There was little surprise when the FIA GT1 World Championship was canned at the end of a difficult third season in 2012. But while it had struggled to maintain healthy grid numbers and a globe-trotting calendar, the format of two one-hour sprint races was popular. That concept lives on in the revamped FIA GT Series.
Organisers SRO have done well to attract a 24-car grid for the Easter weekend season opener at Nogaro in France, with eight brands represented. New for this year is the introduction of sub-classes for Pro, Pro-Am and Gentleman driver pairings to match the sister Blancpain Endurance Series.9
The All-Inkl.com Munnich Motorsport team that won the last GT1 World title have moved on to the World Touring Car Championship, so their place at the head of the entry list is taken by a team running three examples of the same Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 car. HTP Gravity Charouz is the new name for the team that took last year’s European GT3 crown, with Heico Motorsport having sold out to the Dutch HTP Investment Group, who continue the relationship with the Czech Charouz squad.
The team’s lead car is entered in the Pro category for 20-year-old German Maximilian Buhk, who was one half of the winning GT3 driver pairing in what was his first season out of single-seaters, and 21-year-old Israeli Alon Day, who comes from German F3 via a short spell in Indy Lights last year.
Russian Sergei Afanasiev, who finished in the top three of Formula Master, F2 and Auto GP for three straight seasons between 2009 and 2011, joins after racing for the team in the Baku City Challenge following the premature end of the Valmon Aston Martin programme in GT1. He is partnered in the team’s Pro-Am car by Swede Andreas Simonsen, who finished third in the 24 hour races at both Dubai and the Nurburgring with Heico last year.
The team’s third car, in the Gentlemen Trophy, is for the Czech pairing of Jan Stovicek, who raced for the squad in ADAC GT Masters last year, and Petr Charouz, the son of team boss Antonin and younger brother of Jan, who has spent the last three years in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo.
A fourth Mercedes is entered by Seyffarth Motorsport in the Pro class, with ex-Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok joining Jan Seyffarth, who moves across from ADAC GT Masters with his father’s team where he has also had years of experience in Porsches.
Seven Audi R8 LMS Ultras were originally entered for Nogaro, although only five are present. Three come from Belgian Audi Club Team WRT. After three wins in GT1 last year, Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor continue together in one car in the Pro class, where Edward Sandstrom joins experienced Audi man Frank Stippler after racing for Vincent Vosse’s outfit in the Blancpain Endurance Series. A third car in Pro-Am will be driven by triple Porsche Supercup champion Rene Rast and Austrian Niki Mayr-Melnhof, twice a podium finisher in GT1 last year in a Vita4One BMW.
Portuguese Cesar Campanico steps up with his own Novadriver team together with compatriot Carlos Vieira after winning last year’s Portuguese GT title. A second car was entered also in Pro-Am for an unnamed pair of Brazilians, but they are absent for Nogaro.
Belgians Enzo Ide and Anthony Kumpen pair up for Phoenix Racing, with Ide returning to an Audi after racing an AF Corse Ferrari last year and Kumpen returning to the team he last drove for in 2010. They are expected to be joined by a second Phoenix entry for Zolder.
The BMW Z4 ranks were set to be led by a single Pro entry from the Vita4One Racing Team, six-times champions between 2005 and 2009. However, the entry for Frank Kechele and Greg Franchi (teammates in Blancpain last year) will be missing from Nogaro after an engine failure in testing left the Michael Bartels’ team worried ahead of the Blancpain season.
One entry that certainly does appear committed for Nogaro and beyond is that of BMW Team Brazil. Multiple Brazil Stock Car champion Caca Bueno finished second with the team in the national GT series last year, and pairs with fellow Stock Car man Allam Khodair, who also raced GTs last year. The second car is led by ex-Formula 1 driver Ricardo Zonta, who won the 1998 FIA GT title with Mercedes. Former GP2 and A1GP driver Sergio Jimenez is alongside him, having also made occasional appearances in GT1 like Zonta.
A fourth Z4 is entered by BMW Team India in Pro-Am. Run by the Spanish Sunred operation, it will be driven by Armaan Ebrahim, who both Sunred’s Ford GT in Moscow last year, and Julien Jousse.
A McLaren finished second in last year’s GT1 standings, but although the Hexis team have moved on, their place has been taken by Sebastien Loeb Racing. Retired as a full-time rally driver, Sebastien Loeb takes on his first full-time racing programme ahead of his expected move into World Touring Cars with Citroen next year. As well as a Le Mans podium back in 2006, he took two wins from two races in the Porsche Carrera Cup at Pau last year and two podiums on his French GT debut in the McLaren.
His ability to claim big results will be boosted by the fact he will partner McLaren factory driver Alvaro Parente. The Portuguese driver was as fast as ever in GT1 last year but was hampered by co-driver Gregoire Demoustier – not an issue he should have with his new French teammate. Loeb’s second Pro car also has quick pairing, with another ex-GP2 race-winner Andreas Zuber being paired with Mike Parisy, just as they were at the Algarve round last year in a Team China Porsche.
The German Dorr Motorsport team also enters two MP4-12Cs. The Pro car will be driven by ADAC GT Masters race winners Niclas Kentenich and Daniel Keilwitz, while a Gentleman Trophy car is entered for the mysterious “Paul Green” and Arne Hofmeister.
AF Corse continue with a single Ferrari 458 Italia. Filip Salaquarda took two wins in GT1 last year with help from factory driver Toni Vilander, but in the Finn’s place this year is GP2 convert Fabio Onidi for his GT racing debut.
Two further Ferraris are entered for Nogaro from French squad SOFREV Auto Sport Promotion. They provide one of the headline names on the entry list in the shape of 1998 FIFA World Cup-winning goalkeeper Fabien Barthez, who has been racing since 2008 and last year won a French GT race with the SOFREV-ASP team. He is partnered in the Gentleman Trophy car with 61-year-old Gerard Tonelli, while the team’s Pro-Am entry is made up of experienced ace Soheil Ayari and Jean-Luc Beaubelique.
A presence from Nissan returns, with the GT3 version of the GT-R model that won the drivers’ title in 2011. The effort is centred around the marque’s successful gamer-to-racer scheme, entering two Pro-Am cars under the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN banner. In a move that Nissan says represents their confidence in the GT Academy, the #32 car will be shared by Wolfgang Reip and Mark Shulzhitskiy, winners of the European and Russian competitions just last year. The original GT Academy champion Lucas Ordonez drives the #35 machine alongside RJN mainstay Alex Buncombe.
Further Brazilian and Portuguese representation comes from Rodrive Competiçoes, who enter a pair of Ford GTs for a quartet of Brazilian drivers. The first, entered in Pro-Am, will be driven by Matheus Stumpf (who campaigned a Rodrive Ford in Spain last year) and Claudio Ricci. The second, Gentleman Trophy, car is reserved for Raijan Mascarello and Felipe Tozzo, who shared a Ferrari to tenth place in Brazilian GT last year.
The Nogaro entry list is completed by a single Lamborghini Gallardo LP600+ entered by Grasser Racing for Austrian Pro-Am pairing Dominik Baumann and Hari Proczyk. The former partnered Buhk to FIA GT3 glory last year, while the latter came third in a Gallardo, as the duo raced together in a concurrent ADAC GT Masters programme.