The Blancpain GT Series returns to action this weekend at the Hungaroring, just outside of the city of Budapest in Hungary.
The 2018 season is now entering its crucial final phase. No fewer than three race weekends will take place over the course of the next month, culminating in this year’s champions being crowned.
Following a thrilling 70th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the series will swap the sweeping Ardennes circuit for the Hungaroring’s twists and turns. The 4.38km track plays host to a Sprint Cup double-header, with 23 cars confirmed across three highly competitive classes.
It is the kind of circuit that suits the championship-leading Belgian Audi Club Team WRT outfit, which will field three Pro class entries as it looks to repeat the double victory it scored in 2017.
At the most recent Sprint Cup event at Misano, the team’s #1 Audi R8 LMS took a pair of wins thanks to Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas. The squad hold an advantage of 22 points in the drivers’ standings and will be among the favourites for more success.
A winner in Hungary last year, Dries Vanthoor links up with regular teammate Will Stevens in the #2 machine, while reigning Sprint Cup champion Stuart Leonard will continue his title defence alongside Robin Frijns.
There will be three further Pro class machines in the Audi camp. Spa podium finisher Kelvin van der Linde pairs up with Dutch ace Steijn Schothorst in the #66 Attempto Racing machine, while Pierre Kaffer and Pieter Schothorst handle the sister #55 Audi R8 LMS.
Sainteloc Racing is set to field its regular #25 Audi R8 LMS entry for Christopher Haase and Simon Gachet, who will look to build on the Sprint Cup podium they scored last time out at Misano.
AKKA ASP Team will lead the fight against the Audi contingent in Budapest. Following a determined drive to sixth at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, Italian ace Raffaele Marciello teams up with Sprint Cup partner Michael Meadows to pilot the #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3.
The French squad will also enter its #87 Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the Pro class. Nicolas Jamin returns to the car following a highly impressive showing at Misano, with his teammate set to be confirmed in the coming days.
Lamborghini is represented by Grasser Racing Team, which is chasing its first Blancpain GT Series victory since the season-opening event at Zolder.
The Austrian outfit will field an impressive three-car line-up in Hungary, led by the #63 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart. Ezequiel Perez Companc and Andrea Caldarelli resume their partnership in the #19 machine, while Loris Hezemans and Franck Perera continue aboard the #82.
The Pro category is completed by a pair of Lexus RC F GT3s run by Emil Frey Racing. Albert Costa and Christian Klien will handle the #14 Lexus as they look to add a Sprint win to the Endurance victory they scored at Circuit Paul Ricard.
Finally, while regular #114 driver Stephane Ortelli continues to focus on his fitness following an accident at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the team’s Endurance Cup ace Markus Paltalla will cover for the Monegasque alongside Norbert Siedler.
In addition to the 13 cars contesting the Pro category, a further 10 are split evenly between the Pro Am and Silver Cup classes.
Pro Am looks set for its most competitive Sprint Cup event of the season, with all five cars carrying the legitimate hope of fighting for top honours.
The Blancpain GT Series paddock will be pleased to welcome back Kessel Racing stalwart Michael Broniszewski, who returns from injury aboard the #11 Ferrari 488 GT3. Giacomo Piccini joins the 2016 class champion in Hungary.
If Broniszewski is to make a winning comeback, one of his most significant challenges will come from the TP 12 – Kessel Racing entry of Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo van Dam. The sister Ferrari 488 GT3 currently tops the Pro Am standings, having taken victory in the opening three Sprint Cup races of 2018.
There will be equally stiff opposition from the #26 Audi R8 LMS of Sainteloc Racing. Having ended the TP 12 crew’s run of victories, Markus Winkelhock and Nyls Stievenart are now on their own three-race winning streak and have closed to within just six points of the class lead.
The Audi Sport Slovakia squad, which showed well in its first appearance of 2018 at Misano, returns with Christian Malcharek and father Jirko at the wheel of another R8 LMS.
The Pro Am class is further bolstered by the presence of Sun Energy 1 Racing, which is set to field a Mercedes-AMG GT3 in partnership with AKKA ASP Team. A week on from their appearance at the Suzuka 10 Hours, Tristan Vautier and Kenny Habul will swap continents to tackle the Hungarian race. It will represent a first Sprint Cup outing for Habul, who began 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Liqui Moly Bathurst 12 Hour.
An additional five cars are confirmed for the Silver Cup class. The #90 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of AKKA ASP Team will look to extend its championship advantage at the Hungaroring, with Nico Bastian and Jack Manchester resuming their successful partnership.
AKKA ASP Team will field a second Silver Cup entry, under the SMP Racing banner, bringing the French squad’s contingent to five across all classes. Russian duo Vladimir Atoev and Alexey Korneev will be at the wheel of the #35 Mercedes-AMG GT3.
Regular Endurance squad Black Falcon also joins the fray with its Mercedes-AMG GT3. The German effort is making its first Sprint outing of 2018 with Hubert Haupt and Luca Stolz and will look to build on an excellent run of form in the long-distance races.
The #3 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT entry is also set to compete in Hungary, with Adrian De Leener and Ricardo Feller returning to the car following their appearance at Misano. Finally, the 3Y Technology BMW M6 GT3 will feature youngsters Andrew Watson and Lukas Moraes.
With fierce competition in each class, the Hungaroring contest promises to provide plenty of action as the Blancpain GT Series begins its breathless conclusion to the 2018 season.
There will be further on-track action from the GT4 European Series, which contests its penultimate round of the year at the Hungaroring. Blancpain GT Sports Club will join the programme to stage its fifth event of 2018, while single-seater category Formula Renault Eurocup resumes following its most recent outing as part of the Total 24 Hours of Spa support package.
Preparations for the event begin with a pair of 80-minute free practice sessions on Friday at 11:10 and 15:25 CET. Qualifying for both races takes place at 09:40 on Saturday morning, followed by the opening contest at 14:45.
The weekend’s second race gets underway at 15:30 on Sunday. From qualifying onwards, all of the action will be streamed live on the Blancpain GT Series website.