Following a strong showing in 2015 with the new 650S GT3, McLaren has returned to the Blancpain GT Series under the guise of the new Garage 59 operation, led by Bas Leinders.
McLaren GT appointed Leinders to the role of Sporting Manager prior to the start of the 2016 season, with the 40-year-old Belgian moving on from his position at Marc VDS Racing.
“I’m overseeing the sportive and racing side of McLaren GT and also looking after the works and academy drivers, while further assisting the customer racing programs where needed,” Leinders told Sportscar365 at Paul Ricard last week.
“McLaren GT is a young company that is still growing. McLaren Automotive started six years ago, because it’s bigger now it needs an adaptive structure. I’m part of that plan for the future.”
Besides his role as Sporting Manager, the Belgian former Formula One test and reserve driver will also be at the helm of the Blancpain GT Series program of the newly formed Garage 59.
“Garage 59 is a customer team; it is privately owned, but it has support, both technically and via some staff from McLaren,” he said.
“It would be great if there was more money and means involved, but that’s not the case. The idea is to do things very seriously and the aim is to win the championship with this team.
“That’s what I did with Marc VDS and what I always tried to achieve in my personal career in single seaters and that’s the way I’d like to continue in the future.”
Leinders added that the new operation is almost identical to what Von Ryan Racing used to be for McLaren GT last season.
The team ceased operations when Dave Ryan moved on the become Racing Director of the Manor F1 team.
Garage 59 has entered two McLaren 650S GT3s in the Blancpain GT Series, with all lineups confirmed already, except for the second entry in Sprint Cup.
Factory drivers Rob Bell, Come Ledogar and Shane van Gisbergen will contest the Endurance Cup alongside McLaren GT Academy drivers Andrew Watson, Struan Moore and Alex Fontana.
Bell, meanwhile, will additionally take part in the five-round Sprint Cup alongside Alvaro Parente, while the second car should also get a strong lineup with some factory involvement.
“There was a possibility to mix up the academy drivers with our current factory drivers, but we decided against it,” Leinders said.
“We are convinced that our academy drivers are fast. We tested them before we signed them and they all showed their speed, but they aren’t very experienced yet.
“I have seen over the past few years that Blancpain Endurance is hard racing and you need all the experience you can get in order to try and win the championship and the 24 Hours of Spa.”
According to Leinders, the three drivers that make up the McLaren GT Driver Academy will enjoy as much driving opportunities as possible, a good structure to work in and coaching.
“The idea is to get the maximum out of them, to see if some or even all of them can become a full factory driver in the future,” he said.
“One day our top factory drivers might stop racing or won’t be as fast as they are right now and so we need to prepare the future.”
While McLaren was the only manufacturer to score two victories in the Blancpain Endurance Series last year and recently clinched its first major endurance race win in more than 20 years at Bathurst, the level of customer interest in Europe has remained low.
“For sure, McLaren started of well with the MP4-12C GT3, there were quite a lot of cars around,” Leinders said.
“But I think we have to be honest, the performance and drivability of that car was not so good and the reliability was another issue.
“These are the areas that McLaren GT has worked on for the 650S GT3, the aero and drivability is a lot better, just the performance overall has been improved.”
So far, Garage 59 is the only team to have entered the 650S GT3 in the Blancpain GT Series.
MRS GT Racing is known to have upgraded its old MP4-12C to 650S-spec but has yet to confirm its program with the car.
“I think now in general McLaren GT, the corporation, the customer support, everything has grown and improved over time and we’ll try to continue that this year so that our clients all around the world can enjoy good racing,” Leinders added.