Blancpain GT series poised for another close season, despite Huracán drivers’ early pace
Austria’s Grasser Lamborghini team is on a roll in the Blancpain GT Series (BGTS). Victory in the Silverstone round of the championship’s Endurance Cup segment in May was its fourth win in a row in 2017.
Grasser began its run at the opening enduro of the season, the Monza 3 Hours at the end of April, with a dominant victory for the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 shared by factory drivers Mirko Bortolotti, Christian Engelhart and Andrea Caldarelli. It followed up with a pair of victories in the two one-hour sprint races at Brands Hatch with the same #63 car shared by Bortolotti and Engelhart.
Victory number four was a close-run thing at Silverstone. The winning margin at Monza had been 30sec; this time the Bortolotti/Engelhart/Caldarelli Huracán crossed the line just three tenths to the good.
The six-second advantage that Bortolotti had built up during the opening stint was wiped out by a safety car at the end of the first hour. Caldarelli and then Engelhart would battle hard with a pair of Mercedes-AMG GT3s for the remainder of the three hours.
Grasser and Lamborghini appear to have a handle on the latest Pirelli tyre specification introduced for the BGTS this season. Also significant is a switch to a high-profile front tyre that has turned the Huracán into a car that’s quick over one lap but also consistent over a stint.
SPENGLER JOINS THE PARTY
Former DTM champion Bruno Spengler is the latest in a line of high-profile drivers to be called up for the Spa 24 Hours, showpiece round of the BGTS. The Canadian, DTM king in 2012, has been brought into Rowe Racing’s line-up to drive one of its factory-supported BMW M6 GT3s in the Belgian enduro on July 29/30.
Spengler began a four-race stint with the team at Silverstone and will complete the remainder of the endurance events with the team as part of a sports car programme that also encompassed the Nürburgring 24 Hours at the end of May and selected long-distance rounds of the IMSA SportsCar Championship with the Rahal team in North America.
“It’s going to be a busy and interesting year for me,” said Spengler. “I get to compete in the 24-hour races at the Nürburgring and Spa for the first time and I’ll be doing 18 races in total.
“It’s good to have another programme, but I’m not finished with the DTM. I’m only 33.”
DRIVING STANDARDS CLAMPDOWN
A new zero-tolerance policy on driver contact was introduced at Silverstone, following a spate of accidents during the opening rounds of the BGTS. The clampdown on driving infringements resulted in no fewer than 17 penalties over the course of the race.
“The series has become too aggressive,” said series boss Stéphane Ratel, also the architect of the GT3 category. “GT cars are not touring cars; they are way too expensive to play at touring car racing.
“From now on any contact will result in a penalty and the severity will be graduated according to the consequences of the contact. If you hit a car and it goes off the track and comes back on, you get a drive-through, but if it hits the wall, you get a stop-go.”
PORSCHE BACK TO SPA?
Porsche could make a return to the Spa 24 Hours with a factory-supported car, or at least that’s Stéphane Ratel’s hope.
Ratel explained that the German manufacturer is evaluating support for a team running a 911 RSR and loaning out a trio of factory drivers for the big race. It would be the first time that Porsche has mounted a works campaign at Spa since 2013.
“Last year we had 63 cars and 10 different manufacturers on the grid, and people were asking how we could improve,” he said. “My response was that I wanted factory-supported cars from Ferrari and Porsche. We have Ferrari [with an AF Corse-run entry with a driver roster including Giancarlo Fisichella], so now I want Porsche.
“I know that they are looking. What I don’t know is which team it would be or whether it would be with one or two cars.”
BENTLEY ROCKS ON
Bentley drivers Seb Morris and Rick Parfitt Jr have made a strong start in their bid to improve on their third-place finish in last year’s British GT Championship. The duo followed up on fourth and fifth positions in the opening meeting at Oulton Park with a victory at Rockingham aboard their Team Parker Racing Continental GT3.
Morris and Parfitt Jr came out on top in a controversial two-hour race on the Rockingham ‘roval’ at the end of April. They finished second on the road behind the Spirit of Race Ferrari 488 GT3 shared by Matt Griffin and Duncan Cameron, but were handed victory when the Ferrari was given a post-race penalty after it had been erroneously waved past the safety car.
The factory M-Sport Bentley squad notched up a podium in the opening BGTS round, the Sprint Cup event at Misano. Steven Kane and Vincent Abril finished second in the full-points main race after finishing fourth in the qualifying event.
The British squad, which has developed the Continental for racing, notched up top-six finishes with Andy Soucek, Maxime Soulet and Vincent Abril in the opening two BGTS enduros. They finished fifth at Silverstone in May after jumping from 22nd position into the top six during the first round of routine stops.
Former Caterham Formula 1 academy driver Weiron Tan kicked off his sports car career with a top-six finish in the China GT Championship round at Goldenport in May. The Malaysian driver and Andrew Kim came back to take fifth place aboard their Absolute-run Continental after an early spin.