Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km – not just a dress rehearsal
Exactly 39 days separate us from the start of the 69th edition of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the blue riband event of the 2017 Blancpain GT Series. Teams and drivers are in full preparation for the Belgian endurance classic, and the upcoming Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km fits ideally into their schedules.
Some teams have changed their line-ups considerably, as part of the build-up to Spa. Among them are Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and Team WRT. The #1 car makes its first appearance in the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup this year and with former Spa winner René Rast, Nico Müller and Antonio Garcia at the wheel, it immediately becomes one of the favourites for the win. The #2 Audi also has a new line-up, with Christopher Mies, Connor De Philippi and Fred Vervisch sharing the car. The usual drivers of that car - Benoît Tréluyer, Nathanaël Berthon and Stéphane Richelmi – now team up in the #6 Team WRT Audi.
Another new Audi R8 LMS is entered by Saintéloc Racing: their #25 R8 has former Spa winner Markus Winkelhock and former Blancpain Endurance champion Christopher Haase at the wheel. Czech team ISR Racing adds an R8 LMS as well, also with a strong line-up, in the form of Jamie Green, Kelvin van der Linde and Frank Stippler.
The Circuit Paul Ricard round of the 2017 season also sees the endurance debut of the Lamborghini Reiter Gallardo of Reiter Young Stars Caitlin Wood and Marko Helistekangas. They will enjoy the company of experienced former F1-driver Tomas Enge.
The frontrunners of this year’s championship, the Lamborghini squad of Grasser Racing Team and the Mercedes-AMG boys of HTP Motorsport, have not altered their line-up. The former, particularly, have no reason to, since their #63 squad – Andrea Caldarelli, Christian Engelhart and Mirko Bortolotti – have won both the 2017 endurance races to date. After their disappointing weekend at the recent sprint event in Zolder, they are certainly aiming for a decent point score, in order to keep their lead in the overall driver standings.
With the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km offering more points for a win – 33 for the winner, 24 for the second placed drivers, 19, 15, 12, 9, 6, 4, 2 and 1 point for the remaining cars in the top 10 – the third endurance round of the season is of major importance for all teams aiming for the title, whether it be the teams’ or drivers’, overall or in each of the Cups.
In order to improve their chances of being at the sharp end, some of the Pro-Am Cup teams have added cars to their line-up as well. Black Falcon enters the #18 Mercedes-AMG for Gabriele Piana, Abdulaziz Al Faisal and Hubert Haupt, Blancpain newcomer BBT prepares the #37 Ferrari 488 GT3 for Blancpain GT Series Asia race winners Anthony Liu and Davide Rizzo and top GT-driver Toni Vilander, while the #42 Strakka Motorsport McLaren switches back to the Pro-Am Cup because of Craig Fleming replacing Alvaro Parente (driving in the Pirelli World Challenge this weekend) as Nick Leventis and Lewis Williamson’s team-mate.
They will take on Pro-Am Cup frontrunners Alexander Mattschull and Daniel Keilwitz (joined by Rinat Salikhov on the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari), Michael Broniszewski (sharing the #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari with Andrea Rizzoli and Matteo Cressoni) and AKKA-ASP duo Jules Gounon and Jean-Luc Beaubelique (with Nico Bastian on the #87 Mercedes-AMG). The French team already showed its performance at the French track earlier this season, clocking the fastest lap time during the pre-season test days.
In the Am Cup Zolder Sprint winner David Perel is aiming to extend his lead in the driver standings. The South African, also on the podium at the previous endurance round in Silverstone, again shares the #888 Kessel Racing Ferrari with Jacques Duyver and Marco Zanuttini. The latter won the Am Cup at last year’s Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km., then sharing the car with Vadim Gitlin and Liam Talbot.
The 6-hour race starts on Saturday evening 18.00 CEST, and finishes at midnight. The meeting, which continues on Sunday, also sees races of the exciting Lamborghini Super Trofeo and the Blancpain GT Sports Club and no fewer than six sessions for the unique Ultracars and impressive GT1 machines of the Blancpain GT1 Ultracar Sports Club.