After a highly successful Sprint Cup season-opener at Misano, the Blancpain GT Series remains in Italy for the first round of the Endurance Cup. Tradition is the basis of endurance racing, and it is quite logically that the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza hosts this event, which has attracted no less than 56 entries. The Belgian Audi Club has started 2016 in the best way possible, with a win in the Main race at Misano, and will be aiming at a good start in the Endurance Cup as well. The fast straights of Monza are known not to be particularly favourable to the Audis R8 LMS but the team is determined to collect a maximum of valuable points. Five cars will be on track under the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT colours, with reshuffled line-ups to cater for endurance racing needs (3 drivers per car) and some new (and heavy!) names joining the squad.
Team Principal Vincent Vosse looks ahead to Monza with curiosity: “We know that Monza is not the best track for us but we have been able to obtain podium finishes in the past, so we go there determined to do well. The new Audi R8 LMS, with its improvements and new aero, should perform better than the R8 LMS ultra, but we are still discovering the progress it brings on each track. I am sure it will be faster on the straights, but we’ll see how things go in acceleration zones, especially in traffic. Monza is really a very peculiar track, where performance on a single clean lap, benefitting from towing effect, and performance in race conditions may be two very different things. This race will also be the first race with us for a number of drivers, who all are nice additions to our squad, and I wish to welcome them all warmly. I also want to thank Chevrolet for having authorized Antonio García to race with us.”
While sprint and endurance racing differ fundamentally in essence, Sporting Director Pierre Dieudonné makes the necessary link between the two first races of the year: “Misano was a key test for us, as it was the first time the team entered six cars”, he explains, “It wasn’t an easy challenge, but we can say that we passed the test successfully. Six cars means more people, a different organization of the crews, but also a more complex logistic effort, with more trucks, more equipment, etc. It worked well, and the most impressive result is probably that our pit stops were perfect. The podium of the Pit Stop Challenge was trusted by three of our crews, as seen on the podium, but after the race, when the full results were released, we had the nice surprise to see that we actually took the top five spots in that competition, which is simply great. In Monza, we will have one car less, five, but we will have to manage more drivers, 15 instead of 12, given the endurance configuration of driver trios instead of duos. Pit stops should be smoother, as SRO is introducing in the Endurance Cup a new rule that imposes a minimum time for pit stops. There will be even more traffic on track, with 56 cars entered, but Monza is a track long and wide enough to digest that…”
With regard to line-ups, the Vanthoor brothers and Fred Vervisch will share an all-Belgian car #1, while on #2 Britons Stuart Leonard and Michael Meadows will be joined by Robin Frijns. The Dutchman will have a busy weekend, as he will arrive to Italy only on Saturday evening, because of his Formula E commitments, after competing in the first Paris ePrix. Car #3 will speak Portuguese, with Brazilians Sérgio Jimenez (on his first appearance of the season) and Rodrigo Baptista associated with Portugal’s Filipe Albuquerque. On car #4, GT legend Peter Kox and Belgian-American Adrien De Leener will make their debut with Team WRT along Pierre Käffer.
Last but not least, a stellar trio will share car #28. Nico Müller is back with the team, alongside Will Stevens, recruited by WRT from F.1 for this season. They will be joined by LMGT star Antonio García, who has under his belt six wins in the three top LMGT enduros: three at Le Mans and two at both Daytona and Sebring. A Corvette works driver, García has been authorized to race with Team WRT, in a gracious gesture by Chevrolet, who benefitted from the services of two Audi official drivers (Rockenfeller and Fässler) at Daytona and Sebring earlier this year. The Spaniard is delighted of this opportunity: “It was an unexpected call”, says the 35-year-old, “and it is nice to see that my experience is appreciated. When the best team in a championship calls you, it’s easy to say ‘yes’, and I am delighted to join the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT for three races. Except Le Mans, I haven’t been racing in Europe since 2008, but I’m sure Monza is still Monza! For me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to race again in Europe and to discover such a competitive series as the Blancpain. I have briefly tested the Audi R8 LMS at Silverstone, mainly to familiarize myself with the car, the controls and the tires. That should make adaptation quicker when I’ll take the track at Monza, and I know I can count on the team’s support for the set-up and strategy work in this first race.”
Track activity at Monza will only start on Saturday, with Qualifying taking place on Sunday morning and the 3-hour race kicking off at 15 hours.
Blancpain Endurance Series - Round 1
23-24 April 2016
Timetable (all times local = CET)
Saturday 23rd April 2016
09:00-10:00 Bronze test
11:00-12:30 Free Practice
Sunday 24th April April 2016
15:00-18:00 Race (3 hours)
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT entries
#1 Laurens Vanthoor (B) – Frédéric Vervisch (B) – Dries Vanthoor (B)
#2 Stuart Leonard (GB) – Michael Meadows (GB) – Robin Frijns (NL)
#3 Sérgio Jimenez (BR) – Rodrigo Baptista (BR) - Filipe Albuquerque (P)
#4 Peter Kox (NL) – Adrien De Leener (B) – Pierre Käffer (D)
#28 Antonio García (E) - Nico Müller (CH) - Will Stevens (GB)
More info on the Blancpain series, live timing and live commented TV streaming of each race on www.blancpain-gt-series.com