Tuesday 23 August 2011

Blancpain Endurance Series: Back to School for the Blancpain Endurance Series teams

Round 4 Magny Cours, France

23 August 2011


Back to School for the Blancpain Endurance Series teams

CLICK HERE for the provisional entry list for Round 4 of the 2011 Blancpain Endurance Series

CLICK HERE for the full Preview Newsletter in English (PDF format)

CLICK HERE for the full Preview Newsletter in French (PDF format)

After the fantastic success of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the teams and drivers taking part in the Blancpain Endurance Series were able to take a short but well-deserved summer holiday. However, the days are drawing in, and it is time for the teams and drivers to get back to work, with the fourth round of the 2011 Blancpain Endurance Series taking place at the French circuit of Magny Cours this weekend. Joining the 38-car grid will be new boys McLaren GT – already seen at Spa – and Nissan, making its racing debut in the GT3 category in the hands of JR Motorsports. This event, free to the public, will feature a Saturday evening race, with the cars driving into the sunset.

The Blancpain Endurance Series’ first race in France, at the former Grand Prix circuit of Magny-Cours, should provide some fascinating racing around the 4.4km circuit, with everything still to play for in the various driver title battles.

In the GT3 Pro Cup, a superb haul of 46.5 points at the Total 24 Hours of Spa propelled Greg Franchi to the top of the points table, 14.5 points ahead of Belgian Audi Club Team WRT team mates Bert Longin, Filipe Albuquerqe and Stephane Ortelli. Franchi, who raced in the 24-hour event with Blancpain Endurance Series debutants Matthias Ekstrom and Timo Scheider, steered the nr33 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS to victory, claiming the 25 points on offer. The trio were in second place behind the nr99 Team Phoenix Audi after 6 hours and were leading after 12 hours, to add an extra 21.5 points to their weekend total. The victory also gave Audi their first overall win at the 24 Hours of Spa in the 87-year history of the event.

Round 1 winners, Paolo Ruberti, Gianluca Roda and Raffaele Gianmaria had a disappointing weekend in Spa, crashing at the halfway point of the race and failing to pick up any points from the event.

Round 2 winner Frank Kechele kept his championship aspirations alive by taking 20 points over the weekend in the nr29 Vita4One Ferrari 458; he finished 5th overall alongside Matteo Bobbi and Giacomo Petrobelli. Fellow round 2 winners Michael Bartels and Nico Verdonck moved category for Spa, therefore scoring points in the Pro-Am category. However, they will be looking to propel Frank Kechele further towards the top of the leader board in Magny Cours.

The McLaren GT will be making its second Blancpain appearance at the French round, with Andrew Kirkaldy, Oliver Turvey and Alvaro Parente hoping for better luck than in Belgium, where Kirkaldy ended the race in the wall after a collision with a GT4 back marker. Another new car will be making its first competitive appearance when the JRM team will be unveiling the Nissan GT-R GT3 at Magny Cours. The British team, which runs the Nissan GT-R in the FIA GT1 World Championship, will confirm the drivers nearer to the event.

The Hexis AMR team will be hoping for success at their home race, where the former FIA GT3 European Champions will once again be fielding two Aston Martin DBRS9s.

The Blancpain Reiter Lamborghini will be looking for a good result in the Blancpain Endurance Series as double FIA GT3 race winners Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Niki Meyr-Melnhof are joined by Eugenio Amos.

Spa should have been a better hunting ground for the Marc VDS Racing Team BMW Z4; the team claimed pole position for their home race but were subsequently thwarted by technical issues. Maxime Martin, Bas Leinders and Markus Paltalla will be looking to bring the BMW home with a good haul of points in France. The Ford GT fared better in Spa, securing championship points for the team.

The nr10 SOFREV ASP Ferrari scored some points in the first half of the Spa 24 Hours but then became one of the casualties of this highly demanding race. However the team were successful in the Pro-Am Cup, with the nr20 Ferrari taking the chequered flag to win the class in 6th overall.

