Following a very competitive Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup season in 2015, many people were left wondering “why isn’t this getting bigger grids?” Most races would hover around 20 entries but would always leave people wanting more.
That might have changed for this year, the first round has a staggering 40 cars – all of which look absolutely on it with no one entry looking like it sail into the distance, you can’t say that about every championship…
This capacity grid has surprised many in the paddock, including organiser SRO Motorsport Group and its Chief Executive Stephane Ratel. At the end of last year, Ratel set a target of 25 cars for each round of the Sprint Cup so 40 cars is a dream come true for the Frenchman and is getting towards the objectives set for the championship when it replaced the GT1 World Championship.
The entries come from 19 teams and alongside a plethora of Bentley Continental GT3s and Audi R8 LMSs, the opening round at Misano will see the Blancpain GT Series debut of the BMW M6 GT3, Ferrari 488 GT3, Porsche 911 GT3R and the Mercedes AMG GT3.
Leading the entry list is reigning Sprint Cup teams champions Belgian Audi Club Team WRT who bring six Audi R8s to Misano, led by GT superstar Laurens Vanthoor alongside Frederic Vervisch in the #1. Elsewhere in the squad, Vanthoor’s younger brother Dries will make his GT debut after a decent season in Formula Renault 2.0 NEC – he’ll race alongside Blancpain GT Series champion Robin Frijns.
Also racing for Team WRT, and making a big change, is Stuart Leonard. He’s decided to move from his self-named team and his customary Aston Martin V12 Vantage to the Belgian team – although he’ll still race alongside regular team mate Michael Meadows.
Notably in what should be a very strong entry for WRT is the #28 with the very rapid pairing of Rene Rast and F1 exile Will Stevens. The addition of Stevens is a very interesting sign of just how attractive GT racing is for Formula One drivers who, like fellow WRT driver Frijns, didn’t get a fair crack of the whip in what is supposedly the pinnacle of motorsport.
The same could be said for Felix Rosenqvist and Patric Niederhauser, racing a Team AKKA ASP Mercedes AMG GT3 and an Attempto Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 respectively, who have both seemingly hit the ceiling in single-seaters.
Also representing the four rings is a team known in the Blancpain GT Series, but new to the Sprint Cup – Sainteloc Racing. Running one car for Christopher Haase and Mike Parisy, as well as another one for Romain Monti and another driver yet to be confirmed.
Continuing on the theme of new teams to the championship, the only Porsche 911 GT3R on the grid will see Team-aworkx battle for Pro-Am Cup honours with Sebastian Asch and Dietmar Ulrich.
Elsewhere in the Pro-Am Cup, Attempto Racing will enter one of its three Lamborghini Huracan GT3s for Jack Falla and Davide Valsecchi. The other two are Pro entries for Max van Splunteren and Jeroen Mul, as well as Daniel Zampieri and Patric Niederhauser.
Also entering three Huracans is the go-to Lamborghini team GRT Grasser Racing Team with a very capable sextet of drivers: Jeroen Bleekemolen, Stefan Rosina, Luca Stolz, Michele Beretta, Nicolas Pohler and Mirko Bortolotti no doubt being the prime squad to beat WRT in the teams’ championship.
The Am Cup also sees a Huracan entered for new team X-Bionic Racing with Cedric Leimer and Laurent Jenny behind the wheel of that entry.
Sticking on the Italian theme, and Ferrari will be the only manufacturer on the grid to be represented by two separate models as prolific GT racers AF Corse enter the Sprint Cup for the first time with a Ferrari 458 Italia for Claudio Sdanewitsch and Stephane Lemeret in the Am Cup.
The second model is the newer 488 GT3 with Kessel Racing and Rinaldi Racing entering one car apiece.
Some of the biggest shake-ups on the grid have involved British teams for the build up to this season with McLaren going from part-time representation for the 650S to two full-time entries for Garage 59 with Alvaro Parente and Rob Bell in one car and Martin Plowman and Craig Dolby in the other for what will be two very competitive entries.
Arguably though, an even bigger shuffle has occurred for those running the Bentley Continental GT3. Last year’s runner’s up in the Sprint Cup teams standings – Bentley Team HTP – have moved to the Mercedes AMG GT3 after only one season in the Crewe machine. They’ll race three AMGs while the two Bentleys will be raced by M-Sport with Steven Kane, Vincent Abril, Maxime Soulet and Andy Soucek tasked with defending British honour.
Quickly mentioning HTP, they’ll race three Mercs with Team ASKKA ASP also running three cars in the AMG’s first full year of competition.
Rounding out the German portion of the field are three BMW M6 GT3s, one for Boutsen Ginion Racing with Maxime Martin and Matias Henkola behind the wheel, and two for ROWE Racing featuring a very dependable line up of Philipp Eng and Alexander Sims in one entry and Stef Dusseldorp & Nick Catsburg in the sister machine.
Finally, having sailed through 38 cars thus far, is defending Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup champions Nissan GT Academy Team RJN who have been through a transformation of their own. The car didn’t feature in last year’s Sprint Cup with drivers like Wolfgang Riep and Gaetan Paletou who raced strongly last year not having their contracts renewed. Katsumasa Chiyo will also not make an appearance this year, having announced a campaign in Japan.
That means the Sprint Cup line up feature Alex Buncombe, Mitsunori Takaboshi, Sean Walkinshaw and Ricardo Sanchez in a two car Pro Cup entry.
The 2016 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup starts this weekend – April 9&10 – at Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli.