International GT racing is back at Brands Hatch for the first time in 18 years when today the Kent circuit hosted the second round of the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series. The visit of the 22 car multi-manufacturer field is the first since 1996 for an international sportscar series and the 3.915 km Grand Prix circuit will be used.
Home interest was piqued by Nick Tandy who sits alongside Swiss driver Philipp Frommenwiler in the Farnbacher Racing Team Porsche 911 GT3 R, Porsche’s debut in Blancpain Sprint Series. Frommenwiler had hopes to contend with the top-group for a win and Tandy looked forward to celebrating his home race.
I really love Brands Hatch. In the course of my career I’ve raced here a number of times. In fact I won here when competing in the 2010 Porsche Carrera Cup. Now I am looking forward to fighting for a victory in the Blancpain Sprint Series at my home race.
The second British interest, there are only three Daniel Lloyd in the Bhaitech McLaren being the other, is Alessandro Latif. Latif who turned 18 earlier this month had only just been born the last time that International GT cars raced at Brands Hatch; the third season of the soon to die BPR Global GT Series, co-organised by a certain Mr S. Ratel, such that was renamed FIA GT Championship for 1997 and re-named again this year as the Blancpain Sprint Series. Why the interest in this Tyro? Well, because he’s a young British talent and racing on home soil for the first time in his career. Usually he prefers the Teutonic pleasures of DTM and earns his spurs with the reigning champions, Phoenix Racing.
I’ve never raced in the UK before and I’m looking forward to it, especially because it is Brands. I have never been here before even though it is so close to my home. Great drivers have acclaimed it as one of the most exciting circuits worldwide. The elevation changes here look thrilling.
Seven years in karts and the recent DTM experience should set things up nicely for the Blancpain Sprint Series where Latif shares a drive in a Phoenix Racing Audi R8LMS with Marc Basseng, 2012 FIA GT1 World Champion. Latif and Basseng scored top-10 finishes in both races of the first meeting at Nogaro in France last month, where the competition was stiffer than perhaps Latif had anticipated.
We knew the competition was going to be tough and the field close so that even the smallest mistake would prove costly. The toughest element was getting that first race weekend out of the way, to understand the pressures involved. My aim at Brands is to leave having scored some solid points.
With Race 1 of the supporting GT Cup out of the way. it was time for Qualifying. In the Blancpain Sprint Series the usual qualification hour is 55 minutes that is split into three sessions; Q1 is for all cars where the driver nominated as #1 takes to the track for 15 minutes, similarly Q2 is for all cars with driver #2 behind the wheel, and the fastest of the two drivers’ times is their provisional qualification time. Thereafter, the fastest provisional qualification times from the top 50% of the cars entered go into Q3, a ten minute ‘shoot-out’ for pole. Q3 sets the grid for qualifying race, which is started by driver #2 in a rolling star, the finishing order of which in turn determines the main race’s rolling start taken by driver #1.
All clear? Then we shall begin …
Q1 Much puttering round but nothing of outlandish interest; a spin for the #63 Fortech Mercedes of Armaan Erbahim at Clarke curve saw him facing the wrong way, Vincent Abril in the #4 Belgian Audi Club R8 gravel trapped himself necessitating swift Henri the Hoover action by the mechs back at the pit, and we didn’t see the #88 Reiter Lamborghini out on track – it was being hit with a hammer in the rear by a mechanic ‘trying to release a brake’ apparently. Sergio Jiminez topped the order in the car numbered zero here, but sometimes its #20, the Team Brasil BMW Z4.
Q2 In second qualification Alex Zanardi got 2 wheels onto the grass/gravel at Stirlings but held it masterfully and continued. The #88 Lamborghini finally made an appearance with Thomas Enge at the wheel but it wasn’t to last long before it disappeared back into the garage. Rene Rast went fastest in the #2 Belgian Audi Club R8 but his lap time got disallowed by the Stewards for his ‘not respecting track limits’. Nevermind, next time around Rast recorded an undisputed 1:24.189 on Lap5 for P1 only for Markus Winkelhock to go faster on Lap 6 with a 1:24.156.
Q3 Saw the 10 fastest cars #6, #2, #1, #84, #34, #33, #30, #90, #0, and #28 all take part in the 10 minute shoot-out for Pole Position. Sergio Jiminez, 0.5s quicker in Q1 than his team mate Bueno in Q2, took the #0 BMW out for Q3. This was the only driver change from Q2. Jeroen Bleekemolen’s #28 Grasser Racing Lamborghini was out on its own for a while, it seemed, and set the pace with its first hot lap a 1:24.282 the 3rd best of the day overall and which was bettered by its 2nd hot lap a 1:23.894, the first car into the 1:23’s. Soon to be followed, however, by Maximillian Gotz in the #84 HTP Mercedes who took a full tenth off Bleekmoelen on his first hot lap. Gotz’s time looked good for pole until right at the very death Laurens Vanthoor, quickest in second Free Practice session, snuck in a 1:23.865 to take Pole Position literally as the Chequered Flag waved to end the session.
Alex Zanardi qualified 6th for Sunday and was the top BMW driver, less than 8 tenths off pole.
Provisional Grid for Qualification Race, which gets underway at 10:30GMT tomorrow, is #1, #84, #28, #1, #6, #30, #33, #0, #2, #90, and #34.
The Main race then takes place in the afternoon at 14:45GMT. The full timetable for tomorrow’s action at Brands Hatch can be found here: http://www.brandshatch.co.uk/media/2938028/blancpain_entry_list.pdf