Hyundai i30 N TCR customer teams lead the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) points after a spectacular performance across the opening three races of the brand new championship at the Race of Morocco (7-8 April). With two wins from the weekend, as well as the five points on offer for taking pole position from Sunday’s qualifying session, BRC Racing Team driver Gabriele Tarquini leads the championship.
Having already taken victory in Saturday’s historic first race around the Marrakech street circuit Tarquini led four i30 N TCR to lock-out the front two rows of the grid in the weekend’s second qualifying session, with his BRC teammate Norbert Michelisz and the pair of Yvan Muller Racing cars lining up behind him. After a battling Race 2, where their stellar one-lap pace put them at the back of a reversed top-ten, the Hyundai-running teams returned to the front for the finale.
Tarquini led from lights to flag to earn his way onto the top step of the podium ahead of the two YMR entered drivers, led by Team Manager Yvan Muller. Unaffected by the brake issues that dogged rival manufacturers thought the weekend, despite the series’ Balance of Performance regulations making the i30 N TCR one of the heaviest cars on the grid, the teams hold a handsome lead in the standings.
Gabriele Tarquini said about his historic win: “The Hyundai i30 N TCR was fantastic, fast and reliable, and kept a great pace all weekend. BRC Team impeccably coped with every situation. I’m over the moon and hope the dream continues”.
Norbert Michelisz explains: “It was a pretty unlucky weekend, but I still managed to get important scores for the general ranking. We have 27 races ahead and nothing is lost. I’m very motivated for the next event, my home race at Hungaroring”.
BRC Racing Team CEO Massimiliano Fissore commented: “The Marrakech weekend was very positive for BRC Racing Team. We proved to have a good team, excellent drivers and the Hyundai i30 N TCR was extremely competitive. These factors make us optimistic for the season ahead, and we believe we have all the parts to be among those challenging for the victory all year”.
Double 1-2 from Pirelli World Challenge debut
The sensational debut on the world stage completed an incredible few weeks for i30 N TCR customers. Opening the Pirelli World Challenge season at the Circuit of the Americas (March 24-25) in Texas, Bryan Herta Autosport dominated the first event for the TCR category in the championship. Drivers Mark Wilkins and Michael Lewis swept the front row in qualifying for the Hyundai America backed team – beginning their first season in touring cars - and then went on to take 1-2 results in both races, with each man taking a victory in a perfect start to their campaign.
TCR class podium on first Nordschleife run
The same weekend a pair of Hyundai N entered i30 N TCR took on the Nürburgring Nordschleife in the first round of the VLN championship. Despite being left facing the wrong way at the very first corner of the four-hour race Tarquini and Korean driver Jae Kyun Kim fought back to finish third in a very competitive TCR class on the incredibly demanding 25km circuit. The experienced pairing of Nicola Larini and Manuel Lauck also fought back after problems early in the running, after Larini slid off track on oil dropped by a competitor and damaged the right-rear corner against the barrier. The team was able to repair the car, returning the pairing to the action for a sixth placed finish in class.
Young driver shows i30 N TCR pace in TCR UK
With Lewis Kent and his Essex & Kent Motorsport team the i30 N TCR was part of the first weekend of the TCR UK championship at Silverstone (March 31-April 1). One of the youngest drivers in the series Kent qualified a very impressive fourth fastest in mixed conditions. Unfortunately, a minor issue during race day kept him from converting his pace into a deserved result. However, his pace on a single lap gave a signal of intent for his first season in the TCR category.
Panasonic Jaguar Racing returned to Mexico City and achieved their highest ever Formula E points haul to move to third in the team standings. The successful race concludes a historic week for Jaguar following the launch of the new all-electric Jaguar I-PACE.
Brazilian Nelson Piquet Jr showcased his consistency and race craft with another strong performance. The team made a strategic decision to keep him out on track for one more lap compared to the rest of the field, giving Nelson more usable energy for the second half of the race. Nelson battled it out for a podium finish with Sebastian Buemi but settled for fourth and more valuable points.
