Paul Ricard preview: An even more exciting season ready to kick-off
The long winter recess is over and it’s time to be racing again! The International GT Open kicks-off from the nice Provence region, as the Circuit Paul Ricard gets the honour to host the 2019 season-opener. The French weekend is going to be quite special for GT Sport (and for the fans!), not only because the 14th edition of the GT Open starts under the best auspices, but also because it will mark the inaugural round of the GT Cup Open Europe, the new GT ‘junior’ series, and a new beginning for the Euroformula Open, more than ever one of the top F.3-based series in Europe. The Spanish F.4 Championship completes the race programme of this weekend which will see again Michelin, our faithful partner, displaying a number of activities in the paddock, not last the Michelin Gastronomy Experience that gathered great success last year.
Following a great season in 2018, the International GT Open is confirming its growing trend and consolidating its distinct position in the GT3 racing market. 2019 promises to be even more exciting and closely-fought, with larger grids, an even higher level, more diversity of brands, an excellent balance between all classes and a good number of novelties, in terms of cars, teams and drivers. Among those, the trend towards younger professional drivers is reinforced. Jesús Pareja, CEO of GT Sport: “We are looking forward to a very exciting season, even better than last year’s, in quantity and quality, with greater diversity of cars, new teams and new faces. In the uncertain times that motorsports is living in Europe, GT racing seems to be doing well. A lot of this has to do with the fact that our continent is the cradle of the most prestigious brands and nicest cars, and of the most iconic tracks. This is the perfect basis on which to build the present and the future, and the GT Open is proud to bring its contribution.”
THE FIELD – But let’s review the field for the Ricard round, which has 25 entries confirmed. In the Pro class, Lamborghini, Mercedes, McLaren and Bentley are represented. No less than six Huracans are on the starting blocks, with the mission to seize again the title that the Luzich Racing Ferrari of Mikkel Mac took last year.
Top Swiss team Emil Frey Racing is back to the Open after one year of absence and has switched to the Sant’Agata brand, fielding two Evo versions for Norbert Siedler-Mikaël Grenier and Albert Costa, joined by a new recruit, young gun (18) Giacomo Altoè, who is the reigning Italian GT champion. Raton Racing by Target (with the new name confirming the merger between the two entities) enters a car in Pro for Jiatong Liang-Raffaele Giammaria, who raced last year with Imperiale Racing. Ombra Racing is another team coming back in style, with an entirely new pair, as the 2012 GT Open Champion Federico Leo is back to the series, associated with Malaysia’s Najiy Razak, seen in the Euroformula. The other two Lambos in Pro are fielded by Lazarus Racing, in 2018 specs, for two pairs including three former Euroformula drivers, Nicolas Pohler-Nicola De Marco and Eliseo Martínez-Toby Sowery.
Facing the Bulls will be the new McLaren 720S racers, which are entrusted to Teo Martín Motorsport, another of the top teams having switched machinery for 2019. Fran Rueda-Andrés Saravia, the current vice champions, will again bid for the title, while in the other car of the Spanish squad are debuting Portugal’s Henrique Chaves and Croatia’s GT star, Martin Kodrić. Mercedes is represented in the top class by Miguel Ramos-Fabrizio Crestani, who have joined SPS Automotive Performance, the team that barred them from conquering the Pro-Am title last year, and by the Antonelli Motorsport car entrusted to Daniel Zampieri, another champion (2014) who returns to the series, associated with a driver still to be revealed. Bentley is represented by Petri Corse, who fields a Continental (with the new generation car arriving as from Round 2) for Dutch former single-seater driver Meindert Van Buuren and Romania’s GT4 racer Razvan Umbrarescu.
The PRO-AM Class will again be extremely interesting this year. Valentin Pierburg and Tom Onslow-Cole will be defending their title, again with the Mercedes AMG of SPS Automotive Performance.
Other usual stars of the class, Brazil’s Marcelo Hahn-Allam Khodair have moved to Teo Martín Motorsport, to drive a McLaren 720S. Two Ferrari 488 will be fighting in the class, with popular pair Duncan Cameron-Matt Griffin making a full-season come-back with Spirit of Race and new squad Tempesta Racing entering Chris Froggatt-Eddie Cheever.
Lamborghini is defending its chances with Vincenzo Sospiri Racing, which enters a pair of young guns composed of China’s King Lang and Denmark’s Frederik Schandorff, and Raton Racing by Target the pair Alberto Di Folco-Christoph Lenz. In the Mercedes camp, an interesting new entry is SunEnergy1 Racing, who joins from the US with Australia’s Kenny Habul, fresh from the Am title in the IGTC, and Thomas Jäger, while Antonelli Motorsport fields a car for Davide Roda. The Audi R8 LMS will be again represented by Polish squad Olimp Racing for the pair composed of Marcin Jedlinski and the fast Mateusz Lisowski.Last but certainly not least, Optimum Motorsport is back with Ollie Wilkinson-Brad Ellis after an excellent 2018 campaign and sports the new Aston Martin Vantage.
The AM Class will be no less lively than in the past. At Ricard, the Mercedes AMG will be again the car with most ‘likes’, with the Sports&You car of António Coimbra-Luis Silva and the HTP Motorsport car of Alexander Hrachowina-Martin Konrad starting again the fight for the title, alongside the Antonelli Motorsport car of Giuseppe Cipriani. Another lone driver, Stanislaw Jedlinski, is back with the other Olimp Racing Audi.