Blancpain Endurance Series Round 4 Preview

August 24, 2011

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After the fantastic success of the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the teams and drivers taking part in the Blancpain Endurance Series were able to take a short but well-deserved summer holiday.  However, the days are drawing in, and it is time for the teams and drivers to get back to work, with the fourth round of the 2011 Blancpain Endurance Series taking place at the French circuit of Magny Cours this weekend.  Joining the 38-car grid will be new boys McLaren GT – already seen at Spa – and Nissan, making its racing debut in the GT3 category in the hands of JR Motorsports.  This event, free to the public, will feature a Saturday evening race, with the cars driving into the sunset.

 

The Blancpain Endurance Series’ first race in France, at the former Grand Prix circuit of Magny-Cours, should provide some fascinating racing around the 4.4km circuit, with everything still to play for in the various driver title battles.

 

In the GT3 Pro Cup, a superb haul of 46.5 points at the Total 24 Hours of Spa propelled Greg Franchi to the top of the points table, 14.5 points ahead of Belgian Audi Club Team WRT team mates Bert Longin, Filipe Albuquerqe and Stephane Ortelli. Franchi, who raced in the 24-hour event with Blancpain Endurance Series debutants Matthias Ekstrom and Timo Scheider, steered the nr33 Team WRT Audi R8 LMS to victory, claiming the 25 points on offer. The trio were in second place behind the nr99 Team Phoenix Audi after 6 hours and were leading after 12 hours, to add an extra 21.5 points to their weekend total. The victory also gave Audi their first overall win at the 24 Hours of Spa in the 87-year history of the event.

 

Round 1 winners, Paolo Ruberti, Gianluca Roda and Raffaele Gianmaria had a disappointing weekend in Spa, crashing at the halfway point of the race and failing to pick up any points from the event.

 

Round 2 winner Frank Kechele kept his championship aspirations alive by taking 20 points over the weekend in the nr29 Vita4One Ferrari 458; he finished 5th overall alongside Matteo Bobbi and Giacomo Petrobelli. Fellow round 2 winners Michael Bartels and Nico Verdonck moved category for Spa, therefore scoring points in the Pro-Am category. However, they will be looking to propel Frank Kechele further towards the top of the leader board in Magny Cours.

 

The McLaren GT will be making its second Blancpain appearance at the French round, with Andrew Kirkaldy, Oliver Turvey and Alvaro Parente hoping for better luck than in Belgium, where Kirkaldy ended the race in the wall after a collision with a GT4 back marker. Another new car will be making its first competitive appearance when the JRM team will be unveiling the Nissan GT-R GT3 at Magny Cours. The British team, which runs the Nissan GT-R in the FIA GT1 World Championship, will confirm the drivers nearer to the event.

 

The Hexis AMR team will be hoping for success at their home race, where the former FIA GT3 European Champions will once again be fielding two Aston Martin DBRS9s.

The Blancpain Reiter Lamborghini will be looking for a good result in the Blancpain Endurance Series as double FIA GT3 race winners Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Niki Meyr-Melnhof are joined by Eugenio Amos.

 

Spa should have been a better hunting ground for the Marc VDS Racing Team BMW Z4; the team claimed pole position for their home race but were subsequently thwarted by technical issues. Maxime Martin, Bas Leinders and Markus Paltalla will be looking to bring the BMW home with a good haul of points in France. The Ford GT fared better in Spa, securing championship points for the team.

 

The nr10 SOFREV ASP Ferrari scored some points in the first half of the Spa 24 Hours but then became one of the casualties of this highly demanding race. However the team were successful in the Pro-Am Cup, with the nr20 Ferrari taking the chequered flag to win the class in 6th overall.

 

The Pro-Am Cup class was just as keenly contested as the Pro Cup, remaining open until well into the race. The SOFREV ASP drivers Franck Morel, Jean-Luc Beaubelique and Ludovic Badey now hold a 12.5 point advantage over the nr2 Vita4One Ferrari pairing of Niek Hommerson and Louis Machiels, who will be rejoined by Paul van Splunteren in France after the Dutch driver switched to the Prospeed  Competition team for Spa.

 

Marc A Hayek and Peter Kox won the opening round in Monza, finishing 4th overall, but the Blancpain-Reiter Lamborghini suffered mechanical problems in Spain and in Spa, where the engine expired in spectacular fashion, and the pair have slipped back to 9th in the title race. They will be hoping for better luck at Magny Cours.

 

The nr 50 AF Corse Ferrari 458 finished 3rd in class at Spa behind Blancpain Endurance Series first timers David Jones, Godfrey Jones and Mike Jordan. The podium finish helped Matt Griffin and Jack Gerber to move up to 7th in the Pro-Am Cup driver’s table. The French SMG team will be joining the Pro-Am cup grid for the first time, with former French Formula Ford and French Carrera Cup Champion Philippe Gache joining Eric Clement behind the wheel of the Porsche 997.

 

The 13-car entry for the Pro-Am Class at Magny Cours includes five Ferraris ( 4 x 458 and 1 x 430), three Lamborghinis, three Porsches, an Aston Martin and one of the new McLaren GTs.

 

After missing Spa, the leader in the GT3 Gentlemen Cup, George Cabannes returns to compete in his home race. The double race winner will be joined in the Ruffier Racing Lamborghini by Gregory Guilvert, his team-mate for his Monza win, and Fabien Michal, the driver who shared victory in Navarra. Lionel Comole had a bitter-sweet experience at Spa, the Frenchman failed to finish his first- ever Spa 24 Hours in the Sport Garage Ferrari 430 but he did raise 23,500 Euros for the Arthritis charity. Comole will be once again be teaming up with Phillip Shearer and Amandine Foulard at Magny Cours.

 

In the Cup Class championship leader Sergio Negroni will be teamed with Luigi Emiliani and Marco Cassera in the De Lorenzi Racing Porsche who he won the races in Monza and Navarra with. They will face stiff opposition from Spa 24 Hours Class winner Thierry Stepec in the RMS Porsche.

 

The RJN Motorsport Nissan 370 Z of Alex Buncombe, Jordan Tresson and Chris Ward were triumphant in Spa, beating the Lotus Sport Italia Evora of Round 1 race winners Edoardo Piscapo, Greg Mansell and Leo Mansell after the engine in the Lotus let go on its way to the GT4 win at the Belgian track.

 

Round 2 winners Lorenz Frey, Rolf Maritz and Fredy Barth did not race in Spa and return looking for their second win of 2011 in the Lotus Driving Academy Evora.

 

The weekend will feature two 60-minute Free Practice sessions, three 15-minute qualifying sessions, one for each driver, with the fastest time determining the grid for the 180-minute race on Saturday evening, racing into the sunset.  The three hour race will include two mandatory pit stops, with tyre and driver change.  Points will be awarded using the FIA system in each class, with the winners receiving 25 points, second 18 points, down to 1 point for 10th place.

 

All the latest information can be found at www.blancpain-endurance-series.com where visitors can also watch the races, which will be streamed live on Saturday evening.

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