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November 23, 2017

Blancpain Sprint Series – Round 6 Zolder Preview

Blancpain Sprint Series – Round 6 Zolder Preview

The penultimate round of the Blancpain Sprint Series to be held at Zolder this weekend is the 11th year that the Belgian circuit has hosted one of SRO’s international GT series over the years, in their various guises, and at €20 for a weekend ticket the ‘Belgian Masters’ event presents a bit of a bargain. Especially when combined with the ‘onward travel is free to any Belgian station’ clause in the Eurostar ticketing arrangements, and with Hasselt station being only 10km from the pit lane.

All 21 regular series entrants are to be joined by 4 new additions, bringing the entry list total to 25 and making for the largest starting grid of the year so far.

The GT Russian Team has been given a new race number for their Endurance Series entered Mercedes SLS that they bring over after having competed as #82 in the Spa24 in June and the iRacing.com Nürburgring 1,000 last month, they receive #177 for the weekend that they will keep for Baku in a fortnight.

Also joining the Zolder party are Sprint Series debutants Beechdean AMR fresh from placing 4th in the BritishGT Team Championship this year. Beechdean are to transfer their Endurance Series number #107 across to the Sprint Series and Zolder will be Aston Martin Racing’s first Blancpain Sprint Series race, the first of many we hope. Zolder is also a first for Aston Martin Racing works driver Jonny Adam too, although not his co-driver who knows the circuit well. Adam will race alongside Andy Soucek both in this event and at Baku. Never having driven the Vantage GT3 before, Soucek is no doubt especially keen to gain some AMR experience ahead of their invitational entry to the Baku World Challenge next month. Aston Martin Racing Team Principal John Gaw emphasised that working closely with partner teams allowed for new joint ventures and expressed gratitude for Beechdean’s commitment to racing at the highest levels.

We were very keen to have a works team in the Blancpain Sprint Series. Beechdean & the series organiser have been extremely cooperative & supportive in enabling this entry.

John Gaw

A late-in-the-day entry by Belgian team NSC Motorsports makes for a welcome series return for Peter Kox and a series debut for BES stalwart Nicky Catsburg who co-drives the Reiter prepped, not yet to be numbered, Lamborghini FLII. Kox, who won the corresponding FIA GT Sprint Series race at Zolder last year with Stefano Rossina in a Lamborghini LP560-4, entered BSS Round 1 at Nogaro but has not featured on the entry list since teammate Marc Hayek prioritised his business interests. Catsburg, having taken two Pro-Am Cup wins in the Endurance Series this year at the wheel of the TDS Racing BMW, is hoping that the experience translates to the shorter format.

I’m very happy to have this opportunity to drive in the Blancpain Sprint Series. To do so with Peter Kox, who knows the car very well, is certainly an added bonus.

Nicky Catsburg

Finally, talking of welcome returns, a very-late-in-the-day addition to the entry list is the Vita4One Racing Team making its return with a BMW Z4 after a year out. German driver Michael Bartels, 2010 FIA GT1 World Champion and three-time FIA GT Champion, will partner his old 2012 FIA GT1 co-driver Yelmer Buurman. Way back in 2012 the same driver pairing in a Vita4One Racing Team BMW Z4 scored a Qualifying Race win and followed it up with a Main Race 2nd place at Zolder in the FIA GT1 Championship. It is obviously a good thing for SRO to see more cars on the grid although, unlike the GT Russian and Beechdean teams, Vita4One Racing see Zolder as a one-off and are not actively seeking a Baku World Challenge entry.

Newbies dealt with, what of the established crowd? With only two race weekends left in the season, Maximilian Götz sports a healthy 23 point advantage over his nearest fellow competitors and there are a potential 33 points on offer over the weekend. It could also be that Zolder’s twisty, technical, 4.0km track may not play so well to the big Merc’s strengths and may well favour the German’s nearest rivals, Bleekemolen and Proczyk, in a Lamborghini. Lamborghini being the marque that took the 25 points on offer to the main race winners here last year.

Even so, fools discount WRT Audi at their peril. René Rast and Enzo Ide have, in their #2 car, a mathematical chance of claiming the title and Ide, being Belgian, may well use the home race advantage to put in a performance that keeps Götz honest. When talking of home track advantage we should mention Laurens Vanthoor who lives, literally, beside the track. Even though the young Belgian is out of contention for the title, despite his and team-mate Cesar Ramos’ ever presence at the front or thereabouts throughout the season, Vanthoor would no doubt love to get a first Sprint Series Main Race win here to gild the new crown won by finishing Blancpain Endurance Series as Pro Cup Champion last month.

The young turks in the Silver Cup are also still scrapping after David Fumanelli and Stefano Colombo’s scored a main race win last time out in Portimao. 25 points to Nil was the main race result due to a DNF for championship leaders Vincent Abril and Mateusz Lisowski in the #4 WRT Audi after contact with the Fortec Mercedes ended their race. However; in mitigation, Abril and Lisowski had earlier taken the win in the qualifying race taking 8 unanswered points over Fumanelli and Colombo due to the two ROAL BMW’s taking each other out at Turn 8 on the opening lap. The Portimao results set things up nicely for the remainder of the season as the WRT Audi drivers now only have 14 points in hand over the ROAL BMW driving duo. The two leading cars are may not be left to their own devices, however, as a two Mercedes SLS’ remain a threat here and, for the last race, a dark-horse entry in the shape of Triple888 BMW has thrown their hat into the ring for Baku. Behing the wheel of the BMW will be BRDC SuperStar 2014 Joe Osborne, fresh from finishing 5th in the Endurance Series with MP Motorsports AMR and never to be underestimated, and his co-driver BRDC RisingStar Ryan Ratcliffe, who is no slouch either.

Pro-Am would have remained the same two-horse Grasser Racing and Phoenix Racing race, with Alessandro Latif and Marc Basseng in the #5 Phoenix Racing Audi besting it after extending their lead to 27 points having taken both qualifying and main race wins six weeks ago at Portimao, backing up the same similarly impressive result in Round 4 at the Slovakia Ring in August. However; as it turns out … Latif and Basseng could take the title simply by finishing the Main Race because the #27 Grasser Racing Team Lamborghini pair, Stefan Landmann and Sascha Halek, cannot score Pro-Am points in Zolder. Unfortunately not competing due to injury, Halek will be replaced by Czech driver Tomas Pivoda who carries an FIA Silver license. Such a driver rating means that the car will have two Silver rated drivers, which is prohibited by the Pro-Am rules and means that the Grasser Lamborghini moves into the Pro-Cup class. With Grasser gone Latif and Basseng only have series newcomers Alexey Vasiliev and Marko Asmer in the #177 GT Russian Team Mercedes to come between them and the €10,000 prize money for finishing 1st in Pro-Am, the previously seen other three entrants having proven to be one-round wonders.

Round 6, Zolder – Timetable

Friday, 17 October
Free Practice 1         14:15 or 12:15 GMT
Free Practice 2         16:25 or 14:25 GMT

Saturday, 18 October
Qualifying         09:15 or 07:15 GMT
Qualifying Race         14:15 or 12:15 GMT

Sunday, 19 October
Main Race         13:45 or 11:45 GMT

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About The Author

Nathan Heywood

Nathan Heywood is the Blancpain GT Series correspondent and Racing.GT's tech guru. With his iconic moustache sadly hidden from view, you will be hearing a lot of Nathan's gentle Norfolk tones behind the microphone in Racing.GT's Periscope coverage.