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GT World Challenge Europe

Zolder Weekend Notebook

Jake Kilshaw’s weekend notebook from the Blancpain GT Series opener at Zolder…

Photo: Olivier Beroud Images

***Bas Leinders has taken up the role of team manager at 3Y Technology after two years as McLaren GT Sporting Director. The French outfit is running a BMW M6 GT3 in the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup as well as a trio of BMW M4 GT4s in the GT4 European Series. Andrew Watson is co-driving the GT3 entry, although the Northern Irishman is still signed to McLaren. 

***The new Pirelli P Zero DHD2 tire compound makes its European racing debut this weekend, and has been described by the manufacturer as an “evolution rather than a revolution”. The new compound’s first race was completed last weekend at Suzuka as part of Pirelli’s new role as exclusive tire supplier for the Japanese Super Taikyu series. 

***The track has had considerable construction work over the winter, including fencing repairs and the implementation of new catch fencing as well as construction on the grounds surrounding the Limburg circuit. The first chicane has also been named after former Formula 1 driver and three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans overall podium finisher Thierry Boutsen.

***A raised platform has been installed behind the pit garages to increase working space, which is understood to have been a condition for the series to return to the circuit.

***The cars have new LED position indicators this season, in the form of three-digit screens in the corner of the windshield which now alternate between the car’s position and current driver’s three-letter abbreviation. The previous version of the screen only displayed the position. 

***Daniel Juncadella fractured his clavicle while mountain biking in Ibiza recently, and has begun rehabilitation work with a physiotherapist, including exercises and magnetic therapy. He was set to run in the DTM tests at Hockenheimring this week before the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup opener at Monza on April 20-22, where he will drive for AKKA ASP.

***Belgian Audi Club Team WRT announced its driver lineup for the No. 3 Audi R8 LMS GT3 late on Thursday evening with 2017 Audi R8 LMS Cup champion Alessio Picariello and 18-year-old series debutant Gilles Magnus driving. Both drivers are currently only contracted for this race although team manager Vincent Vosse confirmed to Sportscar365 that he intends to run all four cars for the entire Sprint Cup season. 

***Picariello, whose racing schedule this year focuses on the ADAC GT Masters, has never raced with WRT before and was coming back from a GT Masters test with Land Motorsport when he got the call from Vosse. “He called me at around 5:30 [on Thursday] evening to say, ‘Get in your car and come to Zolder’,” Picariello told Sportscar365. “It was a little bit of a rush [Thursday] night and [Friday] morning to sign on and do all the paperwork, but I’m happy I can finally join WRT for a race.”

***Magnus, meanwhile, is racing in GT3 machinery for the first time. The 2017 24 Hours of Zolder winner had only tested the Audi GT3 in wet conditions once before and so his first laps in the dry were completed on Friday, before qualifying fourth overall for Race 1 and going on to win the Silver Cup in the opening race.

***Audi is the best-represented manufacturer in the Sprint Cup this season, with eight of the 22 cars this weekend between the WRT, Attempto Racing and Sainteloc Racing entries. Reigning Intercontinental GT Challenge champion Markus Winkelhock presented a light-hearted introduction of his fellow Audi drivers from the circuit on Friday. Click here to watch the video. 

***This morning saw the debut of the new qualifying format which brings the Sprint Cup in line with most other 60-minute sprint race series. Two 20-minute sessions take place with one driver setting the grid for Race 1 and the other for Race 2. Both races now pay equal points for the championship standings rather than the previous Qualifying Race and Main Race system.

***The series will introduce a joker pit stop system for July’s Total 24 Hours of Spa, whereby each car will be allowed a maximum of four stops during the race, including refuelling, with no time limitations. A maximum of one joker pit stop in each six-hour period of the race will be permitted and unused joker stops will not be carried over to be used later in the race. All other stops fall under the time restrictions. 

***At 22 cars, this weekend’s field is the smallest Blancpain GT entry since the 2015 season finale at Zandvoort, which had a total of 16 entries. WRT is the only team from that weekend that is still present in the Sprint Cup, while just four drivers – Christopher Mies, Robin Frijns, Markus Winkelhock and Stephane Ortelli – from that event are competing this weekend.

Vincent Wouters and Laurent Mercier contributed to this report

Jake Kilshaw is a UK-based journalist. He is a graduate of Politics and International Relations.


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