Now in its fifth year, SRO’s Blancpain Endurance Series begins 2015 with a 59-car grid for its traditional opening round at Monza in Italy, up from 40 at the same meeting last year.
The top Pro Cup class, with no restrictions on driver ratings, has 24 cars entered, which is a significant increase on last season’s total of 13 and suggests this will be a very competitive year indeed. Completing the Monza grid are 22 Pro-Am Cup entries and 14 cars in the Am Cup (the category that was previously known as the Gentlemen Trophy).
Much of the attention in Monza will be focused on some new-for-2015 GT3 cars: the latest Audi R8, the brand-new Lamborghini Huracan and the McLaren 650S will all be present, alongside the more established BMW Z4, Bentley Continental, Mercedes SLS, Ferrari 458, Nissan GT-R, Porsche 911, Aston Martin Vantage and Jaguar XKR.
Read on for our detailed guide to the teams and drivers for 2015.
2015 Blancpain Endurance Series calendar
Team By Team
BMW Sports Trophy Team Brasil : BMW Z4 GT3
#0 Caca Bueno / Sergio Jimenez / Felipe Fraga (PRO)
#77 Valdeno Brito / Atila Abreu / Ricardo Sperafico (PRO)
Team principals: Antonio Hermann and Washington Bezerra
The well-backed Brazilian BMW effort expands to Blancpain Endurance this year, having focused on the SRO’s sprint championship for the last two seasons. In the #0, Caca Bueno is a V8 stock cars legend in his home country, and along with Sergio Jimenez was on the Blancpain Sprint podium four times last year. The 19-year-old Felipe Fraga is a less proven talent, but did lift the 2013 Brazilian touring car championship, so the potential is there. In the #77, Brito doesn’t have age on his side, however he does have two Brazilian GT3 titles to his name, while Abreu has plenty of experience in single-seaters and tin-tops – including a runner-up finish in Brazilian stock cars last year.
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT : Audi R8 GT3
#1 Laurens Vanthoor / Robin Frijns / Jean-Karl Vernay (PRO)
#2 Stephane Ortelli / Frank Stippler / Nico Muller (PRO)
#3 Stephane Richelmi / Kelvin van der Linde / Christopher Mies (PRO)
#4 Sacha Bottemane / Pieter Schothorst / Max Koebolt (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Vincent Vosse
Last year’s champion team in both Blancpain Endurance and Blancpain Sprint, WRT Audi shows no signs of letting up with its stellar #1 car line-up of Belgian Laurens Vanthoor (who’s simply one of the quickest GT drivers there is), Dutchman Robin Frijns (Formula BMW, Formula Renault 2.0 and Formula Renault 3.5 champion in 2010, 2011 and 2012 respectively) and France’s Jean-Karl Vernay (who was on the verge of a works Peugeot LMP1 drive before the brand pulled the plug on its programme at the beginning of 2012). Monza will also see WRT running a new second-generation Audi R8 GT3 in the hands of factory aces Stephane Ortelli, Frank Stippler and Nico Muller. In the #3 car, GP2 regular Stephane Richelmi has already dipped his toe in GT waters with some outings for WRT last season, while South African Kelvin van der Linde won the 2014 ADAC GT Masters title driving an R8, so will be looking to mantain his momentum here. Mies won the 2012 Blancpain Endurance title, as well as finishing on the podium at Bathurst this year. There’s also a single entry in the Pro-Am Cup: the #4 car piloted by Frenchman Bottemane and two young Dutch drivers: Carrera Cup Germany graduate Pieter Schothorst and teenager Max Koebolt – who comes straight from karting via a couple of Suzuki Swift Cup races in his homeland.
Phoenix Racing : Audi R8 GT3
#6 Christopher Haase / Markus Winkelhock / Christian Mamerow (PRO)
Team principal: Ernst Moser
The second of the two new-generation Audi R8 GT3s appearing at Monza will be run by veteran German squad Phoenix Racing. Of the drivers, Haase’s record speaks for itself: he won the Nurburgring 24 Hours in 2012 and 2014, lifted the Blancpain Endurance Series title in 2012 and won the FIA GT3 championship in 2009. Mamerow and Winkelhock were his team-mates at the N24 last year, and the latter in particular is on a bit of a roll at the moment, finishing second at Bathurst in February and also winning the Spa 24 Hours last year with WRT.
