Saturday, 12 March 2016

Buncombe upbeat ahead of Blancpain Endurance Cup title defence

Alex Buncombe is confident that changes at Nissan over the winter will not have a detrimental impact on his Blancpain Endurance Cup title defence.

As the sole survivor of last year’s championship-winning team after Katsuma Chiyo was promoted to the Super GT GT500 class and Wolfgang Reip’s contract was not extended, 34-year-old Buncombe will be the de-facto team leader at RJN, with a returning Lucas Ordonez and Mitsunori Takaboshi completing the line-up in the Endurance Cup. Takaboshi, twice a winner in the Super GT GT300 category last year, will also partner Buncombe in the Sprint Cup.
Buncombe was the champion in BES last year, but his team-mates
 Chiyo and Reip won't be returning in 2016 (Olivier Beroud).
The Brit has not raced in Sprint since 2013 when it was still known as the FIA GT Series and Takaboshi is new to racing in Europe, so Buncombe isn’t expecting to have it all his own way, but has faith in his team-mates to help deliver results.

“I’ve got a very busy season ahead of me with Mitsunori and Lucas, but we’re really looking forward it," he said. "Although Lucas came the GT Academy way I honestly don’t think of him as that now, he’s a pure Pro driver who needs no introduction. We last drove together in 2013 and we’ve done the Nürburgring 24 Hours for the last two years, so to have him back for the full season is really great. Lucas is a really good friend of mine and when I was told he was going to be my team-mate this year I couldn’t have been happier.

“I think we can expect some good things from Mitsunori. It’s tough to come over from Japan to Europe, especially having to learn the tyre which is completely different to what he’s been used to, but as the year progresses, I’m sure he’ll improve. I’ve only seen him do a few laps around Paul Ricard and he’s been instantly on the pace, so fingers crossed everything will go smoothly and we can have a fantastic year.”

Whilst his team-mates may be slightly different, the GT-R Nismo GT3 is now a well-known quantity, which could prove to be a vital asset in the early rounds as other teams get to grips with brand new machinery.

“As far as the engine goes and aero-wise, the car is identical," Buncombe revealed. "We have improved the car on our tyre longevity which was our issue last year and we’re hoping to work on it more before we get to Misano. Although we’re not running specific updates, there are little bits on the car that I know we’ve improved on. As we know in this game it’s the little bits here and there that you piece together that can make a massive difference to the end result. I'm feeling pretty confident that it will be a good year."

Grasser: Macau “my personal dream”

The 2016 season may only just be starting, but Grasser Racing team owner Gottfried Grasser has set his sights on the FIA GT World Cup at Macau in November, describing the event as his “personal dream.”
Mirko Bortolotti on track in the Blancpain Sprint Series at Misano. The Italian
venue will be the first round of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series (Olivier Beroud).
Having reverted back to a customer team after winning the contract from Lamborghini to develop the Huracan GT3 in the car’s first season, Grasser told Racing.GT that he was looking forward to focusing purely on racing in 2016 and hopes to add Macau to an already packed schedule, with three cars entered for the full Blancpain GT series and at least one planned for the ADAC GT Masters in Germany.

“To be honest the only thing that has changed is now the development is frozen and the car is fixed in this configuration, we will be able to focus more on the detailed setup work which we didn’t have time to do before because we were always having to test new suspension parts, springs, dampers and things like that,” said Grasser.

“It will be quite fun to do the race team role again – all our employees are racers, we don’t want to go testing and doing endless laps, we are here to compete and we can’t wait for the competition to start.

“Next week we will do the 12 Hours of Mugello, but I think with our timetable the only possibility for Creventic Series this year. My personal dream is to go to Macau with two cars – I really like the race, it has a really nice atmosphere and over the winter we are hoping to do a tour of some special races like Daytona and the 24 Hours of Dubai, which we are working on already.”

Grasser admits that having a year’s experience of working with the car will give his team a competitive edge over other Lamborghini customers at the start of the season, but said he would not be opposed to sharing data if asked.
Jeroen Bleekemolen returns after a fruitful 2014 season (Brecht Decancq). 
“If I say no it would be lying to be honest,” he said. “We have worked with the car for nearly two years doing development and then racing last season, so for sure we will have some advantages, but we are really happy to share with the other teams. We are an open book because we clearly know that it is not only setup you need to win races in Blancpain, so that is not a problem for us.”

