During the weekend of April 22nd-23rd no fewer than 53 of the best GT3 cars in the world will take part in the second round of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series, the TM Performance 3 Hours of Monza. As is the tradition, the first of the endurance races will be held at the legendary Autodromo di Monza. With more than half the field competing in the Pro category, the three-hour race promises to be quite exciting.
Is it the palpable tension that hangs in the air? The history that is hidden in every nook and cranny? Or maybe the tunnel through which you access the paddock? All of the above? All we know is that the Autodromo Nazionale Monza is a very special place. A circuit that fully deserves to host the first endurance race of the Blancpain GT Series, as it has done ever since the series was created in 2011.
No fewer than 31 cars are entered with a full Pro line-up. Familiar faces, old hands, proven machinery, new teams, the top class of the Blancpain GT Series is now stronger than ever. With the 2017 prize money raised even higher, the maximum amount is now a whopping 180.000 euro for each of the ten race weekends, meaning the drivers and teams will be extremely motivated to perform well.
None more so than the winners of the opening round of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series. Maxi Buhk and Franck Perera showed their sprint prowess at the wheel of the #84 HTP Motorsport Mercedes-AMG, a car on which they will be joined by Jimmy Eriksson. Eriksson did not do so badly in Misano either, claiming third with Dominik Baumann at the wheel of the #85 HTP machine.
Mercedes-AMG will be the best represented of the 11 manufacturers in Monza. The brand with the three-pointed-star has no fewer than 13 cars on the entry list, seven of them competing in the Pro-Am Cup. Among the drivers making their first appearance in 2017 DTM-star Edoardo Mortara stands out. The Italian will share the #90 AKKA-ASP car with his fellow countryman Raffaele Marciello and Michael Meadows. The Mercedes-AMG cars will be entered by Black Falcon, HTP Motorsport, AKKA-ASP and returnee Team Zakspeed. The latter, one of the legendary teams in the history of GT racing, will enter one car in the Pro-Am Cup and one in the Am Cup.
In that Pro-Am Cup they will find plenty of Italian machinery to compete against, as there are four Ferrari 488 GT3 (entered by AF Corse, Kessel Racing, Rinaldi Racing and Spirit of Race) and four Lamborghini Huracan GT3 (Barwell Motorsport, Attempto Racing and Raton Racing) in the category as well. The same goes for the Am Cup, with three 488 GT3 (Rinaldi Racing, Kessel Racing and AF Corse) and a single Huracan (HB Racing).
But the Italian fans will have more of their favourite machines to cheer for, with five Huracans (Ombra Racing, Grasser Racing Team, Orange 1 Team Lazarus and Attempto) and three 488’s (Spirit of Race, Kaspersky Motorsport and newcomer SMP Racing) being driven by an all-Pro line-up. With two Platinum drivers (former Grand Prix-winner Giancarlo Fisichella and James Calado) and one Gold (Marco Cioci) the #55 Kaspersky Motorsport 488 arguably has the most renowned drivers at the wheel.
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, Team WRT, ISR and Saintéloc Racing form the seven-car-strong Audi armada. With the R8 LMS not performing convincingly in Misano, where the #26 Saintéloc car of Christopher Haase and Romain Monti the highest finisher in fifth – all of these teams will be trying to rectify that situation in Monza.
The same goes for Strakka Racing. The McLaren squad fell victim to the massive pile-up in Misano’s qualifying race and only managed to get the #59 car of Andrew Watson and Rob Bell into the points. The endurance line-up of the British squad is considerably different from their sprint pairings, with reigning endurance champions Rob Bell and Côme Lédogar joined by promising youngster Ben Barnicoat in the #58 car.
Talking of former champions and promising youngsters: both can be found behind the wheel of a Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3. The #23 Motul Team RJN Nissan has a star-studded line-up of previous Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup champions at the wheel, with Alex Buncombe, Katsumasa Chiyo and Lucas Ordoñez, while the #22 Motul Team RJN Motorsport will be driven by three up and coming GT drivers: Matt Simmons, Matthew Parry and Struan Moore.
At Bentley Team M-Sport and Emil Frey Jaguar Racing experience rules, with the latter now competing with two cars in all five rounds of the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup. The Bentley Boys would love to go one better than in Misano, where Steven Kane and Vincent Abril crossed the line in second.
Newcomer Walkenhorst Motorsport is the sole BMW representative in Monza. The German squad enters one car for the all-Silver line-up of Nico Menzel, Ricky Collard and Christian Krognes. Two more manufacturers have a single car at the start in Monza, but both Aston Martin (Oman Racing Team by TF Sport) and Porsche (Herberth Motorsport) will be among the candidates for Pro-Am honours.
Obviously, there is more than the Blancpain GT Series during the TM Performance 3 Hours of Monza-race weekend. The frantic action of the Formula Renault 2.0 Eurocup will also entertain the fans, while the two races of the Lamborghini Super Trofeo will get the Italian fans’ hearts pumping even more.
Blancpain GT Series track action at the Italian Temple of Speed starts on Friday April 21st, with the Bronze Test. On Saturday teams and drivers will complete the free practice and pre-qualifying sessions, with qualifying (9.50 CEST) and the TM Performance 3 Hours of Monza (14.45 CEST) on Sunday April 23rd.