PREVIEW: 2018 Blancpain GT Series – Barcelona: Pro Class


Mercedes AMG Team AKKA ASP, Mercedes AMG, GT3, #88, Raffaele Marciello, Tristan Vautier, Daniel Juncadella, Total 24 Hours of Spa Spa Francorchamps Spa Belgium © Craig Robertson
Credit: Craig Robertson

Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will play host to the final event of the 2018 Blancpain GT Series, bringing the curtain down on a thrilling season of racing that has taken competitors across Europe in pursuit of victory.

A three-hour Endurance Cup race will complete this year’s calendar, marking a return to long-distance action for the first time since the 70th edition Total 24 Hours of Spa.

No fewer than 12 titles will be decided at the Spanish track, including overall and Endurance Cup honours for both teams and drivers across four classes. With so much silverware on the line, a gripping race is in prospect.

Among the Pro drivers, there are only two possible outcomes in the overall title battle. Recently-crowned Sprint Cup champion Raffaele Marciello (#88 AKKA ASP Team Mercedes-AMG) leads the way on 146 points, while Alex Riberas and Christopher Mies (#1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) are still within range of the Italian on 127.5.

With a gap of 18.5 points to close, the WRT-Audi must finish either first or second to stand any chance of securing top spot. Marciello needs to score eight points in Spain to put the title beyond all doubt.

To support their bid, Mies and Riberas will be joined by regular Endurance Cup teammate Dries Vanthoor in the #1 Audi R8 LMS. Marciello will also be part of a strong line-up, with last year’s race winners Tristan Vautier and Daniel Juncadella completing the #88 AKKA-Mercedes crew.

Both squads could also play a crucial role in overall teams’ championship. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and AKKA ASP are separated by a single point heading into the finale, with the WRT squad holding the slender advantage.

While the race for the overall drivers’ title is relatively simple, the same cannot be said for the Endurance Cup championship.

The only similarity is Marciello, who tops the standings on 48 points and could leave Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya with all three Blancpain GT Series titles to his name – a feat that has never been achieved in the premier class.

Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, Audi R8 LMS, GT3, #1, Alex Riberas, Christopher Mies, Dries Vanthoor, Total 24 Hours of Spa Spa Francorchamps Spa Belgium © Craig Robertson
Credit: Craig Robertson

But, while Mies and Riberas are his sole opposition for the overall crown, the Endurance Cup contest is wide open following a remarkably competitive season in which no driver has scored more than one podium finish. Indeed, there is potential for Mercedes-AMG Team Strakka Racing pairing Maxi Buhk and Maxi Goetz – who enter the final weekend classified 15th – to leave as champions.

That scenario would require a stunning turnaround. It cannot be ruled out, but a more immediate threat to Marciello’s lead comes from the #4 Mercedes-AMG Team Black Falcon trio of Yelmer Buurman, Maro Engel and Luca Stolz, who travel to Barcelona just one point shy of the Italian.

Total 24 Hours winners Philipp Eng and Tom Blomqvist are just five points shy of the lead and will both drive for the ROWE Racing squad in Spain. Having shared a Walkenhorst Motorsport BMW M6 GT3 at the 24 Hours, the German marque’s factory drivers will split their title hopes at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, with Blomqvist in the #98 car and Eng in the #99.

The three-man #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT line-up are within 11 points of top spot, while fellow Audi driver Kelvin van der Linde (#66 Attempto Racing) is 12 shy of the lead following his podium finish at Spa. These are the top contenders, though in such a close field several other crews will see the potential to cause an upset.

Emil Frey Lexus Racing, Lexus RCF, GT3, #114, Stephane Ortelli, Norbert Siedler, Markus Paltalla, Total 24 Hours of Spa Spa Francorchamps Spa Belgium © Craig Robertson
Credit: Craig Robertson

In the teams’ standings, Emil Frey Racing leads a tight battle for Endurance Cup honours. The Swiss outfit will be bolstered by the welcome return of Stephane Ortelli to its #114 Lexus RC F GT3.

In theory, ten teams representing six manufacturers are in contention for the championship, with the chasing pack led by Mercedes-AMG squads AKKA ASP and Black Falcon, and top Audi contender Belgian Audi Club Team WRT. All are within seven points of Emil Frey Racing heading into the decider.

These teams will be among a 25-strong field of Pro entrants at the season-ending event, with 11 brands represented among them. While the leading title contenders are expected to shine, a fifth winner from as many races could prevail at the Spanish venue.