Sprint Cup title battles set to intensify at Hungaroring

31 August 2018 Sprint Cup title battles set to intensify at Hungaroring

The Blancpain GT Series resumes this weekend with a Sprint Cup double-header at the Hungaroring. Five weeks on from the Total 24 Hours of Spa – and more than two months since the previous Sprint event at Misano – the battle for class honours in Pro, Pro-Am and Silver Cup is back on the agenda. Just two rounds remain, with this weekend’s trip to Hungary followed by the deciding event at the Nurburgring (14-16 September).

The title remains up for grabs in all three categories, though clear favourites have emerged in the Pro and Silver Cup categories. Pro-Am remains too close to call, and the events of this weekend could change the dynamic in each class.

In the Pro ranks, Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas have been in fine form this season. The Belgian Audi Club Team WRT duo have two wins and a further three podium finishes from six races and have failed to register points just once this term, firmly establishing them at the top of the table.

They have accumulated 66.5 points thus far, which puts them 22 clear of their nearest challengers. Indeed, a strong weekend in Hungary could see Mies and Riberas clinch the Sprint Cup title with a round to spare.

The men best placed to prevent that happening are Raffaele Marciello and Michael Meadows. The AKKA ASP Team duo have scored points in every Sprint race this season, including three podium finishes.

They are yet to secure a win in 2018, but the Mercedes-AMG has shown well at the Hungaroring in previous years and should be a firm contender for victory once again this term.

The AKKA duo lead a tight battle for second in the standings. Reigning Sprint Cup champion Stuart Leonard (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) holds third spot, two points shy of Marciello and Meadows. Just half a point behind him are Kelvin van der Linde and Steijn Schothorst (Attempto-Audi), while Will Stevens and Dries Vanthoor (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) are another half point back.

So, while Mies and Riberas are 22 points clear at the top of the standings, just two points separate second from fifth. Indeed, any of these crews could yet mount a serious championship challenge if they hit form this weekend.

The teams’ standings are similar to the drivers’ contest. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT lead the way on 88.5 points, putting them 26 clear of AKKA ASP Team. Given the strength of its line-ups, the WRT squad looks set to clinch a sixth successive Sprint Cup title this term.

The Pro-Am drivers’ title is a much tighter affair. Piti Bhirombhakdi and Carlo van Dam swept the opening three races of the season in their Ferrari 488 GT3, suggesting that the TP 12-Kessel Racing duo might dominate the entire campaign.

But Markus Winkelhock and Nyls Stievenart (Sainteloc-Audi) have since embarked on their own three-race winning streak, bringing the gap at the top of the standings down to just six points. The teams’ battle is closer still, with Kessel leading Sainteloc by a mere 3.5 points.

Matters will be further complicated this weekend by a one-off appearance from Tristan Vautier and Kenny Habul, who will drive a Sun Energy 1 Racing Mercedes-AMG prepared by the AKKA ASP squad. They may not be in the title hunt, but Vautier and Habul could certainly affect it.

The Pro-Am field will feature one fewer car than anticipated, with the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari no longer competing at the Hungaroring. Nevertheless, a hotly-contested battle for class honours is expected.

The Silver Cup has a favourite, but it is by no means a forgone conclusion. Nico Bastian and Jack Manchester (AKKA-Mercedes) lead there way on 67.5 points, putting them a healthy 15 clear of Vladimir Atoev and Aleksey Korneev (SMP-Mercedes).

Bastian and Manchester have tended to hold the edge over their young Russian rivals in 2018, though Atoev and Korneev – whose car is also run by the formidable AKKA squad – are certainly capable of turning in a top performance.

What’s more, the Silver Cup class will also see strong one-off entries that could come between the title contenders.

Firstly, another AKKA ASP car joins the Silver Cup ranks with Nico Jamin and Denis Bulatov at the wheel. The duo also competed for Silver honours last time out at Misano, showing impressive pace on their way to victory in race two. They will undoubtedly be a major factor in Hungary.

Also joining the field are Hubert Haupt and Luca Stolz in the Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG. Both are proven performers in the Blancpain GT Series and will provide stiff competition for the class regulars this weekend. Indeed, the Silver Cup standings could be affected significantly by events in Hungary.

Preparations 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.