Back to business! The Blancpain GT Series season is starting this weekend, with the first round of the Blancpain Sprint Cup, which takes place at Zolder. It’s the first time that the iconic track in Limburg has the honour to open the season, for the delight of Belgian fans and of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, which will live the emotion of ‘home race’ straight away! The squad is ready for another big fight this year and to defend its two Sprint Cup titles (Teams’ and Drivers’). It will field a 4-car entry: the three line-ups already announced (Riberas-Mies, Vanthoor-Stevens and Leonard-Frijns) are joined by an additional Audi R8 LMS entered in the Silver Cup and entrusted to two young guns and ‘local heroes’ debuting at the highest level of GT racing: Gilles Magnus and Alessio Picariello.
The Belgian outfit has a challenging record to defend: in the five editions of the Blancpain Sprint competition held so far, it has always conquered the Teams’ title, clinching also the Drivers’ crown in three occasions. This tells enough about the challenge lying ahead, as underlined by Team Principal Vincent Vosse: “We have enjoyed great success in the Sprint series so far, taking at least one of the titles every year. It won’t be easy to keep this trend, but this is clearly our objective. This year, the Sprint Cup will have at tighter core of participants, but when you see the list, you understand the level of competition is going to be extremely high. None of the teams competing are doing it to finish second, and we aren’t either! It’s going to be an exciting season for sure, and we are ready, well-prepared and extremely motivated. With the Audi R8 LMS and our re-worked driver line-ups, I think we are extremely well-equipped for the battle ahead. I am also delighted to have fresh blood in the team, and very pleased to have the car running in the Silver Cup at Zolder in the hands of two young and talented Belgian drivers as Picariello and Magnus. Starting the season at home, certainly makes things even more special and puts a little bit more pressure on us, but that’s fine: we like challenges and serious things will start right aways!”
As known, driver line-ups for the 2018 Sprint Cup have been slightly reshuffled, ensuring a clever mix of experience and speed.
In car #1, Christopher Mies, a solid reference in GT3 racing and in our team, will welcome a new team mate, Spaniard Álex Riberas. The 24-year-old Catalan driver has forged for himself quite a diversified experience in GT racing, in Europe, Asia and America, and gets now the big opportunity his talent deserves.
In car #2, Dries Vanthoor and Will Stevens, two of the brightest jewels in the team’s box, will partner together for a full Sprint campaign for the first time, something that seems to please the young Belgian: “Will and I know each other very well, and know well each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I think the pair will work well: he is very fast and has the same fighting spirit as me, but most of all, we both see racing and going fast as fun.” Needless to remind, in endurance racing, the two shared already a striking success, taking the LMGTE Am class win at the Le Mans 24 Hours last year.
For Dries, who will turn 20 in less than two weeks, Zolder means also, and literally, home: “It’s cool to start the season right off the fence of the family’s house”, he reckons, “and like last year, I expect a lot of friends, family and fans to be around. Zolder is always a peculiar track, but I think we will be competitive there and the forecasts point to a rain-free weekend, contrarily to two weeks ago, when the testing session was quite disturbed by the changing conditions. In truth, I expect the Audi-WRT package to be quite competitive this year, although competition is going to be probably fiercer. The fact that there will be fewer cars will mean less traffic, and it’s going to be flat-out all the time, especially in qualifying.”
Car #17 will remain in the hands of Stuart Leonard and Robin Frijns, as the reigning champions have opted to retain their lucky number. The Brit and the Dutchman are targeting again to be regularly among the potential winners, in a season that started beautifully for them, with a success (co-shared with Vanthoor) in the prestigious Bathurst 12 Hours.
As said, at Zolder the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT will entrust its #2 car, entered in the Silver Cup, to a young duo of Belgian new recruits: Gilles Magnus and Alessio Picariello. Magnus, an 18-year-old from Antwerp ‘raised’ in the WRT Kart Academy, debuts in GT racing after being a very close runner-up in the F.Renault 2.0 NEC last year and in the French F.4 the season before. Picariello, 24 from Charleroi and a former ADAC Formula champion in 2013, has already good experience in GT3 having competed mostly in Asia with Audis R8. He won the Asian Audi R8 LMS Cup in 2017 and finished an excellent 4th at the Sebring 12 Hours earlier this year. They both have Vincent Vosse’s full support: “Gilles does not have a lot of experience with GT3 cars”, says the boss, “but he certainly has talent and did a good job at the test in Zolder some days ago, despite of the rain. Alessio is fast and has already done some nice things in GT3. I am very happy that we can give them this opportunity on home soil. I am convinced that, if they build cleverly their weekend at Zolder, they can claim good results.”
Blancpain Sprint Cup – Round 1
Zolder, Belgium, 6-8 April 2018
Timetable (all in local time = CET)
Friday 6 April 2018
09:15-10:35 Free Practice 1
14:20-15:40 Free Practice 2
Saturday 7 April 2018
15:25-16:25 Race 1 (1 hr)
Sunday 8 April 2018
13:30-14:30 Race 2 (1 hr)
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT entries
# 1 Álex Riberas (E) – Christopher Mies (D)
# 2 Dries Vanthoor (B) – Will Stevens (GB)
# 3 Gilles Magnus (B) – Alessio Picariello (B) Silver Cup
#17 Stuart Leonard (GB) – Robin Frijns (NL)