• Accomplished drivers confirmed for Endurance Cup campaign
• New and returning teams announced
• 2018 calendar delivers impressive stability
With the new year well underway the countdown to the start of the 2018 Blancpain GT Series has begun. The upcoming season promises to deliver yet more close competition, featuring accomplished Pro and Am drivers in top-line GT machinery at Europe’s premier circuits.
The official test days at Paul Ricard on 13/14 March will see competitors make their first serious statements ahead of campaign, before racing gets underway with the Sprint Cup event at Zolder on 7/8 April.
With multi-class battles for the coveted GT Series titles, as well as the Endurance and Sprint Cup classifications, an exciting year lies ahead for the championship.
Accomplished drivers confirmed, new and returning teams announced
A number of teams have already revealed their full Endurance Cup line-ups, with several international stars set to be among the 2018 contenders.
In December R-Motorsport announced the formidable pairing of Maxime Martin and Nicki Thiim to drive their Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3 at all five Endurance Cup rounds, returning the British marque to the Pro class.
Martin is a highly decorated driver who clinched victory at the Total 24 Hours of Spa for BMW in 2016. The Belgian ace joins R-Motorsport this season with the target of securing another win at his legendary home track.
His new teammate and fellow Aston Martin driver Thiim has a Total 24 Hours of Spa podium finish to his name and will be looking to climb the top step in July. Like Martin the Danish driver comes with an impressive record, including an FIA World Endurance Championship GT title and a class win at the Le Mans 24 Hours.
Bentley Motorsport will put their trust in consistency. The British team announced the return of five long-standing drivers for the 2018 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup season, with Guy Smith, Steven Kane, Andy Soucek, Maxime Soulet and Vince Abril all continuing to represent the iconic marque.
They will be joined by young Frenchman Jules Gounon, who announced his arrival on the big stage last season by winning the Total 24 Hours of Spa with Audi Sport Team Saintéloc. Gounon will share a Continental GT3 with British drivers Smith and Kane, while Soucek, Soulet and Abril will form the team’s other line-up.
Porsche have also unveiled their plans for the 2018 Endurance Cup, with factory-backed outfit Manthey Racing set to tackle the five-race schedule using the Stuttgart marque’s 911 GT-R. The driver line-up is spearheaded by two-time Total 24 Hours of Spa winner Romain Dumas, who first tasted success at the race back in 2003.
He will be joined by highly regarded Porsche drivers Dirk Werner and Frédéric Makowiecki for the German marque’s first full-season factory effort in the Endurance Cup.
Strakka Racing have confirmed their participation in the 2018 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup with three new Mercedes-AMG GT3s. The British team will also tackle the Intercontinental GT Challenge, which counts the Total 24 Hours of Spa among its four global events, with drivers set to be revealed in the coming weeks.
2016 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup champions Garage 59 Racing will return in 2018 with a multi-car assault. The British outfit will field a McLaren 650S GT3 in the full Blancpain GT Series, with at least one car tackling the Pro-Am category. This follows SRO Motorsports Group’s efforts to safeguard Pro-Am line-ups by limiting all-Pro crews to 26.
Meanwhile Audi Sport has confirmed that its 2018 customer racing programme will once again support cars at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, with the marque’s full Blancpain GT Series line-up to be announced in due course. Their roster of drivers includes 2017 Sprint Cup champion Robin Frijns, 2017 Total 24 Hours of Spa winners Christopher Haase and Markus Winkelhock, as well as newcomers Dries Vanthoor and Frédéric Vervisch.
The 2018 Blancpain GT Series grid will continue to take shape over the coming weeks as further driver and team announcements are revealed.
2018 calendar delivers stability
The 2018 Blancpain GT Series calendar enjoys an impressive degree of stability, with each of the 10 circuits visited during 2017 retaining its place on this year’s schedule. Spa-Francorchamps, Monza and Silverstone remain ever-present, having been part of the inaugural Blancpain Endurance Series in 2011.
The only significant readjustment sees Zolder move from the June date it occupied last season to become the opening round of the 2018 campaign (6-8 April). Misano World Circuit heads in the opposite direction, with the Italian venue set to host its Sprint Cup event on 22-24 June.
The Total 24 Hours of Spa retains its traditional position on the calendar, with the landmark 70th running of the historic endurance event taking place from 26-29 July. The popular parade through Spa town centre on Wednesday will be followed by qualifying on Thursday and Friday’s Superpole session, with the race itself getting underway at 16:30 local time on Saturday.
As well as Zolder, the first half of the season includes visits to Monza (Endurance Cup; 21/22 April), Brands Hatch (Sprint Cup; 5/6 May), Silverstone (Endurance Cup; 19/20 May) and Paul Ricard (Endurance Cup; 1/2 June).
Following the Total 24 Hours of Spa the season will culminate with races at Hungaroring (Sprint; 30 August-2 September), Nürburgring (Endurance; 15/16 September) and Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (Sprint; 29/30 September).
Looking back on 2017
At the close of 2017, SRO Motorsports Group celebrated 25 Years of GT racing at its annual awards ceremony in Paris. Drivers and team representatives were among those in attendance as the champions of 2017 were crowned, while the quarter-century milestone was given fitting recognition.
There was further reason to celebrate when the Royal Automobile Club of Belgium (RACB) presented its annual ‘honorary award’ to SRO Motorsports Group, acknowledging the successful organisation and promotion of global GT racing.
SRO Motorsports Group also took the opportunity to thank one of racing’s most respected figures. After almost 25 years with Audi the marque’s long-time head of motorsport Dr. Wolfgang Ullrich officially retired at the conclusion of 2017. The manufacturer has enjoyed excellent results at the Total 24 Hours of Spa in recent years, with Audi machinery securing four of the past seven overall victories.
In recognition of this, as well as his immense contribution to the sport, SRO Motorsports Group presented Dr. Ullrich with a lifelong ticket for the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
The Austrian will therefore be able to support his beloved Audi cars each year as a very special guest, beginning with the 2018 edition on 26-29 July.
Full focus on 2018
With the 2018 grid set to take shape over the coming weeks, attention now turns to pre-season testing at Paul Ricard (13/14 March). The two-day visit to the French track will see drivers and teams ramp up their preparations and lay the foundations for a successful Blancpain GT Series campaign.