New era for GT racing

Generous prize fund attracts quality entry
By Gary Watkins

The two series that carry the Blancpain name arrive in the UK for races at Brands Hatch and Silverstone in May, at the beginning of a new era for international GT racing.

The Blancpain Sprint Series, which takes over from the FIA GT Series, visits Brands for its second round on May 17/18, one week before the second event on the Blancpain Endurance Series schedule at Silverstone.

The two championships have been linked for 2014 under the banner of the Blancpain GT Series. Overall titles will be awarded to both the team and driver or drivers accruing the most points across the two series, with a winner-takes-all €100,000 (£82,600) prize fund going to the highest-scoring team.

The aim of series boss Stéphane Ratel is to develop the two championships, particularly the BSS, by encouraging teams to take part in both and offering further prize money of €100,000 per race in the sprint series. That carrot has yet to pay dividends: the entry for the sprints is at a similar level to last year, though the quality is arguably up.

Ratel reckons that holding station is a positive result for year one of his brave new world and is insistent that there will be growth over the course of this season and into next.

“The one thing I have learned in this business is that you need patience,” he says. “We have to evolve things progressively so that more teams will decide to do both series in the future.”

Only four teams will compete for the €100,000 by registering for both series. Three of those can be regarded as genuine contenders for the prize fund: the WRT Audi team, with a roster of drivers including 2013 FIA GT Series title winners Stéphane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor, and René Rast; the HTP Motorsport squad, whose Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG squad includes last year’s BES champion Maximilian Buhk; and the ROAL BMW team, which brings Alex Zanardi back to racing at the wheel of a Z4 GT3, which he will race alone in the two one-hour sprints at each event.

Other ex-Formula 1 drivers taking part include Nelson Piquet Jr, who will undertake selected events for the BMW Team Brazil squad, while 2008 GP2 champion and sometime Jordan driver Giorgio Pantano races for the new Bhai Tech McLaren team.

The BES entry is down from last year’s 50-plus cars a race to approximately 40, but Ratel doesn’t regard this as a problem. He believes there were too many cars in a series that has the Spa 24 Hours at its centre, and last year received complaints to that effect.

The ART Grand Prix McLaren MP4-12C of Alvaro Parente, Grégoire Demoustier and Alex Prémat won the opening 2014 event, at Monza.