Title battles hot up in NavarraThe 2013 FIA GT Series is reaching boiling point as the teams prepare for the penultimate event of the season at the Circuito de Navarra this weekend.
With tension and excitement crackling in the title chase, the races are sure to be crucial in Spain before the teams set off for the final races at the inaugural Baku World Challenge by Aztexnika.
A pair of second place finishes in the Pro Cup class last time out at Slovakia Ring saw Belgian Audi Club Team WRT drivers Stéphane Ortelli (MCO) and Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) increase their lead to 19 points at the top of the standings. Hot on their heels are Edward Sandström (SWE) and Frank Stippler (DEU) in the #13 Audi LMS ultra, who scored a third place position in the main race at Slovakia. This was especially well received by the team after they earlier failed to score in the qualifying event. Another fierce battle between the two Audi R8 LMS ultra’s is fully expected this weekend.
Also in the hunt for the title is Niki Mayr-Melnhof in the #13 Team WRT that he normally shares with René Rast (DEU). They came away from Slovakia Ring with an excellent 28-point haul, including a memorable Pro Cup class win in the main race, thrusting them back in to the title reckoning. For Navarra Mayr-Melnhof will be partnered by Audi factory driver Oliver Jarvis (GBR), who stands in for Rast and makes a return to the team he raced for in 2012.
Although by no means out of the Pro Cup series title contention, the Zandvoort main race winning HTP Gravity Charouz Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Alon Day (ISR) and Maximilian Buhk (DEU) rued a non-score at Slovakia Ring and must now rely on the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi cars to hit trouble. With Buhk unavailable this weekend, the team are set to announce who will partner Day for the Navarra round, later this week.
Sure to be quick at Navarra will be the pair of Sebastien Loeb Racing McLaren MP4-12Cs. The Spanish track has been a happy hunting ground for the British built supercar in recent events held there. A triple win for the Hexis Racing team last season in the FIA GT1 World Championship and Blancpain Endurance Series combined, showed that the McLaren was well suited to the demands of the 3.933kms Navarra circuit. As usual the French team enters cars for the man whose name is above the garage door, motorsport legend – Sébastien Loeb (FRA) and Alvaro Parente (PRT) once more shares the #9 McLaren with the nine-time World Rally Champion. Mike Parisy (FRA) and Andreas Zuber (AUT) again line up in the #10 McLaren MP4-12C, hoping to consolidate upon their solid 5th place in the main race at Slovakia Ring.
A new face will be seen in the BMW Sports Trophy Team Brazil pit at Navarra. Replacing Ricardo Zonta, who is racing in his homeland, will be Átila Abreu (BRA). Abreu is no stranger to racing in Europe having finished runner-up to triple F1 World Champion, Sebastien Vettel in the 2004 ADAC Formula BMW Series. The 26-year old has more recently raced in the Brazilian Stock Car and Brazilian GT series’. He joins Sergio Jimenez (BRA) in the #21 BMW Z4 for this race.
The #0 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brazil car of ‘Caca’ Bueno (BRA) and Allam Khodair (BRA) will be looking to put behind them some bad luck so far in 2013 to bolster their points position. The BMW Sports Trophy Team pit crew will certainly be on a high after claiming the Pit Stop challenge award at Slovakia Ring.
A welcome addition to the entry list at Navarra will be the Vita4one Racing Team with one of their familiar BMW Z4 cars. The Michael Bartels owned and run team has recruited ex-F1 driver, Karun Chandhok to line up with their 2012 FIA GT1 World Championship racer, Yelmer Buurman, who returns to the team that he won four races for last season.
Sure to be popular in Spain, the raging bull of Lamborghini Blancpain by Reiter Engineering’s spectacular Gallardo FLII is again piloted by reigning FIA GT1 World Champion, Marc Basseng (DEU). The German made his 2013 series debut at Slovakia Ring but came away disappointed after difficulties blighted his and the teams weekend. Basseng is joined by Zolder race winner, Stefan Rosina (SVK,) for the Navarra round.
A battle royal is raging in the Pro-Am category between GRT Grasser Racing Team and HTP Gravity Charouz. While the former team with Dominik Baumann (DEU) and Hari Proczyk (AUT) has been consistent in their points scoring, it has been Sergei Afanasiev (RUS) and Andreas Simonsen (SWE) that have taken the majority of race wins – five in total. They now enjoy an eight-point lead with 68 to play for. At Navarra the GRT Grasser Racing Team has drafted in their regular Blancpain Endurance Series driver, Gerhard Tweraser (AUT), to replace the unavailable Baumann.
In their red and white Mercedes SLS AMG GT3, Afanasiev and Simonsen have been in a rich vein of form recently, taking a double Pro-Am category victory at Slovakia Ring, as well as an incredible outright success. Both drivers and their German team are creating strong reputations in the FIA GT Series this year but will still be wary of the GRT Grasser Racing duo, which are determined to stay in touch with their rivals and mount a concerted title challenge.
Now considered outsiders for driver’s title success, but still nevertheless in with a chance, is the Nissan GT Academy Team RJN partnership of Alex Buncombe (GBR) and Lucas Ordonez (ESP). As it stands Buncombe will be aiming to convert one of his now famous charges in to big points at Navarra this weekend. His partner, the original GT Academy graduate- Ordonez, will be racing in his homeland for the first time in his professional career. The recently crowned 2013 Blancpain Endurance Series champion will be aiming to ensure there are more champagne-soaked overalls in the Nissan GT Academy pit on Sunday.
The Nissan GT Academy have a much stronger possibility of winning the Pro-Am team championship as they are just six points away from HTP Gravity Charouz. The team returns to entering two cars at Navarra with GT Academy graduates Steve Doherty (RUS) and Wolfgang Reip (BEL) sharing the Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 racer.
Entering one of their McLaren MP4-12C cars this weekend will be Von Ryan Racing. The David Ryan managed squad could produce a memorable cameo performance in Spain, particularly in the hands of the very rapid Duncan Tappy (GBR). He will share the McLaren with Grégoire Demoustier (FRA), who raced last season as partner to Alvaro Parente with Hexis Racing in the FIA GT1 World Championship. This year’s Tappy/Demoustier line-up re-kindles a partnership that raced in last season’s Blancpain Endurance Series event at Navarra in an ART Grand Prix run McLaren. That day Tappy took a brilliant class pole position. He will be aiming just as high this weekend.
The two Portuguese teams of Rodrive, with their Lamborghini Gallardo for Matheus Stumpf (BRA)/Patrick Cunha (POR) and the Novadriver Audi R8 LMS of Cesar Campanico and as yet to be confirmed new team mate, will hope to challenge for victories on what is the closest to being their ‘home race’. Novadriver recovered well from a large accident at Zandvoort and will be striving to reclaim their fantastic early season form, which saw them win at Nogaro back in April.
The Gentlemen Trophy is set to be a straight battle between the HTP Gravity Charouz Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of recently crowned champions – Petr Charouz (CZE)/Jan Stovicek (CZE) and the AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Michele Rugolo (ITA) and Claudio Sdanewitsch (DEU). The AF Corse pairing dominated proceedings in Slovakia and they are keen to take that momentum to produce another efficient performance at Navarra this weekend.