2013 track action got underway in the Blancpain Endurance Series today with 60 GT3 cars creating an almighty spectacle at the famous Autodromo Nazionale Di Monza north of Milan.
Three sessions took place today in readiness for the first round of the five-event series which has become the benchmark in global GT competition, regularly attracting average grids of 60 entries.
Bronze Test Session
This morning’s Bronze test session took place for bronze categorised drivers who are entered in the PRO-AM and Gentlemen’s Trophy classes. A one hour session gave the drivers an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the track and prepare as well as possible for the weekend ahead.
Last season’s PRO-AM champions Niek Hommerson and Louis Machiels carried on from where they left the category last season, at the top of the time sheets. Their familiar #50 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia beat the best Gentlemen Trophy entry of Jean-Luc Beaubelique/Jean-Luc Blanchemain and Patrice Goueslard by 0.3s.
Taking the third best time in the Bronze test session was the Haribo Racing Team and its family-friendly liveried Porsche 997 GT3 R. Hans-Guido Riegel/Mike Stursberg and Richard Westbrook are entered in the car for the first race at Monza this weekend. Riegl got valuable laps in the car during session and was delighted to be back in the cockpit for another Blancpain Endurance Series campaign.
“We have been anxious to get started for this race and it feels so nice to be back, especially in the sunshine here at Monza. The car felt nice this morning but the track was very new and green because of the rain overnight. Overall though we had a nice session and it was good for us to build on for the other sessions.”
Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying
More early spring sunshine welcomed the huge 60 car entry for today’s Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying sessions at Monza, both held over 90 minutes.
In the Free Practice session, a welcome surprise came at the top of the team sheets as Blancpain Endurance Series debutant MRS GT Racing from Germany set the best time of 1m49.454s. Its McLaren MP4-12C, driven by Philipp Eng/Rodin Younessi and Carlos Kray enjoyed a fruitful first session with Eng setting the time and delighting team owner Karsten Molitor.
Claiming second place in the session was the Swiss-based Ferrari 458 Italia of Kessel Racing driven by Stefano Gattuso/Marco Zanuttini and Thomas Kemenater. Both of the top two overall positions were taken by PRO-AM entered cars showing the strength in depth throughout the three ultra-competitive classes.
Kessel Racing made it two cars in the top three overall with its PRO Cup class Ferrari of Cesar Ramos, Davide Rigon and Daniel Zampieri hinting that the tifosi may have a lot to cheer about come race day tomorrow.
The afternoon Pre-Qualifying session had Porsche fastest with the PRO GT by Almeras Porsche 997 GT3 R of Eric Dermont and Franck Perera coming out on top. Setting the fastest time of the day at 1m49.040s, former Toyota F1 test driver, Franck Perara found a traffic lap to head the field by 0.2s.
In the Porsche’s wake was the impressive #35 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN entry. Revelling in their notable straight-line speed, Alex Buncombe set the time of 1m49.243s to inspire his GT Academy tea- mates Lucas Ordonez and new ‘gamer to racer’ Steve Doherty.
The large contingent of Russian drivers in the paddock has created its own special atmosphere at Monza and the well-drilled SMP Racing team gave a statement of intent with a fine third place in the Pre-Qualifying session. Alexey Basov/Alexander Skryabin and Alessandro Pier Giudi have gelled well as a unit with the team and they have taken enormous confidence from this afternoons session.
There were incidents aplenty at Monza this afternoon as the 60-strong pack of GT3s wound up to its optimum pace. A red flag during the Pre-Qualifying session was caused when Matt Halliday suffered an accident at the Rettifilio chicane and caused some damage to the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team.
The fastest Gentlemen Trophy class entry in the Pre-Qualifying session completed a tremendous day for the Kessel Racing team, as its #79 Ferrari 458 Italia entry of Alessandro Garofano/Beniamino Caccia/Lorenzo Bontempelli set the fastest time of the session and claimed a creditable 20th overall.
Tomorrow’s Qualifying session takes place at 10.35am followed by the race, which takes place over three hours and begins at 14.30cet.
To follow all the action live and with live timing please click here just before race start - http://www.blancpain-endurance-series.com/pages/live
For all today’s times please click here - http://www.blancpain-endurance-series.com/pages/live
Franck Perera – #34 PRO GT by Almeras Porsche 997 GT R
“For me it is my first race in Blancpain Endurance Series. I come from single-seaters where I did a lot of seasons. I had a chance to race here in 2006 so I know the track. Yet, it is very different, for sure, and there is a lot of things to learn. Moreover the cars are new, so it is not easy but I think that the whole team did an amazing job this morning so we were good for the pre-qualifying. Even if it is only pre-qualifying, it was important for the team and my teammate to be good. We are in a very positive situation but we will not underestimate our competitors. I think that Porsche did a good job during the winter, but the level is very high so there might be some fights tomorrow during the race , but for everybody today it was important to be at the top. And my teammate Eric Dermont really improved compare to last year, so it is perfect. We are confident for tomorrow, our objective is to start at the front and then do our best!
Matt Hailliday - #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMs ultra
“We don’t know what happened. The car turned right, under braking, at the end of the front straight. Obviously there are things that we are looking now to see if we can find out what the problem is… The guys have to look but it is always hard to know. It is always a tricky situation if I know what the problem was, hopefully they will find something. It was not a very nice experience… But we are quite lucky – relatively, the car is not too badly damaged. The important thing is that it is fixed for tomorrow. It should be fine, I know the damage is not too bad because we glanced the wall so it could have been a lot worse. The two important things are obviously to fix the car and trying to find what caused the problem. When something happens we are more worried about the guys not being able to get everything ready to go back on the track and the lack of track time. It was only practice today; hopefully tomorrow we will be fine and able to score some good points.