After an action-packed season opener for the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup at Misano a few weeks ago, the Endurance Cup gets underway this weekend at Monza with a mammoth 53 car entry.
Many of the runners turned out on the Adriatic coast a few weeks ago, but there are a number of extra teams joining the party for the three-hour blast around one of Europe’s most prestigious circuits. The Checkered Flag takes a look at some of the pressing questions before the weekend gets underway.
Can Nissan turned their form around?
A couple of years ago Nissan were the team to beat in the Endurance Cup, the GT-Rs unbeatable. However, the introduction of the new Mercedes AMG, Audi R8 and Lamborghini Huracan GT3 took the shine off Nissan’s star and they’re starting 2017 at a low ebb.
Electing to skip the Sprint Cup rounds in favour of a pure endurance campaign is a brave step for the Japanese team but they’ve recruited a team of drivers featuring rising GT stars and GT Academy winners ready to throw a cat amongst the pigeons. The #22 includes Matthew Parry, Matt Simmons and former McLaren racer Struan Moore, looking to try his hand at a different GT3 machine. The #23 features Lucas Ordonez – probably the Academy’s most successful graduate – Alex Buncombe and Katsumasa Chiyo.
They’ll be hoping to get off with a bang at a circuit which should suit the straight-up grunt of the Nissan.
Mercedes AMG will be looking to make it two in a row
Domination at Misano got tongues wagging in the corridors of teams running the three-pointed star – can they claim victory again?
HTP Motorsport will be the team with the most to lose, having won the first round with Maxi Buhk and Franck Perera joined by Jimmy Eriksson. To firm up their effort, they’ll have another two cars in the attack – the first is spearheaded by Dominik Baumann who is joined by Edward Sandstrom and Fabian Schiller. The second is a very American effort as Michael Avenatti partners Mike Skeen and Irish ace Damian Faulkner.
That said, they’ll have competition from AKKA ASP, with a familiar line-up including Felix Serralles and Felix Rosenqvist, as well as Endurance star team Black Falcon. A three-pronged attack, there is one Pro car – made up of Adam Christodolou, Yelmer Buurman and Luca Stolz – and two Pro-Am entries which should feature in the overall top ten. Drivers in those cars include Oliver Morley, Miguel Toril, and Scott Heckert.
Can manufacturers with one entry make an impact?
With ROWE Racing focussing on the Nurburgring 24 Hour qualifying race, the single BMW M6 GT3 in the field is run by VLN regulars Walkenhorst Motorsport.
They have an all-silver rated line-up in the car as Ricky Collard – the son of BMW touring car stalwart Rob – joins Nico Menzel and Jaap van Lagen in the team for its debut in the Blancpain GT Series.
Aston Martin will also be represented with just a single car as TF Sport take over the running of the Oman Racing Team Aston Martin Vantage. Ahmad Al-Harthy will once again be joined by Jonny Adam in one of just two two-driver entries, nevertheless they’ll be in with a good chance of Pro-Am honours.
Surprisingly, there is only one Porsche 911 GT3R entered as the car struggles to appeal to customers. The sole 911 is run by Herberth Motorsport in the Pro-Am class, Jurgen Haring joining Alfred and Robert Renauer to defend Stuttgart honour.
Will Audi teams pick up form at Monza?
At Misano Audi R8 runners struggled, the highest placed R8 in the main race was the Sainteloc Racing entry of Christopher Haase and Romain Monti in fifth. The next nearest was tenth.
It is fair to say then, that the four rings needs to have to up their game to get back to the level they are expected to be at. Unfortunately, the highest placed Audi last year was sixth so the German marque has it all to do in Monza.
Doing battle at the Blancpain GT Series second Italian appearance is Team WRT, Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, ISR Racing and the previously mentioned Sainteloc. The teams have assembled an all-star line-up of driver talent including Le Mans winners Marcel Fassler and Benoit Treluyer as well as rising stars Jake Dennis and Nathanael Berthon.
The season opener of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup will be covered by The Checkered Flag, with reports on all the action from Monza.