A fortnight after the start of the Sprint Cup, it is now the turn of the Endurance Cup, the other championship of the Blancpain GT Series, to kick-off. The world’s GT élite will again enjoy the warm embrace of Italian fans, as it is another track in the peninsula to host the Endurance Cup season-opener, and no less than the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, one of the paramount temples of speed. After a difficult weekend at Misano, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT is hoping in a completely different scenario, although knowing that the long straights of Monza have never been particularly friendly to the Audis R8 LMS. Still, a race of 3 hours is a completely different game and the team is extremely motivated to do well and exploit to the fullest its expertise in longer races. Four cars will be entered and the 2017 driver line-ups are full of changes and promises!
Car #2 sees a completely new trio, composed of Nathanaël Berthon, who has won this year the Tropée Andros with Team WRT on a very different kind of ground, Stéphane Richelmi, who comes back to the Belgian squad for which he drove in 2015, and Bénoît Tréluyer. The 40-year-old Frenchman joins with one WEC World Champion title and three wins at Le Mans 24 Hours under his belt, but ready to enrich its string of successes with Audi. “This season, I want to enjoy myself and push my limits”, explains the Frenchman, “In LMP, due to the technology, we drivers were dependant on the car and were less involved in the overall performance. This is not the case in GT racing where “attack” really does mean attack! I’m lucky to still be defending the colours of Audi and WRT is an incredible organization, I am really impressed. After working with the best WEC team, I was expecting to go down a step… Not at all! In addition, there is a very friendly atmosphere. The only difference is that here everybody speaks French, which is obviously a bonus! Nathanaël and Stéphane are quick and friendly, I am delighted to be able to bring some experience to the line-up.”
Car #3 will also see a welcome returnee, as Niki Mayr-Melnhof is back with the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT after a few seasons. The personable Austrian will have as team mates two newcomers, young guns Josh Caygill from Great Britain and Australia’s Jonathan Venter.In car #5, two established values of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT such as Will Stevens and Dries Vanthoor will team up with another member of Audi’s former WEC squad, Marcel Fässler, who has shared WEC and Le Mans crowns with Tréluyer. The youngest of the trio, Dries Vanthoor, is ready to go for big things: “I think we have a strong trio of fast drivers”, says the young Belgian, “and I am sure we will benefit a lot from Marcel’s great experience in long-distance races. Monza, for sure, is not listed among the most favorable tracks to us, but we are ready to fight against the power cars with the good weapons we have in Endurance races: consistency, team work, strategy. The objective is to reach a good result and score as many points as we can. We’ll also have to see how the new tires perform. What reassures me is that at Misano, even if we didn’t have a good weekend, once the car’s set-up was good, Marcel and I had an excellent pace.”
Finally, car #17, will combine experience and youth, as newcomer Jake Dennis joins the team and GT racing from GP3, alongside Stuart Leonard and Robin Frijns, who start their second and third season, respectively, with the team. This line-up, though, is experiencing a last-minute change, as it was known today that Robin Frijns has to withdraw due to a knee injury yesterday while training. It will be an expert driver such as Markus Winkelhock subbing for the Dutchman in this situation of force majeure.
Ahead of the traditional Spring event at Monza, Team Principal Vincent Vosse sets out clearly his expectations: “We never go to Monza with full confidence, as we know it is not the most favourable track for us, but we are definitely motivated to get a good result. It’s some years now that we haven’t achieved a podium finish at Monza, and it would be nice to be on the rostrum this year and get things straight after what we went through at Misano. We know that we are good in longer races and that we have four excellent entries, so we definitely have some cards in our hands… It is going to be a very busy weekend for Team WRT, as we are busy on many fronts, but this happens quite often these days, and we are able to manage it. Last weekend, we were happy to celebrate the title of Mohammed Bin Saud in the Saudi GT Championship and we made prime time news on TV there, which is great. We hope this is well-wishing for this weekend!”
Action at the Autodromo will start on Friday, with qualifying scheduled on Sunday morning and the “3 Ore” kicking-off at 14:45 in the afternoon.
Blancpain Endurance Cup - Round 1 Monza, Italy 21-23 April 2017
Timetable (all times local = CET)
Friday 21st April 2017 16:25-17:25 Bronze test
Saturday 22nd April 2017 10:45-12:15 Free Practice 16:05-17:35 Pre-qualifying
Sunday 23rd April 2017 09:50-10:50 Qualifying 14:45-17:45 Race (3 hrs)
Belgian Audi Club Team WRT entries
#2 Nathanaël Berthon (F) – Stéphane Richelmi (MC) – Bénoît Tréluyer (F)
#3 Josh Caygill (GB) – Niki Mayr-Melnhof (A) – Jonathan Venter (AUS)
#5 Marcel Fässler (CH) – Will Stevens (GB) – Dries Vanthoor (B)
#17 Jake Dennis (GB) – Stuart Leonard (GB) – Markus Winkelhock (D)