses.

This race brought the contemporary 2014 Castle Combe season to a close, and once again it was a classic year for the circuit with plenty of action and thrilling races across all the meetings, providing plenty of entertainment for the spectators. The circuit has some promising plans for 2015 including plans for a solar farm in the circuit infield to provide the circuit’s power and some, I for one simply cannot wait for the 2015 season to begin already.