The weekend of the 17th and 18th May saw Brands Hatch become a lot noisier, as the sights and sounds of the Blancpain GT Series rolled into Kent for round two of the 2014 season. With this being the first time that International GT racing had been at Brands Hatch in eighteen years, a new door had opened and history would be made in the modern era of GT racing. Off the back of a strongly contested opening round at Nogaro in France, a multi-million pound grid of twenty-two cars descended on Kent, with twenty-one teams looking to overhaul Nogaro winners Maximillian Gotz and Maximillian Buhk, who with HTP Motorsport lead the standings on thirty-nine points in their Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG. In a grid housing some of the best GT3 machinery out there from the likes of Audi, BMW, Lamborghini, Ferrari, McLaren and Porsche, the drivers behind these GT beasts are some of the best from the Endurance racing world, with some coming from the world of F1, Le Mans or the British racing scene. With the Pro Class the most competitive in the Blancpain GT Series, Belgian Audi Club Team WRT pairing of Laurens Vanthoor and Brazilian Cesar Ramos were also strong contenders after winning the Nogaro qualifying race. With a strong line-up of highly talented drivers, including Reigning Champion Laurens Vanthoor, Rene Rast and Markus Winkelhock in Audis, drivers like Jeroen Bleekemolen in a Lamborghini made Audi under threat of securing victory at Brands Hatch, with Bleekemolen partnered with Hari Proczyk at Grasser Racing Team. In terms of British interest in the race, ex Porsche Carrera Cup GB front runner Daniel Lloyd leads the pro entries with Italian team Bhaitech in a McLaren MP4-12C, whilst the Brands Hatch meeting would see the strong addition of Nick Tandy. The factory Porsche driver had been signed to partner Swiss GT-specialist Philipp Frommenwiler, in an ever quick Porsche 997, however a massive crash for Philipp in Free Practice One ended their weekend early. One driver in the Pro Class who certainly deserved a mention was 2012 Brands Hatch hero Alex Zanardi. After wowing the crowds at the London 2012 Paralympics games, winning both the road race and the time trial in the H4 hand-bike competition, Zanardi had returned to racing and was looking to go better than his thirteenth position finish at Nogaro. In the ROAL Motorsport BMW Z4, Zanardi would be getting plenty of support from the British crowd.
In terms of the other championship classes raced within the Blancpain GT Series, the Silver Cup for drivers of twenty-five years and younger would see French-Polish duo of Vincent Abril and Mateusz Lisowski chased hard in their Audi R8 prepared by Belgian Audi Club Team WRT. After standing out as the duo to beat at Nogaro in this class, with an overall third place finish, one team looking to use home knowledge to close on the Audi was British team Fortec Motorsport. With Benjamin Hetherington leading the No.62 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG at Nogaro, his Indian team mate Armaan Ebrahim would be joined by Spain’s Miguel Toril, after Hetherington unfortunately missed round two. With the team experienced with the Mercedes-Benz around the Brands Hatch GP circuit after a 2013 British GT Campaign, their knowledge could propel them towards the podium during the weekend.
In the Pro-Am Trophy, series leader Peter Kox is well known to the British crowd, after years of racing in the British Touring Car Championship with BMW and Honda, however the Blancpain Racing Lamborghini Gallardo FL II was missing from Brands Hatch, opening up opportunities to the others within this category. Former World Touring Car campaigner and experienced GT racer Marc Basseng had switched to the Pro-Am category after round one, with Briton’s Italian Alessandro Latif alongside in the Phoenix Racing No.5 Audi R8 LMS Ultra. For Latif, this would be his first time racing in front of the home crowd and a great opportunity to shine in a proven endurance GT car. The two potential front runners in this class were joined at Brands Hatch by a second Lamborghini in the hands of Sascha Halek and Stefan Landmann, prepared by Austrian team Grasser Racing team. The team have switched from the Pro class to Pro-Am after the opening round at Nogaro and could be challengers for the class win.
