With blue skies, bright sunshine and temperatures around 28 degrees, Circuit Paul Ricard had donned its best dress for the Blancpain Endurance Series 1000, third round of the 2015 series. 61 cars hurtled down the straight towards the first corner and even though polesitter Mirko Bortolotti was surprised by two Bentleys in the opening lap, the #63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini driver quickly regained first spot and kept it all through the first two stints.
But the competition was never far behind. In the third hour of the race, Alex Buncombe in the #23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R Nismo passed the #63 Lamborghini, now with Giovanni Venturini at the wheel. When the Lamborghini incurred a drive-through penalty for a pitlane infringement, it dropped several places and eventually finished in sixth.
Together with team-mates Wolfgang Reip and Katsumasa Chiyo, Alex Buncombe extended the advantage of the Nissan to almost 25 seconds, but the intervention of the safety car - after the #49 AF Corse Ferrari had hit the barriers - bunched up the whole field.
What followed proved to be a most exciting race right up to the chequered flag, with the #23 Nissan being chased by the #7 Bentley M-Sport Continental, the #46 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4 and the #99 Rowe Racing Mercedes. After five hours and 50 minutes of racing, the gap between leader Alex Buncombe and Steven Kane was a mere 1.6 seconds. However, shortly afterwards, the Bentley driver pushed the car over its limits and spun. Even though the Continental grazed the barrier, Kane was - just - able to hold on to second spot, but the win was now firmly in the hands of the Nissan trio. In only their third race in the Pro category, Alex Buncombe, Wolfgang Reip and Katsumasa Chiyo scored their maiden win, with the #7 Bentley M-Sport and the #46 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4 completing the podium.
In Pro-Am, the other GT Academy Team RJN Nissan was fighting for the class win as well, battling hard with the #12 TDS Racing BMW and the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari. But minutes after the TDS Racing car had to retire after contact with another car, technical problems for the #22 Nissan meant the end of their race as well. This left the #11 Ferrari in the Pro-Am lead, and Michael Lyons managed to bring the car home in fifth overall, despite having lost all radio contact with the pit wall. The #18 Black Falcon Mercedes, which had led briefly, took second, with the #51 AF Corse Ferrari claiming the final spot on the podium and a top-10 finish overall, by passing the #70 GT Russian Team Mercedes in the closing stages of the race.
Starting from pole position, Rino Mastronardi was the first leader in the Am Cup, at the wheel of the #25 Glorax Racing Ferrari. He was soon under pressure from the Sport Garage and Akka-ASP Ferrari colleagues, but during the final hour it became clear that the duel between the Glorax Racing Ferrari and the #78 Team Russia by Barwell BMW would decide the outcome of the race. A slow puncture for Fabio Mancini in the Ferrari meant that the BMW closed the gap, but Mancini still managed to cross the line in front, with an advantage of only 0.6 of second after six hours of racing.
Alex Buncombe (#23 Nissan GT Academy Team RJN GT-R Nismo): "We've been trying to get an overall win for quite a while now, and it's great to be able to do it here at the six hours. We had a pretty perfect weekend, with smooth pitstops as well. Chiyo-san put some stunning laps in during his second stint and even though it was pretty close at the end, this is a fantastic result."
Steven Kane (#7 Bentley M-Sport Continental): "There were a few moments during my final stint, I have to admit. It was very close, but I made a small mistake. We weren't close enough at the very end, but it's good to get second and important points for the championship. Guy and Andy drove brilliant stints and I have to thank the whole team, they gave us a great car."
Lucas Luhr (#46 BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS Z4): "It was a very good race for us. Our mechanics did an awesome job in replacing the engine. The spare one only arrived on Saturday morning and they worked really hard to get the car ready in time. We had to start from pitlane after that, but the least we could do was to thank the boys with a podium finish. We came here to prepare ourselves for Spa, and I think we did quite well."
Michal Broniszewski (#11 Kessel Racing Ferrari): "I was very lucky to avoid the incidents during the opening lap. Since the beginning of the season we have shown that we are strong, but we need a little bit of luck to get a good result, especially in a field of 60 cars."
Fabio Mancini (#25 Glorax Racing Ferrari): "My big problem during the final laps was that I had a slow puncture. I was not aware of the problem at the time, I just felt a lot of oversteer. I put the traction control on 10, but I still struggled a lot. I am very happy that I could keep the BMW behind and I have to thank my teammates and the whole team for this excellent result."
Moscow 3-5 July (Sprint)
Total 24 Hours of Spa 21 - 26 July (Endurance)
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Blancpain - Innovation is our Tradition
Founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, the watch brand bearing his name is the oldest in the world. Blancpain is currently engaged to the renewal of mechanical watchmaking and to passing on exceptional expertise from one generation to the next through constant investment in human resources, production facilities and research. This approach is its strength and the expression of our long-term vision, even though it goes against the tide of a certain tendency to seek immediate profit. From the creation of components through to watch design, Blancpain is distinguished by its ability to develop exceptional movements. Over the past ten years, the Manufacture has indeed developed no less than 35 new calibres.
Through its various models, Blancpain preserves its heritage of precision and elegance, while also displaying an innovative and occasionally provocative spirit. Its range encompasses the sportive L-evolution line, the legendary Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch, as well as the classic Villeret collection, the high complication from Le Brassus collection and the Women models.
Pirelli – Official Tyre Supplier
Pirelli is a tyre manufacturer and world leader in the automotive industry. It has an exclusive relationship with over 50 racing series worldwide, including Formula One.
Pirelli has a long and illustrious history in endurance racing, and has also claimed a huge variety of class wins in GT racing all over the world. The design of the new Pirelli GT tyres meets the needs of GT racing while maintaining the performance characteristics that endurance drivers have appreciated in the past.The slick tyres used for GT racing are branded Zero: just like the slicks that have become a central feature of Formula One. The name P Zero is used in the highest categories of motorsport such as GT racing.
SRO Motorsports Group - The architect of modern GT Racing
SRO Motorsports Group was founded by Stephane Ratel and has specialised in the promotion, support and organisation of many national and international motorsport series since 1995.
In 2015, SRO promotes several championships and series, such as the Blancpain GT Series (with the Blancpain Sprint Series and the Blancpain Endurance Series, including the iconic Total 24 hours of Spa), the Avon Tyres British GT Championship and the newly-created GT Sports Club and Ultracar Sports Club. SRO Motorsports Group has various franchise agreements, including the GT4 European Series.
SRO Motorsports Group runs also the SRO Race Centre by MMC, a high-level technical centre at the Paul Ricard Circuit in the south of France.
SRO has offices in London, Paris and Liège.