Mitch Evans started in 12th position, and after a strong start in his Jaguar I-TYPE 2 the Kiwi driver rapidly moved into the top ten. A quick pit-stop put him in front of his team-mate but Nelson was able to safely overtake with more energy available and Mitch then had a clean run to the end finishing in sixth.
The British team’s performance in Mexico City demonstrates a fast, consistent and reliable performance in their second season in the ABB FIA Formula E Championships. Panasonic Jaguar Racing move to third place in the team standings with 74 points. Both drivers have held their positions in the driver’s championship with Nelson in fifth and Mitch in seventh place.
James Barclay, Team Director Panasonic Jaguar Racing: “It’s a strong result for the team, the best ever points finish for Panasonic Jaguar Racing. Great progress was made by both drivers, demonstrating the speed of the Jaguar I-TYPE 2 and team this season. To come away from Mexico sitting in third position in the team’s championship, it is clear that we have made huge steps forward and a podium will come soon. We only have a short break before we get back on track in Uruguay and we will renew our focus pushing forward and securing more points.”
Nelson Piquet Jr, #3: “It was a solid race. Depending on the drivers around you, it’s important to make a decision about whether to risk overtaking or conserve energy. A better starting position would have given us a podium, so this will be the aim for Punta del Este in a few days time. I believe the Jaguar I-TYPE 2 is the most consistent car on the track and hopefully soon we will be the quickest as we move towards a top three finish.”
Mitch Evans, #20: “It was a good race for us. I started 12th and finished sixth so I’m definitely happy with that. It was a tough qualifying so I am excited to get another double points finish here in Mexico. The crowd in Mexico City was even bigger than last year and it was a great atmosphere to race in. I’m leaving now for the Geneva Motor Show and the debut of the Jaguar I-PACE before flying out to Punta. I’m really looking forward to my first visit and racing again so soon.”
On Saturday 17 March Panasonic Jaguar Racing will race in Punta del Este for the sixth E-Prix of the ABB FIA Formula E Championships. FanBoost opens for the sixth E-Prix of the season at 17:00 GMT on Monday 12 March and closes 19:10 GMT Saturday 17 March.
The first Hyundai Motorsport built project designed for circuit racing will make a first public appearance next month. The team, together with development partners BRC, will continue the testing of the TCR project, running at the Touring Car Endurance Series’ 24H Misano in Italy on 7-9 July.
The entry will also carry the project’s official name for the first time over the weekend. Newly christened the Hyundai i30 N TCR, the racecar complements the forthcoming high-performance N range from Hyundai, and will further show the high-performance engineering capabilities of the brand. Like its road car counterpart the i30 N TCR will complete extensive testing in order to provide the best possible package to customers when deliveries begin in early December.
The Hyundai i30 N is the first road-going model from the N family. Set for launch in the second half of 2017, the car brings together Hyundai Motorsport’s experience and the company’s fast-growing expertise in high-performance engineering to deliver maximum fun on the road and on the track.
Having successfully completed initial tests in Spain and Italy the TCR car will travel to Misano on the invitation of both the race organisers Creventic and series sponsor Hankook. Hyundai Motorsport will take advantage of the opportunity to run in conditions that are not easily replicated in normal testing conditions.
Taking advantage of new testing opportunities
The team will look to complete long runs that will begin to simulate the tyre and brake wear that future customers would experience in the range of long-distance events where TCR cars are eligible to compete. The race will also be an opportunity to assess the endurance fuel filling system to make sure that it performs as expected in a racing pitstop. Running during the night will also give the team a chance to assess different lighting options that will be eventually be offered to customers, as well as testing how the car’s systems react to the cooler night time temperatures, and the constantly changing track conditions as the race continues.
Not yet homologated the car will not be part of the specific TCR class at the event, but will instead be grouped with GT4 machinery in the race. However, while the Hyundai i30 N TCR will be running during the competitive session throughout the weekend the team’s aim is not oriented on results. Instead, the key target will be to see how the car behaves in the different conditions. To achieve this the team will not run continuously throughout the race, but instead split the event into segments allowing time to alter the chassis set-up to gain further information from the weekend.
