Alessio Picariello is determined to showcase the European motorsport theatre of his talents when he makes his debut in the Blancpain Sprint Cup at the Hungaroring this weekend.
The Belgian will join former karting rival Nicolai Moller Madsen in Phoenix Racing’s Silver Cup entry after his consistently strong performances for Absolute Racing in the one-make Audi R8 LMS Cup Asia, where he is the joint points leader, attracted the attention of Phoenix team director Ernst Moser, who runs Picariello’s chief title rival Alex Yoong.
In the last round at Sepang, 22-year-old Picariello earned the plaudits for a hard-fought battle with the guesting Edoardo Mortara, which has given the runaway 2013 ADAC Formel Masters champion belief that he can run competitively on his return to Europe.
“My goal is to become a factory driver, so Blancpain is a good opportunity to show the factories some pace and for sure something I would like to be part of maybe next year,” he told Racing.GT.
“Asia is great, it’s where I had the opportunity to come back to racing and the level is really high, especially in the Audi Cup with a lot of pros and a lot of experienced drivers. Europe is Europe and it’s a good opportunity for me to go there, but I want to show Asia is not like everybody thinks, there is some level there and people who are fast in Asia can be fast in Europe as well.”
Picariello is still relatively inexperienced in GT terms, having only made his debut in the LMS Cup and Asian Le Mans Series last year, but has quickly settled into his stride with the R8 LMS.
“Last year I did only one race with the old one, but for sure the new car fits me much better because its way closer to a formula car and it has a lot more downforce,” he explained. “I feel really comfortable inside, so I’m quite confident actually. The tyres are the big question mark for me as I have only raced with Michelin tyres since I tried GT cars. I don’t know much about Pirelli so I will need a bit of time to learn, but I think together with Phoenix we can manage that quite well.”
Belgium has been synonymous with producing elite GT talents in recent years including fellow Audi driver Laurens Vanthoor, Bentley’s Maxime Soulet and 24 Hours of Spa winner Maxime Martin, but Picariello pledged that he won’t be daunted by the competition his first time in the Blancpain paddock.
“I know a bit Laurens from karting although since then I haven’t really had contact with him. I don’t think he was to be wary at the moment because he is one of the best Audi drivers but I will try to make him worry as soon as possible that’s for sure!”
Further changes to the entry list see Marco Mapelli replace Jeroen Bleekemolen at Grasser Racing while the Dutchman is on IMSA duty at VIR, while Lucas Ordonez comes in at Nissan alongside Alex Buncombe in place of Mitsunori Takaboshi, who is subbing for the injured Katsumasa Chiyo in the Suzuka 1000km.