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Moonlighting: Mega Monza!

12 April 2013

At last! It’s time to get ready for the third season of the Blancpain Endurance Series, or as the lexicon knows it as, Blancpain. There aren’t many championships that are so identifiable with a sponsor so soon and ca be so readily abbreviated: the success of Blancpain sorry – the Blancpain Endurance Series, is that has attracted huge grids and great racing in a very short space of time.

And where as 12 months ago I Was writing about how strong the entry looked, I find that this year’s line up is even better. And that means we’re in for some stunning racing. The usual doom-mongers are circulating telling anyone without a life that the championship shouldn’t have pro drivers are that the Balance of Performance doesn’t work, but in reality, the Pro Cup is stringer than ever and the Gentlemen Trophy has an entry worthy of its status, far stronger than 2011 or 2012.

Predicting winners remains difficult, but to pick out a few cars, teams or drivers worth watching may be useful. There is reigning Pro Cup winner Stephane Ortelli who teams up with former single-seater racer Laurens Vanthoor who has shown his class in FIA GT (1 World) and Rene Rast who showed his a class outside a {Porsche by helping Audi to win the Spa 24 Hours last year. This is a crucial season for him as he aims to show people that, as multiple Porsche Supercup champion, he is not a one-trick pony. Indeed, the aim is to show he is quicker than, erm, the Rast of the field….

Fellow Spa 24 winner Frank Stippler joins Edward Sandström in the second car from Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, while regular pace-setter Marc VDS Racing has had a shuffle of its driving duties. Out go Mike Hezemans and Bert Longin and in comes BMW favourite Yelmer Buurman (to car 3) and impressive Dutchman Nick Catsburg in car 4, where he is joined by Markus Palttala who switches from one car to the other. We didn’t see the best of Catsburg in 2012 so it is good news that he has a chance to shine.

Hexis Racing could be hard to beat: remember how well the team went at Navarra at the end of last year? Well, it is back with Stef Dusseldorp on board along with Alvaro Parente and Alexander Sims. This could be the benchmark car and one that raises the game in the Pro Cup even more. But throw in Anthony Kumpen and Markus Winkelhock at Phoenix, where they join Enzo Ide, and the intriguing McLaren entry for Adam Carroll/Rob Bell/Nico Verdonck, and there is a lot of high-class opposition in the class. That’s before we’ve touched on Lucas Luhr and Matt Bell at JRM Motorsport amongst others…

The Pro-Am Cup is another full of promise. Emmanuel Collard in the Haribo Porsche will be a star for sure, while the ART Grand Prix McLaren loses Duncan Tappy, sadly, but gains Yann Goudy, while Adam Christodoulou forsakes McLaren for Mercedes to join Black Flacon Racing. There’s former Superstars race winner Michaela Cerutti, reigning champs Niek Hommerson and Louis Machiels and former F2 racer Phillip Eng all to be found in a fascinating entry. One to watch will be former SEAT champion turned BTCC racer Jonny Adam in Andrew Howard’s Beechdean Ice Cream-backed Aston Martin. He and Howard, a regular combo in British GT, are joined by ex-F3 racer Daniel Mackenzie and will be a team to watch.

And in the Gentlemen Trophy, the entry is better tan ever. It is headed but the SOFREV Ferrari 458 of Jean-Luc Beaubelique/Jean-Luc Blanchemain/Patrice Goueslard, but will be under threat from the sister car of team boss Jerome Policand, Oliver Morley (Pro-Am winner at the Nurburgring last year) and massively experienced Frenchman Marc Sourd. And I love the idea of Belgian lady Marlene Broggi being a Gentleman….

This whistle-stop tour of the entry list only scratches the surface of who is set to be on the grid, and don’t ignore the new tyres for 2013 as everyone runs on Pirellis. How they will stand up to the demands of Monza remains to be seen, as does fuel economy: remember, Porsche won in 2011 after stretching the fuel to 60 minutes per stint, but last year’s race was pointless to use by way of s guide as it was wet and we lost the first 35 minutes plus under the safety car. If it is dry (and I was so wet when I was there last month it surely has to be dry!) then fuel will be a factor as well.

The format for the season is similar to the past although we lose a race so we are down to five rounds, although one is a 1000 kilometre race to end the season at the Nurburgring. That in itself will make for a great event, coming on the back of the Spa 24 Hours. If you have never been to Spa, or the 24 hours there, this is the year to do it. You’ll love it.

But prior to all that is the season opener at Monza. As I type, teams are still doing deals, so the post-qualifying Moonlighting may shed a bit more light on how is quick and who is struggling. Twelve months ago we watched McLaren become red-faced as its cars crashed, self-destructed or struggled for speed. I’d wager that is a distant memory and if I had to stick my 10 Euro note on a winner….I’d go Hexis.

See how wrong I am by joining is on Sunday afternoon online or on television. It’s going to be an epic season.