60 GT3 cars take to the tarmac at Monza this weekend for the opening round of the Blancpain Endurance Series, which enters its third season.
20 of these cars are competing in the Pro Cup, which was won in both previous campaigns by the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT. Stephane Ortelli, one of last year’s champion drivers, stays in the team’s #1 car and shares with his FIA GT Series co-driver Laurens Vanthoor and three-time Porsche Supercup champion Rene Rast.
Vincent Vosse’s team enters two further Audi R8 machines in the category. The first of those is driven by Edward Sandstrom and Frank Stippler – who won the FIA GT Series opener at Nogaro together – as well as Christopher Mies, who was also part of last year’s champion line-up. The final WRT machine will be driven by former DTM racer Rahel Frey, Austrian Niki Mayr-Melnhof and New Zealand’s Matt Halliday.
Resuming their rivalry with WRT will be the Marc VDS Racing Team, who narrowly lost out to their fellow Belgians in both 2011 and 2012. Yelmer Buurman strengthens the team’s lead BMW Z4 alongside the highly-rated Maxime Martin and team principal Bas Leinders, while Markus Palttala switches to the second car to join Henri Moser and Nick Catsburg.
Also continuing to run BMWs are the Vita4One Racing Team. 2011 champion Greg Franchi continues alongside Frank Kechele, and they are joined by Stefano Colombo, Italian GT champion last year in his first season out of single-seaters. The second car will be driven by Matteo Cressoni, Matias Russo and Martin Matzke.
Joining WRT in entering Audis are Phoenix Racing, who enter the BES full-time after winning last year’s Spa 24 Hours. Christopher Haase, the last of the reigning champion driver trio, switches to Phoenix having won the Nurburgring 24 Hours with the squad and is partnered in the team’s first car with factory Audi driver Oliver Jarvis and Harold Primat. Belgians Enzo Ide and Anthony Kumpen share the second car with GT1 world champion Markus Winkelhock.
Another Pro Cup Audi comes from Sainteloc Racing, though Gregory Guilvert is the only named driver at the time of writing.
McLaren’s assault is led by Hexis Racing, who switch from GT1 and bring with them Stef Dusseldorp, who will partner rapid factory duo Alvaro Parente and Alexander Sims. ART Grand Prix continue for a second season, with ex-Formula 2 champion Andy Soucek joined by French duo Antoine Leclerc and Mike Parisy. Two more factory McLaren men are utilised by Gulf Racing UK, with Rob Bell and new Woking recruit Adam Carroll sharing with Nico Verdonck.
JRM Motorsport have brought together a very strong line-up for their Nissan GT-R. Lucas Luhr returns after winning the 2011 GT1 world title for the JRM-Nissan combination, and is partnered by British duo Steven Kane and Peter Dumbreck.
The Ferrari ranks are led by Kessel Racing and their line-up of official Scuderia driver Davide Rigon, ex-Ferrari Academy man Daniel Zampieri and Brazilian Cesar Ramos. Incidentally, all three contested occasional rounds of Formula Renault 3.5 last year as they transition away from single-seaters. FR3.5 veteran Mikhail Aleshin makes his GT bow with new Russian squad SMP Racing alongside Viktor Shaitar and former WTCC racer Kirill Ladygin, while Vita4One Team Italy fields one 458 for Francesco Castellacci, Giacomo Petrobelli and Eugenio Amos.
Xavier Maassen, Marc Hennerici and Prospeed Competition finished third in the 2012 Pro Cup in their Porsche. This year, Maxime Soulet steps up from the team’s Pro-Am car this year to replace Marc Goosens. Nicolas Armindo leads the other Porsche line-up in the Pro Cup, that of SMG, also known for their Dakar buggies. Eric Clement and Marco Mapelli complete their driver trio.
The Pro Cup grid for Monza is completed by a sole Aston Martin V12 Vantage, jointly entered by Young Driver AMR/Emil Frey Racing. WTCC driver Fredy Barth, former FIA GT champion Gabriele Gardel and Lorenz Frey will be behind the wheel.
