On Wednesday evening SRO Motorsports Group Founder & CEO, Stephane Ratel, unveiled the entry lists for this season’s opening rounds. It soon became clear that the 2016 Blancpain GT Series will be one for the history books. It gave everybody extra motivation to make the most of the two official test days at Circuit Paul Ricard, especially those competing with new cars this season and drivers making their Blancpain GT Series debuts.
There was plenty to look out for then while the majority of teams focused on racking up mileage. Setting fast lap times during the four sessions (14 hours of track time in total) was not really the priority, but the fastest time of the opening day - a 1'57.077 set by the #44 Oman Racing Aston Martin - was quite impressive. On Thursday morning Laurens Vanthoor in the #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT R8 LMS went even faster, lapping the 5.7km track in the South of France in 1'56.724. But in the final hour of the afternoon session the #78 Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini, in the hands of Marco Mapelli, laid down the reference time of the two days; his 1'56.602 would have put the car on pole for last year's round of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup.
The new cars for this season - BMW M6 GT3, Mercedes-AMG GT3 and Porsche 911 GT3-R - proved to be very competitive, regularly clocking times inside the top-10 and even the top-five. The new Ferrari 488 GT3 was not present in the South of France, but its predecessor (the 458 Italia GT3) is still pretty fast, judging by its times across both test days.
Some teams also took the opportunity to try out drivers who might fill the last of their vacancies, so expect some important announcements in the near future. Now it's time to put the final touches to the car liveries, load the trucks and head to Misano for the opening round of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series on April 8-10.
Darryl O'Young (#91 Zakspeed Mercedes-AMG GT3): "It's been a while since I've competed in an SRO organised series, but we've been in contact ever since. I've always wanted to race in the Blancpain GT Series; it has such a high level of racing. To be able to do it with a historic racing team like Zakspeed makes me very happy. I still have to familiarise myself with the car, but it looks great!"
Vincent Abril (#7 Bentley Team M-Sport): "It is a different feeling being a works driver! Part of what I like about it is all the other activities next to racing, like promotional events and such. It really makes me feel that I'm part of it, and that's fantastic, especially at my age. The fact that there is now more emphasis on the overall championship is great, especially since the season is now evenly split between endurance and sprint races. And, if you look down the pitlane at the teams and drivers that are competing this season, it will certainly make for a great year."
Alexander Sims (#99 ROWE Racing BMW M6 GT3): "I have contested the Total 24 Hours of Spa a couple of times now, and I am happy to do a full Blancpain GT Series season this year. For GT cars, this is the place to be. It is a highly competitive series, and the mix of Pro, Pro-Am and Am cars makes it even more interesting. There are some pretty good drivers in the Pro-Am category as well. I know that our BMW is brand-new, but we also know the potential of our car. If we can get through the first couple of races with some decent results, we might be fighting for the title at the end of the season."
2016 Blancpain GT Series Calendar
08th-10th April Misano (ITA) – Sprint
23rd-24th April Monza (ITA) – Endurance 3 hours
07-08th May Brands Hatch (GBR) – Sprint
14th-15th May Silverstone (GBR) – Endurance 3 hours
24th-25th June Circuit Paul Ricard (FRA) – Endurance 1000kms
01st-03th July Nürburgring (DEU) – Sprint
05th July Official Test Day Total 24 Hours of Spa (BEL)
28th-31st July Total 24 Hours of Spa (BEL) – Endurance 24 hours
26th-28th August Budapest (HUN) - Sprint
17th-18th September Nürburgring (DEU) – Endurance 3 hours
01st-02nd October Barcelona (ESP) - Sprint
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