The Pro-Am Cup class was just as keenly contested as the Pro Cup, remaining open until well into the race. The SOFREV ASP drivers Franck Morel, Jean-Luc Beaubelique and Ludovic Badey now hold a 12.5 point advantage over the nr2 Vita4One Ferrari pairing of Niek Hommerson and Louis Machiels, who will be rejoined by Paul van Splunteren in France after the Dutch driver switched to the Prospeed Competition team for Spa.

Marc A Hayek and Peter Kox won the opening round in Monza, finishing 4th overall, but the Blancpain-Reiter Lamborghini suffered mechanical problems in Spain and in Spa, where the engine expired in spectacular fashion, and the pair have slipped back to 9th in the title race. They will be hoping for better luck at Magny Cours.

The nr 50 AF Corse Ferrari 458 finished 3rd in class at Spa behind Blancpain Endurance Series first timers David Jones, Godfrey Jones and Mike Jordan. The podium finish helped Matt Griffin and Jack Gerber to move up to 7th in the Pro-Am Cup driver’s table. The French SMG team will be joining the Pro-Am cup grid for the first time, with former French Formula Ford and French Carrera Cup Champion Philippe Gache joining Eric Clement behind the wheel of the Porsche 997.

The 13-car entry for the Pro-Am Class at Magny Cours includes five Ferraris ( 4 x 458 and 1 x 430), three Lamborghinis, three Porsches, an Aston Martin and one of the new McLaren GTs.

After missing Spa, the leader in the GT3 Gentlemen Cup, George Cabannes returns to compete in his home race. The double race winner will be joined in the Ruffier Racing Lamborghini by Gregory Guilvert, his team-mate for his Monza win, and Fabien Michal, the driver who shared victory in Navarra. Lionel Comole had a bitter-sweet experience at Spa, the Frenchman failed to finish his first- ever Spa 24 Hours in the Sport Garage Ferrari 430 but he did raise 23,500 Euros for the Arthritis charity. Comole will be once again be teaming up with Phillip Shearer and Amandine Foulard at Magny Cours.

In the Cup Class championship leader Sergio Negroni will be teamed with Luigi Emiliani and Marco Cassera in the De Lorenzi Racing Porsche who he won the races in Monza and Navarra with. They will face stiff opposition from Spa 24 Hours Class winner Thierry Stepec in the RMS Porsche.

The RJN Motorsport Nissan 370 Z of Alex Buncombe, Jordan Tresson and Chris Ward were triumphant in Spa, beating the Lotus Sport Italia Evora of Round 1 race winners Edoardo Piscapo, Greg Mansell and Leo Mansell after the engine in the Lotus let go on its way to the GT4 win at the Belgian track.

Round 2 winners Lorenz Frey, Rolf Maritz and Fredy Barth did not race in Spa and return looking for their second win of 2011 in the Lotus Driving Academy Evora.

The weekend will feature two 60-minute Free Practice sessions, three 15-minute qualifying sessions, one for each driver, with the fastest time determining the grid for the 180-minute race on Saturday evening, racing into the sunset. The three hour race will include two mandatory pit stops, with tyre and driver change. Points will be awarded using the FIA system in each class, with the winners receiving 25 points, second 18 points, down to 1 point for 10th place.

All the latest information can be found at www.blancpain-endurance-series.com where visitors can also watch the races, which will be streamed live on Saturday evening.

Marc A. Hayek

CEO and President of Blancpain

nr24 Blancpain-Reiter Lamborghini

The participation of Blancpain as title sponsor of the Blancpain Endurance Series marks a turning point in the history that links the manufacture and motorsport. This new championship marks a return to the roots of endurance racing. To take part in the 24 Hours of Spa is far from an insignificant moment for our brand, which has been taking part in GT racing for a number of years already.

"I have mixed feelings about the 24 Hours of Spa. As the CEO of Blancpain, this event has been a great success, but as a driver, it was disappointing not to take the chequered flag. Despite a promising fourth place overall during qualifying, an engine problem after three hours of racing forced me to retire from the race. Now, our team will concentrate on the two remaining races of this season, and we are already preparing for the 2012 edition of the 24-hour race at Spa!

