The culmination to a thrilling year of FIA GT Series action takes place at the inaugural Baku World Challenge by Aztexnika in Azerbaijan this weekend. The final round of the 2013 season will blast in to life this Sunday where the new champions will be crowned. Heading to Baku the tension couldn’t be bigger; the stakes couldn’t be higher.
The new and exhilarating street circuit in Baku, close to the Caspian Sea, will host a gripping finale to the season where teams and drivers titles in both the Pro Cup and Pro Am categories are up for grabs. A dynamic and diverse 28-car grid of FIA GT Series cars will tackle the all-new street circuit, wowing the Azeri public and feeding their developing appetite for international GT competition.
The beautiful Azerbaijani capital city of Baku, known as the ‘City of Lights’, will illuminate a spectacular climax to a highly competitive 2013 season. With the stunning backdrop of famous Baku landmarks, including the Crystal Hall arena and the National Flag Square, the weekend will provide the perfect setting to bring down the curtain on an exceptional year of FIA GT Series racing.
Pro Cup – Title chase reaches an exciting conclusion!
Just six points separate the battling Belgian Audi Club Team WRT team mates Stéphane Ortelli (MCO)/Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) and Frank Stippler (DEU)/Edward Sandström (SWE) as they fight for the 2013 FIA GT Series Pro Cup class crown. In identical Audi R8 LMS ultra’s the title protagonists are set to enjoy a straight fight for the title. Vincent Vosse, team principal at Belgian Audi Club Team WRT is adamant that his cars will race tooth and nail this weekend without team orders.
The prolific Stéphane Ortelli is chasing a fifth international GT title at Baku. His previous titles include the 2002 and 2003 FIA GT Championship, in the N-GT class, 2007 LMS-GT1, and 2012 Blancpain Endurance Series-Pro Cup, making him one of the most successful GT drivers of recent times.
Both Ortelli and his young charger team mate – Laurens Vanthoor have taken two qualifying race wins in 2013 and looked set to have a relatively easy route to the driver’s title. However, a difficult weekend in Navarra last time out ensures that they now have just a six-point advantage over Stippler and Sandström. Vanthoor though has a strong reputation on street circuits having starred on his first visit to Macau in 2008, when he finished a fine 6th ahead of current F1 drivers Max Chilton and Jules Bianchi.
Like their title rivals just across the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT garage, Stippler and Sandström have enjoyed fantastic consistency throughout the previous eight races, scoring a Main Race win and three consecutive 3rd places. If they continue their shrewd and well-judged race strategies, the German/Swedish partnership could be in prime position to snatch the title this weekend.
The Austrian will be re-united at Baku with regular team mate René Rast, who was unavailable for the last round at Navarra. As a statement of their commitment to the FIA GT Series and the Baku World Challenge, a fourth Audi R8 LMS ultra has been entered for young Frenchman, Grégoire Demoustier and Filipe Albuquerque (PRT).
For the teams title the Belgian squad require just 7 points to scoop the silverware from their nearest challengers, Sebastien Loeb Racing. As ever, nine-times World Rally champion – Loeb (FRA) will attract big headlines in Baku and is riding the crest of a victorious wave after a clean sweep of Qualifying and Main Race wins at Navarra in September.
Among the regular FIA GT Series entrants that could mount a challenge for race victories at the Baku World Challenge by Aztexnika will be BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil with two BMW Z4s and Zandvoort main race victors, HTP Gravity Charouz with their familiar #1 Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 for Alon Day (ISR) and Maximilian Buhk (DEU).
‘Wild card’ entries set to spice up the action in Baku!
A host of exceptional race-by-race entries will add an extra element of intrigue at Baku this weekend. With the ranks of Pro Cup entrants boosted to 20 cars, the competition will be fierce with some immensely strong drivers partnerships and well-drilled teams. While these entries are not eligible for points at Baku, they are sure to make an impact in the fight for victory and for the 100.000€ awarded to the overall winners.
The Boutsen Ginion squad will be among the favourites, as they field two McLaren MP4-12C GT3 cars for two impressive-looking pairings. Single-seater sensation Stoffel Vandoorne (BEL) is joined by friend and countryman Frédéric Vervisch in the #22 Boutsen Ginion McLaren.
Vandoorne, who is an official McLaren F1 development driver finished a close runner-up in the 2013 World Series by Renault to newly signed McLaren F1 racer, Kevin Magnussen and is tipped to join the Dane on the F1 grid in the coming years. The second of the Boutsen Ginion-run McLaren’s sees another McLaren factory driver – Alexander Sims (GBR) joined by one of his 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series partners at Hexis Racing, Stef Dusseldorp (NDL).
2011 FIA GT1 World Champions - Hexis Racing arrive at Baku to make their 2013 FIA GT Series debut fully intent on repeating their victory at last year’s event, held on a smaller scale and different version of the Baku street circuit. Sadly it could prove to be their racing swansong as they seek an investor for their team to continue. The Lédenon-based team have one McLaren MP4-12C entered for Rob Bell (GBR) and French talent Kévin Estre, who celebrated his 25th birthday last month by testing the car at Paul Ricard, ahead of the trip to Baku.