Audi Secures Pole Position with Laurens Vanthoor
As qualifying was split into three sessions, drivers from each team set respective times, hoping to make their way into the final session and a chance of grabbing pole position for the first one hour qualifying race on Sunday. With Alex Zanardi the only driver to take part in sessions one and two, due to being the only driver in the No.33 ROAL Motorsport BMW Z4, he and team mate Stefano Colombo battled over top spot in session one. It wasn’t until Silver Cup competitor Vincent Abril of Belgian Audi Club Team WRT pulled his R8 into third, that times started to change at the top. The Z4s had looked quick of ROAL Motorsport but before the first fifteen minutes were completed, Sergio Jimenez took his colourful Team Brasil BMW to the top of the time sheets, followed by Maximillian Buhk in the HTP Mercedes SLS AMG into second. These position swapped before the flag, with the two ending up apart by 0.007 seven thousandths of a second.
The second session of the weekend was mainly an all Audi affair, as Phoenix Racing and Belgian Audi Club Team WRT secured the top three positions. The first to make the jump to the top of the time sheets was former DTM driver Markus Winkelhock, putting the Phoenix Racing Audi R8LMS Ultra ahead of Alex Zanardi’s ROAL Motorsport BMW. As former Champion Laurens Vanthoor moved ahead of the rest in the No.1 Audi R8LMS Ultra, a fight back from Ferrari and HTP Motorsport Mercedes put pressure on the Audi. The Audi dominance of qualifying session two was restored in the final stages, after multiple Porsche Supercup champion Rene Rast moved into first place and then was rejected to second by Markus Winkelhock. In a closely fought second session, the top five were separated by 0.187 seconds, setting up an exciting top ten fight for pole.
The fastest ten from sessions one and two combined contested the final qualifying session on Saturday, with the front runner being Maximilian Gotz in the HTP Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG. With the German holding the position for most of the session, Dutchman Jeroen Bleekemolen stole the show, putting the Lamborghini LFII into pole for the first time throughout qualifying. As it looked very likely that Grasser Racing would be on pole, the Audi of Laurens Vanthoor was pushing harder and harder. After two laps of small mistakes costing him time, Vanthoor went for it in the final stages, snatching pole from Maximilian Gotz by just two hundredths of a second, with Bleekemolen in third.
Blancpain GT Sprint Series Qualifying Top Ten:
1. Vanthoor (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) Audi R8LMS Ultra = 1:23.865s
2. Gotz (HTP Motorsport) Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 = +0.022s
3. Bleekemolen (Grasser Racing Team) Lamborghini LFII = +0.119s
4. Winkelhock (Phoenix Racing) Audi R8LMS Ultra = +0.243s
5. Brito Filho (BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil) BMW Z4 = +0.389s
6. Zanardi (ROAL Motorsport) BMW Z4 = +0.512s
7. Jimenez (BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil) BMW Z4 = +0.550s
8. Rast (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) Audi R8LMS Ultra = +0.559s
9. Montermini (Scuderia Villorba Corse) Ferrari 458 Italia = +0.573s
10. Fumanelli (ROAL Motorsport) BMW Z4 = +0.942s
Lamborghini on Top With Bleekemolen & Proczyk
The qualifying race for the Blancpain GT Sprint Series saw Laurens Vanthoor and Maximillian Gotz go side by side into Paddock Hill Bend off the rolling start, with Jeroen Bleekemolen’s Lamborghini snatching second when the two leaders nearly came to blows. As the Phoenix Racing Audi of Markus Winkelhock followed Bleekemolen through, the early few laps saw the front four bumper to bumper, whilst behind, the Audi of Rene Rast entered the pits to have a puncture fixed and was effectively out of the running. Another Audi also entered the pits in the form of Championship leader Stephane Ortelli, but the race for the G-Drive Racing Audi was over. With further contact seeing Dan Lloyd’s Bhaitech McLaren MP4-12C on the grass at Graham Hill Bend, the Fortec Motorsport Mercedes was having a nightmare, situated at the rear of the field.
Vanthoor continued to lead whilst the pit stops approached, with the HTP Motorsport Mercedes deciding to be the first of the front runners to stop. As Gotz handed over to team mate Buhk, the top two of Vanthoor and Bleekemolen looked to pit a lap later and Winkelhock had the same idea, meaning the timing looked to be spot on. Bleekemolen inherited the race lead briefly and the release of the safety car meant that when the Lamborghini returned to the track, Austrian Hari Proczyk had the race lead. The release of the safety car was for the recovery of Alex Zanardi at Clark curve. The ROAL Motorsport BMW unfortunately spun before his pit stop and when the Italian tried to recover, he beached the Z4 in the gravel trap.
