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Abril: “I Want to Become a Factory Driver As Soon As Possible”

HTP Motorsport’s Vincent Abril turning heads in Blancpain GT paddock…

Photo: HTP/Xynamic

Photo: HTP/Xynamic

After having quickly established himself on the European GT scene, Vincent Abril is not only battling for the Blancpain Sprint Series crown, the 20-year-old Frenchman is also looking to secure a factory drive in the near future.

Instead of aiming for a career in single seaters, Abril immediately dedicated himself to GT racing, feeling the chances of a professional career were greater and the required budgets lower.

“Whatever I was going to do, I wanted to do it in the best environment and to win. I just did one year of karting when I was fifteen, so I started really late,” Abril told Sportscar365.

After learning the trade in the French SEAT Leon Supercopa, Abril stepped up to his national GT3-series, immediately turning heads and scoring a win in only his fifth race.

“The budget at Team Speed Car was small, but we managed to get some wins in the wet and showed our potential,” he said. “It gave me a real confidence boost.”

He then started working with Olivier Panis as his manager, with the winner of the 1996 Monaco Grand Prix helping him step up to international GT scene.

“We have a special relationship, a bit like father and son. I met him when I was racing with his son in karting,” Abril said.

“He immediately got me a test with WRT in Navarra at the end of 2013. Everything went well and they signed me there.”

Even though he won the Blancpain Sprint Series Silver Cup with the Belgian squad, Abril feels he could have gotten more out of the season.

“To be honest I was a bit disappointed with my season last year,” he said. “I knew what I was capable of but in the races we didn’t perform like that.

“You always have to be on top of your game, I want to be a factory driver as soon as possible.”

Following two seasons with the Audi R8 LMS ultra, Abril has adapted himself remarkably well to the Bentley Continental GT3, run by HTP Motorsport.

“Last year I had a really good race in the wet at the Slovakia Ring, (HTP team boss) Norbert Brückner noticed and immediately wanted to arrange a test with me,” he said.

“HTP really supports young talent. If I wasn’t with them this year, I wouldn’t have been able to do my current program.”

After a season alongside the relatively unknown Mateusz Lisowski at WRT, Abril was also looking for an opportunity to measure himself directly against a top driver.

“I think it was a good move in the end,” he said. “I wanted to be teamed up with a reference driver, that’s what you need, a direct comparison with an established driver to show what you’re capable of.

“It’s been quite a big step up from the Silver Cup to the leading car of a top team.”

So far Abril was able to rise to the occasion, giving his teammate Buhk a run for his money and turning a few heads in the paddock.

“He’s a really strong driver,” Abril said. “To be teamed up with him, match him and sometimes outperform him was my goal for the season and so far I think I’ve done pretty well.

“I have a good relationship with Maxi, he’s a great guy. It’s though when you have a young driver coming in and wanting to make a good impression, but he’s taking it very well.”

The duo scored their first Blancpain Sprint Main Race win at the Moscow Raceway in July and have closed down the gap to series leaders Laurens Vanthoor and Robin Frijns to only 15 points.

Not only in the competitive but compact BSS field did Abril make a name for himself, he also managed to outperform the M-Sport Bentley factory guys on a couple of occasions in the Endurance Series.

“At Monza I was running with M-Sport cars at the start, and I was really happy when I got the car on the front row at Paul Ricard and lead the race,” he said.

“The Super Pole at Spa was my highlight of the year. I don’t want to seem selfish by saying that, but I never experienced something like it.

“Competing against 20 of the best drivers in the world is something special, especially being the youngest one.”

Looking ahead, the 20-year-old has set his sights on a factory drive, with his manager Panis currently working on the matter.

“I know there are a lot of talks going on, but he’s not involving me in it so I can focus on racing. He’ll present me some options later this year,” Abril said.

“But first there’s still the title fight in the Sprint Series. I think Portimao should suit us.

“The only thing that could be an obstacle is the rain, that’s where we struggle a lot and Zandvoort in October is always an unknown.

“We still lack two or three tenths on pure pace compared to Vanthoor, but we’re there and we can definitely fight for the title.”

Vincent Wouters (@VinceWouters) is a Belgium-based sports car racing reporter, providing coverage primarily of the Blancpain GT Series.

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