Will Stevens is set to concentrate on GT racing this season, with the ex-Formula 1 driver revealing that developing a relationship with a manufacturer is now his ultimate career goal.
Following a busy 2016 season which saw the 25-year-old divide his time between GT3 and LMP2 programs, Stevens is taking a much more focused approach for his second season in sports car racing.
He returns to Belgian Audi Club Team WRT and the Blancpain GT Series, but this time for the full ten-round schedule, combining both Sprint and Endurance rounds.
Last season, he was forced to forgo the Blancpain GT round at Brands Hatch, while his WEC season was reduced to just five rounds, as a result of calendar clashes.
That won’t be the case this year, however, as GT3 becomes Stevens’ priority.
“My main focus this year needs to be on GTs,” he told Sportscar365.
“There’s a few clashes between Blancpain and WEC, and we had some really good offers from WEC, but for the long-term career, I need to try and form a relationship with a manufacturer.
“We think we can achieve that better by doing a full season of Blancpain, and we need to fully focus on that to commit to the full year.”
Stevens is set to partner Markus Winkelhock in the Sprint Cup, while teaming up with Dries Vanthoor and Audi LMP1 refugee Marcel Fassler for the Endurance season.
“I’ve got some really good partnerships in Sprint with Winkelhock and with Dries and Marcel in Endurance,” he said.
“I really think we can build on last year. WRT is a great team and I think together, we can get a good result.”
Coming from an open-wheel background, which culminated in a Formula 1 entry with Manor Marussia in 2015, Stevens is much more used to high-downforce cars.
This meant that driving Manor and G-Drive Racing’s Oreca 05 Nissans last season was much more familiar than WRT’s Audi R8 LMS, which he admits was a step outside of his comfort zone.
Nevertheless, with more GT experience under his belt as the season progressed, Stevens began to enjoy the Audi more, and he is confident ahead of his return to the car.
“Obviously WEC is a lot more similar to what I’m used to,” he said. “It’s a worldwide championship, and obviously [the cars have] more downforce, which is what I’m used to and have grown up doing.
“In terms of driving styles, that’s a lot more of what I’m used to. But in GTs last year, I started to really get used to it.
“Towards the end of the year, we started getting some good results in both championships, and I finished the year pretty strongly in both. This year I’m really looking forward to it.
“The cars are really fun to drive. The racing’s great – it’s wall-to-wall racing and you can have a little bit of contact, and it’s all a lot closer than what I’ve been doing before.”
With the goal of developing a relationship with a leading manufacturer, Stevens is looking forward to continuing his ties with Audi, which he believes will put him in a strong position for his future career ambitions.
He also argues that doing the full Blancpain GT season is the only way of doing that, and that hopping between series, missing rounds, makes it much more challenging to build a rapport.
“I want to form a partnership with a manufacturer,” he explained. “That’s my aim, to get that. When you’re behind a manufacturer, there is a lot more stability in your future career.
“At the end of the day, I’m here to make a career, and we truly believe the best way to do that is to be with a manufacturer.
“We made the decision to commit to a full season rather than missing races like I did last year, because in a championship like this, if you miss a few races, it’s hard to make up for that lost time.
“We felt that this year was the year to do that.”