The Austrian team will once again reprise their partnership with Jeroen Bleekemolen after his sterling 2014 campaign alongside Hari Proczyk almost delivered GRT an unlikely title with the ageing Lamborghini Gallardo FL2. The versatile Bleekemolen will join Mirko Bortolotti – the only Lamborghini factory driver retained by Grasser after scoring two pole positions last year – and Rolf Ineichen in the Endurance Cup, and Stefan Rosina in Sprint Cup. Luca Stolz, Michele Beretta and Andrea Piccini will share a second car in Endurance, with a third car entered in the Am Cup for Vadim Gitlin.

“When we finished the development programme with the manufacturer, we were immediately free to choose our own drivers, so the first thing was to pick up the phone, call Jeroen and say ‘next year, we have to do something again’ and he immediately said yes,” Grasser continued. “It’s really a big pleasure to have him on board again after the experience we had in 2014 – it stopped in October 2014 and it started again straight away at this first test in the same way, so we’re really happy. I think his car is quite a good line-up and for sure we can expect some good results.”

Friday, 11 March 2016

Five things we learned from the Blancpain GT test

Narrowing it down to just five things was a tough ask after a busy few days in the south of France, but here's what we learned from the Blancpain GT test at Paul Ricard. 

1. Blancpain grid expands again 
Stephane Ratel and Bruce Jones on stage at the SRO press conference (Olivier Beroud).
Achieving a more even balance between the Blancpain Endurance Series and Sprint Series was of vital strategic importance for SRO to continue the series’ forward momentum, but even after ruling that each manufacturer would have to enter two cars in Sprint to be eligible for a Pro entry at the Spa 24 Hours, few could have foreseen the mammoth 38-car Sprint Cup entry announced on Wednesday. In all, 31 cars are set to contest the full 10-round Blancpain GT Series, ensuring that the 2016 season will have the biggest overall entry in Blancpain series history, while the all-Canadian line-up at Zakspeed (Alex Tagliani, Darryl O’Young and JF Laberge) served as a further indictment of the championship’s appeal across the Atlantic. Not bad going, we say.

2. Pecking order is distinctly unclear

Lap-times at Paul Ricard were merely a sideshow, with team’s priorities focused on getting valuable mileage on their new machinery, bedding in drivers and trying different setups. Laurens Vanthoor in the no. 1 WRT Audi was quickest out of the traps on Wednesday morning, but his 1:57.3 was bettered in the afternoon by a 1:57.1 from Jonny Adam’s Motorbase Aston Martin on a new tyre run. Vanthoor was again quickest on Thursday morning with a 1:56.7, but the best time was still to come as Marco Mapelli set a 1:56.6 in the Barwell Lamborghini Huracan to top the timesheets.
However, there remains the distinct impression that few were willing to show their true hand, with several fancied names opting to keep their powder dry for the season opener at Misano next month to avoid any last-minute changes to the Balance of Performance. With so many new cars from Audi, Mercedes, Lamborghini, BMW and Ferrari (who didn’t run any 488s at Paul Ricard), it would take a brave man, or woman, to try and predict a winner.

3. BMW new boys settling in well

As is often the case when the on-track action proves inconclusive, far more can be learned by watching interactions between team-mates away from the circuit and that was certainly the case at ROWE Racing, whose four drivers just so happened to be staying at Racing GT’s lodgings.
Alexander Sims and Nick Catsburg have been BMW-affiliated drivers for a little while now, but after watching them laugh and joke with new boys Philipp Eng and Stef Dusseldorp over a few games of pool in the hotel lobby, one might have assumed the four had been friends for years. The new M6 is an unproven car, with only a top six finish at Daytona and a frustrating weekend at Clipsal in the Australian GT championship to go on, but on current evidence, ROWE have all the makings of a very strong team.

4. Vanthoor is an old head on young shoulders
There's a new(ish) name in the WRT Audi this year (Olivier Beroud).
No, we’re not talking about Laurens Vanthoor, but his 17-year-old brother Dries. Following in Laurens’ well-trodden footsteps, Dries made the switch from single-seaters over the off-season, starting his GT racing odyssey with an appearance at the Dubai 24 Hours. Vanthoor the younger is well aware that it may take a little time before he is recognised as his own man and isn’t putting too much pressure on himself to perform straight away, but he’s not here to make up the numbers either. Expect to hear a lot more of the Belgian in both Sprint (with Robin Frijns) and Endurance (with Laurens Vanthoor and Frederic Vervisch).

