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Nogaro Pre-Race Notebook

Vincent Wouter’s pre-race notebook for today’s BSS race at Nogaro…

Photo: Vincent Wouters

Photo: Vincent Wouters

***As expected, BMW Team Brasil has returned to the Blancpain Sprint Series for a second year. After spending most of last season adjusting to the European climate, racetracks and way of racing, the team is now hoping to cash in on the experience it has gathered so far, with regular points and even wins. Cacá Bueno and Sergio Jimenez scored the team’s first podium in the series in yesterday’s Qualifying Race. The team, however, feels that the BMW Z4 GT3 is not on the same level as its rivals in the GT3 class and is hoping for more involvement from BMW. For now, the focus remains on the Sprint Series.

***While Jiminez and Bueno have stayed, BMW Team Brasil has drafted in Matheus Stumpf and Nelson Piquet Jr. as new drivers for this season. However, Piquet will only contest a few races, as his focus remains on the U.S. where he’ll be racing in the Global RallyCross series. Allam Khodair, who already raced with the team last season, will fill the seat in his absence. Talks were also underway with Bruno Senna, but the Aston Martin factory driver preferred to focus on F1 reporting.

***Grasser Racing Team already had its time in the spotlight with Jeroen Bleekemolen putting the black and gold Lamborghini of the Austrian team on pole for the Qualifying Race. A couple of weeks ago GRT was already at Nogaro for pre-season testing, the team faced a major setback then when Martin Matzke crashed heavily at the first corner.

While the Czech driver is going to fully recover, the Lamborghini involved was a complete write-off, with only a handful of parts being carried over to a brand new car. While a possible return of Matzke is not ruled out, his seat beside Sascha Halek is filled by Tomas Enge this weekend, with the team still looking for other qualified fast drivers. The family run team led by Gottfried Grasser has so far put in some remarkable performances with a budget four or five times smaller than that of some of the top teams.

***Bhaitech Racing manifested itself on the sports car scene last year, as the racing arm of the Italian motorsport engineering group managed to clinch the International GT Open GTS title in its debut season. At the very last moment, a program in the Blancpain Sprint Series came together, as both McLaren and Stéphane Ratel wanted the MP4-12C to be represented in the series.

With only one day of testing at Spa-Francorchamps, new drivers and most of all the new Pirelli tires, the team is facing a steep learning curve. Technical director Roberto Costa confirmed Bhaitech very much wants to be in the championship, which the team rates higher than last year’s GT Open. The team is operating on a limited budget for now, but is clearly focused on making it a learning season and developing the car with the tires.

***After nine-time world rally champion Sébastien Loeb left the series at the end of last season, Alessandro Zanardi is another big name attracting the necessary buzz around the championship. The 47-year-old Italian is in high demand for interviews and enjoys a lot of support from BMW. The Bavarian brand even assigned a film crew to Zanardi, tasked to make a documentary on his return to racing. Zanardi is remarkably dedicated and doesn’t mind getting under his car, despite his limitations.

***20 cars, representing six different brands, were entered to race this weekend, but only 19 will compete in today’s Main Race. Indian driver Armaan Ebrahim crashed his Fortec Motorsport Mercedes SLS AMG at the last corner in the second part of qualifying. The car turned out to be beyond repair, as the chassis was damaged after a heavy impact with the concrete wall. Alon Day and Mathieu Jaminet are still likely to eventually show up in the series, while other additional entries are to be expected according to SRO.

***René Rast is using a new helmet design this weekend. The Audi GT factory driver kept his traditional colors but added a special tribute to Sean Edwards, who was his teammate in the German Porsche Carrera Cup and a good friend. The helmet features several pictures of Rast and Edwards together, with the message “Ciao Sean, forever with us.” (Helmet design)

*** Watch lights-to-flag coverage of the Blancpain Sprint Series Main Race at Nogaro at, starting Monday at 8:15 a.m. ET.

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

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