On the restart, the bunched up field saw Proczyk lead Niki Mayr-Meinhof in the Phoenix Racing Audi and Maximillian Buhk in the HTP Motorsport Mercedes. With the Pole position No.1 Audi with Cesar Ramos behind the wheel in fourth, the car on the move was certainly the Mercedes. A perfectly timed move around the outside of Paddock Hill Bend moved Buhk into second, as he set his sights on catching Proczyk’s Lamborghini. The two were set up for an exciting tussle for the lead, whilst behind, the Audis were losing ground to the Sports Trophy Team Brasil’s BMWs, driven by Jimenez and Dall’Agnol Stumpf. The No.0 BMW was the first to move, forcing Ramos’s Audi wide at Druids, which allowed his team mate pass, before both took a wide Mayr-Meinhof a lap later. The fight for the final podium spot would be a team mate affair, as the Audis had no match for the BMW Z4.
In the final minutes, the wide Mercedes and the wide Lamborghini kept everyone on their toes, with Buhk pressurising the Lamborghini into making a mistake. Proczyk did everything in his power to keep the Mercedes behind, in a fight where certain parts of the Brands Hatch GP circuit favoured one car over the other. Come the chequered flag at the end of one hour and forty laps, Proczyk gave himself, Bleekemolen and Grasser Racing a well-deserved victory, ahead of Buhk and the BMW of Jimenez.
Blancpain GT Sprint Series Qualifying Race Top Ten:
1. Proczyk/Bleekemolen (Grasser Racing Team) Lamborghini LFII = 40 Laps
2. Buhk/Gotz (HTP Motorsport) Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 = +0.488s
3. Jimenez/Bueno (BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil) BMW Z4 = +6.477s
4. Dall’Agnol Stumpf/Brito Filho (BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil) BMW Z4 = +7.779s
5. Mayr-Meinhof/Winkelhock (Phoenix Racing) Audi R8LMS Ultra = +14.889s
6. Ramos/Vanthoor (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) Audi R8LMS Ultra = +15.890s
7. Salaquarda/Montermini (Scuderia Villorba Corse) Ferrari 458 Italia = +16.086s
8. Onidi/Pantano (Bhaitech) McLaren MP4-12C = +16.241s
9. Rosina/Enge (Reiter Engineering) Lamborghini LFII = +16.711s
10. Pentus/Lloyd (Bhaitech) McLaren MP4-12C = +17.188s
Bleekemolen & Proczyk Double Up with Win in Championship Race
The grid for the main Championship race for the Blancpain GT Sprint Series was made up of the result from race one, with Hari Proczyk lining up on pole position, alongside Maximillian Buhk. With the rolling start keeping the field nicely bunched and some small bits of contact happening further down the order, the dash into Paddock Hill Bend saw Proczyk’s Lamborghini come out in front, with Buhk settling into second and Dall’Agnol Stumpf into third. The position of fourth was taken in the first few corners by a fast starting Giorgio Pantano, who pushed the McLaren MP4-12C up four places, whilst Alex Zanardi broke into the top ten after a disaster in race one left him way down the grid.
With the top five successfully navigating the Brands Hatch Grand Prix circuit and creating a healthy margin over the rest, the fight for first heated up between Proczyk and Buhk. With the Mercedes being pushed to its limit by Buhk, he was setting himself up for a move on Proczyk, with the two BMWs of Sports Trophy Team Brasil were split by Pantano’s McLaren. The gap over the rest expanded, with Cesar Ramos in the No.1 Audi heading the next pack that involved both ROAL Motorsport BMWs and the McLaren of Sten Pentus. For Ramos, a chance to break clear would allow team Laurens Vanthoor a good opportunity of a podium at the pit stops, however the gap that the leaders created continued to rise, lap after lap.
As the pit window opened, the tactics of who would pit first came into play, with Proczyk diving in early and handing over to Jeroen Bleekemolen. As Buhk remained on track and inherited the lead, the BMW of Stumpf was closing in. Another early pit stopper was Alex Zanardi, hoping to use the strategy of pitting early and coming out ahead of the faster drives when the rest of the field stopped. Right on the half way mark of the race, the HTP Motorsport Mercedes entered the pits, placing Gotz in the car but plenty of places were lost during the transition. With the Lamborghini taking back the race lead and Bleekemolen on a charge, second and third places were held by the BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil, with Brito Filho ahead of Sergio Jimenez. The positions of the BMW team changed a few laps later, as a pit stop infringement saw Brito Filho handed a drive-through, promoting Jimenez to second and Gotz into third.