Bentley M-Sport : Bentley Continental GT3
#7 Guy Smith / Steven Kane / Andy Meyrick (PRO)
#8 Max Buhk / Andy Soucek / Maxime Soulet (PRO)
Team principal: Malcolm Wilson
M-Sport hit the ground running with its striking Continental GT3 last season, winning the second and third Blancpain Endurance rounds and winding up second in the driver’s championship courtesy of the highly effective combination of Kane, Meyrick and Le Mans winner Smith in the #7 car. The British trio has unsurprisingly been retained for 2015, but there’s a very interesting new face in the #8 car in the shape of the rapid German Max Buhk, who looked invincible at times in Blancpain Sprint last season and also lifted the 2013 Blancpain Endurance title. Alongside him are Spaniard Andy Soucek (who was an important part of the ART McLaren effort in last year’s Endurance Series) and highly experienced Belgian Maxime Soulet, who’s raced everything from Porsches to Aston Martins to Corvettes in recent years, and so should have no trouble finding his feet here.
Team AKKA-ASP : Ferrari 458 GT3
#10 Maurice Ricci / Gabriel Balthazard / Tristan Vautier (AM)
#16 Fabien Barthez / Anthony Pons (AM)
#20 Jean-Luc Beaubelique / Philippe Giaque / Morgan Moullin-Traffort (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Jerome Policand
Previously known as Team Sofrev-ASP, this French outfit run by semi-retired GT driver Jerome Policand is returning to the Pro-Am and Am categories of Blancpain Endurance in 2015, having spent a year racing in the European Le Mans Series’ GTE and GTC classes in 2014. Most notable among its drivers is French former World Cup-winning goalkeeper (and now pretty experienced GT racer) Fabien Barthez in the #16 Am Cup entry, sharing with ELMS regular Anthony Pons. Beaubelique, Giaque and Moullin-Traffort meanwhile form a solid Pro-Am line-up in the #20.
Kessel Racing : Ferrari 458 GT3
#11 Michal Broniszewski / Alessandro Bonacini / Michael Lyons (PRO-AM)
#111 Stephen Earle / Liam Talbot / Marco Zanuttini (AM)
Team principal: Ronnie Kessel
Longstanding Swiss Ferrari team Kessel Racing has taken overall victories in Blancpain Endurance in the past, but this year as last year, the focus is on the Pro-Am and Am categories and its drivers all have good experience at this level. Pole Broniszewski has driven every GT race he’s ever contested for Kessel, while Bonacini has run two full seasons of BES in Ferraris (2012 and 2014). Also in the #11, British young gun Michael Lyons is dovetailing his Murphy Prototypes LMP2 campaign in the ELMS with an appearance here, while in the #111, Australian Talbot has been increasingly branching out from his domestic GT scene over the last 12 months or so, taking a class win in the Gulf 12 Hours alongside MotoGP’s Jorge Lorenzo. Finally, American spinal surgeon Steve Earle has been a regular face in European GT paddocks for a good while now.
TDS Racing : BMW Z4 GT3
#12 Eric Dermont / Henry Hassid / Franck Perera (PRO-AM)
Team principals: Xavier Combet and Jacques Morello
Having raced for the Pro GT by Almeras Porsche outfit in 2014, quick French pro driver Franck Perera is lending his services to TDS Racing this season. His team-mate and compatriot Henry Hassid has become known as one of the quickest gentleman drivers there is, so as long as third man Dermont can live with their pace, this car will be one to watch in the Pro-Am class. They may be somewhat on the back foot at Monza, though: all three drivers have to skip Saturday’s practice and qualifying sessions in order to race at the European Le Mans Series in Silverstone – Perera and Dermont in another TDS car and Hassid with Marc VDS.
Emil Frey Racing : Jaguar XKR
#14 Fredy Barth / Gabriele Gardel / Lorenz Frey (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Lorenz Frey
You can read more about this Swiss team’s unique approach to GT racing here. Ultimate reliability continues to be a concern, but the XKR project has made definite progress over the years and it should be capable of putting in a decent showing amongst the other Pro-Am runners. The driver line-up of former World Touring Car regular Barth, multiple Le Mans 24 Hours class winner Gardel and family scion Frey is unchanged from the last two years.
