Two days of intense testing at the Paul Ricard circuit in the South of France have brought the teams of the Blancpain GT Series an important step closer to the start of the season, now less than a month away. Although two newcomers - the M-Sport Bentley Continental GT3 (1:56.584) and the Reiter Engineering Camaro GT3 (1:57.173) - set the quickest times on the first and second day respectively, the small gaps in lap times made it quickly clear that both the Blancpain Endurance Series and the Blancpain Sprint Series will produce some thrilling races this year.
Among the teams for the Blancpain Sprint Series the Belgian Audi Club WRT of reigning champion Laurens Vanthoor and the Blancpain Racing Lamborghini made the best impression, both clocking times well inside the top 10. Especially for Marc A. Hayek, president and CEO of Blancpain, and his regular team-mate Peter Kox, who last year drove the Blancpain Racing Lamborghini Gallardo in the Endurance Series, this was a welcome boost on the eve of their season in the Blancpain Sprint Series.
Meanwhile the Paul Ricard-based JMB Racing Team announced its entry for the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series. The French squad will bring a Nissan GTR Nismo GT3 to the starting grid, the first Nissan confirmed for the Blancpain Sprint Series. The Japanese car will be driven by two talented youngsters, Frenchman Mathieu Jaminet (19) and Israeli Alon Day (22). Their entry proves the success of the Silver Cup, reserved for Silver drivers aged 25 and under, which is clearly becoming a pole of attraction for young drivers wanting to make a name for themselves. During the test days the ROAL pairing of Stefano Colombo and David Fumanelli showed that their BMW Z4 will be a force to be reckoned with in the Silver Cup battle.
Other entries in the Blancpain Sprint Series show the high level of the new series. Not only Alex Zanardi, but also Nelson Piquet jr. - another former Formula 1-driver, who is a potential new driver for the Blancpain Sprint Series - made his debut at the wheel of the AH Team Brazil BMW Z4. The 28-year old Brazilian showed a lot of speed during his morning stint of the second day, before his team-mate Bueno hit the wall, ending their day prematurely.
There were former Formula One drivers aplenty in Paul Ricard, as Italian Giorgio Pantano was also donning his helmet to give the Bhaitech McLaren MP4-12C a go. Pantano, also a former GP2 champion, was just one of many drivers who came to Paul Ricard to try out one of the 47 cars present at the official test days.
Teams are finalizing their line-ups for the upcoming season and the coming days should see a number of interesting announcements.
Nelson Piquet jr. (driver AH Team Brazil – Blancpain Sprint Series): “The Blancpain Sprint Series are clearly a high-end championship, with good cars and even better drivers. When my friends of the AH Team Brazil asked me if I would like to join them for these test days, I was glad to comply.”
Alex Zanardi (driver ROAL Motorsport - Blancpain Sprint Series): “I cannot wait for the season to start. I enjoyed these two days a lot. Things were going really well, at the point that I tend to get too eager and forget that I haven’t been in a racing car for four years. The lap times were more than encouraging and every lap I get to know the car better and better. These two days were a great opportunity to get acquainted with the car, the tyres and the track. I am really looking forward to the first races in Nogaro.”
Vincent Vosse (Team manager Belgian Audi Club Team WRT – Blancpain Sprint and Endurance Series): “It is difficult to make any conclusions after these two days, because every team played its cards close to its chest. I think the first conclusion can be made on the Sunday of the Monza race, but that conclusion may be completely different one week later, after the races in Nogaro. We ourselves managed to go through our complete program and gave every driver – both those from the Blancpain Endurance Series and those competing in the Blancpain Sprint Series – a chance to drive one of our cars. It is always possible to do more, but I think we are ready for the season to start.”
2014 Blancpain GT Series Calendar:
April 11–13 : Monza, Italy (endurance)
April 18–21 : Coupes de Pâques, Nogaro, France (sprint)
May 17–18 : Brands Hatch, Great Britain (sprint)
May 23–25 : Silverstone, Great Britain (endurance)
June 27-28 : Paul Ricard, France (endurance)
July 4–6 : Zandvoort , the Netherlands (sprint)
July 23–27 : Total 24 Hours of Spa, Belgium (endurance)
August 22–24 : Slovakia Ring, Slovakia* (sprint)
September 5–7 : Algarve, Portugal (sprint)
September 19–21 : Nürburgring 1000, Germany (endurance)
October 17–19 : Zolder, Belgium (sprint)
November 1–2 : Baku World Challenge, Azerbaijan ** (sprint)
* Subject to FIA circuit homologation
** Subject to event promoter agreement