The annual trip to Italy's Adriatic coast represents the second of five doubleheader rounds for the sprint-format championship and the fifth event on the full Blancpain GT Series schedule. A near-capacity field of GT3 cars will test their mettle on the 4.2km layout, which poses an interesting technical test for teams and drivers alike.
The Misano contest follows a dramatic Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe opener at Brands Hatch. Race one saw Nico Bastian and Thomas Neubauer (#89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG) become the first Silver Cup crew to secure outright honours in Blancpain GT Series history, while Black Falcon duo Luca Stolz and Maro Engel prevailed in the second run to complete a Mercedes-AMG sweep.
There is little to suggest a dominant brand at Misano, with Ferrari, Audi and Mercedes-AMG all having secured overall victory at the track. Last year saw a clean sweep for Belgian Audi Club Team WRT duo Christopher Mies and Alex Riberas, but both contests were closely fought and saw Lamborghini and Mercedes-AMG represented on the podium. Another ultra-competitive weekend of sprint racing is in prospect as Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe prepares to resume battle.
Pro contest too close to call
Following its double victory last year, WRT should once again be a leading contender for the top step in 2019. The Baudour-based outfit will field an all-Belgian Pro crew at Misano, with rapid youngsters Dries Vanthoor and Charles Weerts handling the #2 Audi R8 LMS.
Among the team's leading contenders, a pair of Lamborghini outfits will hope to give the Bologna-based brand a weekend to remember on home soil. Orange1 FFF Racing has begun 2019 in fine style, with Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli (#563 Lamborghini Huracan) currently leading the overall Blancpain GT Series standings. Grasser Racing is also no stranger to success at this level, with the #63 crew of Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart among the best sprint racers in the business.
While it is the all-Italian pairing of Caldarelli-Mapelli that leads the overall standings, an all-German crew heads the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe championship. Luca Stolz and Maro Engel showed excellent form in their #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG to take race two honours at Brands Hatch and should be in contention once again at Misano. Mercedes-AMG is further represented by AKKA ASP, whose #88 crew of Raffaele Marciello and Vincent Abril will hope to turn around a difficult start to 2019 with a strong performance in Italy.
R-Motorsport will add the new Aston Martin Vantage AMR to the field, with Ricky Collard and Marvin Kirchoefer at the wheel of the #76 machine. The Swiss team has shown increasingly strong pace at recent Endurance Cup events and will now go in search of its first podium of the 2019 campaign.
Further entries representing the Audi brand complete the Pro class. At Sainteloc Racing, the #25 car will feature the established line-up of Christopher Haase and Simon Gachet, while the sister #26 Audi R8 LMS sees Markus Winkelhock partner Steven Palette.
The line-up for series returnee Phoenix Racing features a similar blend of youth and experience. The #11 will see youngster Finlay Hutchinson team up with the accomplished Frederic Vervisch, while Kim-Luis Schramm and Frank Stippler will handle the #5 machine.
At Attempto Racing, the #55 crew of Steijn Schothorst and Nick Foster travel to Misano following a podium finish at Brands Hatch, as well as strong individual showings during the Endurance Cup campaign. Kelvin van der Linde and Clemens Schmid were also in excellent form at the opening Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe event and will hope for more of the same in their #66 machine.
Finally, a one-off entry by Audi Sport Italia will see Andrea Fontana team up with the experienced Pierre Kaffer aboard the #7 R8 LMS. The local effort completes a hugely competitive Pro field for the Misano event, with each crew capable of at least contending for a place on the overall podium.
Misano attracts strong grids for Silver, Pro-Am and Am classes
Following a landmark triumph for the #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG at Brands Hatch, the leading Silver Cup runners must now be considered a legitimate threat for the overall win. They are led by the crew of Bastian and Neubauer, who swept both races at the opener to firmly establish themselves at the top of the Silver standings.
Their leading opposition could come from within the AKKA ASP camp, with the #90 machine of Timur Bogulavskiy and Fabian Schiller having showed well at Brands Hatch. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will field an impressive two-car line-up, while the #56 Attempto Racing Audi of Milan Dontje and Mattia Drudi should also be a serious threat for victory.
The #62 R-Motorsport Aston Martin showed potential at Brands Hatch, but in contrast the #555 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini endured a frustrating weekend as a significant accident ended its efforts early. Both crews will hope to show their capabilities against a strong Silver Cup contingent.
An equally competitive Pro-Am battle is in prospect at Misano. Five cars representing five brands will contend for class honours, with each looking to be a potential race-winner.
At Brands Hatch, the victories were shared between the #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari and the #519 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini, both of which will be strong contenders once again in Italy.
The #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG crew also showed well and arrive at the event in fine form following a class win at the Circuit Paul Ricard 1000kms. As part of a planned driver rotation strategy, Mauro Ricci steps into the Mercedes-AMG alongside Jim Pla, with Jean-Luc Beaubelique set to return next time out at Zandvoort.
While these crews left Brands Hatch with silverware, the British event did not run smoothly for the #53 AF Corse Ferrari squad, nor the #24 Sainteloc Audi crew. Nevertheless, both feature strong driver line-ups and have the potential to rebound at Misano.
Finally, the Am Cup category will see two crews battle for class honours in Italy. Indeed, it will be a duel between local brands Ferrari and Lamborghini, with HB Racing flying the flag for the Maranello marque and Boutsen Ginion representing the Bologna brand.
Significant support action for first of two Total 24 Hours of Spa warm-up events
The battle to clinch the inaugural Blancpain GT World Challenge title currently sees Mercedes-AMG in control. The German marque has accumulated 5,375 points across the regional championships in Europe, Asia and America, with Ferrari holding 3,677 points ahead of the trip to Misano. As such, the Italian brand will hope to launch its comeback on home soil.
Qualifying for both Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe contests will begin at 13.15 on Saturday, with one-hour races taking place at 19.00 on Saturday evening and on Sunday at 14.00. These will be the headline act for a particularly busy event, with support action coming from GT4 European Series, Blancpain GT Sports Club and Lamborghini Super Troefo.
Significantly, the event falls one month before the Total 24 Hours of Spa (25-28 July), which the majority of the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe field will also contest. With ever-increasing standards of competition, it is often said that Spa has developed into a 24-hour sprint race. With that being the case, a weekend of high-octane action at Misano should act as the prefect preparation for the season's marquee event.