One of the key talking points to take away from the staggering 38-car entry to the Blancpain Sprint Cup at Misano is the even greater emphasis placed on a trouble-free qualifying race, with a DNF on Saturday set to carry a far more severe penalty than was the case last year.
Impressive though it was, Christopher Mies and Robin Frijns’ recovery drive from the back of the grid to second in the Zandvoort feature race – having been tipped into the gravel on the opening lap of the qualifying race – was assisted by a weak entry of just 16 cars, reduced to 15 starters after the withdrawal of the Rinaldi Ferrari through engine failure. Emulating their feat from a grid position in the low thirties would be nigh-on impossible this year and presents something of a predicament for drivers and teams alike.
Points are awarded for finishing positions down to sixth in the qualifying race, but with potentially far more to lose by starting from the back on Sunday than could be gained from finishing one place higher on Saturday, will drivers be looking more at the bigger picture?
“It’s difficult to say, I think it’s going to massively depend on how qualifying goes,” said Nismo’s Alex Buncombe. “If it doesn’t go well and you start near the back for the qualifying race you may try to be a little bit braver, whereas if you start in the top five you will just be trying to get the job done. Until we get to Misano it’s going to be a bit of an unknown for us, particularly as it’s a night race.”
M-Sport’s Steven Kane has never taken part in a Blancpain Sprint event before, but likened the format to the British Touring Car Championship, which have three races in one day and places a premium on picking up regular points.
“With the number of cars now it will definitely have a bearing, because getting up into a points-scoring position from a bad qualifying race will be very difficult,” said the Northern Irishman. “You do have to think of the next race and what you could lose, but the team environment can also give you the confidence to push. If your team is capable of getting the car fixed and back out there if anything happens, it can give you that little bit extra.
“Every team will be slightly different in their approach, but it’s going to be about making sure you get the best from a bad weekend, making sure you finish the races and collecting the points so you’re there at the end. We’ll have to wait and see – it’s too unpredictable this year because the grids are so big and there’s so many new cars with top-line drivers.”
But whilst championship points will be at the back of everybody’s minds, it’s one thing preaching caution and quite another to put it into practice in the heat of battle.
“I think there’s probably going to have to be a bit more of an element of safety this year, but that’s talking at the beginning of March; come Misano it will probably be carnage at the first corner!” agrees WRT’s Michael Meadows. “It’s a tricky one because if you start from the back in the main race then there will be no chance of getting points, so you need to put yourself in the mix. Playing it safe isn’t an option and I wouldn’t expect anyone from this team to want to do that. My mentality is to go for it all the time because I think other people will be and if you don’t, then you’ll just get mugged.”