Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya will play host to the concluding 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 contest will complete this year’s schedule, marking a return to long-distance action for the first time since the 70th edition Total 24 Hours of Spa (28/29 July).
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.
PRO: MARCIELLO BIDDING FOR TITLE TREBLE, BATTLE ROYALE FOR ENDURANCE CUP CROWN
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 fairly 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.
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.
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, 10 outfits 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 main title contenders are expected to shine, a fifth winner from as many races could prevail at the Spanish venue.
PRO-AM: OVERALL TITLE DECIDED, GAME ON FOR ENDURANCE CUP GLORY
The Pro-Am category promises to deliver just as much excitement as the Pro class at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, though the championship situation is not quite as complicated as in the top tier.
The overall titles have already been decided in favour of Sainteloc Racing, which holds an insurmountable lead over Kessel Racing in the teams’ standings. The duo of Markus Winkelhock and Nyls Stievenart have already clinched the overall Pro-Am drivers’ crown as well, adding to the Sprint Cup title they secured at the Nürburgring.
That leaves only the Endurance Cup championships to be finalised. In the drivers’ standings, Nick Leventis, Chris Buncombe and Lewis Williamson hold top spot ahead of the finale with 87 points. The Strakka Racing crew have built their title assault on consistency, having scored podium finishes at Silverstone and the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Though they have not yet stood on the top step, the Strakka trio have a useful cushion of 13 points over their closest challengers, Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin, who will be joined by Lorenzo Bontempelli in their #51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GT3.
Trailing the AF Corse duo by just one point are Total 24 Hours of Spa class winners Alexander Mattschull and Rinat Salikhov. They will also pilot a Ferrari 488, run by the Rinaldi Racing squad, and will be joined by Luca Ludwig for the season-closing event.
In the teams’ standings, AF Corse hold the advantage on 92 points, though that places the accomplished Italian outfit just five clear of Strakka Racing. As such, both teams will be confident of securing class glory in Spain.
SILVER CUP: CLOSE CONTESTS FOR OVERALL AND ENDURANCE HONOURS
The battle to be crowned Silver Cup drivers’ champion is the closest overall battle heading into the Barcelona weekend. Sprint Cup champions Jack Manchester and Nico Bastian (#90 Akka ASP Team Mercedes-AMG) lead the way on 142.5, but the immensely experienced Hubert Haupt (#6 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG) is within striking distance on 138.
Manchester and Bastian could be celebrating a double title success if they add the overall crown to the Sprint championship they captured at the Hungaroring. On the other hand, so could Haupt, who is firmly in contention for the Endurance title.
The German driver and his crewmates in the #6 Mercedes-AMG, Abdulaziz Al Faisal and Gabriele Piana, hold a lead of 15 points over Michele Beretta, Martin Kodric and Sandy Mitchell (#78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini Huracan), who came within a few tenths of class victory at the Total 24 Hours of Spa.
Just one point behind is the #54 Emil Frey Jaguar crew of Alex Fontana, Mikael Grenier and Adrian Zaugg, which has shown itself to be the quickest Silver Cup package over a single lap by scoring class pole at every race in 2018.
But the Black Falcon squad has combined pace with consistency, giving it the advantage ahead of the finale. For their two rivals, victory is likely to be essential if they are to overhaul the leaders.
AM CUP: BARWELL AND GARAGE 59 SET FOR FINAL SHOWDOWN
There will be a winner-takes-all showdown in the Am Cup category, with the overall and Endurance standings identical heading into the final round.
In the drivers’ championship, Adrian Amstuz and Leo Machitski lead the way on 99 points. The Barwell Motorsport duo were part of the crew that took class honours at the Total 24 Hours of Spa by a dominant five laps, and added bonus points for leading at the six and 12-hour marks.
This allowed them to pull away from the Garage 59 trio of Alexander West, Chris Harris and Chris Goodwin, who enter the finale on 82 points. The British squad’s McLaren 650 S won the two events prior to Spa, but fell out of contention at the 24 Hours.
Nevertheless, the #188 McLaren line-up knows how to win races and will be bullish about ending the season with another victory. Should they take maximum points in Spain, the Barwell crew will need to finish fifth or higher to secure the title.
The teams’ standings are very similar. Barwell leads the way on 99 points, with Garage 59 their closest contenders on 85. Rinaldi Racing holds a mathematical chance of drawing level with Barwell, but would need to score maximum points while the British squad took zero.
The weekend will begin with a one-hour Bronze test at 15.55 on Friday afternoon, while Saturday sees free practice (09.00) and pre-qualifying (16.45) take place at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. A busy Sunday will conclude the 2018 season, with qualifying set for a 09.00 start and the green flag dropping on the championship-deciding race 15.00.
What’s more, a packed support schedule will see Blancpain GT Sports Club, FFSA French GT Championship - GT4 France, Porsche Carrera Cup France and the Peugeot 308 Racing Cup adding to the on-track action. Combined with the main event, it promises to be a highly entertaining weekend for fans in the grandstands and watching at home as the 2018 completes its final chapter.