Boutsen Ginion Racing : BMW Z4 GT3
#15 Karim Oijeh / Oliver Grotz (AM)
Team principal: Olivier Laine
The Belgian team had a torrid time of things running the McLaren 12C GT3 from 2012-2014, so this year has scaled back to single Am Cup BMW entered for the experienced Karim Oijeh (ironically a McLaren shareholder through the family firm TAG) and a young Luxembourg driver, Oliver Grotz.
Insight Racing : Ferrari 458 GT3
#17 Denis Andersen / Martin Jensen (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Martin Jensen
A stalwart team in the Blancpain Endurance Series, this small Copenhagen-based outfit can always be counted on for a consistent run to the finish – if not blinding outright speed. Team principal Jensen is the more experienced and more highly rated of the driving duo.
Black Falcon : Mercedes SLS GT3
#18 Oliver Morley / Maro Engel / Sean Johnston (PRO-AM)
#21 Hubert Haupt / Abdulaziz Al Faisal / Yelmer Buurman (PRO)
Team principal: Sean Paul Breslin
One of the top Mercedes customer racing teams of recent years, Black Falcon has carved out an enviable reputation for itself at the Nurburgring 24 Hours and in the Middle East, but has yet to taste overall victory in a Blancpain event. Dutchman Buurman is the standout driver in the #21 Pro Cup entry, backing up veteran German Haupt and the increasingly experienced Saudi gentleman Al Faisal. The trio will be hoping some of the crushing dominance displayed in January’s Dubai 24 Hours transfers to Europe, but it’s difficult to see them triumphing over the likes of Bentley and WRT on sheer pace alone. The other Black Falcon entry, of Briton Oliver Morley (class winner at the Nurburgring in 2012) and young American Sean Johnston (2012 IMSA GT3 Challenge champ) guided by Mercedes factory pro Maro Engel, will be a clear threat for Pro-Am Cup wins and podiums from the get-go.
Grasser Racing Team : Lamborghini Huracan GT3
#19 Fabio Babini / Jeroen Mul / Andrew Palmer (PRO)
#63 Adrian Zaugg / Mirko Bortolotti / Giovanni Venturini (PRO)
Team principal: Gottfried Grasser
‘The little Austrian team that could,’ Grasser Racing consistently punched above its weight and put in some very impressive performances in the 2014 Blancpain Sprint Series. That tenacity has now been rewarded, as it becomes a semi-works Lamborghini effort and gives the spectacular new Huracan GT3 its race debut in the 2015 Blancpain Endurance Series. At the wheel is a phalanx of Sant’Agata’s works drivers, inclduing the vastly experienced GT1-era veteran Fabio Babini, Dutch young gun Jeroen Mul and American rising star Andrew Palmer in the #19. In the #63, South African A1GP race winner Zaugg is joined by Megane Trophy champion Mirko Bortolotti and Giovanni Venturini – two hungry young Italians eager to make a name for themselves on the GT scene.
Nissan GT Academy Team RJN : Nissan GT-R GT3
#22 Ricardo Sanchez / Florian Strauss / Marc Gassner (PRO-AM)
#23 Alex Buncombe / Wolfgang Reip / Katsumasa Chiyo (PRO)
Team principal: Bob Neville
Briton Alex Buncombe’s demon starts and miracle stints in Nissan’s GT3 monster have become the stuff of legend recently, and this year sees him and Belgian PlayStation GT Academy graduate Wolfgang Reip take on the top Pro Cup runners along with Japanese star Katsumasa Chiyo, who made such a vital contribution to Nissan’s Bathurst 12 Hours win back in February. In the #22 Pro-Am car, German Florian Strauss (himself a GT Academy winner in 2013) teams up with two of the Academy’s class of 2015: Mexican Ricardo Sanchez and German Marc Gassner.
Team Parker Racing : Audi R8 GT3
#24 Ian Loggie / Julian Westwood (AM)
Team principal: Stuart Parker
Graduating from Britcar in 2013, Team Parker Racing put in a fine performance in the 2014 Blancpain Endurance Series, coming third in both the driver’s and team’s standings of what was then known as the Gentlemen Trophy. Two of the team’s 2014 drivers, Loggie and Westwood, are back to contest the renamed Am Cup this season.
