EVENT PREVIEW: New FIA GT3 Season Gets Underway in Portugal
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. The 2011 season gets underway here in Portugal with two 60-minute races on the 4.7km circuit on the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve.
The FIA GT3 European Championship is for the latest generation of sportscar; with few modifications allowed from the road-going models, their performance is balanced using the techniques developed and proven in FIA GT and its successor the FIA GT1 World Championship. Each model should be represented by a minimum of 2 cars and a maximum of 6 cars, entered by two car teams.
Last year, in the penultimate round of the 2010 season, a titanic battle ensued in Portugal between the Callaway Competition Corvette of Daniel Keilwitz and Christian Hohenadel and the Prospeed Competition Porsche of Marco Holzer and Paul Van Splunteren, with the Porsche finishing ahead of the Corvette in the first race only for the roles to be reversed in the second. As a result Hohenadel and Keilwitz secured the 2010 FIA GT3 European Drivers Championship, while a good result at the final races for Holzer and Van Splunteren in Zolder secured the Team Championship for Prospeed.
Eight manufacturers will be represented on the grid in 2011, including the new Mercedes-Benz SLS and Ferrari 458, with cars from Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Ford, Lamborghini and Porsche.
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 Portugal, the only team to be racing the race winning Porsche.
Race winner Mike Parisy will return in 2011 with French outfit Graff Racing, but will swap the Corvette Z06R for the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG GT3. In total six of the new cars 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, with Zak Brown and Matt Bell securing their first FIA GT3 podium in Portugal last season. 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.
Two teams will run the new Ferrari 458 Italia, including former FIA GT2 Champions AF Corse. The Italian team will run 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.
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.
The Need for Speed Schubert Motorsport team 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. The second BMW team is the Dutch Faster Racing by DB Motorsport team, who will feature an all Dutch driver line up including GT1 driver Nicky Catsburg.
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 will run a pair of Lamborghini Gallardo LP560 with reigning ADAC GT Masters Champion and FIA GT3 race winner Albert von Thurn und Taxis being joined by Austrian driver Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof in 2011.
Points will be awarded to the top 10 drivers in each race with 25 points for the winner down to 1 point for 10th, the same as the FIA GT1 World Championship. In a change for 2011 success ballast, which has been a feature of the FIA GT3 European Championship since 2009, has been replaced with Compensation Times. Instead of the top three cars and drivers being awarded +20kg, +15kg and +10kg in each race, they will receive a time of +15 seconds for 1st place, +10 seconds for second place and +5 seconds for 3rd, which will be added to the minimum pit stop duration set for the following race in the Championship.
There will be live television coverage of every round of the FIA GT3 European Championship in many parts of the world, with a full rundown of the TV channels on the official championship website, www.gt3europe.com, where the races will also be streamed live and the latest championship news, results and other information will be available immediately after each race.