New-look FIA GT1 World Championship set for gripping season-opener in France

Circuit Paul Armagnac, Nogaro to host Round One of the 2012 season as part of the traditional Coupes de Paques weekend The FIA GT1 World Championship brings together nine luxury sportscar brands, represented exclusively by two-car teams featuring Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Ford, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes and Porsche at the season-opening 2012 round in Nogaro this weekend.Stephane Ratel, Founder and CEO of SRO Motorsports Group, says the aim of the new-look championship was to create an exciting racing environment for teams and brands which would be easy for fans to follow."Each team exclusively running two cars of the same brand in a competitive world championship was the vision for 2012," Ratel said. "This is a clear format that the fans can relate to - as they do with Formula One.“To have Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Ferrari, Ford, Lamborghini, McLaren, Mercedes, Porsche together in the FIA GT1 World Championship is an appetising combination. I am pleased to say that at Nogaro this weekend, the vision will become a stunning reality.”Round One runs over four days – Friday to Sunday - at the traditional Coupes de Paques (Easter Cup) event at Circuit Paul Armagnac, Nogaro.The series brings together reputable sportscar teams and an international mix of illustrious drivers comprising factory specialists, doyens of GT and ex-single seater pilots. The exciting one-hour sprint format, successfully introduced in 2010, remains a unique feature for 2012.The FIA GT Championship visited the circuit in 2008 for the Nogaro 2 Hours event – a round of the FIA GT Championship. For 2012, SRO Motorsports Group brings world class sportscar racing to an Armagnac region synonymous with the finer things in life.Hexis Racing begin their defence of the teams’ championship they captured in thrilling fashion in 2011. This year the French squad will field a pair of McLaren GT MP4-12Cs having campaigned Aston Martins for the past two seasons.

Frenchman Frederic Makowiecki returns to the team after a spell with Marc VDS Racing in 2011, to spearhead a driver line-up that includes his partner in the No.1 car Stef Dusseldorp (NLD).In the sister car, France’s Gregoire Demoustier is joined by Portugal’s Alvaro Parente.Mike Parisy, a resident of nearby Pau, will catch the attention of the locals in the Exim Bank Team China Porsche 911 GT3 R alongside versatile New Zealander Matt Halliday. China’s Ren Wei, who has built a solid reputation in Porsche Cup Asia, will be joined by France’s Benjamin Lariche in a squad run by Porsche specialists Mühlner Motorsport.Parisy was the pacesetter on day one of a two-day test that precedes the race weekend. The Frenchman set a time of 1:25.538 around the 3.6-mile circuit to suggest that the Porsches will be on the pace come race time.Belgian Audi Club Team WRT has assembled a formidable quartet for their two Audi R8 LMS ultras in the shape of former DTM star Frank Stippler (DEU), factory driver Oliver Jarvis (GBR) and former Le Mans winner Stephane Ortelli (MON). Twenty-year-old Laurens Vanthoor (BEL), the German Formula 3 champion of 2009 and fresh from the Formula Three Euro Series completes the line-up.The Belgian outfit have been in the top three on the time sheets throughout the test with both Audis running in the mid 1:26.000s. The Audis loom as strong title contenders.The Mercedes SLS AMG GT3 will be in the capable hands of the German Münnich Motorsport team, who were strong contenders for the teams’ title in 2011.The line-up features the German trio of Marc Basseng, Markus Winkelhock and Thomas Jager along with Dutchman Nicky Pastorelli.Reiter Engineering carry the baton for Lamborghini with a fusion of exuberance and experience. Tomas Enge (CZE), fourth in the drivers’ standings in 2010 and 2011, shares with GT3 series graduate Albert von Thurn und Taxis (DEU).Dutch master Peter Kox links with China’s Darryl O’Young whose CV includes wins in the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia, Macau GT Cup and stints in WTCC and DTM.Celebrated Ferrari squad AF Corse have paired Finn Toni Vilander with Italian young gun Filip Salaquarda and Francesco Castellacci, the 2011 FIA GT3 European Championship drivers’ title-holder and Belgian Enzo Ide, a GT3 race winner in 2011 and third in the drivers’ standings.

Multiple FIA GT and GT1 champion Michael Bartels will orchestrate the BMW challenge at BMW Team Vita4One. The team boss will be joined in the cockpit of the BMW Z4 by rapid Dutchman Yelmer Buurman while on the opposite side of the garage are Mathias Lauda (DEU), son of F1 world champion Nikki Lauda, and Reiter Lamborghini convert Nikolaus Mayr-Meinhof of Austria.

Valmon Racing Team Russia bring two Aston Martin DBRS9s to the series with a driver combination led by the accomplished Austrian Andreas Züber. He is joined by the Russian duo of Formula Two ace Sergey Afanasyev and the experienced Alexey Vasilyev with the third driver yet to be named.

Flying the Ford flag is Spain’s Sunred Engineering who feature former FIA Formula Two champion Andy Soucek (SPA) and Serbia’s Milos Pavlovic in the No.10 Ford GT with the Italians Matteo Cressoni and Emmanuel Moncini in the other car.Located in south-west France, Nogaro, the Circuit Paul Armagnac has hosted multiple top-tier motorsport events and some of the most famous names in motor sport have graced its tarmac. Built in 1960, the venue welcomed its first Grand Prix motorcycle world championship event in 1975 and has hosted rounds of the FIA GT, Formula 3000 and Formula Three Euro Series in recent years.The technical track has also played an important role in developing the careers of motorsport legends including Rene Arnoux, Gerhard Berger, Ricardo Patrese and Alain Prost. In 1974, as a relative unknown, Prost was the Easter Cup winner at the wheel of a Formula Renault Europe.The Circuit Paul Armagnac also hosts the start of the FIA GT3 European Championship – a double helping of GT cars for passionate French fans.Nogaro is themed “the rendezvous of great emotions”. That will certainly be the case this weekend.