Having welcomed the very first Blancpain GT Sports Club race weekend in April 2015, Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will host the series’ 2017 season finale as part of this year’s Festival de la Velocidad de Barcelona held on September 29 – October 1.
ALL EYES ON IRON CUP TITLE SHOWDOWN
Last season’s curtain-closing trip to the Spanish Grand Prix venue offered superb racing and resulted in an absolute thriller in the Iron Cup class, as the title fight went down to the wire. Expect more of the same this year, as Kessel Racing’s Stephen Earle (#111 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) and main rival Klaus Dieter Frers (#3 Artega Rennsport Ferrari 488 GT3) enter the final round of the season only three points apart!
Earle is very familiar with nail-biting showdowns in the Blancpain GT Sports Club’s category reserved for drivers aged 60 and more. Indeed, the US racer was already part of the 2016 championship battle that saw him lose out by a single point. Despite the high stakes involved, Earle insists the pleasure lies elsewhere.
“The Iron Cup title fight will be the best!” enthused the moustachioed and bespectacled Texan ahead of the Barcelona trip. “This is how racers really like to perform, with two drivers trying their best in fair competition and comradery. No matter what the final results, I have made a friend for life and this is another important aspect of racing that is often missed.”
Earle and Frers share an almost identical record this year, with four wins apiece, multiple podium finishes and no retirement. In other words, all the ingredients are here to witness another classic denouement.
The dynamic duo won’t be the only Iron Cup chargers competing at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. Having switched to the Ferrari 488 GT3 this year, AF Corse’s Louis-Philippe Soenen has racked up five class podium finishes aboard the #50 entry and will look to add more silverware in the final round of the season.
Making his return next weekend will be HTP Motorsport’s Willem Paulys de Pundert with the #39 Mercedes-AMG GT3. The Dutch ace was sidelined due to an injury but he is now ready and raring to go, having already secured a trio of top-three results this year.
NEWLY-CROWNED OVERALL CHAMPION PONS KEEN TO END CAMPAIGN ON A HIGH
The previous round at Budapest saw AKKA ASP’s Anthony Pons seal the 2017 Blancpain GT Sports Club Overall title with the #72 Mercedes-AMG GT3. But that does not mean the Frenchman and his team have nothing left to achieve.
Indeed, with three wins already under his belt, Pons could potentially draw level with Mario Cordoni as the winningest driver in the series’ three-year history (5 victories). Meanwhile, AKKA ASP could move past AF Corse as the most successful team. Jerome Policand’s outfit currently has six wins to its resume when the all-time record is at seven.
Behind Pons, the race to the runner-up spot remains wide-open and should make for a fascinating watch. After claiming the first-ever podium finish and race win in his Blancpain GT Sports Club career at the Hungaroring, Christoph Ulrich enters the season finale in second place with the #51 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3. The AF Corse driver is only three points ahead of Karim Ojjeh, who unfortunately could not defend his chances in the Budapest Main Race. The Boutsen Ginion racer and his #2 BMW M6 GT3 return to the fray determined to make up for the lost opportunity.
Another driver to keep an eye on is AF Corse’s Patrick Van Glabeke, whose positive momentum since the event at Circuit Paul Ricard propelled his #488 Ferrari 488 GT3 to a first season win in Hungary last month.
Also racing under the AF Corse banner are Frederic Jean Marie Fangio on the #52 Ferrari 458 Italia GT3 and Howard Blank in the #49 Cup Class-entered Ferrari 458 Challenge already seen at Silverstone earlier this season.
Elsewhere, last year’s Blancpain GT Sports Club runner-up Nicolas Vandierendonck is reporting back for racing action aboard the #63 Shipex by Ombra Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3. One will remember that the Belgian ace claimed pole position around the 4.655km venue 12 months ago. Driving the same model is Coach McKansy in the #17 HP Racing challenger.
More Lamborghini chargers can be found at Boutsen Ginion where the #4 and #6 Gallardo Extenso R-EXs are once again entrusted to the hands of French racers Claude-Yves Gosselin and Pierre Feligioni.
Ferrari will bring the biggest contingent to Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, which includes four more 458 Italia GT3s for BMS Scuderia Italia’s Luigi Lucchini (#7), Rinaldi Racing’s Christian Hook (#33), as well as Kessel Racing’s Alexis de Bernadi (#65) and team-mate Peter Goerke, who is primed to make his Blancpain GT Sports Club debut.
Mercedes also fields a healthy battalion with a third Mercedes-AMG GT3 run by AKKA ASP for Mauro Ricci, who claimed a double podium finish at Circuit Paul Ricard on his previous visit to SRO Motorsports Group’s Bronze-only drivers series.
GDL Racing’s Roberto Rayneri and DB-Motorsport’s Oliver Baumann add further variety to an already very diverse grid as they prepare to race their dependable #66 and #68 Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 respectively.
Last but not least, the Xtra Cup Class reserved for Trophy cars will pitch GDL Racing’s Dilantha Malagamuwa on the #24 Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo against team-mate and all-time Blancpain GT Sports Club race winner Mario Cordoni in the #70 machine. Both drivers are currently tied in first place with two class wins apiece.
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will be the fifth Formula 1 track 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 Barcelona round will once again give Blancpain GT Sports Club drivers maximum track time with 30-minute practice sessions and 20-minute qualifying followed by non-pitstop 25-minute Qualifying and 40-minute Main Races. Both contests will be streamed live with English and French commentary on the series’ official website and Facebook page, as well as on SRO Motorsports Group’s GT World YouTube channel.
Blancpain GT Sports Club schedule: Barcelona*
Friday 29 September
17:30 - 18:00: Free Practice 1
Saturday 30 September
11:30 - 12:00: Free Practice 2
13:35 - 13:55: Qualifying
15:15 - 15:40: Qualifying Race
Sunday 1 October
12:00 - 12:40: Main Race
*All times are local
1. Anthony Pons (#72 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG GT3) has already been crowned 2017 Blancpain GT Sports Club Overall champion, but the Iron Cup title race remains wide open between Stephen Earle (#111 Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) and Klaus Dieter Frers (#3 Artega Rennsport Ferrari 488 GT3)
2. Iron Cup title contenders Klaus Dieter Frers (#3 Artega Rennsport Ferrari 488 GT3) and Stephen Earle (#111 Kessel Racing Ferrari 458 Italia GT3) share a laugh on one of their many visits to the podium this season.