After two rounds of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series two drivers have clearly emerged as serious contenders for the overall title: the Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport duo of Franck Perera and Maxi Buhk. With the second of five Sprint Cup rounds coming up at Brands Hatch next weekend, their adversaries cannot afford to let them increase their advantage in the standings.
Victory in the Misano Qualifying Race, a win in the Misano Main Race, third in the TM Performance 3 Hours of Monza: reigning Blancpain GT Series champion Maxi Buhk and his new co-driver Franck Perera have made a near-perfect start of the season. The German-French pair already enjoys an 18-point lead in the overall standings… over their Monza co-driver on the #84 Mercedes-AMG Team HTP Motorsport car, Swede Jimmy Eriksson.
In Brands Hatch Eriksson will again team up with Buhk’s fellow 2016 champion, Dominik Baumann. The Austrian did not manage to score points in Monza, but with the circuit in Kent suiting the Mercedes-AMG GT3 cars well – resulting in two podium finishes in 2016 – Baumann might be among the frontrunners again.
Next in line to try and reduce the gap towards Perera and Buhk is Vincent Abril. The 2015 Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup champion (with Maxi Buhk!) erased last year’s bad memories by two strong Italian weekends and is – together with the championship leaders – the only driver who has scored points at each of the three occasions this year. Abril again shares the #7 Bentley Team M-Sport Continental with Steven Kane, so will certainly be among the British crowd’s favourites as well.
Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart are joint fourth in the standings and would love to add a strong sprint performance to their Monza win, but the question remains whether their #63 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini Huracan can run at the front on the 3,703 km Brands Hatch circuit. Last year the car could not finish higher than seventh in the Qualifying Race, then in the hands of Bortolotti and Nicolas Pohler.
In Brands Hatch, Perera and Buhk will not only come up against plenty of full season drivers, but a large number of sprint specialists as well. Together with co-driver Christopher Mies reigning sprint champion Enzo Ide will try to repeat their 2016 win, a victory that – according to Ide himself – was the start of his successful campaign. His Belgian Audi Club Team WRT could use the points, for the Belgian squad has had its worst start of the season in years. With five points scored in Misano and none whatsoever in Monza, the multiple Blancpain GT Series champions trail the current leaders HTP Motorsport by 43 points.
Another team looking for big points is Strakka Racing. Apart from the support of the British fans, the McLaren boys can again count on the services of reigning Pirelli World Challenge champion Alvaro Parente, sharing the #58 McLaren with Ben Barnicoat. On the #42 sister car of Strakka Racing, the still injured Nick Leventis will be replaced by David Fumanelli.
In the Pro-Am Cup things are a lot closer. Misano winners Daniel Keilwitz and Alexander Mattschull added twelve points to their tally in Monza, bringing their total up to 40. That is only two points more than reigning Pro-Am champion Michael Broniszewski, second in Monza. ‘Broni’ will again share the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari with Giacomo Piccini in Brands Hatch.
There will be a third Ferrari Pro-Am pairing in Kent, the #39 Kessel Racing TP12 488 GT3 of Carlo Van Dam and Piti Bhirombhakdi, but up against the three Prancing Horses there will also be a couple of Silver Stars. AKKA-ASP brings the strongest contingent of the Stuttgart brand, with two Mercedes-AMG GT3 – one for Beaubelique-Gounon and a second for Bourret-Belloc.
There will be more Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the Silver Cup, where HTP-duo Szymkowiak-Schiller lead the standings. Lewis Williamson and his new co-driver David Fumanelli will try to do one better than in Misano, while Caitlin Wood and Marko Helistekangas would love another podium finish with their #24 Reiter Young Stars Gallardo R-EX. However, they will have to deal with the #55 Spirit of Race Ferrari of Quaife-Case and the #67 Attempto Racing Lamborghini of Zaugg-Van Splunteren, two cars that failed to score points in Misano. Their drivers are eager to open their 2017 points tally in Brands Hatch.
In a meeting that also sees action of the Lotus Cup Europe and the close racing of the GT4 European Series Northern Cup, the Blancpain GT Series track action starts on Saturday May 6th with two free practice sessions and the qualifying session at 16.25 local time. On Sunday the Qualifying Race starts at noon, with the main race getting underway at 16.15 local time.