While, for the car itself the long runs made possible by entering the event will be a new step in the development process, the engine has already undergone extensive endurance testing. The two-litre turbocharged motor has already completed a pair of trouble-free 40+ hour dyno sessions at Hyundai’s global R&D Centre in Namyang, Korea earlier this year.
Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing manager Andrea Adamo said: “Entering the Hyundai i30 N TCR at the 24H Misano is a unique opportunity for us during the development phase of the project. Obviously the running we have already completed, and that which we plan for the coming months, is very important, however, this event will give us the chance to test in conditions that are impossible to replicate away from a competitive event. Though we will not run continuously through the entire event we will manage our time on track, splitting the race in several sections where we can focus on long runs and the endurance racing aspects of the our design. With time on track at night, as well during daylight will also mean that we can see how the car’s behavior shifts depending on atmospheric and track conditions that will be constantly changing.”
Toyota has developed a new car and a revised driver line-up to challenge for the 2017 FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), starting in England this weekend. Two heavily modified TS050 Hybrid race cars will make their competitive debut at the Six Hours of Silverstone, the first of nine endurance races that will decide this year's championship.
Silverstone is the "home" race for two of the Toyota drivers - former WEC champion Anthony Davidson and Mike Conway, both of whom are confident the team has the car to fight at the front. Davidson said: "It's a great circuit to drive which really highlights the performance of modern LMP1 cars, especially in the fast, flowing corners where you take advantage of the downforce."
Conway said: "It will be a tricky race especially with traffic, but I think we have a competitive car and we arrive there well prepared."
Silverstone is the first LMP1 race for three-time world touring car champion José María López, who will compete in the #7 car with Conway and Kamui Kobayashi. Davidson is reunited for a third consecutive season with Sébastien Buemi and Kazuki Nakajima. He and Buemi won the 2014 drivers' title.
Toyota Gazoo Racing will use the high-downforce version of the TS050 Hybrid at the 5.9km Silverstone circuit where the team has claimed podium finishes in each of its five previous visits. The car has been heavily modified with an upgraded hybrid powertrain and mechanical and aerodynamic updates. It has undergone around 35,000km of pre-season testing.
Track action begins on Friday with the six-hour race, which last year saw 1,144km completed by the winning car, starting on Sunday at noon (9pm AEST).
Hyundai Motor’s close to production, i30 N, the first model from Hyundai’s high-performance sub-brand N, entered the VLN (Veranstaltergemeinschaft Langstreckenpokal Nürburgring) endurance race on Saturday, April 8, 2017. Hyundai Motor engineers from Namyang, South Korea, and European R&D centers will help hone the car’s performance characteristics ahead of its global launch later this year.
The endurance race – held at the world-famous Nürburgring Nordschleife circuit in Germany – provides the opportunity for Hyundai Motor to intensively test i30 N car that feature technical specifications very close to the actual production car. The i30 N cars will be up against cars from other manufacturers that are heavily modified to cope with the demands of the VLN race.
Albert Biermann, Hyundai Motor Head of Vehicle Test and High Performance Development, said: “We want our high performance brand to have considerable racing pedigree so it is important that we compete with minimal modifications. Nürburgring is where the i30 N has undergone much of its testing and chassis development.”
The cars that Hyundai Motor will enter in the race are both equipped with a 2.0-liter turbo engine and six-speed manual transmission – the same powertrain and transmission set-up that will be used in the production i30 N. As they race the car, Hyundai Motor engineers will identify areas for further refinement and potential performance enhancements for the i30 N.
Hyundai Motor has its own 3,600 square metre testing center at the Nürburgring operated by the Hyundai Motor Europe Technical Center. The technical team based in Germany takes advantage of the Nordschleife’s 73 corners, gradients of up to 17 per cent and a difference in altitude of some 300 meters, in order to perform a host of demanding tests.
Continuing the rich vein of form, the McLaren 650S GT3 has won a further brace of championship titles in one weekend. Customer teams Darrell Lea and Tekno Autosports claimed the CAMS Australian GT Championship and the Australian Endurance Championship respectively, marking the ninth and tenth titles won by McLaren to date during the 2016 GT season.
