And so it all comes down to this; a final dash to become the 2017 Blancpain Sprint Cup Series champion. Seven driver sets are still in the running for the prize, with the main title also still to be decided.
The previous round in Budapest, Hungary saw the Audi WRT duo of Marcel Fässler and Dries Vanthoor claw their way into the title fight with expertly crafted wins in both the Qualifying and Main races, the duo’s first two wins of the season – a true demonstration of the competitiveness throughout the field this year.
Before reaching the picturesque Hungarian capital nearly three weeks’ ago, it looked for all the world that the Bentley M-Sport pairing of Vincent Abril and Steven Kane were locked in battle with GRT Lamborghini’s Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart, with very little chance of anyone else getting a peek at success.
However, a miserable weekend for the Bentley duo saw no points, and thus renders them mere outsiders for the championship – 28 points behind leaders Maxi Buhk and Frank Perera in the HTP Motorsport Mercedes AMG GT3. Only a perfect weekend with major troubles for the other six contenders will do for Abril and Kane. Unlikely to say the least…
Two podiums for Bortolotti/Engelhart leaves them still within reach of the title, three points off the top; but they have to take wary glances over their shoulders, as Vanthoor/Fässler and Stuart Leonard/Robin Frijns (both Audi) are just three points behind them. One step back, another Audi duo – Zolder winners Markus Winkelhock and Will Stevens are a further two points shy.
In the general picture, if Bortolotti and Englehart can increase their gap at the top from 18 to 27 points over their sole rival Abril, they will be crowned Blancpain GT Series champions without having to venture out of the garage at Catalunya.
Pro-Am: Prancing horses for courses
It’s very much a two-way battle for the Sprint Cup Pro-Am crown. Daniel Keilwitz and Alexander Mattschull in the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 lead with 110 points; Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo van Dam trail on 97 in the eye-catching #39 Kessel Racing Ferrari.
Both pairings have triumphed in different ways throughout the season, the latter showing more pace and promise in the Qualifying races, but Keilwitz and Mattschull have gained their advantage on Sundays.
The bookmakers’ favourites for this one is unsurprisingly the #333 entry.
The Nürburgring – the drivers track
For the first time in the series’ history, we embark on the Nürburgring for the final Sprint Cup round, having been ousted from its usual place as the final Endurance round of the season by the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona.
The only criticism you’ll find is that the drivers will have less track time this year! A mix of high speed corners that show these exotic racers in all their glory and low speed technical sections which test car balance and driver precision have cemented the Nürburgring as one of the best tracks in world motorsport.
Unlike Budapest, there are overtaking spots aplenty, namely Turn 1 – modified for that very reason in 2002 – a tight, downhill hairpin after the moderately long pit straight that climbs back up the Eifel hills on exit. Be sure to see some contact as drivers on the inside look to squeeze their rivals out onto the short tarmac run-off.
Similarly, the looping Dunlop Kurve is another area of interest – another hairpin that sees the cars dive down under braking before ascending on exit towards the fastest complex on the circuit, the left-right chicane known as the Schumacher-S.
Finally, the NG-K Shikane towards the end of the lap is the final overtaking opportunity on the circuit, a low speed left-right challenge that brings a climax to the semi-straight, the longest full-throttle section on the track.