Nissan shuffles the pack: New Blancpain line-up to debut at Spa 24 Hours

Super GT Champion to strengthen the squad at SpaFirst Russian winner of GT Academy to race in European Le Mans SeriesReip returns for more GT3 actionBritish GT heads into Europe this weekend

Nissan has shuffled its driver line-ups ahead of this month’s Spa 24 Hours. In the No.35 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 squad - already strengthened by the addition of two-time Super GT GT500 Champion, Masataka Yanagida - Mark Shulzhitskiy replaces his Russian counterpart Stanislav Aksenov and joins Katsumasa Chiyo and Miguel Faisca.

The Silverstone-winning line-up in the No.80 GT-R remains the same but Alex Buncombe, Florian Strauss and Nick McMillen will get an extra driver on the team for Spa, fittingly local boy Wolfgang Reip.

“We like to shake up our driver line-ups every now and again,” said Darren Cox, NISMO Global Head of Brand, Marketing & Sales. “I’ve said it before that winning GT Academy doesn’t guarantee anyone a race seat for life. We expect maximum effort and top performances from our guys and recently Mark and Wolfie have shone.”

Competition is tight between the winners of GT Academy who go on to become NISMO Athletes. With the manufacturer now moving into LM P1 there are no guaranteed seats for GT Academy winners but those who have proved themselves in LM P2 will be ready to step up, should the opportunity arise.

SHULZHITSKIY EARNS HIS PLACE ON THE GRIDIn addition to the Blancpain Endurance Series, Mark Shulzhitskiy, winner of the 2012 GT Academy Russia competition will compete in the remaining rounds of the European Le Mans Series, starting with next week’s race at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Mark will race the No.28 Greaves Motorsport Zytek-Nissan, alongside 2012 FIA Formula Two Champion, Luciano Bacheta.

Shulzhitskiy made his LM P2 debut with Greaves, in the 2013 FIA World Endurance Championship round in Shanghai. His performance then was impressive enough to earn him a seat at the 2014 Le Mans 24 Hours. Racing for Nissan in the Oak Racing Ligier-Nissan, Mark became the rookie everyone was talking about after a very professional showing.

“Racing a P2 car is a big opportunity for me,” said Mark. “My recent experience at Le Mans was very special. Le Mans is such a fast, dangerous and unpredictable race. Coupled with that I was in a very fast car, with very fast team mates and a top team so the pressure was on for me. I learnt a lot and just that one race has made me a lot stronger.

“I was very happy to get the chance to continue my P2 education with Greaves,” he continued. “Jacob (Greaves) has built a very strong and friendly team and it is a great place for me to return to improve my skills. I’m looking forward to seeing the boys and getting down to work.”

“I was surprised that people were surprised by Jann Mardenborough’s pace at Le Mans last month,” said Cox. “He showed incredible pace at last year’s race so we knew he would deliver this time around. Now, if everyone was paying attention at Le Mans they will have noticed Mark’s pace. I certainly noticed it and that is why he is now racing in the European Le Mans Series.”

The remaining rounds of the 2014 European Le Mans Series take place at Austria’s Red Bull Ring (20 July), Paul Ricard in France (14 September and at Estoril in Portugal (19 October).

REIP ON THE RISEWolfgang Reip has spent much of 2014 working on the development of the Nissan ZEOD RC; in fact it was Wolfie behind the wheel when the car completed a fully electric lap of the Le Mans track.

Since Le Mans, Wolfie has been back in a GT3 GT-R to race in British GT with Sir Chris Hoy and to test at Suzuka in Japan, ahead of competing in a Super GT round later this year.

When an extra driver was needed for the Spa 24 Hours, Wolfie was the first choice, not least as he was on the podium-finishing team at last year’s race.

BRITISH GT HEADS INTO EUROPE THIS WEEKENDThe British GT Championship moves to Spa in Belgium this weekend for the only non-British event of the season and Alex Buncombe will be back in the No.80 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 alongside Sir Chris Hoy.

The rollercoaster-like Spa track always throws up an exciting GT race and for the British GT runners there are two one-hour races this weekend. The first gets underway on Saturday morning at 09:15 CET and the second starts at 13:50 CET.