Blancpain Endurance Series Round 3 Preview

July 25, 2011

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The historic 24 Hours of Spa is one of the world’s longest running endurance events, tracing its roots back to the first race held in the Ardennes in 1924. This year the Total 24 Hours of Spa is the jewel in the crown event for the world’s newest international GT series, the Blancpain Endurance Series.  While this will only be the third race in the Blancpain Endurance Series, the races held in Monza (Italy) and Navarra (Spain) have shown the new series represents the very best in endurance racing with big grids, different brands competing on a level field, plenty of racing action, all taking place on some of the most famous circuits in Europe.

While GT3 cars have been competing at the 24 Hours of Spa in recent years, 2011 will be the first time that GT3 has been the main class. Teams and drivers running GT3 spec cars will be fighting for overall honours for the first time at this historic event held at the world famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in the magnificent setting of the Ardennes forest.

Sixty three cars are due to line up for the 2011 Total 24 Hours of Spa at 4pm on Saturday 30th July.  Eighteen cars are entered in the Pro Cup, with current Blancpain Endurance Series leaders Paolo Ruberti, Gianluca Roda and Raffaele Gianmaria competing against some tough opposition in the AutOrlando Sport Porsche 997.  Bert Longin, Filipe Albuquerque and Stephane Ortelli are currently second in the title race, with two podium finishes in Italy and Spain and the Team WRT Audi will be looking go one better at the team’s home race.  Round 2 winners Frank Kechele and Nico Verdonck are joined by Matteo Bobbi in the nr1 Vita4One Ferrari 458. 

Aston Martin, BMW, Ford, Lamborghini and Mercedes are also represented in the Pro Cup and will be joined by the new McLaren GT, which will be making its first international race appearance with Andrew Kirkaldy, Oliver Turvey and Alvaro Parente in one of the cars. 

As well as Audi Sport Team WRT, Belgian race fans will also have the Marc VDS Racing Team and Prospeed Competition to cheer on in the Pro Cup.  Marc VDS are running one Ford GT and one BMW Z4, which has proven very successful in the FIA GT3 European Championship.  Belgian FIA GT1 World Championship regulars Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin will be joined by Marc VDS teammate Marc Hennerici in the nr40 BMW.  Prospeed travel to their home race on the back of an FIA GT3 victory at Paul Ricard with race winner Max Soulet being joined Jan Heylen and Marc Goossens.

The Pro-Am Cup represents the largest entry with 29 GT3 cars entered for the race.  Gianluca De Lorenzi and Alessandro Bonetti will be looking to extend their GT3 Pro-Am Cup lead in the De Lorenzi Racing Porsche 997 but they are only 5 points ahead in the standings of Paul van Splunteren in the Prospeed Competition Porsche.  The selection of racing machinery is even wider than on the Pro Cup grid with Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Corvette, Ferrari, Ford, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes and Porsche all represented.  Famous names include Johnny Herbert, Olivier Panis, Stefan Johansson, Mark Blundell and Eddie Cheever. 

The nr92 Marc VDS Racing Ford Mustang includes two of the most success drivers at the 24 Hours of Spa – four times winner Jean-Michel Martin and three times winner Marc Duez.  Race One winners Marc A Hayek and Peter Kox, who won the 24 Hours of Spa in 1995, will be joined by Jos Menten, who is also a previous Spa 24 winner in 2009, in the Blancpain-Reiter Lamborghini.

Six cars are represented in the Gentlemen Trophy class with Aston Martin, Dodge, Ferrari and Ford battling it out for class honours.  The Cup Class has swelled from one car in Navarra to five Porsche 997 Cup entries, giving Navarra winner Sergio Negroni and his teammates some competition for the class trophy.

The GT4 Class might be small but it is perfectly formed with four cars representing four different manufacturers – Aston Martin, BMW, Lotus and Nissan.  Round 1 winners Eduardo Piscopo, Greg Mansell and Leo Mansell will be joined by Gianni Giudici in the Lotus Sport Italia Lotus Evora and will once again do battle with British team RJN Motorsport and the Nissan 370Z of Chris Ward, Alex Buncombe and Jordan Tresson.  The grid is completed by two Belgian cars, an Aston Martin GT4 run by the Speed Lover team and the DVB Racing BMW M3.

Stephane Ratel, CEO SRO Motorsports Group, said: “2011 also marks an evolution for the Total 24 Hours of Spa as the GT3 cars take centre stage for the first time.  The result of this move has been a huge increase in interest from teams and drivers and has resulted in the biggest grid for the 24 Hours of Spa for many, many years. Since its launch in 2006 by SRO, the GT3 class has offered an affordable route into sportscar racing and has provided the basis for championships, both national and international, across the world.  Now the 24 Hours of Spa, the leading endurance race for GT cars, has become the focus for teams and drivers racing GT3 cars and for the 2011 we will have representatives from Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Corvette, Dodge, Ferrari, Ford, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes and Porsche, The GT3 cars are joined by a very exciting grid of GT4 cars from Aston Martin, BMW, Lotus, Nissan and Porsche.  The Spa 24 Hours is one of the few places where you can see so many manufacturers competing against each other for victory.”

Marc A Hayek, President and CEO of Blancpain, said: “Dream cars, prestigious circuits, incredible people, GT racing has always had a slightly mythical air, and I think that the motorsport world was ready for a return to the roots of these competitions. Therefore, it is hardly surprising to see that the Blancpain Endurance Series has rapidly become the unmissable series for GT racing in Europe. Outdoing all expectations, not only has the public been enthralled, but so have the teams, to the point that the starting grid for our next event at Spa-Francorchamps is the most successful in the history of this legendary circuit. As CEO of Blancpain I am delighted with this success.”

The event gets underway on Wednesday 27th July with traditional race car parade in the centre of Spa where the cars and drivers will meet the public on Place Royale.  The track action begins on Thursday 28th July and as well as the massive grid of cars for the Total 24 Hours of Spa there will be qualifying and races over the next three days for the Cooper Tires British F3 International Series, which includes the FIA Formula 3 International Trophy, the Lamborghini Blancpain Super Trofeo and the French F4 Championship.

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