Blancpain: Vincent Abril adds energy and experience to AKKA ASP

Vincent Abril © DR

Vincent Abril is full of positive energy. Perhaps it’s because he’s about to head to Circuit Paul Ricard, which besides being his local event was also the scene of his Blancpain GT Series debut in 2013 and his maiden Endurance Cup victory in 2017.


Or perhaps it’s about the new challenge he has undertaken this year. Abril seems energised by his switch to AKKA ASP Team, where he shares the #88 Mercedes-AMG GT3 with Raffaele Marciello and Michael Meadows.

Even a difficult start to the season hasn’t affected his spirits. Many tipped this all-star crew to set the benchmark, but the opening Endurance Cup events at Monza and Silverstone have been hampered by bad luck, leaving them with no points on the board heading to the French venue.

A fourth-place finish in the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe opener at Brands Hatch means that Abril and Marciello have taken one strong result in 2019, though in the weekend’s second race a mechanical issue robbed them of a comfortable P2 finish.

« I don’t think we’ve done anything wrong since the start of the year, » Abril says. « That’s just motorsport: sometimes things go your way, sometimes they don’t. It usually levels out over a season or two, so I’m not worried. »

Abril’s approach is about remaining positive, trusting in his and his teammates’ abilities. He knows that if they keep doing their thing, the results will come soon enough.

It sums up a driver who, at the age of 24, already seems like a veteran of the sport. Now, on the fifth anniversary of his Blancpain GT Series debut, Abril is more confident than ever in his power to perform.

From pitch to paddock
Given his early start in GT racing, you might expect to hear that Abril began driving go-karts as soon as he could reach the pedals. In fact, he was a late arrival at the track, having originally poured his energy into another sport altogether.

« I wasn’t really into racing until I was 14 or 15, » he explains. « Before that I was into football. I really thought I could do something there, so I wasn’t focussed on racing. I was trying to get into the AS Monaco development side. »

When his footballing dreams began to wind down in his mid-teens, Abril quickly found a new direction.

« There was a race track near where we lived. I had always liked it, but I never took it seriously as a possibility. I tried it again when I was 15 and I really enjoyed it. After that everything happened quickly. »

This is no exaggeration. Having largely skipped the formative karting years, Abril decided to make up for lost time by switching to car racing early, contesting the SEAT Leon Supercopa France shortly after turning 17.

He quickly learned the ropes and his second season yielded two race wins on route to fourth in the standings. He had planned to move to single-seaters the following year, but instead graduated to the FFSA GT Championship.

« At the time young drivers weren’t really going to GT racing, » says Abril. « This was back in 2013 and I was one of the youngest guys everywhere I went. Everyone wanted to do single-seaters or maybe LMP2, but I went for GTs and it paid off. I won a lot of races and made some connections, which was important because I didn’t know anyone at that level. »

Abril ended the season fourth in the FFSA GT standings with three wins. Mid-way through the year, he also made his Blancpain GT Series debut at Circuit Paul Ricard, driving an Audi R8 LMS Ultra for the Speed Car outfit that had run him in France.

« It was a great experience. It wasn’t the best car for that circuit, but it was great to be in an international paddock for the first time, » he recalls.

Another big step would follow in 2014. Indeed, the next two seasons would prove to be what Abril calls « the turning point of my career. »

The Bentley Boy
The serious rise up the ranks began in 2014, when Abril contested the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup. Sharing with Mateusz Lisowski, he took the Silver class title and began to attract serious paddock attention. In particular, he identifies one race that helped to make his name.

« It was in the wet at Slovakia Ring, » he recalls. « I think that race jump-started my career, because I was fighting with the big-name drivers and that helped me a lot. »

Indeed, Abril explains that this led to a test with HTP Motorsport at the end of the season.

« They were running a Mercedes at the time. The test went really well and HTP made me a good offer. At the same time they switched to Bentley, and for 2015 I was paired up with Maxi Buhk, who was the reference in the Sprint Cup. »

Their season began relatively slowly, but once the pairing of Buhk and Abril caught fire they became unstoppable. The duo clinched the title in perfect style at the Zandvoort season finale, sweeping both the qualifying and main race.

2015 also saw Abril earn plaudits at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, where a mighty qualifying performance saw him secure eighth overall on the 57-car grid. It was impressive stuff from a 21-year-old debutant and was rewarded at the year’s end when Bentley made him a factory driver.

Joining the M-Sport line-up, Abril spent the following seasons establishing himself among the leading Pro contenders in the Blancpain GT Series.

« The first year was a transition and, while we had a lot of speed, we didn’t always get the results. It was still a great first season, and then in the second year [2017] everything clicked. We finished as runner-up in Endurance, fourth in Sprint and I was third overall.

« I was split over two cars, which meant I had more teammates to work with. It was a challenging year, but I really enjoyed it and I feel it made me a better driver. »

In particular, 2017 will be remembered for that breakthrough Endurance Cup triumph at Circuit Paul Ricard.

« The win was special, » he confirms. « I have a good record at the track, from SEAT to FFSA GT and now in the Endurance Cup. It’s the closest thing to a home race for me. I always have friends there and that year especially I had a lot of people – so the party was cool afterwards! »

Performance under pressure
After a stellar 2017 that also saw Abril’s #8 Bentley crew take a runner-up finish at the Total 24 Hours of Spa, the 2018 season brought little in the way of results. It was the natural time to make a change.

« I reached a point where I was looking to do more and I wanted to run the full season again. The opportunity with AKKA ASP came up late in 2018; the offer was good and it was the right time. We have a great line-up and I’ve known this team for a long time. »

While the season hasn’t started as he had hoped, Abril believes that there is every chance of a strong result this weekend. Circuit Paul Ricard has been good to him in the past and he enjoys the challenge of its technical layout. In fact, he has just one small problem with the event…

« It always takes place during the NBA Finals! »
As anyone who follows him on social media will know, Abril is a huge basketball fan and his team, the Golden State Warriors, have reached the Finals once again. Fortunately, this weekend’s race falls between the first and second games, so he won’t need to compromise.

« I always try to relate to things in basketball that could work for me as a race car driver, » he says. « What I like about basketball is that although it’s a team sport, sometimes one guy will take over. The greatest – Jordan, Kobe, LeBron – when they need to do the job, they step up.

« It’s a cool thing to see how cold-blooded they are in those moments, how they react under pressure. »

On Saturday evening, the #88 Mercedes-AMG crew will tackle a 1,000km race that kicks off at 18.00 and runs through to midnight. They have the pace to perform, but pressure isn’t an issue for Abril.

« We have the potential to do very well, we just need to make sure we tick all the boxes and it’ll happen sooner or later. We have all won championships so it’s not like we have to prove everything, but we’re competitors and we want to spray some champagne at the end of the weekend. »

There is a feeling that this line-up cannot be kept off the podium for much longer. And, if he needs to step up, Abril is clearly ready to show his cold-blooded side and ensure that they get the job done this weekend.

Adelheid Terryn,