As Blancpain GT teams begin to arrive in the warm sunshine of the Adriatic coast of Italy, ahead of this weekend’s Sprint Cup races, we take a look at the Silver Cup and Pro Am entries in the first of our previews.
The Silver Cup class will enjoy an expanded field this weekend, in which eight cars will fight for the top spot.
The reigning Sprint Cup champion and current points leader Stuart Leonard will be on Silver Cup duty at Misano. Driving the #17 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT entry, Leonard will have regular Endurance Cup teammate Sheldon van der Linde in his squad. The young South African is set to make his first Sprint outing of the year and completes a formidable line-up in the #17 machine.
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will be represented by a second Silver Cup entry at Misano, with the #3 Audi R8 LMS returning to the fray with a brand-new driver line-up. Belgian racer Adrien De Leener returns to the Blancpain GT Series following a two-year absence, having most recently contested the Total 24 Hours of Spa for the WRT squad back in 2016. Alongside him will be 18-year-old Swiss rookie Ricardo Feller, who makes his series debut for the Belgian outfit.
At this season’s Endurance Cup rounds, the Silver Cup benchmark was set by the Emil Frey Jaguar crew. The #54 machine will make its first Sprint Cup appearance of 2018 at Misano, with Alex Fontana and Michael Grenier taking the wheel of the venerable G3 Jaguar and hoping to display the same kind of pace as they have in the Endurance Cup races.
Consistent podium finishes have sent the AKKA ASP Team to the top of the Silver Cup standings, and the #90 Mercedes-AMG crew of Jack Manchester and Nico Bastian will be targeting more of the same at Misano. As ever, the AKKA squad will also run the #35 SMP Racing backed machine for the Russian pairing of Vladimir Atoev and Aleksey Korneev.
Team Parker Racing will field their #31 Bentley Continental GT3 for Josh Caygill and Aron Taylor-Smith, who scored their maiden class win last time out at Brands Hatch, while French squad 3Y Technology will campaign their BMW M6 GT3 for Lukas Moraes and Andrew Watson. The latter is back in a BMW for Sprint Cup duty following an impressive Endurance Cup display at Circuit Paul Ricard with the Garage 59 McLaren squad.
The Audi Sport Slovakia squad completes an extremely competitive Silver Cup field with their R8 LMS. Jirko and Christian Malcharek will pilot the #21 machine, making their first appearance as a father-son duo in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup.
Pro Am Class
In the Pro Am class, TP 12-Kessel Racing have won three out of four Sprint Cup races this year thanks to Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo Van Dam. Combining speed with consistency, the #39 Ferrari F488 GT3 should once again prove to be a formidable opponent at Misano.
Their challenge will come from another strong line-up, with Audi stalwart Markus Winkelhock partnering French youngster Nyls Stievenart aboard the #26 Sainteloc Racing R8 LMS. The pair will be hoping to repeat their breakout result at Brands Hatch, where they finally toppled Bhirombhakdi and Van Dam to secure a maiden class win.
On-track action at Misano begins on Friday, with free practice sessions taking place at 1620 CET and 2010 CET. Drivers will undertake to qualify for both races on Saturday, with the sessions running back-to-back from 1350 CET.
Saturday’s race will get underway at 1940 CET, while Sunday’s contest is scheduled to begin at 1400 CET. Both will last for 60 minutes for equal championship points.
With little over a month remaining before the 70th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the meeting takes on added significance by providing teams and drivers with a final chance to flex their competitive muscles before the most significant event in the series calendar.