Glorax Racing : Ferrari 458 GT3
#25 Rino Mastronardi / Andrey Birzhin / Fabio Mancini (AM)
Team principal: Andrey Birzhin
This Russian team’s 2015 campaign got off to a difficult start when a serious qualifying accident prevented it from starting January’s Dubai 24 Hours, so it’ll be hoping for better luck as the European season gets underway. Of the drivers, Mastronardi has been dabbling in both single-seaters and sportscars since the mid-90s, but team owner Birzhin is an unknown behind the wheel.
Delahaye Racing : Porsche 997 GT3
#28 Pierre-Etienne Bordet / Alexandre Viron (AM)
Team principal: Pierre Sevrin
The Porsche 997 is not nearly as popular a choice of GT3 car as it used to be, with many more up-to-date options now available, so its days of challenging for race wins in the Pro Class are pretty much over. It can still be found in the hands of smaller operations such as French outfit Delahaye Racing, taking on the Am Cup with gentlemen drivers Bordet and Viron. Neither is massively experienced: Bordet debuted in Blancpain Endurance with a one-off run for Delahaye at last year’s Spa 24 Hours, while Viron has raced mostly in domestic Belgian series thus far.
Classic and Modern Racing : BMW Z4 GT3
#30 Pierre Hirschi / Christian Kelders / Jean-Luc Blanchemain (AM)
Team principal: Charles-Antoine Bourachot
Classic and Modern Racing was previously known as CHAB Evolution and campaigned its BMW Z4 in the French FFSA GT series last year for car owner Pierre Hirschi. The Swiss has now brought Belgian Kelders and Frenchman Blanchemain (who were his co-drivers in a WRT Audi at the 2014 Paul Ricard Blancpain Endurance round) into the fold. Blanchemain previously raced a Luc Alphand Adventures-run GT1 Corvette for several seasons in the mid-2000s, while Kelders has made occasional GT appearances since 2011.
Leonard Motorsport : Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
#32 Stuart Leonard / Paul Wilson / Michael Meadows (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Stuart Leonard
Stuart Leonard stepped up to GT racing from Caterhams, setting up his own team last year to take on the VLN championship and selected Blancpain Endurance rounds (we spoke to them at Spa). It’s a full-season entry for 2015, with Carrera Cup star Michael Meadows once again serving as the experienced anchor in a team that’s also been joined by Aston Martin factory drivers such as Johnny Adam and Pedro Lamy on occasion.
Car Collection Motorsport : Mercedes SLS GT3
#33 Peter Schmidt / Kenneth Heyer / Miguel Toril (PRO-AM)
#34 Pierre Ehret / Alexander Mattschull (AM)
Team principal: Peter Schmidt
This team is the racing arm of a German classic and high-end car dealership. After contesting many VLN and 24H Series races with owner Peter Schmidt over the past few years, it’s fielding one Mercedes SLS apiece in the Blancpain Endurance Pro-Am and Am Cup categories this season. In the #33 Pro-Am entry, Schmidt is partnered by Mercedes-AMG driver Kenneth Heyer and Spaniard Miguel Toril – a man with plenty of SLS experience in Blancpain Sprint and GT Open. The #34 Am car sees German gentleman drivers Mattschull and Ehret, who co-drove a Rinaldi Ferrari last season, pair up once again (their 2014 team-mate Frank Schmickler has jumped ship to the Attempto Porsche). Ehret is a veteran of multiple American Le Mans Series campaigns in Porsches, and although Mattschull has considerably less experience, they should still be a good bet to do well in the Am Cup, and maybe even trouble some Pro-Am runners.
Sainteloc Racing : Audi R8 GT3
#35 Edoardo Mortara / Edward Sandstrom / Gregory Guilvert (PRO)
#36 Jean-Paul Buffin / George Cabannes / Marc Sourd (AM)
Team principal: Sebastien Chetail
Sainteloc Racing put on a strong showing in Blancpain Endurance last year with Guilvert and Sandstrom alongside Stephane Ortelli. This season, the Monegasque’s place is taken by Audi DTM driver Mortara. In the Pro-Am car, FFSA GT regular Jean-Paul Buffin teams up with George Cabannes (who contested the 2011-2012 and 2013 Blancpain Endurance seasons for Ruffier Racing and Sport Garage respectively) and the very experienced Marc Sourd.
