Jeroen Bleekemolen was part of the crew that helped Grasser Racing Team break through on the GT3 scene two years ago, now he’s back for a full Blancpain GT Series campaign with the Austrian squad.
Together with Hari Proczyk, Bleekemolen was the surprise contender for the 2014 Blancpain Sprint title in the black and gold Lamborghini Gallardo FL2 GT3, which in the end lost out to the HTP Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 of Maxi Götz and Maxi Buhk.
“It’s great to be back with Grasser,” Bleekemolen told Sportscar365. “Two years ago we jumped into this championship, nobody really knew what to expect of us and we didn’t know what to expect in terms of results.
“We had a lot of fun back then, competing against the big teams with bigger budgets. By doing so well the team got a lot of attention and recognition.”
GRT’s remarkable Blancpain Sprint campaign meant the Gottfried Grasser-led squad secured the deal to run the factory Lamborghini Huracán GT3s in their maiden season.
The Austrian squad has since evolved from the underdog to title favorites and have now become a ‘big’ team themselves.
“They’ve been able to step it up in terms of people, but the key people that I raced with two years ago are still here,” Bleekemolen said.
However, it won’t make things any easier for them, as the competition in the Sprint Cup also became bigger and better.
Bleekemolen will team up with Stefan Rosina for the Sprint Cup season, with the Slovak driver already having a good amount of experience under his belt in the series.
“This is one of the strongest GT fields you will ever find. It’s very hard to just name a couple of rivals because there are just so many,” Bleekemolen said.
“There are 40 cars and 20 of them are really strong. You have some factory drivers in there, guys on top of their game with the cars and the teams.
“In the end of the day you look for competition, so I’m not going to complain about there being too many cars. But maybe at some of the shorter tracks it might be a lot.”
Bleekemolen stressed that qualifying will more then ever be key this year.
“We have a good package, that’s for sure, but it all depends on your qualifying performance,” he said.
“If you just run into a bit of traffic with 40 cars on track and you miss out on Q3, then suddenly your weekend might look very different.
“Finding a clear lap in Q1 and Q2 will be nearly impossible, so you need a bit of luck, and normally the tires only work well for two laps and after that you have a big drop off.”
The 34-year-old Dutchman also added that overtaking has become increasingly difficult with the latest generation of GT3 cars.
“The cars are getting more aero and now have pretty much the same amount of power,” he said. “The speeds of all the different models are coming closer together, it’s more equal on the straights now.
“I don’t expect too much overtaking once the field has settled after one or two laps, but for sure, further down the field you’ll see more overtaking.”
Besides the other teams and manufacturers, there will also be an internal battle for supremacy within the Grasser family.
“We have a really strong team. Obviously Mirko Bortolotti knows the car in and out and Luca Stolz is very strong,” Bleekemolen said.
“I know Luca from last year in the ADAC GT Masters. He was on the pace and he really surprised by how fast he went, I expect a lot from him too.”
With the Sprint Cup calendar slimmed down from seven to five events and more competition then ever to pick up the pieces after the slightest mistake, Bleekemolen realizes winning isn’t everything.
“For the championship consistency is the main point,” he said. “The field is so big now, there used to be three or four cars that were always up there, but now you can easily end up outside of the top ten. You need finish in the points all the time.”
Looking at the first race of the season later today, tensions will most likely be running high as teams and drivers want to make their mark straight from the beginning.
“Things will happen for sure,” Bleekemolen said. “It’s a very tight first couple of corners, with 40 cars and all these guys out there with something to prove I think we’ll see some incidents.
“Maybe not on the first rows, but if you’re not in the top ten it’s not going to be fun to start these races, because people are aggressive and want to make statements, it’s the first race of the year.”