Two championships across three countries in just six days
Andrew Palmer returns to Europe and Blancpain Endurance Series action at Paul Ricard this weekend (June 19/20) for the start of what promises to be a busy six days for the globe-trotting Californian.
The former French Grand Prix venue is just the first of three stops for the 20-year-old, who also has testing commitments at Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and a TUDOR United SportsCar Championship round at Watkins Glen, NY, crammed into his week-long schedule.
First up is an opportunity for Palmer and his GRT Grasser Racing co-drivers, Fabio Babini and Jeroen Mul, to bounce back from a tough Blancpain Endurance Series encounter at Silverstone last month. And the youngest member of Lamborghini’s GT3 Junior Driver roster is feeling confident about their collective chances at the championship’s first six-hour/1000km race of the season.
“Silverstone was somewhat disappointing after performing so well in the opening round at Monza, but I’m feeling good about this weekend,” said the Spyder Active Athlete, who is also the only American driver contesting the championship’s premier Pro Cup category. “Just like all the other European venues we visit I’ve never raced at Paul Ricard, but can at least rely on the pre-season testing mileage we racked up there. And that’s just as well because it’s a very challenging track to learn; there’s so much run-off and wide-open space that it’s tricky to pick out reference points, plus there’s a few interesting corners that aren’t easy to master. But it also features some very fast sections, which makes car set-up vital. If we can nail that then we’ve definitely got a chance.”
Paul Ricard’s race, just like Nurburgring’s season finale, is double the distance of the opening two rounds. But thoughts of this being anything less than an extended sprint race are misguided, reckons Palmer.
“I love the endurance element, and not just because my career’s biggest accomplishments have come over longer distances thus far,” he revealed. “These days six-hour races are glorified sprints, so there’s no room for taking it easy during those couple of hours you’re behind the wheel. That means we need to be in the thick of it from the start, which is why we’ll put more emphasis on qualifying than we did at Silverstone. There, the car was better in race trim but we were too mired in the midfield to achieve much more than we did. Hopefully that won’t be the case at Paul Ricard.”
Following this weekend’s race thoughts will immediately turn to Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium where the 24 Hours of Spa’s official test session is taking place next Wednesday (June 24). Not only does the historic Belgian venue host the Blancpain Endurance Series’ blue riband round but also one of the world’s greatest endurance contests in its own right.
“The race is still more than a month away but everyone knows how important the test is,” continued Palmer. “Neither the new Lamborghini Huracán GT3 or I have ever raced there, so track time will be vitally important for the programme as a whole. It’s another circuit I grew up dreaming of racing around but never really contemplated having the opportunity to do so. The first couple of laps there, even in testing, will be special.”
Not that Palmer will have long to indulge in the Ardennes’ delights. Indeed, TUSCC commitments mean he’s required at Watkins Glen less than two days later (June 26) for first practice ahead of Sunday’s six-hour North American Endurance Cup round.
“Yeah, it’s going to be pretty tight!” admitted Palmer who, along with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports co-drivers Mike Guasch and Tom Kimber-Smith, holds a slim advantage in the NAEC PC drivers’ standings following class victories at Daytona and Sebring. “I’ll leave Europe following the test on Wednesday night and get to New York just in time. I tested at The Glen quite recently and am relaxed about getting in and doing the job. Yes, it’ll involve some rushing about, but what 20-year-old would complain about flying around the world driving racing cars?! Not this one!”
European viewers can watch Palmer’s third Blancpain Endurance Series outing of the season live on Motors TV this Saturday from 17:00 local time, while www.blancpain-gt-series.com will also carry a live stream and timing.
Paul Ricard 1000 Schedule
Friday 19 June: 13:15 – 14:45: Free Practice 1 16:15 – 17:45: Pre-Qualifying Session
Saturday 20 June: 10:05 – 11:05: Qualifying 17:00 – 23:00: Race