Sport Garage : Ferrari 458 GT3
#41 Gilles Vannelet / Enzo Guibbert / Arno Santamato (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Christian Petit
Gilles Vannelet is one of the most experienced gentlemen drivers there is, with a racing record that stretches back to the French Renault 5 Cup in the late 80s and GT events since 2000. For 2015, he and French GT regular Arno Santamato a new young team-mate at Christian Petit’s Sport Garage team in the shape of Enzo Guibbert. The 19-year-old has a season of French F4 and two seasons of French GT (including a win at Paul Ricard last season) under his belt and looks like an interesting prospect.
Oman Racing Team : Aston Martin V12 Vantage GT3
#44 Ahmad Al Harthy / Johnny Adam / Daniel Lloyd (PRO)
Team principal: Dave Bartrum
Like last year, the Motorbase-run Oman Racing Team Vantage is appearing in both the British GT Championship and the Blancpain Endurance Series. Ahmad Al Harthy is joined by Aston Martin factory driver Johnny Adam and another young British driver, Daniel Lloyd. The latter is a former Porsche Carrera Cup GB scholarship winner and had a truncated season in the Blancpain Sprint Series last year, driving one of the two Bhai Tech McLarens. Overall wins or podiums may be just out of reach initially, but strong top 10 finishes are definitely on the cards here.
AF Corse : Ferrari 458
#49 Yannick Mallegol / Howard Blank / Jean-Marc Bachelier (AM)
#50 Alexander Moiseev / Gary Kondakov / Ricardo Ragazzi (AM)
#51 Duncan Cameron / Matt Griffin (PRO-AM)
#52 Adrien de Leener / Cedric Sbirrazzuoli (PRO-AM)
#53 Piergiuseppe Perazzini / Marco Cioci / Vicente Potolicchio (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Amato Ferrari
The familiar armada of AF Corse Ferraris is present and correct for the Blancpain Endurance Series in 2015, with no less than five cars entered across the Pro Am and Am classes. Mallegol, Blank and Bachelier in the #49 car were Gentlemen Trophy podium finishers at last year’s Spa 24 Hours, while the #50 car is piloted by Ferrari Challenge graduates who’ll probably take a little longer to find their feet. In Pro-Am, the familiar and successful Anglo-Irish pairing of Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin is found behind the wheel of the #51 – but only on Sunday at Monza, as ELMS duty calls for both on the Saturday! The #52 has two young drivers on board: Belgian Adrien de Leener and Monaco’s Cedric Sbirrazzuoli. In the #53, Vicente ‘Enzo’ Potolicchio is alongside AF Corse regular Piergiuseppe Perazzini and established pro Marco Cioci.
#54 (McLaren 650S) Yoshiharo Mori / Philipp Wlazik / Emerson Newton-John (PRO-AM)
#55 (McLaren 650S) Fabien Thuner / Miguel Ramos / Nicolas Armindo (PRO)
#56 (Porsche 997) Jurgen Haring / Dimitros Konstantinou / Frank Schmickler (AM)
Team principal: Arkin Aka
German team Attempto Racing has previously been an almost exclusively Porsche affair and it retains a 997 as its Am Cup entry for Haring, Konstantinou and Schmickler. Haring and Konstantinou have plied their trade in ADAC GT Masters and FIA GT3 in previous seasons, while Schmickler was part of the trio that finished second the Blancpain Endurance Gentlemen Trophy standings in 2014. In Pro and Pro-Am, the team has taken on the challenge of running the brand-new McLaren 650S GT3. Its #55 Pro Cup entry will be crewed by Swiss Fabien Thuner, Portuguese veteran Miguel Ramos and Frenchman Nicolas Armindo. The #54 Pro-Am car will feature Japanese Yoshiharo Mori and German Philipp Wlazik (both class podium finishers at the Dubai 24 Hours this year), alongside American Emerson Newton-John (nephew of actress Olivia Newton-John and a regular competitor in various US series over the years).
