The penultimate round of the Blancpain Endurance Series began with an hour-long test for bronze-rated drivers and then two free practice sessions and at the Nurburgring today. But even before the morning's bronze test was over, one of the 47 entered cars was out of the running. Roger Grouwels in the #70 RaceArt BMW Z4 had a coming together with another BMW, the #37 DB Motorsport car of Andrew Danyliw. Both impacted the barrier heavily at the NGK Chicane, and although the crew of the #70 were packing up to go home, as of early evening, the DB Motorsport squad reckoned they would have their machine fixed for tomorrow's three-hour race.
Le Mans winner Seiji Ara and experienced Scot Marino Franchitti were making their first appearance in the Blancpain Endurance Series, sharing the #5 Boutsen Ginion McLaren with Belgian Nico Verdonck. Both felt they needed more time before they could give a definitive verdict on the British-built car. “I'm getting used to the car, but it's not enough yet,” declared Ara. “It's a long time since I've raced at the Nurburgring and with so many cars on track it's hard to get a clear lap.” Franchitti was similarly cautious. “It's too early to say, really,” he said. “I did shake the car down at Zolder a few weeks ago, but I'm still reacting to what the car is doing rather than making it do what I want it to do.” Verdonck ran strongly in the early stages of August's Spa 24 Hours and the team should hope to be an overall podium threat tomorrow.
Down at Gulf Racing, McLaren works driver Rob Bell was also reasonably satisfied with the day's work, and unlike HEXIS Racing in GT1, he didn't feel that the McLaren's turbo engine gave it any great advantage in the colder conditions that have prevailed at the Nurburgring so far. “It was a warm at Spa, and we were quick there, too,” he stated. “The McLaren is very aero efficient, it doesn't have much drag, so we're quick in a straight line. A bit of oil went down in the last practice session, so we didn't set the time I think we're capable of. We hope to challenge for pole tomorrow.”
The Belgian WRT Audi team are having an exceptionally busy weekend, running two R8s in the GT1 World Championship round and another two in the Blancpain Series – one of which is challenging the Marc VDS BMW for the Pro Class title. Frenchman Stephane Ortelli is sharing a car with Laurens Vanthoor in GT1, but in Blancpain the two drivers are in two different cars, and Ortelli's is the one that can still win the title. “It's been one of the busiest days of my life,” he smiled amidst the hive of activity that is the WRT garage, “but it's okay, because at least I'm driving for the same team in both series. I'm trying to help Laurens all the time, as it's his first year in a GT car. He's doing really well so far.” Getting tyres up to temperature quickly is not as crucial in a three-hour Blancpain race as it is in the one-hour GT1 sprints, and Ortelli says that consistency of tyre wear, rather than quickly warming the tyres, will be key to the Blancpain race.
Ortelli and his two German team-mates Christopher Mies and Christopher Haas won the Blancpain Series race at Paul Ricard and second place made them the highest-finishing full-season entry at the Spa 24 Hours. But the Marc VDS trio of Bas Leinders, Markus Palttala and Maxime Martin dominated the early part of the season, so the two crews are separated by only 15 points going into this round, with 25 points on offer for a win tomorrow. Marc VDS team manager Leinders declared himself reasonably happy with progress so far, but expressed surprise that the Audi R8 had received only an extra 10kg success ballast after winning the previous two rounds, whereas the BMW Z4 has had an extra 25kg applied, making it 50kg heavier than the Audi overall. His co-driver Palttala added: “We were struggling to get temperature into the tyres, but that's not really anything new. We probably won't be the fastest in qualifying, so getting through to front in the race will be tricky.”
In the Blancpain Series' Pro-Am class, two Ferrari 458s run by different teams are just three points apart at the top of the table: the #52 AF Corse car of Niek Hommerson, Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini and the #57 Vita4One Team Italy machine driven by Eugenio Amos, Giacomo Petrobelli and Alessandro Bonacini, with former FIA GT champion Matteo Bobbi as team manager. At the moment, the AF Corse crew hold the upper hand, finishing the day's running with a lap time eight-tenths faster than the Vita4One crew managed. The overall fastest runner on Saturday in both classes was a Team Black Falcon Mercedes SLS: Cong Fu Chen, Mike Parisy and Jeroen Bleekemolen in Pro; and Oliver Morley, Steve Jans and Sean Edwards in Pro-Am.
Story by: Stephen Errity