The season-ending race weekend for the two series took place at Highlands Motorsport Park in New Zealand. The Australian GT Championship double-header title decider, followed by the Australian Endurance Championship finale – the Highlands 101.
Klark Quinn, driving for customer team Darrell Lea, arrived at the final races of the season leading the championship, and his third Australian GT title was secured with a podium finish in the second race. It was a dramatic way to end the season, as Quinn retired from Race 1 after a last lap collision with his title rival while leading.
With his title hopes recharged after a penalty to the Race 1 winner just before the start of Race 2, Quinn made a good start in the #37 650S GT3, and took the lead after the round of pit stops. As the race progressed, and the championship well within his grasp, he did not risk his chances of losing out on the championship and crossed the line to take P3. Having started P6, fellow McLaren drivers Nathan Antunes and Elliot Barber in the #61 Tekno Autosports 650S GT3 secured the overall race win after a dominant performance in the closing stages of the race.
Success for McLaren and the 650S GT3 continued the following day as Tekno Autosports pairing of Grant Denyer and Nathan Morcom finished the Highlands 101 endurance race with a solid top 10 finish. Despite a mechanical issue during the race, the pair brought the #59 650S GT3 home in P8 to secure the inaugural Australian Endurance Championship.
Both Morcom and Denyer battled through the problem, but a lack of pace in the closing stages of the 101-lap race forced Morcom to pit with five laps remaining to ensure the car made the finish. The heroic effort capped an extremely strong season for the duo, who won the opening round of the championship and scored a further three solid points finishes to keep them in the title hunt until the final round. The result marks the tenth championship title for McLaren during the 2016 season; the most successful campaign for McLaren in GT racing to date.
Reigning Supercars champion Mark Winterbottom will join BMW Team SRM for the Bathurst 12 Hour, along with DTM champion Marco Wittmann and Formula 1 and DTM star Timo Glock.
The three new additions to the squad will be spread across the two entries. Glock will join Tony Longhurst, Mark Skaife and Russell Ingall in the ‘Bathurst Legends’ entry. Winterbottom and Wittmann, meanwhile, will be paired with team boss and lead driver Steve Richards in the #100 BMW Team SRM M6 GT3.
Both Wittmann and Glock join through the team’s involvement with BMW Motorsport in Europe. Wittmann cut his teeth in Formula BMW in Europe before a three-year stint in European Formula 3. He returned to the brand as a GT driver and DTM test driver in 2012, before being promoted to a DTM race seat in 2013. Wittman went on to win his first DTM title in 2014, backing this up with a second championship in 2016 aboard the BMW M4 DTM.
Glock also started his career in Formula BMW, before a long stint in open-wheelers that saw him win a GP2 title and spend five seasons as a full-time Formula 1 driver. After leaving F1 at the end of the 2012 season, he joined BMW’s DTM program, where he has raced for the last four seasons.
Winterbottom joins the team as the reigning Supercars champion, having broken through for his maiden title with Prodrive Racing Australia last season. ‘Frosty’ and Richards have prior form at Bathurst, the pair teaming up to win the Bathurst 1000 back in 2013. His addition to the team takes the total number of Great Race wins across the two line-ups to 15.
“It's fantastic that we can announce three exceptional drivers are joining BMW Team SRM for our two-car assault on the 2017 Bathurst 12 hour. Frosty and I have past experience at Bathurst, and share a career highlight together with our win there in 2013. Since then has added a Supercars championship to his CV, so there’s no doubt he’ll help us be in the hunt for a great result in February.
“BMW Group Australia has connected us with BMW Motorsport in Europe to help facilitate the inclusion of recently-crowned DTM champion Marco Wittmann in our driving lineup. As a two-time DTM winner for BMW, and with his experience driving the BMW M6 GT3, he will bring a huge amount to the table at Bathurst.
“With Timo joining Tony, Skaifey and Russell, I couldn't have possibly asked for a better lineup for BMW Team SRM to head to our first Bathurst 12 hour with.”
