An exciting group of 23 cars have been confirmed for round four of this year’s Blancpain GT Sports Club (July 28-29), which once again stars as a curtain-raiser to the famed Total 24 Hours of Spa, the highlight of the Blancpain GT Series and Intercontinental GT Challenge.
Following a successful maiden visit to Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps last year, SRO Motorsports Group’s Bronze-only drivers returns to the Belgian Grand Prix venue with five manufacturers – Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Lamborghini, and Mercedes – ready to do battle around the iconic 7.004km track.
OVERALL POINTS LEADER PONS LOOKING TO EXTEND WINNING MOMENTUM
Coming off a two-win weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard last month, Blancpain GT Sports Club Overall points leader Anthony Pons will look to stamp his authority on the championship aboard the #72 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3.
“I am surprised to be leading the standings halfway through the season,” said the Frenchman. “I like Misano and we were quite fast over there with our Mercedes-AMG GT3. Silverstone proved to be a tougher weekend but we still managed to salvage some valuable points. And Paul Ricard was a perfect weekend, though I still had to fight very hard to fend off my team-mates!
“Leading and winning championships always comes down to scoring points on a regular basis while avoiding the sort of mishaps that have befallen many of my rivals so far this year. Credit should be given to Jérôme Policand’s AKKA ASP team and their entire crew for providing a perfectly set up car, which has been running like clockwork.
“Spa-Francorchamps is already upon us and it is bound to be an important round in the championship. I took part in the official Test Day at the start of the month and could see I still had room for improvement in order to race at the front. The title fight is far from being over and once again it will be crucial to be consistent and score points across both races. The track is very challenging and the slightest mistake can mean dire consequences. At Spa, you must remain humble.”
Currently tied in the Overall standings are Cédric Leimer and Karim Ojjeh, who have already shown great pace and secured multiple podium finishes aboard the #963 Autovitesse Garage R.Affolter-run Lamborghini Huracan GT3 and #2 Boutsen Ginion-entered BMW M6 GT3 respectively. Hungry for a maiden win this season, both drivers enter the Spa event with victory firmly in their sights.
Ferrari brings the biggest line-up to Spa with no less than nine entries across both the Overall and Iron Cup classes.
Patrick van Glabeke will look to recapture the strong pace he showed at Paul Ricard with the #488 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3 and convert it into a healthy points haul. Racing the #51 458 Italia GT3 model, team-mate Christoph Ulrich is equally keen to add to his 2017 tally.
More Ferrari 458 Italia GT3s can be found at Team Malucelli, with Marco Galassi set to drive the #60 entry; Kessel Racing, which fields the #65 car for Luxemburg’s Alexis de Bernardi who is coming off a pair of top-five finishes at Paul Ricard; and Rinaldi Racing where Christian Hook runs on the #33 machine.
Elsewhere, HP Racing team-mates Coach McKansy and Daniel Vogt compete at the wheel of the #17 and #18 Lamborghini Huracan GT3s, while Boutsen Ginion continues to field two Gallardo Extenso R-EXs for Frenchmen Claude-Yves Gosselin and Pierre Feligioni.
German manufacturers Audi, BMW, and Mercedes promise to add further diversity to the Blancpain GT Sports Club grid and provide a thunderous soundtrack in Belgium.
Indeed, Roberto Rayneri is once again set to slot in behind the wheel of the #66 GDL Racing Mercedes SLS AMG GT3.
Meanwhile, two BMW Z4 GT3s can be found at CMR, where Pierre Hirschi returns aboard the #21 entry, and DB-Motorsport, which enters the #68 machine for Oliver Baumann, whose son Dominik is one of the star drivers in the Blancpain GT Series.
Adding another touch of glamour will be female racer Angélique Detavernier, who is set to make her Blancpain GT Sports Club debut on home soil with Comtoyou Racing’s #12 Audi R8 LMS GT3.
Last but not least, Sri Lanka’s Dilantha Malagamuwa will race for Xtra Cup honours aboard the #24 GDL Racing-entered Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo.
IRON CUP TITLE RIVALS READY FOR SPA SHOWDOWN
The 2017 Iron Cup title fight is shaping up to be another thrilling affair in the category reserved for drivers aged 60 and over.
Halfway through this year’s six-event campaign, current class leader Stephen Earle (#111 Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) only holds a slender three-point advantage over Klaus Dieter Frers (#3 Artega Rennsport Ferrari 488 GT3).
The pair actually had a coming together on track at the previous round at Paul Ricard, which did not prevent Frers from closing the gap to his US rival with a two-win weekend in the south of France.
“Klaus and I are good friends and first met last year at the Spa event,” said Earle ahead of the upcoming trip to the Belgian Ardennes. “As you are aware, I lost the Blancpain GT Sports Club championship by one point in 2016, so the three-point lead that I have seems like a lot!
“The incident at Paul Ricard was unfortunate but we will push to make up the points I threw away. Half of the season is yet to come and I believe that Budapest and Barcelona favour the Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. We will see but rest assured that I will not make the same mistake twice!”
Commenting on his own 2017 campaign, Frers added: “The first half of the season started much better than the previous one ended. Intense testing during the spring allowed me to adapt my driving style to the specifics of the Ferrari 488 GT3. Lap times dropped and I was very competitive in Misano and Silverstone but in both Main Races Stephen was able to catch me due to tyre problems at the rear. At Paul Ricard we tried a different setup and I ended up winning twice.
“Spa has always been my favourite race track – besides the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife of course. The SRO test in July went very well and we significantly improved the lap times compared to last year. I’m looking forward to returning there and to the unbelievable atmosphere of the Total 24 Hours of Spa. This is clearly the highlight of our season. Stephen is a tough competitor and only one can win the race; I hope it’s me.”
Both Earle and Frers will need to keep a close watch on fellow Iron Cup racers Louis-Philippe Soenen (#50 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3), who has already secured three podium finishes this year, and Piergiuseppe Perazzini, who is poised to make his Blancpain GT Sports Club return with the #53 AF Corse-run Ferrari 488 GT3.
Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is one of five Formula 1 tracks visited by the Blancpain GT Sports Club in 2017, thus further strengthening the credential of the series as an ideal stepping stone and proving ground between club competition and professional-level racing in Europe and beyond.
The Belgian round of the Blancpain GT Sports Club will once again ensure maximum track time for the drivers, with 20-minute Practice and Qualifying sessions followed by non-pitstop 25-minute Qualifying and 40-minute Main Races.
Blancpain GT Sports Club Schedule: Spa-Francorchamps*
Friday 28 July
09:00 - 09:30: Free Practice 1
10:20 - 10:50: Free Practice 2
13:40 - 14:00: Qualifying
17:35 - 18:00: Qualifying Race
Saturday 29 July
09:15 - 09:55: Main Race
*All times are local