5. Abril knows his stuff…

…Well, sort of. Live on Racing GT’s Periscope channel, Bentley’s Guy Smith took new team-mate Vincent Abril to task with a hard-hitting quiz about British life. Showing an impressive knowledge of Brexit and having a firm opinion on the pronunciation of ‘scones’, the Frenchman passed with flying colours and you can watch it back here.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Sanchez determined to continue learning curve

Mexico’s Ricardo Sanchez hopes to continue his upward learning curve in 2016 after being retained as part of Nismo’s global motorsport programme for a second season.

Sanchez only made his racing debut last year after being crowned 2014 GT Academy International winner and took a maiden podium in the Blancpain Endurance Series at Silverstone alongside Jann Mardenborough and fellow rookie Gaetan Paletou.

But while Paletou was not retained for a second season, Nismo decided to keep faith with Sanchez and placed him in the Blancpain Sprint Series alongside Sean Walkinshaw, where the pair will contest the Silver Cup in a GT-R NISMO GT3.
Pictured here at the Nurburgring, Sanchez will return to Blancpain
this year, this time the Sprint Series (Olivier Beroud). 
Although he has only driven most of the circuits on the BSS calendar on his Playstation, the 26-year-old is looking forward to the challenge and expects to get better as the season goes on.

“It’s challenging for me because it’s a different format, you will have to push even more because it’s just half an hour for each driver, but I think the biggest challenge for me will be the new tracks,” he said. “I don’t know Brands Hatch, I don’t know Barcelona, Misano – I’ve only done a few laps on the sim, although I really enjoy Brands Hatch, especially the first corner, you need some cojones! 

“Something that people won’t see from the outside is that in Endurance race weekend you only get about ten laps, twelve laps if you’re lucky before starting the race, so I hope in Sprint Cup we can get more running. In Endurance because you have longer stints you can adapt during the race, but in Sprint you can’t afford that.”

Sanchez didn’t get to drive at all at Monza after the Nissan was afflicted by rising oil temperature, but quickly made up for lost time and impressed at Silverstone and Paul Ricard. His confidence enhanced further by emerging unscathed from a Spa 24 Hours held in conditions bordering on the biblical, Sanchez was lapping within a tenth of champion-elect Wolfgang Reip by the season finale at the Nürburgring, although he again didn’t get to race after Harry Tincknell was spun into the pitwall.

“It’s amazing, I made such a big step between races,” Sanchez recalls. “Every race I learned a lot. Paul Ricard helped me with my race-craft because it was a six hour race, there were two pace cars in my stint so all the cars were compacted and Spa of course with racing at night. I’m sure if I keep racing my learning curve will never stop, it’s amazing how much you can learn from racing in the biggest GT championship in the world against so many competitive drivers.

“Qualifying at the Nurburgring was a very special moment. I did Q2 so it wasn’t with new tyres, in the same conditions as Wolfgang and was pole position in class, eighth overall behind Wolfie by less than a tenth. I was running behind him and trying to learn from him, so when he jumped out of the car and told me ‘mate you were really pushing me like hell’, that was really nice and gave me a lot of confidence for staying in the team this year.”

Sanchez’s season will get underway with the first round of the Blancpain Sprint Series at Misano on April 9-10th.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Introducing: Parker Chase

Amid all the justifiable hype surrounding the Pirelli World Challenge at present, the Grand Touring Sport (GTS) field can sometimes be overlooked. And that’s a shame, because GTS can boast a 19-car entry of its own for the season opener at the Circuit of the Americas this weekend, with an array of KTM XBow GT4s, Ford Mustangs, Chevrolet Camaros, Lotus Evoras, Aston Martin Vantage GT4s, Maserati GranTurismos, the SIN R1 GT4, and now the Ginetta G55 GT4.

The Yorkshire manufacturer has made steady inroads into the American market in recent years through Florida-based Ginetta importer Adolpho Rossi, but this will be their first foray into World Challenge, with a successful Balance of Performance test conducted at CoTA in February.
At only 15, Chase is one of the youngest SCCA Pro Racing
license holders in the US (Performance Motorsports Group/ Facebook).
Stuart Robinson’s Performance Motorsports Group will run the two cars, one for Nick Esayian and the other for 15 year-old Parker Chase, one of the youngest license holders in in SCCA Pro Racing. Texas native Chase, who has previous experience in the open-wheel F1600 racing and Spec Miatas, so impressed Ginetta factory driver Mike Simpson at the BoP test that he was invited back to make his PWC debut with Ginetta.