As the race drew to a conclusion and Bleekemolen remained in the lead out front, Maximillian Gotz moved ahead of the BMW and into second place, with the Mercedes lapping a lot faster than the rest. Luckily for Grasser Racing, hard work from both drivers during their stints meant they were able to hold onto their advantage, which fell from way over seven seconds to just over four. With Proczyk and Bleekemolen completing a victory double in the Lamborghini ahead of Buhk and Gotz, this had rounded a successful debut at Brands Hatch in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series, keeping round one winners Buhk and Gotz behind on more than one occasion. With Team Brasil BMW taking third position with Jimenez and Bueno, race one pole man Laurens Vanthoor brought the No.1 Audi R8LMS Ultra home in fourth ahead of the ROAL Motorsport BMW of Alex Zanardi, who hd secured his highest place finish in the Blancpain GT Sprint Series.
Blancpain GT Sprint Series Championship Race Top Ten:
1. Proczyk/Bleekemolen (Grasser Racing Team) Lamborghini LFII = 42 Laps
2. Buhk/Gotz (HTP Motorsport) Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 = +4.043s
3. Jimenez/Bueno (BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil) BMW Z4 = +11.760s
4. Ramos/Vanthoor (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) Audi R8LMS Ultra = +19.365s
5. Zanardi (ROAL Motorsport) BMW Z4 = +24.579s
6. Lisowski/Abril (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) Audi R8LMS Ultra = +25.187s
7. Salaquarda/Montermini (Scuderia Villorba Corse) Ferrari 458 Italia = +25.747s
8. Dall’Agnol Stumpf/Brito Filho (BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil) BMW Z4 = +27.088s
9. Ide/Rast (Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) Audi R8LMS Ultra = +27.829s
10. Colombo/Fumanelli (ROAL Motorsport) BMW Z4 = +41.001s
With two rounds of seven now completed in the 2014 Blancpain GT Sprint series, the drivers and team have seven weeks to prepare until round three at the famous Dutch circuit of Zandvoort on the 4th to the 6th July. Heading to Holland, the team championship leaders are Belgium Audi Club Team WRT, with the Audi team on 103 points ahead of ROAL Motorsport by forty-two points. In terms of the drivers’ championship, Frenchmen Vincent Abril now sits at the top of the standings for Audi, with him and team mate Mateusz Lisowski level on eighty-eight points. The closest challenger to the Audi pairing is HTP Motorsport’s Gotz and Buhk, but a total of thirty-seven points separate the two teams.
Even though these championship points don’t reflect highly on a lot of teams, this is because a few are campaigning the overall championship category, the Blancpain GT Series, which takes into consideration points from the Sprint and Endurance Championships. With focus switching to the next round of the Endurance Championship at Silverstone on the 24th and 25th May, the championship standings have been effected as follows in terms of the teams and driver standings, with forty-seven teams set to do battle in a three hour challenge of the Silverstone International layout.
Blancpain GT Series – Teams Standings
1. HTP Motorsport = 63
2. Belgian Audi Club Team WRT = 52
3. Grasser Racing Team = 43
4. BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil = 35
5. ART Grand Prix = 25
6. G-Drive Racing = 23
7. ROAL Motorsport = 22
8. Phoenix Racing = 21
9. Scuderia Villorba Corse = 20
10. Sainteloc Racing = 18
Blancpain GT Series – Drivers’ Standings
1. Maximilian Buhk = 61
2. Maximilian Gotz = 51
3. Hari Proczyk = 41
4. Jeroen Bleekemolen = 41
5. Stephane Ortelli = 39
6. Gregory Guilvert = 39
7. Laurens Vanthoor = 33
8. Cesar Ramos = 33
9. Caca Bueno = 33
10. Sergio Jimenez = 33
To find out more about the Blancpain GT Series and a chance to see the sights and sounds of one of the best International GT Series in the world, please click the links to the following: Blancpain GT, Blancpain Endurance and Blancpain Sprint.
For photos of the Blancpain Sprint Series at Brands Hatch on the 18th May 2014, our Flickr album can be found here.
Written and Produced by Chris Collier and Cheryl Closs.