“This is my first Bathurst 12 Hour, which is exciting. GT3 cars are obviously very cool to drive, and having all-professional line-ups in the top cars really makes it feel like a proper race to me. It’s changed my whole view on it. To have all these well-credentialed drivers going at it for 12 Hours, that’s going to be very cool to be a part of.
“Steve and I have had a lot of cracks at Bathurst together. We won together in 2013, which was incredible. That was the last time we raced there together, so we’re coming off the back of a win, technically. ‘Richo’ is easy to drive with, and working with him will make it an enjoyable week. It’s good when you know someone and you’ve worked with them before. I really enjoyed all the times we raced at Bathurst together in the past, and that was one of the things that made the decision easy for me.”
“It is very exciting for me to be making my first start at the Bathurst 12 Hour. I have never been to Australia before, so there are a lot of new things awaiting me. And I am really looking forward to them. At the moment, I only know the circuit from computer games. It is iconic, and it’s sure to be a lot of fun to drive. I can hardly wait to do my first laps there in the BMW M6 GT3.
“I already know the car very well from my GT outings at the Nürburgring and in Daytona, and hope that I can use my experience to help the team.”
“It is fantastic to be back racing in Australia after a few years away. I love the country and the people. I always travelled to Formula 1 races a week early, in order to do a bit of sightseeing. The Australian GP in Melbourne was my favourite race. I have not driven at Bathurst before, but the circuit is legendary. I am really looking forward to the challenge and my first race in the BMW M6 GT3. Hopefully we can get a good result for BMW and the team.”
2015 Nissan PlayStation GT Academy winner Matt Simmons will mark another major career milestone on the weekend by competing in the 24 Hours of Spa at Belgium’s famous Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps.
Simmons and his co-drivers Romain Sarazin, Sean Walkinshaw and Ricardo Sanchez will share the #22 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 in the endurance classic, the fourth round of the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup.
Simmons, Sarazin, Walkinshaw and Sanchez head into the race weekend well prepared following a test day earlier this month at the daunting 7km circuit that weaves through the Ardennes forests. Simmons and his Nissan GT Academy Team RJN team-mates completed 90 laps of the Spa circuit, with Simmons getting 25 trouble-free laps under his belt.
While the #22 GT-R will be aiming for Pro-Am Class honours, the #23 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 of defending Blancpain GT Endurance Cup champion Alex Buncombe, inaugural GT Academy winner Lucas Ordonez and young Japanese ace Mitsunori Takaboshi will be pushing for outright victory.
This year’s race is 25 years since Nissan’s first and only victory in the 24 Hours of Spa. In 1991, Swede Anders Olofsson, Japanese driver Naoki Hattori and Australian David Brabham took victory by a dominant margin of 21 laps in the all-conquering Nissan GT-R R32.
The GT3 cars hit the track for the first time on Tuesday with a practice session for ‘bronze’ rated drivers such as Simmons. Thursday will feature free practice, pre-qualifying and qualifying. Super Pole will be held on Friday ahead of the twice-around-the-clock race kicking off at 4:30pm Saturday (local time). GT3 session times are below, with full event timetable HERE.
2016 Blancpain GT Endurance Cup Points Standings are available HERE, with Simmons currently in 18th place in the Pro-Am Drivers Championship. The Spa 24 Hour, the premier event of the Blancpain GT Series, is crucial to Simmons’ Pro-Am Championship chances, with double points available. Points are awarded at the six (half points), 12 (half) and 24-hour (full) marks.
Simmons earned his place as a NISMO Athlete after winning the 2015 Nissan PlayStation GT Academy International competition, switching from his job driving a courier van for Australia Post to driving a Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3 for Nissan GT Academy Team RJN in the 2016 Blancpain GT Endurance Cup.
CLICK HERE for more details on the Nissan PlayStation GT Academy.
Q&A with MATT SIMMONS – 2016 Spa 24 Hour Preview
QUESTION: You are three races into your international motor racing career. Has it become more ‘real’ or do you still have to pinch yourself?