Von Ryan Racing : McLaren 650S
#58 Rob Bell / Kevin Estre / Shane van Gisbergen (PRO)
#59 Alvaro Parente / Adrian Quaife-Hobbs / Bruno Senna (PRO)
Team principal: Dave Ryan
With the departure of ART to the DTM, Von Ryan Racing is stepping up to assume the mantle of McLaren’s primary team in the Blancpain Endurance Series – and it certainly has the driver firepower for the job. A record-shattering Nurburgring Nordschleife qualifying lap and a stunning wet-weather performance at the recent Pirelli World Challenge season opener are just two highlights of extremely rapid Frenchman Kevin Estre’s recent career. He’s joined in the #58 by McLaren factory stalwart Rob Bell and newly signed Kiwi Shane van Gisbergen, who cleary developed a taste for GT racing following last year’s Bathurst and Spa outings. There’s little to separate that car from the #59, which features the always-quick Portuguese ace Alvaro Parente, former Aston Martin man Bruno Senna and Kent’s Adrian Quaife-Hobbs, who’s been a frontrunner in various single-seater championships for several years now.
Rinaldi Racing : Ferrari 458
#66 Pierre Kaffer / Steve Parrow (PRO-AM)
#333 Marco Seefried / Norbert Siedler / Rinat Salikhov (PRO)
Team principal: Michele Rinaldi
Founded by experienced Porsche mechanic and technician Michele Rinalidi, this team and its distinctive green cars have become more prevalent on the European stage in the last season or two, having previously focused mainly on domestic German racing. The #333 Pro Cup entry has a particularly strong combination of Marco Seefried and Norbert Siedler alongside Russian gentleman driver Rinat Salikhov, while in the #66, versatile Audi, Ferrari and LMP2 regular Pierre Kaffer is alongside German Steve Parrow. At Monza, the #333 will drop down to the Pro-Am Cup, as Seefried is on WEC duties at Silverstone and the car will be driven by just Siedler and Salikhov.
GT Russian Team : Mercedes SLS
#70 Alexey Karachev / Bernd Schneider (PRO-AM)
#71 Alexey Vasiliev / Marko Asmer (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Alexey Vasiliev
Depending on just how quick Russians Karachev and Vasiliev are, this relatively new team could be a force to be reckoned with in the Pro-Am Cup, as it has an extremely quick and experienced pro driver in each car: Multiple DTM champion and 24-hour race winner Bernd Schneider alongside Karachev in the #70 and Estonian former Williams F1 tester and F3 hotshot Marko Asmer alongside Vasiliev in the #71.
MRS GT Racing : Nissan GT-R
#73 Sean Walkinshaw / Craig Dolby / Martin Plowman (PRO)
Team principal: Karsten Molitor
MRS GT has been associated with McLaren in the past, but for 2015 it’s running a Nissan GT-R in the Pro Cup category of both the Blancpain Sprint and Endurance championships, with an all-British driver line-up. After first tasting GT3 in a Dragon Racing Ferrari at last year’s Gulf 12 Hours, Sean Walkinshaw is making the switch to sportscars full-time this season, and will be joined by JRM test and development driver Craig Dolby at every event. For Blancpain Endurance, the duo are adding Martin Plowman – LMP2 champion in the 2013 World Endurance Championship and an occasional IndyCar competitor.
ISR : Audi R8
#74 Anders Fjordbach / Fabio Onidi / Andrea Roda (PRO)
#75 Filip Salaquarda / Marco Bonanomi / Fred Vervisch (PRO)
Team principal: Igor Salaquarda
The ISR team came together in time for last year’s Spa 24 Hours, but hasn’t been on track with its Audi R8 since. It’s expanding to two cars for 2015, both running in the Pro Cup. The #74 is piloted by Dane Anders Fjordbach plus the Italian duo of Fabio Onidi and Andrea Roda. Fjordbach made his GT debut at the Nurburgring Blancpain Endurance round last year in a Black Falcon Mercedes and also won the 911 Cup class at January’s Dubai 24 Hours. After several years of AutoGP and GP2, Onidi moved to GTs in 2013, running in GT Open and FIA GT with AF Corse before a year in Blancpain Sprint in a Bhai Tech McLaren. Roda, meanwhile, had an ELMS P2 outing at Paul Ricard last year, but his main programme was AutoGP, where he took five podiums. The bigger threat comes from the #75 machine, with Audi LMP1 star Marco Bonanomi on board, as well as proven talents Filip Salaquarda (son of team boss Igor) and Belgian Fred Vervisch (an F3 champion in Germany and Asia who has two seasons of GT racing in a Boutsen Ginion McLaren under his belt).
