The Blancpain Endurance Series 1000, the third round of 2015 Series which will be held at Circuit Paul Ricard on June 20th, is the last race before the Total 24 Hours of Spa. Even though several new teams have joined the Series regulars in preparation for the Belgian race - bringing the total number of cars to 63 - the race in the South of France is much more than a dress rehearsal for the endurance classic.
The Circuit Paul Ricard Blancpain Endurance Series 1000 is the first-ever meeting which sees no fewer than four SRO organisations united during the same weekend: there is of course the Blancpain Endurance Series, but Le Castellet also hosts the second round of the GT Sports Club, a Supercar Rally event, and last but not least, the world premiere of the Ultracar Sports Club. No fewer than 16 ultracars will grace the paddock of the French track, sitting side by side with the racing cars of the GT Sports Club and the Blancpain Endurance Series.
It is the first time that Circuit Paul Ricard round of the Blancpain Endurance Series will be held over 1000 kms. This means that there are more points available, with class winners adding 33 points to their tally, instead of the 25 points available at the end of a three-hour race. The French event therefore gives teams and drivers suffering bad luck during the Monza or Silverstone round the opportunity to relaunch their 2015 title bid.
But the increased length of the race also increases the challenges, which will have an approximative length of six hours. And even though the start of the race will be given at 5 pm, and will finish after dark, the late June temperatures in the South of France will certainly add to the difficulties drivers will have to cope with in their quest for a good result.
There is no denying however that the new characteristics of the race also make it a better opportunity to prepare for the Blancpain Endurance Series blue ribband event, the Total 24 Hours of Spa. Several teams and drivers will be making their first appearance in the 2015 series, most notably in the Pro Cup.
Two new BMW teams will bring a Z4 GT3 to Le Castellet: ROAL Motorsport and BMW Sports Trophy Team Marc VDS. The latter, last year's runners-up in the Total 24 Hours of Spa, will bring Markus Palttala and BMW works drivers Lucas Luhr and Maxime Martin, and the three drivers at the wheel of the #9 Roal BMW were announced a couple of weeks ago: Alex Zanardi will take on his next big challenge in the company of another former F1-driver, Timo Glock, and former DTM-champion Bruno Spengler.
There are two more Audi cars in Pro Cup as well: the #2 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT rejoins the Pro Cup after a Pro-Am Cup stint in Silverstone, while Phoenix Racing will enter the new Audi R8 LMS in the experienced hands of Mies, Haase and Fässler. A second one of the new Ingolstadt GT3 cars is in the colours of the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, with Mike Rockenfeller, René Rast and reigning champion Laurens Vanthoor at the wheel. This means that Vanthoor and Robin Frijns (driving the #3 Audi), joint leaders in the Blancpain GT Series drivers rankings, will be separated for the first time this year.
There are complete newcomers in Le Castellet too: Argentinian trio Alvares, Borches and Yazbik will drive the #55 McLaren MP4-12C of Attempto Racing. With the #20 Akka ASP Ferrari and the #66 Black Pearl Racing by Rinaldi Ferrari switching to Pro Cup as well - with Alessandro Pier Guidi and Tristan Vautier added to Morgan Moullin Traffort on the first 458 and Dominik Schwager joining regulars Kaffer and Parrow on the second - the total number of cars entered in Pro Cup is an unprecedented 30.
Even though a couple of cars have switched from Pro-Am Cup to Pro Cup, there are some new names in Pro Am Cup as well. The #34 Car Collection Motorsport Mercedes - with Dutchman Renger van der Zande joining Alexander Matschull and Pierre Ehret - leaves the Am Cup to join the Pro-Am ranks and on the #51 AF Corse Ferrari Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin get the company of reigning Gentlemen Trophy champion and Total 24 Hours of Spa class winner Francisco Guedes.
The Am Cup now is 15 cars strong, which brings the entire grid up to 63. Two former Pro-Am Cup cars join the Am Cup - the #10 Akka ASP Ferrari and the #78 Team Russia by Barwell BMW - but there is also a new entrant. The Belgian Curbstone Corse drivers Patrick Van Glabeke, Louis-Philippe Soenen and Martin Lanting enter an AF Corse Ferrari, as part of their preparations for their home event at the end of July.
So even though the Circuit Paul Ricard Blancpain Endurance Series 1000 is probably the ideal race to fully prepare for the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the points at stake are important enough to see the Series' regulars give it their all in this unique day-into-night race.