"Blancpain is proud to have taken part in this event, which brought the GT3 and GT4 categories to the forefront of endurance racing, with around 60 cars entered, and over 60,000 spectators over the weekend. We were able to let many guests discover the fascinating world of endurance racing, and the public were able to discover the universe and savoir-faire of our company. "


Greg Franchi

Nr33 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS

“It’s a very quick track. We have a lot of quick corners. There are two main chicanes which are vital as they are where you set the time. In the second corner, the long one, you need a very stable car, because after that there is a long straight which determines a lot. The Audi always runs very well there. At least in the French Championship it was very quick. It’s a good omen for the Blancpain, especially as I’m first with an 18 point lead after the 24 hours of Spa. It’s looking good. There are two races remaining and I have quite a good lead, which I hope I can keep. It’s exceptional.”

Matt Griffin

Nr50 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia

“I think Magny Cours will suit the Ferrari. I love it as a circuit, as a driver, it’s very challenging. It’s a great place to drive around. I think that the Ferrari’s strong points are in long radius corners, and Magny Cours has a lot of them and a quick change of direction as well. It struggles a bit in pure straight line grunt, and Magny Cours isn’t all about that, so I think it will suit the Ferrari.

“Spa was incredible. The Spa 24hrs as a race is my favourite race in the world. To me, it’s even better than Le Mans because, as a GT driver, it’s the top race. To finish it is one thing, but to get on the podium was incredible. Because we had lots and lots of drama throughout the hours, as I’m sure most of the other teams do, and it’s a real battle, mentally, physically and also on the car. One of the things that makes Spa special, but also so difficult, is that you always get a mixture of weather conditions, which we had through the whole lot. It was a really exciting race. We started off by leading the first hour or two, then we had a couple of issues, but we managed to climb back up through it to finish on the podium. It was fantastic. I think that GT3 cars, on the whole, have not been built from the ground up to do 24 hour races. But then on the other side, you look at the teams running the cars, we were with AF Corse, but there’s also Vita4one, the WRT Audi team, proper experienced teams, experienced in running world class 24hr races. From that point of view, maybe the classification was not built to do 24 hour races, or wasn’t set up for it, but the teams doing it are very experienced in it, so they make the cars up to the task. It’s excellent. This is the third time I’m doing the Spa 24 Hours, and this has been the best year for sure. The grid, the difference in manufacturers, it was just excellent.”

Markus Paltalla

nr40 Marc VDS Racing Team BMW Z4 GT3

“I was in the Ford GT at Spa, but I will be in the BMW now, so for me, I’m really happy to get a chance to drive it. I’m looking forward to feeling it for the first time, I’ve never been in the car yet, so I can’t say much about the car, but the pole position in Spa is telling that there is some potential in the car’s performance, and the second place went to Need for Speed, so they’ve shown that the car is reliable. Unfortunately the VDS car was out after the first couple of hours, but I think it will be good. It should be a good car. We’ve already had good races with the Ford, some issues; we have made it to the podium, but we had a flat tyre which cost us some time. In Navarra we were heading for another podium, but we had an upright problem, and lost a lot of time in the garage. We scored points in all the races now, and I think the BMW will give us a chance to fight for the top places. Let’s see.

“I’ve done a few French GT races in Magny Cours, and a few others. I think it’s a cool track, I like it. The night race will be interesting. I don’t even know how dark it gets at that time. But racing in the dark is cool; it gives it an extra touch.”

Bert Longin

Nr32 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS

“I’m really looking forward to the race in Magny Cours, we really need to push very hard for the Championship, as Filipe (Albuquerque), Stephane (Ortelli) and myself wont to take the first Blancpain title. Stephane has taken pole position the last two times he raced in an Audi at Magny Cours, so we are very hopeful of being competitive here.

“Of course I enjoyed Spa because it’s my home race. We were in a very highly professional structure with WRT and Audi Motorsport and we had a good weekend. Even though we missed a podium finish, we took some good points which will help us to our goal of winning the title – we will continue to push, push, push!”

Jeff Carter

Press Delegate

Photo: © ©V-IMAGES/Decancq

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