Narrowing it down to just five things was a tough ask after a busy few days in the south of France, but here’s what we learned from the Blancpain GT test at Paul Ricard.
1. Blancpain grid expands again
Achieving a more even balance between the Blancpain Endurance Series and Sprint Series was of vital strategic importance for SRO to continue the series’ forward momentum, but even after ruling that each manufacturer would have to enter two cars in Sprint to be eligible for a Pro entry at the Spa 24 Hours, few could have foreseen the mammoth 38-car Sprint Cup entry announced on Wednesday.
In all, 31 cars are set to contest the full 10-round Blancpain GT Series, ensuring that the 2016 season will have the biggest overall entry in Blancpain series history, while the all-Canadian line-up at Zakspeed (Alex Tagliani, Darryl O’Young and JF Laberge) served as a further indictment of the championship’s appeal across the Atlantic. Not bad going, we say.
2. Pecking order is distinctly unclear
Lap-times at Paul Ricard were merely a sideshow, with team’s priorities focused on getting valuable mileage on their new machinery, bedding in drivers and trying different setups. Laurens Vanthoor in the no. 1 WRT Audi was quickest out of the traps on Wednesday morning, but his 1:57.3 was bettered in the afternoon by a 1:57.1 from Jonny Adam’s Motorbase Aston Martin on a new tyre run. Vanthoor was again quickest on Thursday morning with a 1:56.7, but the best time was still to come as Marco Mapelli set a 1:56.6 in the Barwell Lamborghini Huracan to top the timesheets.
Day 2 here at Paul Ricard. Last chance for everyone to sand bag properly for 2016. pic.twitter.com/gcMpXsuyiZ
— Joe Osborne (@osbornejoe) March 10, 2016
However, there remains the distinct impression that few were willing to show their true hand, with several fancied names opting to keep their powder dry for the season opener at Misano next month to avoid any last-minute changes to the Balance of Performance. With so many new cars from Audi, Mercedes, Lamborghini, BMW and Ferrari (who didn’t run any 488s at Paul Ricard), it would take a brave man, or woman, to try and predict a winner.
3. BMW new boys settling in well
As is often the case when the on-track action proves inconclusive, far more can be learned by watching interactions between team-mates away from the circuit and that was certainly the case at ROWE Racing, whose four drivers just so happened to be staying at Racing GT’s lodgings.
— Philipp Eng (@Philipp_Eng) March 10, 2016
Alexander Sims and Nick Catsburg have been BMW-affiliated drivers for a little while now, but after watching them laugh and joke with new boys Philipp Eng and Stef Dusseldorp over a few games of pool in the hotel lobby, one might have assumed the four had been friends for years. The new M6 is an unproven car, with only a top six finish at Daytona and a frustrating weekend at Clipsal in the Australian GT championship to go on, but on current evidence, ROWE have all the makings of a very strong team.
4. Vanthoor is an old head on young shoulders
No, we’re not talking about Laurens Vanthoor, but his 17-year-old brother Dries. Following in Laurens’ well-trodden footsteps, Dries made the switch from single-seaters over the off-season, starting his GT racing odyssey with an appearance at the Dubai 24 Hours.
Vanthoor the younger is well aware that it may take a little time before he is recognised as his own man and isn’t putting too much pressure on himself to perform straight away, but he’s not here to make up the numbers either. Expect to hear a lot more of the Belgian in both Sprint (with Robin Frijns) and Endurance (with Laurens Vanthoor and Frederic Vervisch).
5. Abril knows his stuff…
…Well, sort of. Live on Racing GT’s Periscope channel, Bentley’s Guy Smith took new team-mate Vincent Abril to task with a hard-hitting quiz about British life. Showing an impressive knowledge of Brexit and having a firm opinion on the pronunciation of ‘scones’, the Frenchman passed with flying colours and you can watch it back here.