The Blancpain Endurance Series started its third season with two busy days of testing action at Paul Ricard this week during the official test days. 62 GT3 cars assembled in the South of France to begin preparations for the first race of the season at Monza on April 13/14. The official tests this week also featured entries for the new-look FIA GT Series.
After a long winter, warm and sunny weather at Paul Ricard provided the perfect backdrop to a huge variety of GT3 cars to size up their rivals for the forthcoming season. 13 famous brands of Grand Touring designs tested at Paul Ricard, where 16 hours of running over 2 days saw teams prepare for what promises to be the most subscribed GT3 endurance series in the world.
Topping the times on both Tuesday and Wednesday was the Boutsen-Ginion McLaren MP4-12C. The Belgian teams Pro-Class car set times of 1m58 and 1m respectively with potential new drivers Arno Santamato (FRA) and Frederic Vervisch (BEL) registering the times which dipped below last years pole position lap.
Enjoying strong performances within the top three positions during the two day test were a trio of French teams. SMG, Pro GT Almeras, both with Porsche 997 and ART Grand Prix with a McLaren MP4-12C all featured strongly. Nicolas Armindo (SMG), Frank Perrera (Pro GT Almeras) and Andy Soucek (ESP) for ART Grand Prix set the best times.
Also enjoying a strong outing at Paul Ricard was the newly named Blancpain Racing Lamborghini Gallardo of Marc A. Hayek, President & CEO of Blancpain and his regular team mate Peter Kox. The duo concentrated on preparing for the season ahead and were delighted with completing their programme with the spectacular V10 powered Lamborghini Gallardo.
Last year’s title rivals Marc VDS Racing Team and Belgian Audi Club Team WRT were also in action together this week for the first time since last years season finale at Navarra. Marc VDS Racing Team welcomed new BMW factory driver Yelmar Buurman to its ranks of Pro-drivers while Belgian Audi Club Team WRT tested potential new drivers to add to its squad of regulars for a two car attack on defending their title.
New teams and drivers also starred at Paul Ricard this week. The GT Academy Team RJN Nissan provided much interest with their team of new ‘gamers to racers’ newcomers. Nissan were well represented at the test with the JRM team returning to the series with an impressive looking team of professional drivers including Peter Dumbreck and their new signing, Steven Kane.
The teams now start final preparations for the highly anticipated first race of the 2013 season at ‘the Cathedral of Motorsport’ – Monza on April 13/14. The season then takes in a visit to Silverstone on June 1-2, Paul Ricard on 28-29 June, before the biggest race of the season at the iconic 24 Hours of Spa on 24-28 June. The season concludes with a spectacular finale at the Nürburgring 1000kms on 21-22 September.
Marc A.Hayek - #24 Blancpain Racing, Lamborghini Gallardo
“It feels great to be back in the cockpit for a fresh new season. We are here at Paul Ricard getting back up to speed after a long winter and it feels nice to be at a track once more with the Lamborghini and also seeing some many friends once again. The test was good for me and the team. We were getting lots of laps and miles in and it puts us in a good position for the race at Monza next month. I am really looking forward to the new season.”
Laurent Gaudin – Blancpain Endurance Series General Manager
“After a long break it was very pleasing to see all our friends of our loyal teams once again. We also welcomed some new teams and many new drivers to our great series. The anticipation for a superb season of racing is as high as it has ever been and with probably 55 cars at the season opening vent at Monza we can look forward to a vintage year of GT3 racing in the Blancpain Endurance Series.”
Yelmar Buurman - #3 Marc VDS Racing Team, BMW Z4
“I have been warmly welcomed in to this great team and I feel very much at home already. Paul Ricard was a very good test for me to gel with the team and with the good weather it was very useful. I have a very warm feeling with the guys in the team and I am sure we can achieve some great things with the Marc VDS Racing Team, BMW Z4 this season.”
Frederic Vervisch - #5 Boutsen-Ginion, McLaren MP4-12C
“It was my first time in GT, and it went very well with the team. I have not driven for almost two years, it is amazing, I am really happy to be here. Yesterday (Tuesday) it was my teammate (Arno)Santamato who did the best time and today it is me. I watched him drive yesterday, as he is very good, so it helped me as it is my first time in GT. And today I am doing the best time so it is better than I hoped so far.”
Stephane Ortelli - #1 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, Audi R8 LMS Ultra
“I have been missing driving in the Blancpain Endurance Series so much so it is nice to be here again with the team. We will be busy this year as we are also racing in the FIA GT Series and Nogaro will be special as we did the double there last year. The updates on the Audi R8 LMS ultra are impressive.”
Fabian Barthez - #20 SOFREV Auto Sport Promotion, Ferrari 458 Italia
“My new passion is racing and I love the sensations of endurance racing. The Ferrari is a beast of a car and I am very much looking forward to racing it at Nogaro in two weeks’ time. Today was just an opportunity to get back in to the groove and to prepare properly for Nogaro. I am impatient to get there.”
Duncan Tappy - #11 ART Grand Prix, McLaren MP4-12C
“So far it is all good for us. We have found some good consistency with the car despite struggling to find clear lap with 62 cars here. We are getting good data and good understanding with the updates on the car and the new Pirelli tyres. Working with Andy (Soucek) is great. We know each other from Superleague Formula and work well together. It has all been positive so far and it is great to be back in the cockpit of the ART Grand Prix McLaren.”
Adam Christodoulou - #18 Black Falcon, Mercedes SLS AMG
“My deal with Black Falcon is now confirmed and the testing here is very useful to get to know the team ahead of Monza. I drove the McLaren last year and also have some experience with a Ferrari, so it is going to be interesting to find the limits of the Mercedes this season. Unfortunately our running was cut short after an incident with our #18 car yesterday but we have got some useful laps in today (Wednesday). The team are obviously well proven so along with Steve (Jans) and Klaas (Hummel) we aim to challenge for the Pro-Am title this year.”
About Blancpain: Over 275 years of tradition in motion
Founded in 1735 by Jehan-Jacques Blancpain, the watch brand bearing his name is the oldest in the world. Blancpain is currently engaged to the renewal of mechanical watchmaking and to passing on exceptional expertise from one generation to the next through constant investment in human resources, production facilities and research. This approach is its strength and the expression of our long-term vision, even though it goes against the tide of a certain tendency to seek immediate profit.
From the creation of components through to watch design, Blancpain is distinguished by its ability to develop exceptional movements. Over the past seven years, the Manufacture has indeed developed no less than 26 new calibres.
Through its various models, Blancpain preserves its heritage of precision and elegance, while also displaying an innovative and occasionally provocative spirit. Its range encompasses the sportive L-evolution line, the legendary Fifty Fathoms diver’s watch, as well as the classic Villeret collection, the high complication from Le Brassus collection and the feminine Women models.
For further detailed information on the Paul Ricard test please review #TestPR on www.twitter.com/BES_GT
For downloadable images of the test please click here http://blancpain-endurance-series.com/gallery.php?season=2013&event=51