24/06/2011 PREVIEW: FIA GT3s First Navarra Run
2011 marks the sixth year of the FIA GT3 European Championship which has continued to attract teams and drivers from across the world resulting in large grids and action packed racing. While this is the second visit to Navarra for the FIA GT1 World Championship this is the first time the FIA GT3 European Championship has travelled to northern Spain. However many of the teams and drivers would’ve raced in the recent Blancpain Endurance Series event held in May.
After wins for BMW and Audi in Portugal, it was Ferrari which made it three different manufacturers in three races to win an FIA GT3 race this season with. Francesco Castellacci took the chequered flag at the end of Round 3 of the FIA GT3 European Championship at Silverstone to give former FIA GT2 Champions AF Corse their first FIA GT3 victory. Federico Leo led from the start from Pole Position and built up a comfortable lead before handing over to Castellacci, who brought the Ferrari 458 home.
In the second race of the weekend it BMW back in charge and a 1-2 for the all Dutch Faster Racing DB Motorsport team with Hoevert Vos taking the chequered flag in the nr35 BMW Z4 after passing his teammate, Harrie Kolen in the nr36 BMW Z4, on the last lap of the race. The victory propelled Vos and Jeroen den Boer to the top of the Drivers Championship, five points ahead of Round 1 winners Edward Sandstroem and Abdulaziz Al Faisal in the Need for Speed Team Schubert BMW Z4. Strong performances in all four races so far by both Need for Speed BMWs has enabled the German team to maintain an 8 point lead over their Dutch rivals in the Team's Championship.
CLICK HERE for Championship Positions after Round 4
For 2011 the Prospeed Competition Porsche 911 GT3 R returns with 2011 GT3 Vice Champion Paul van Splunteren returning, partnered by Belgian driver Maxime Soulet in the car carrying, as reigning Team Champions, the all important ‘number 1’ on the door panels. Prospeed will be running a second car in Spain, the only team to be racing the championship winning Porsche.
Need for Speed Team Schubert returns for a second season with the race winning BMW Z4 GT3, with an almost unchanged driver line up. Claudia Huertgen and Csaba Walter made GT3 history last year by becoming the first car to win with Dunlop tyres at Jarama in Spain, with Huertgen also becoming the first female driver to win an FIA GT3 race. The second car features race winner Edward Sandstroem, who will be joined by Saudi Arabian driver Abdulaziz Al Faisal, who became the first driver from the Middle East to win an FIA GT3 European Championship race in Portugal. Strong performances by both cars has given Need for Speed Team Schubert an 8-point lead in the Team Championship over Faster Racing by DB Motorsport.
Race winner Mike Parisy will return in 2011 with French outfit Graff Racing, but has swapped the Corvette Z06R for the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3. PArisy, and co-driver Philippe Giaque secured a podium finish in Round 3 at Silverstone. In total six of the new Mercedes are entered for the season with a second entry from Graff Racing alongside a pair of cars for Gravity Charouz Racing from the Czech Republic and German team Heico Motorsport.
United Autosports return with their pair of Audi R8 LMS. The line up has one change from last year with Mark Patterson being joined by GT4 European Cup Champion Joe Osborne in the nr22 Audi. Sainteloc Racing also return for another season with the Audi R8 and Belgian Audi Club have also entered a pair of cars, one for the Belgian pairing of Enzo Ide and Greg Franchi, with which the Belgian pair won Round 2 in Portugal.
Two teams will run the new Ferrari 458 Italia, including former FIA GT2 Champions AF Corse. The Italian team is running two cars, one for Italian pairing, former British and Italian F3 racer Francesco Castellacci and Federico Leo and British GT front runners Dan Brown and Glynn Geddie. The British MTECH team is the second outfit to run the new Ferrari, with Ireland’s Matt Griffin and Britain’s Duncan Cameron in the nr20 car, which ran well at Silverstone to secure the first top 10 finish for the team in European competition.
LMP Motorsport will be the only team to run the championship winning Aston Martin DBRS9, with the French team boasting three former GT3 race winners – Dimitri Enjalbert, Gael Lesoudier and Maxime Martin, who is also a GT1 World Championship race winner. Lesoudier and Martin took two podium finishes at Silverstone and will be looking for a similar performance in Navarra from the Aston Martin.
German team Fischer Racing return with their race winning Ford GT, with Denmark’s Christoffer Nygaard and Finland’s Mikko Eskelinen looking to build on the strong performances they had together in 2010. Fellow German team Reiter Engineering is running a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560 for reigning ADAC GT Masters Champion and FIA GT3 race winner Albert von Thurn und Taxis who is joined by Austrian driver Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof in 2011.
CLICK HERE for the provisional entry list for Rounds 5 & 6
CLICK HERE for a lap of Navarra with Christoffer Nygaard