With prior commitments in the GRC Lites series and IMSA GT3 Cup, it’s set to be a one-off for the time being, but Chase is hoping to make a good impression nonetheless. 

“This is my first race in World Challenge and my first race with the Ginetta, so I want to do well and hopefully get on the podium,” he told Racing.GT. “It handles like a big go kart, it’s very responsive. I’ve been driving the Porsche a bit so the power isn’t such a big factor, it’s definitely a lot lighter than the Porsche.” 

“I’d like to stay with Ginetta and I know we might do St. Pete, we’ll just have to see as time goes.”

Parker’s father Eric Chase is the CEO of Enertech, a cellular phone infrastructure company operating across Texas, and has been very impressed with what he’s seen so far.

“Ginetta has done a fantastic job of trying to put this together in such a short time,” he said. “We have two cars this weekend running under the Ginetta brand, they have sent help in the form of parts, pieces and staff to help get this done. They’re really committed, you can tell that they want this to be successful.

“In the US you essentially have two choices. If you set your goals on NASCAR you typically come up through all the ranks, including dirt racing and Saturday night racing – it’s a long process before you are running at a national level. We’ve really enjoyed the level of professionalism that surrounds sportscars and road racing, it’s great for Parker to be at a national level event this early in his career.

“It will be very nice if we figure out a way to extend this and do a few more races with these guys. We’re still finding our way with the car, but from the standpoint of finding a group of people to work with, I don’t think we could be happier.”

Friday, 4 March 2016

Onslow-Cole "blown away" by Parker

Tom Onslow-Cole says he has been blown away by how quickly Team Parker Racing have gotten to grips with the Bentley Continetal GT3 they will enter in the Blancpain Endurance Series this year. 

28 year-old Onslow-Cole, who will also defend his 24 Hour Series crown with RAM Racing, will be joined by Callum Macleod and Ian Loggie at Stuart Parker’s team, which won the Am class title in 2015 with an Audi R8 LMS ultra. 
Onslow-Cole will campaign a Bentley Continental GT3 in
the Blancpain Endurance series in 2016 (VIPR Media).
“I’ve known Stuart and seen the team operate for quite a long time, so it’s great to finally drive with him and see how things work on the inside of his team,” says Onslow-Cole, who made the switch from touring cars to GTs in 2014. 

“We’ve already done a few tests together and I’ve been blown away by the team to be honest, they’ve done a brilliant job at getting a handle on the car. Quite often when you have a new car to a team, you’re expecting a bit of a learning curve, but if you didn’t already know then it wouldn’t be obvious at all, they’ve really taken to it quickly.” 

Initial impressions from testing have so far been encouraging, with Onslow-Cole particularly enthused by the Continental GT3’s agility. With the underrated Macleod and safe pair of hands Loggie providing capable support, Onslow-Cole is optimistic of a strong season ahead. 

“The Bentley is very light on its toes, I was very impressed,” he said. “I was expecting it to drive like quite a big car – I was thinking of my experience in the Nissan and the SLS – but actually it’s incredibly nimble, they really have done a great job of engineering the car. 

“Everything I’ve seen of my team-mates so far has been brilliant, we’ve got what we think is a very strong line-up across the board. Callum has flown under the radar in recent years, but in testing he’s been very quick and Ian is last year’s Am champion, enough said. We’re really excited to go to Paul Ricard and check out the opposition because at the moment we don’t really know exactly what we’re up against.” 

Did you know? 

Budget issues have meant Callum Macleod has had to sit on the side-lines more often than he would have liked in recent seasons, but did you know the 28 year old beat the likes of Nick Tandy and James Nash to dominate the 2007 British Formula Ford title, taking 14 wins from 25 races? His record was subsequently broken by Scott Malvern (18 from 24) in 2011 and Dan Cammish (24 in 24 starts) in 2013.

This article, as well as many more like it, can be viewed on Racing.GT.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Kelvin van der Linde – Determination pays off

“You dream your whole life about becoming a professional racing driver, so when that dream comes true, you’re left thinking what now? That’s the kind of feeling I had last year. There was a lot of self-development as a result of that and now I’ve got different goals that I can work towards both on and off the track which keep me motivated. It’s important to have a balanced lifestyle and to realise that racing isn’t everything. You have to lead a healthy life away from the racetrack to help you rebound better from the bad moments.” 