Sure to all be among the favourites of the new entries is the Marc VDS Racing team. The crack Belgian squad enter a distinctively new liveried BMW Z4 for Maxime Martin (BEL) and Nick Catsburg (NDL). Fresh from winning this year’s Blancpain Endurance Series team title, the Bas Leinders managed outfit will purely be targeting victory this weekend.
An intriguing prospect at Baku will be the Trackspeed team that fields a brace of Porsche 997 GT3s for the event. Winning their place on the Baku grid thanks to becoming the 2013 British GT Champion team they arrive with a very strong line-up and should be considered as dark horses for a top result. The joint pace of Marco Holzer (DEU) and Nick Tandy (GBR) is sure to see this car feature at the front, while the second car will also be quick in the hands of the rapid and personable Danny Watts (GBR).
Watts was the first driver to sample the Baku World Challenge circuit on the Base Performance Simulator last month and immediately liked what he saw of the Baku World Challenge track. Watts is joined by Porsche Carrera Cup Asia race winner – Martin Ragginger (AUT) who was the youngest ever driver to set an FIA GT Championship pole position lap in a GT2 Porsche, at Adria in 2009.
Adding more interest for McLaren fans will be the German Molitor Racing Systems team. Swelling the British constructor’s ranks to an impressive seven entries, MRS has a car in each of the Pro Cup and Pro Am categories. The Pro car has yet another McLaren factory driver in the cockpit, as current F1 test driver Oliver Turvey (GBR) is placed with the team. The 26-year-old will make his series debut alongside Andy Soucek (ESP), who has recent experience of the MP4-12C having contested a full Blancpain Endurance Series season with ART Grand-Prix in 2013.
Also worth watching will be the Fortec Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Oli Webb and Benji Hetherington. The all-British pair has experience of racing the car in Blancpain Endurance Series and British GT this season and will be keen to make an impression ahead on the streets of Baku this weekend.
Ensuring that variety is just as prevalent as the quantity in the bumper field at Baku is the Callaway Corvette which is set to thrill the local crowd with its distinctive rumble. The experienced Jeroen Bleekemolen (NDL) is joined by 2010 FIA GT3 Champion - Daniel Keilwitz (DEU) in the American muscle supercar.
Pro Am – HTP Gravity Charouz and GRT Grasser Racing go head to head for title fight!
It is a straight Mercedes v Lamborghini fight for the title trophies in the immensely competitive Pro Am category at the Baku World Challenge. Although with a seemingly comfortable 19-point advantage, the #2 HTP Gravity Charouz entered Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Andreas Simonsen (SWE) and Sergei Afanasiev (RUS) will not be resting on any laurels just yet. Both drivers are well aware that anything can, and often does happen on street circuits.
Afanasiev, who is closer to racing at home than he has been all season, is determined to seal the title which he and Simonsen have led since round two at Zolder. If they do clinch the Pro Am title this weekend they will add it to the team trophy, which was clinched after the last event at Navarra after the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN squad announced that they would not be competing in Baku.
The GRT Grasser Racing team have had a superb season and proved that their early season ‘surprise package status’ should now be discarded, as they consistently proved to be among the true pace setters in the Pro Am class. Hari Proczyk (AUT) can still take the silverware at Baku and with the support of team mate, Dominik Baumann (AUT) – who cannot take the title after missing the Navarra round – the Lamborghini has a fighting chance of an unlikely, but potentially well-deserved class series win.
In addition to the title protagonists in the Pro Am category, there will be many other potential race winners in Azerbaijan. The Novadriver Audi R8 LMS of Cesar Campanico (PRT) and Michael Ammermüller (DEU) showed a return to form at Navarra in the last rounds, while the Rodrive squad has now got to grips with their new Lamborghini to offer a serious threat in the hands of the pacey partnership of Matheus Stumpf (BRA) and Patrick Cunha (PRT).
A welcome addition to the Pro Am ranks and another real contender for victories this weekend will be the TDS Racing-entered BMW Z4 of Henry Hassid (FRA) and Anthony Beltoise (FRA). After some very strong podium position performances in this season’s Blancpain Endurance Series, the TDS BMW Z4 will provide a serious threat to their opponents.
Local interest is sure to come from Mark J Thomas who although Canadian, has lived in Baku for many years. On the streets that he walks regularly, the businessman who is experienced in racing GT cars in Europe will campaign the second Molitor Racing Systems McLaren MP4-12C.
In the Gentlemen Trophy class, already crowned 2013 champions Petr Charouz (CZE) and Jan Stovicek (CZE) will be aiming to finish their successful season off on a high in their HTP Gravity Charouz entered Mercedes SLS AMG GT3.
The teams racing in the first-ever Baku World Challenge - Powered by Aztexnika weekend will be racing for a stunning prize fund of 175,000€, that will be distributed by the Host City of Baku as 100.000€ for the overall winning team in the Main race, 50.000€ for the 2nd placed team and 25.000€ for the 3rd placed team. All teams will also benefit from a 20.000€ starting prize package in addition to air freight costs, plane tickets, and hotel and catering costs.
In addition to the two crucial FIA GT Series rounds there will also be the spectacle of F1 cars on the streets of Baku as an evocative selection of famous cars from yesteryear take part in special demonstration runs throughout the weekend.