The 2019 season marked the beginning of a new era. For the first time, Blancpain GT World Challenge combined the results from sprint-format series in Europe, Asia and America to crown a global customer racing champion, with Mercedes-AMG ultimately collecting the inaugural title.
Each continental series also retained its own identity. In the European championship, seven brands were represented during 2019: Aston Martin, Audi, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lexus, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche. Audi was the best-represented at each event, though it was Lamborghini and Mercedes-AMG that enjoyed the most success across the campaign.
In total, 71 drivers from six continents competed in the series this term. 43 of them ran in every race, 13 contested a single round, while the remaining 15 undertook partial schedules consisting of two events or more. Those are the headline numbers, but we've dug deeper into the statistics to wrap up the campaign. This is the final word on the 2019 Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe season.
The numbers that mattered in 2019
The championship played out over five double-header weekends, with each of the season's 10 races lasting for one hour. By the time the chequered flag fell for the final time at the Hungaroring a total of 341 laps had been completed, with six crews managing to go the full distance.
Three of these were competing for overall honours: the #4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG, the #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini and the #76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin. From the Silver Cup class, the #56 Attempto Racing Audi and the #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG completed the full set. Finally – and perhaps most impressively – the Pro-Am title-winning #519 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini also managed to go the distance.
The most noteworthy absentee from that list is the #563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini, which produced the overall Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe drivers’ champions. The car retired early in the very first race at Brands Hatch but completed every lap thereafter. Its total of 311 laps places the crew 14th for the season, but with the amount of silverware Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli collected this term they probably won't be too disappointed about that.
With the exception of its early DNF the #563 Lamborghini was ultra-consistent and did not need to win the most races to clinch the title. In fact, this was the sixth time in seven seasons that the pairing with the most victories did not take the overall crown. Raffaele Marciello and Vincent Abril triumphed on three occasions in their #88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG, but an equal number of pointless races left them third in the final standings.
The eventual champions were next on the wins list, with Caldarelli and Mapelli registering a brace of victories this term. Five other crews also took top spot, giving us seven race-winning crews in total. This ties the highest number seen in the series, with seven crews also having triumphed during the 2016 campaign.
When it comes to podiums the #563 Lamborghini boys were on top form this year. Their total of six could not be beaten, though it was equalled by the #63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini duo of Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart. The 2017 overall champions did not take a win in 2019 but were ultra-consistent and helped to ensure that Lambo was represented on the overall podium in all 10 races. In total, 10 different crews stood on the podium this term, with Dries Vanthoor doing so alongside two different teammates (Charles Weerts at Misano, Ezequiel Perez Companc at Zandvoort).
The 2019 season saw several famous firsts. Indeed, the opening race witnessed a notable breakthrough as Thomas Neubauer and Nico Bastian triumphed in their #89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG entry. This represented the first overall victory for a Silver Cup entrant in Blancpain GT Series history, while at just 19 years of age Neubauer joined Dries Vanthoor as a teenage race-winner.
That club gained a third member at Misano, where 18-year-old Charles Weerts became the youngest overall race winner in Blancpain GT Series history. Ironically, the man whose record he broke was Vanthoor, who shared his #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT car that day. Weerts was also the first driver born in the 21st century to take overall victory.
All of this might make it seem as though the kids are taking over, but here's some hope for more experienced drivers. At the age of 32, Marco Mapelli became the oldest overall Sprint champion since Stephane Ortelli in 2013. Though he comes with no shortage of experience, this was the season in which Mapelli really established himself at the top of the sport. His contribution to FFF's title was significant, not least in terms of the composure he showed in the heat of battle.
Though Lamborghini was dominant, the brand did not capture the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe teams' title. That trophy went to AKKA ASP after the French squad picked up four overall wins in the series, three for its #88 Mercedes-AMG and one for the sister #89 car.
This leads to another interesting note: 2019 was the first season in which Belgian Audi Club Team WRT did not take the overall teams' title. There were several podiums and a race victory at Misano, while Dries Vanthoor was arguably the outright fastest driver in the series (we'll return to that later). Indeed, WRT did not have a bad campaign, but having previously achieved so much their standards are set higher than most. There is every reason to believe that the team will be back challenging for titles in 2020.
GT racing is rarely about being the outright fastest driver: teamwork and consistency are generally more important that pure speed. Nevertheless, racing drivers rely on their pace – and there's not a competitor on the grid who'll pass up an opportunity to prove how quick they are.
The sprint-format series gives us an opportunity to judge individual qualifying results across a season. Each driver contests one session per weekend where they alone must set the lap that decides their grid position. Getting that right each time at a variety of circuits is a major achievement.
This year's king of quali was Mirko Bortolotti (#63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini), whose average starting position was 2.6. This was achieved by securing a top-five spot at every race: Bortolotti was second at Brands Hatch, fifth at Misano, second at Zandvoort, took pole at the Nürburgring and was third at the Hungaroring. Luca Stolz (#4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG) had the second-best average this season, followed by Raffaele Marciello (#88 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG).
There were a few other notable qualifying stars. Dries Vanthoor was sixth, but his average was severely affected by qualifying 22nd at the Brands Hatch opener after heavy rain prevented him from setting a representative time. Aside from that Dries took pole at the Nürburgring, two seconds and a third. Had he been in the top-five at Brands – as was likely without the rain – he may well have beaten Bortolotti to top spot.
The majority of the top-10 are established stars, but Ricky Collard (#76 R-Motorsport Aston Martin) deserves a mention for securing the ninth-best average of the season. The 23-year-old was regularly at the sharp end in qualifying and eventually secured a maiden series victory at the Nürburgring.
The best Silver Cup entrant was Nico Bastian (#89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG). He was 10th overall and comfortably the best of his class, having not qualified lower than ninth all season. Jim Pla was the top Pro-Am runner with an average of 10.4, while the best bronze-graded competitor was Rinat Salikhov, whose average qualifying position of 21.6 even put the Russian ahead of two silver-graded drivers.
Once again, our overall champions are noticeable absentees from this list. Indeed, Caldarelli and Mapelli managed their two wins this season despite not taking a single pole and recording a combined average qualifying position of seventh. It's not the first time this has happened, however: Maxi Götz also won the 2014 title for the HTP Mercedes squad without starting from pole position.
This confirms that outright speed is not everything, and that consistency is a crucial foundation of every title bid. The statistics tell us that Caldarelli and Mapelli were not dominant in terms of qualifying or race wins this year, but at the end of the season only one statistic matters: the points standings.