You would hardly expect that such a perceptive clarity might escape the mouth of a racing driver aged only 19, but then Audi factory driver Kelvin van der Linde isn’t like most 19 year olds. 
van der Linde is one of few 19 year olds that can call themselves a fully
fledged factory driver, but that's not to say his journey has been easy (Audi AG).
Born into a motorsport family – his father Shaun van der Linde was a BMW factory driver who contested the 1994 FIA Touring Car World Cup at Donington, while uncle Etienne beat Jenson Button in the 1999 Zandvoort F3 Masters – van der Linde was always likely to follow suit and following a fruitful karting career, made his car racing debut in a VW Polo aged just 14, going on to win the South African national championship in 2012. 

But in order to further his career, van der Linde would have to start from scratch in Europe, knowing all the while that the family coffers would only be enough to see him through one year in the DTM-supporting VW Scirocco Cup. The pressure to perform was well and truly on. 

“It definitely hasn’t been easy!” he laughs. “To keep your head above water in the world these days you have to mature quite young. It’s actually quite strange, looking back it still feels like yesterday when it all happened, the last few years have absolutely flown by. In the moment I wasn’t really conscious about it all, it’s only looking back on it now that I realise how everything played out so perfectly. 

“I’ve always had a very strong mindset. When I came from South Africa that first year for Scirocco Cup I was adamant that I had to win it to keep my career alive, and it happened, which ticked off the first box! I got some prize money from that and then I got some support from Audi Sport to do GT Masters, although at that stage it wasn’t an official thing.” 

Van der Linde was posted at C.Abt Racing alongside Rene Rast (“the best GT3 driver in the world at the moment” according to van der Linde) and despite having only two days of testing before the first weekend at Oschersleben, was immediately on the pace. The 17 year old pipped Christian Engelhart’s Porsche by 0.002 seconds to earn the first pole position of the year and went from strength to strength thereafter, scoring three wins – including a clean sweep of the Sachsenring – on his way to the title. 
"I've never had a team-mate that I've had so much respect
and trust for," says van der Linde of Rast (Audi AG).
It didn’t go unnoticed over at Audi HQ either, and van der Linde was duly entered in the season-ending Baku World Challenge alongside Christopher Mies, only for a brake failure to rob them of a top-ten finish in the closing minutes. 

“[Oschersleben] really opened Audis eyes and they took a special look at how I was getting on for the rest of the season,” he says. “Rene and I had a dynamite combination, it was a fantastic learning experience to have him as a team-mate in my first year of GT3. I’ve never had a team-mate that I’ve had so much respect and trust for and even now I still believe that he’s the benchmark for all of us. 

“By the end of the year we’d won the championship and it was clear that I would be a factory driver for the following season. It was all a blur really because it happened so quickly – before I knew it, I was back here in Germany for 2015 with my own apartment and set up on my own. But I definitely didn’t have it all my own way – if I hadn’t won the Scirocco Cup then my career probably would be over. 

“My parents made a lot of sacrifices to get me started in Europe, so to get the factory seat at the end was the icing on the cake.” 

Having served his apprenticeship alongside Rast, Van der Linde would face the very different challenge of leading 20 year-old team-mate Stefan Wackerbauer in 2015. Hopes of defending his crown were swiftly dispensed with after a rough start to the year, but an upturn in form in the second half of the season produced another victory at the Sachsenring and two further podiums at the Nürburgring and Hockenheim, proving there is more to Van der Linde than one-lap pace. 
van der Linde and Wackerbauer scored a first win at the Sachsenring (Audi AG).
“Those results gave me a lot of satisfaction to say yeah, I could achieve the same kind of results without Rene,” he admits. “I did get criticism in the beginning because it’s not often that people get promoted so quickly and have such a big responsibility on their shoulders, so last year was really a character-building year for me. 

“Coming off the high of 2014, I wanted to show Audi that they’d made the right decision and get a good result in the championship – I was perhaps not as patient as I should have been at times, but I do definitely see years like that as ones that make you work harder and learn about yourself. 

“I actually started doing triathlon races at the end of last season to help keep my mind away from the racing, which I think I need every now and then because you can start to go a bit crazy if you’re constantly thinking of negative weekends!” 

With a little more polish, Audi could have a real gem on their hands in a few years, but so far Van der Linde is taking it all in his stride. His grounded approach is refreshing in a sport often driven by ego, and at such a tender age, he can only get better. 

“You’ve just got to treat it as a job,” he says frankly. “I’m very lucky to be in a position that I get paid to do my passion, and it’s important to be reminded of that fact.”