Fortec Motorsports should add two Mercedes SLS from Silverstone, having failed to get the budget together for the start of the season.
28 cars are entered in Pro-Am, where the Dutch-Belgian duo of Niek Hommerson and Louis Machiels will go for their third straight title. Remaining in their AF Corse Ferrari, they will again get help from factory man Andrea Bertolini.
A lot of the focus in the class will be on the two Nissan GT Academy Team RJN cars. The gamer-to-racer competition’s 2012 European, Russian and German winners Wolfgang Reip, Mark Shulzhitskiy and Peter Pyzera respectively will share one car, while the first GT Academy champion Lucas Ordonez will share the second machine with Alex Buncombe and American graduate Steve Doherty. JRM also enter a second of their Nissans into Pro-Am for British GT aces Matt Bell and Charles Bateman, and Humaid Al Masaood who won an ALMS race alongside Kane in 2011.
Another familiar name to British GT fans is Beechdean-Aston Martin Racing, with owner Andrew Howard joined by his regular co-driver Jonny Adam and single-seater convert Daniel McKenzie.
Brothers David Jones and Godfrey Jones have their Preci Spark Mercedes, while Adam Christodoulou drives a Black Falcon SLS with Steve Jans and Klaas Hummel.
Boutsen Ginion Racing’s McLaren should be quick in the hands of Frederic Vervisch, who topped the official test and partners popstar Koen Wauters and David Dermont. Andy Meyrick partners Gulf Racing UK boss Mike Wainwright, while Gregoire Demoustier is back with ART alongside Gilles Vannelet and Yann Goudy. Former F2 racer Philipp Eng leads the line-up in MRS GT Racing’s McLaren, and Rob Barff is in Von Ryan Racing’s MP4-12C.
ROAL Motorsport enter one BMW Z4, driven by Edoardo Liberati, Michela Cerruti and Mario Ferraris, with TDS Racing also joining the BMW ranks with drivers Ludovic Badey and Henry Hassid.
Peter Kox continues in the Reiter-run Blancpain Racing Lamborghini alongside the watch company’s boss Marc Hayek, while a second of the Gallardos comes from the Grasser Racing Team.
SMP enter three further Ferraris in Pro-Am, with another of their FR3.5 drivers Daniil Move, former Minardi tester Sergey Zlobin and experienced GT man Alessandro Pier Guidi amongst their drivers. British GT squad Mtech Racing enters two 458s, the first for former BTCC and F3 man Stephen Jelley, Jake Rattenbury and Andrew Danyliw and the second for an all-Argentinian trio. Other Pro-Am Ferraris are run by Insight Racing, Kessel and Team Ukraine.
The Haribo Racing Team enters a Porsche with confectionary tycoon Hans-Guido Riegel joined by Mike Stursberg and experienced 911 ace Emmanuel Collard. Former GP2 and Indycar man Franck Perera drives a Pro GT by Almeras Porsche with Eric Dermont, while Americans Joe Foster, Charles Putman and Charles Espenlaub drive Prospeed’s Pro-Am entry.
Sainteloc enter a sole Audi in the class for another singer David Hallyday alongside Ronnie Latinne and Romain Monti.
Finally, 12 cars are entered for the Gentleman Trophy. After coming second in Pro-Am last year, Jean-Luc Beaubelique, Patrice Goueslard and the SOFREV Auto Sport Promotion team take a step-down, with another experienced GT man Jean-Luc Blanchemain joining them. Team boss Jerome Policand drives the second car with Gabriel Balthazard and Maurice Ricci.
Last year’s champion pairing of Pierre Hirschi and Robert Hissom has spilit. Hirschi remains in his Sainteloc Audi, joined by Marc Sourd and Claude-Yves Gosselin. Hissom meanwhile has switched to join Black Falcon’s Mercedes, alongside Oliver Morley and Andreii Lebed.
Two more Ferraris are entered by Sport Garage, one from AF Corse and one more from Kessel. Karim Ojjeh drives a Boutsen Ginion McLaren, while more Porsches come from Pro GT, Delahaye Racing and ARC Bratislava, where Ahmad Al Harthy joins Miro Konopka.