Barwell Motorsport : BMW Z4
#78 (Team Russia) Leo Machitski / Timur Sardarov / Johnny Cocker (PRO-AM)
#79 (Ecurie Ecosse) Alasdair McCaig / Oliver Bryant / Devon Modell (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Chris Needell
After a year dividing its efforts between the European Le Mans Series (Team Russia) and Blancpain Endurance (Ecurie Ecosse), Barwell Motorsport has consolidated its two BMW Z4 customer teams in BES for 2015. Of the pair, the #79 Ecosse car looks the bigger threat, with quick young pros Oliver Bryant and Devon Modell allowing gentleman driver Alasdair McCaig to get the lion’s share of the track time in practice. Johnny Cocker is the star of the show in the Team Russia car, but the average pace of this entry will be brought down a bit by Russian co-drivers Machitski and Sardarov.
Bentley Team HTP : Bentley Continental
#84 Harold Primat / Vincent Abril / Mike Parisy (PRO)
Team principal: Norbert Bruckner
HTP won the Blancpain Endurance Series in 2013 with a Mercedes SLS, as well as coming second and third in last year’s Sprint and Endurance championships respectively. For 2015, it’s a Bentley partner team, with two quick young Frenchmen (Abril and Parisy) partnering Swiss veteran Harold Primat – one of the younger and quicker gentlemen drivers out there. This entry may not quite be a match for the full factory cars, but shouldn’t be discounted for some strong results as the season progresses.
ROWE Racing : Mercedes SLS
#98 Indy Dontje / Daniel Juncadella / Nicolai Sylvest (PRO)
#99 Klaus Graf / Stef Dusseldorp / Nico Bastian (PRO)
Team principal: Hans-Peter Naundorf
ROWE Racing has a good record in the German ADAC GT Masters and VLN series and hopes to transfer that form to Blancpain Endurance for 2015. It certainly has the drivers to do it: Indy Dontje is a young Dutch Formula Renault and F3 graduate with potential, while Spaniard Daniel Juncadella has an enviable single-seater record (including the 2012 European F3 title and a Macau GP win) and is also racing for Mercedes in the DTM for the third season running this year. The third driver for the #98 car is 2012 Danish Formula Ford champion Nicolai Sylvest. The #99 SLS features Klaus Graf, who has both prototype experience in the ALMS with Muscle Milk and plenty of VLN mileage with ROWE, as well as highly rated Dutchman Stef Dusseldorp and Mercedes factory driver Nico Bastian, who’s been third at the Nurburgring 24 Hours for the past two years.
DragonSpeed : Ferrari 458
#100 Elton Julian / Henrik Hedman / Thomas Kemenater (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Elton Julian
Elton Julian’s DragonSpeed outfit becomes the first American team to enter the Blancpain Endurance Series. The team boss (who by our count has now ‘unretired’ from driving twice) is joined by American Henrik Hedman (who raced the full Pirelli World Challenge in this car last year and has plenty of Ferrari and Maserati one-make trophy experience) and Thomas Kemenater, an Italian with bags of Ferrari GT racing experience. It’s a combination that should get up to speed quickly and become a factor in Pro-Am before long.
Triple Eight : BMW Z4 GT3
#888 Lee Mowle / Ryan Ratcliffe / Joe Osborne (PRO-AM)
Team principal: Ian Harrison
Now in its third season of GT competition, Triple Eight has committed to a full-season Blancpain Endurance campaign after making one-off appearances in the past. It’s also reorganised over the winter, forming a dedicated GT division under the leadership of former Trackspeed man Keith Cheetham. In the cockpit, Lee Mowle is joined by Triple Eight stalwart Joe Osborne and the team’s Driver Development Programme recruit, young Welsh racer Ryan Ratcliffe.
Images: Dan Bathie, Soren Herweg, SRO & Team PR