SIMMONS: I still pinch myself everyday that I get to live my dream of being a professional race driver. But when I get back behind the wheel of the GT-R, it wakes me up very quickly!
QUESTION: The last event at Paul Ricard was disappointing after you were involved in an early race incident. How frustrating was that?
SIMMONS: The Paul Ricard race was a tough result for myself and the team. It was definitely not the game plan to be out of contention so early on. The battle pack was fierce and things just didn’t go our way. These things happen in motorsport and we have learnt from what happened. Despite not being able to race for a result, all three of us were able to get a lot of laps in the GT-R NISMO GT3 and we’ve taken positives away so we can be ready to fight at the Spa 24 Hour.
QUESTION: How would you rate the progress you have made so far, both on and off the track?
SIMMONS: My progress as an international racing driver has been steep. Each race weekend has been full of new challenges and when we leave the track, I am more motivated than ever to work harder before the next race so I can give everything again. I’m really focused and I’m continuing to evolve into the best racing driver I can be.
QUESTION: You had a test at the Spa Franchorchamps circuit recently in the #22 Nissan GT-R NISMO GT3. How did you find the track and how much of an advantage was it to get some miles under your belt prior to the race weekend?
SIMMONS: One word for this track … awesome! This track is unique, very fast and challenging. To get a chance to feel that and get up to speed as quickly as possible will be a massive advantage come race week. Our test day was very productive. We did about 90 laps in total. I got 25 laps and we ticked all the objectives so I feel ready to hit the ground running at the bronze test session.
QUESTION: Spa is a world-famous circuit. What is your favourite part of the track?
SIMMONS: Spa is special, for sure. You feel it when you arrive to the circuit and see it all. My favourite section is easily Eau Rouge. This is as raw as it gets, feeling the force on your body at the bottom and then wanting to take off over the top – it’s an incredible feeling. It literally took my breath away the first few laps but I kept my eyes open!
QUESTION: Qualifying for the new batch of GT Academy hopefuls is about to kick-off in Australia. What would you suggest to those considering entering the same competition that changed your life?
SIMMONS: It’s so exciting to see GT Academy return to Australia this year to give another chance to change someone's life. The main thing for those wanting to enter is to prepare well and give it 100 per cent every chance you get. Most importantly, enjoy every moment that this incredible experience can offer.
2016 24 Hours of Spa Schedule
Tuesday 26 July 2016:
Bronze Test: 2:55pm (10:55pm AEST)
Thursday 28 July 2016:
Free Practice: 1:20pm (9:20pm AEST)
Qualifying: 8:00pm (4:00am, Friday AEST)
Night Qualifying: 9:45pm (5:45am, Friday AEST)
Friday 29 July 2016:
Super Pole: 6:00pm (2:00am, Saturday AEST)
Saturday 30 July 2016:
Warm-Up: 9:05am (5:05pm AEST)
Race: 4:30pm (12:30am, Sunday AEST)
Honda’s luxury Acura arm in North America will campaign an all-electric NSX-inspired EV Concept in the Electric Modified Class at the 2016 Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb. The NSX EV Concept features a further evolution of the experimental, all-electric, 4-motor Super Handling All-Wheel Drive™ (SH-AWD®) powertrain that won last year’s Pikes Peak Challenge Exhibition class.
The supercar-inspired NSX EV Concept will be driven by Tetsuya Yamano, who campaigned in last year’s CR-Z-based electric prototype. The NSX EV Concept is the ultimate embodiment of the all-wheel-drive Electric SH-AWD powertrain featuring a world’s first technology that enables four-wheel independent torque allocation.
The Concept’s Electric SH-AWD powertrain produces three times the total system output of last year’s electric prototype and is mated to the NSX body.
“We’ve been tuning the car for several weeks at Pikes and have advanced its performance significantly,” said Tetsuya Yamano. “We’re honored to be running at Pikes in this historical, anniversary year – an event respected by racing fans all over the world.”
Honda R&D has been developing “super handling” technology for more than 20 years in the pursuit of ideal vehicle handling. By applying separate Twin Motor Units (TMUs), the brains of Sport Hybrid SH-AWD, on each axle, the NSX has achieved independent torque distribution to all four corners – true four-wheel torque vectoring. Based upon the learnings from last year’s race, the team updated the system management of the powertrain for more precise thrust at each wheel.
The NSX’s unique Sport Hybrid SH-AWD technology utilises the highly responsive acceleration characteristics and regeneration capability of electric motors to further advance the torque vectoring systems currently applied to the NSX. The system enables ideal handling characteristics in various driving situations by co-ordinating and managing all dynamic systems, including Electronic Power Steering (EPS), Vehicle Stability Assist™ (VSA®) and Sport Hybrid SH-AWD.
With its high-output electric motors and 4-motor torque vectoring, the Concept is well suited to the demands of the 156 complex corners the driver will encounter on the 19.9 km drive up Pikes Peak, Colorado. Participants start at an altitude of 2862 m and finish the drive at 4302 m.
The Pikes Peak event starts on June 26.
McLaren GT Factory Drivers Rob Bell, Côme Ledogar, Shane van Gisbergen and Alvaro Parente claimed victories in Europe and North America as the 650S GT3 enjoyed a strong weekend. The race-focused version of Super Series model secured a dramatic win at the opening round of the 2016 Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup in Monza, Italy, a double podium in the Pirelli World Challenge at Barber Motorsports Park in the USA and pole position and a win at the first weekend of the International GT Open championship in Estoril, Portugal.
In the all-Factory Driver line-up #58 McLaren 650S GT3 of customer team Garage 59, Bell started the three-hour race P16 alongside the all-McLaren GT Academy Driver trio of Alex Fontana, Struan Moore and Andrew Watson in P15. The experienced Brit quickly fought through the pack, climbing as high as P3 during his stint, before a quick pit stop by the team vaulted the car into the lead with Ledogar aboard. Frenchman Ledogar – making his competitive debut as a Factory Driver with McLaren GT – drove faultlessly through traffic and retained the lead against one of the most competitive GT grids, before van Gisbergen took over for one of the most exciting and closest finishes the championship has ever seen.
During the final stint of the race, the rapid van Gisbergen defended the lead as he negotiated back-markers around the historic 3.6-mile Italian circuit. As the chequered flag fell after 96 hard-fought laps and three hours of racing, the New Zealand-born driver brought the #58 650S GT3 home to secure the top step of the podium with a winning margin of just 0.341s, and score the team its first win in the Championship.
In the United States, fellow Factory Driver Alvaro Parente enjoyed a successful weekend at the wheel of the 650S GT3. Parente, driving for customer team K-PAX Racing, won Round 6 of the Pirelli World Challenge, and finished second the following morning in Round 7 at the challenging Barber Motorsports Park circuit in Alabama. The results place Parente firmly in the running for the Drivers’ Title.
A third win for the 650S GT3 was secured at the opening weekend of the International GT Open, as customer team Garage 59 enjoyed further success in the second race at Estoril in Portugal. Kevin Estre and Alexander West secured pole position in the #88 650S GT3, and the French-Swedish pair looked set for a convincing victory until a misjudged overtake by a competitor ended the charge on the final lap. Charging to the line, the #59 650S GT3 of Michael Benham and Duncan Tappy reacted quickly to the incident with the British pair taking the lead in another dramatic race finish.
Commenting on the result at Monza, McLaren GT Factory Driver Côme Ledogar explained: ’It is a dream come true to win on my debut for McLaren as a Factory Driver, and even more so at a place as special as Monza. Garage 59 did a fantastic job all weekend and didn’t put a foot wrong through the race. The work by the pitcrew which saw us jump the leaders was a key moment for us, so credit must go to them. I’m also really thankful for the job my teammates did during the race – Rob (Bell) made a great start, fighting through the pack, and Shane put on a stunning display of defensive driving at the end. The car was perfect and in my stint I just had to keep it clean. I can’t wait to visit Silverstone next month and continue our title challenge.’