The inaugural Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe campaign will conclude at the Hungaroring this weekend where titles will be up for grabs in the Pro, Silver Cup and Pro-Am classes.
The championship battles will provide the main event as another capacity 28-car field tackles the challenging 4.4km circuit located on the outskirts of Budapest.
Opened in 1986, the Hungaroring has become a staple of the series since it joined the calendar in 2016, though this will be the first time that it has staged the deciding round of the sprint-format championship.
Coming just one week after the penultimate round was held at the Nürburgring, the event promises high drama as the teams’ and drivers’ titles remain wide open in three classes. With those outside the championship battle also looking to end the season on a high, an exciting weekend of GT action is in store.
FFF and Black Falcon lead Pro battle, Grasser and Sainteloc still in the hunt
Four crews representing three brands will go for the premier class title in Hungary. On the drivers’ front the favourites are Andrea Caldarelli and Marco Mapelli (#563 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini) who enter the deciding weekend on 79 points. Victory in race 1 at the Nürburgring saw the Italian duo take the championship lead for the first time this season, while also becoming the only crew thus far to secure multiple victories in 2019.
It would be a remarkable achievement for the FFF squad, which is contesting its first season in top-line European motorsport after enjoying success in Asia. A repeat of their Nürburgring efforts – where the #563 Lamborghini crew beat their chief title rivals in both races – would be enough to complete the job.
The rivals in question are Luca Stolz and Maro Engel (#4 Black Falcon Mercedes-AMG). The German pairing assumed the championship lead with victory in race 2 at Brands Hatch and did not surrender it until the opening Nürburgring contest.
Until now, their title charge has been built on consistency. Indeed, even when a penalty for an unsafe release appeared to have scuppered their chances on Saturday, they still fought back to claim vital points in P8. But in Hungary they will need to target a return to the podium – something they have not achieved since the opening race at Misano – to overturn an eight-point deficit.
The other challengers are outside bets and would require a significant turnaround to become champions. Of course, bigger surprises have occurred in GT racing.
Mirko Bortolotti and Christian Engelhart (#63 Grasser Racing Lamborghini) have not won a race in 2019, but four podiums have kept them in the hunt heading to the finale. There is no shortage of pace from this crew and, coupled with the pit stop expertise of the Austrian outfit, they are a dark horse worth keeping an eye on.
The fourth and final pair of contenders have been the surprise package of 2019. The #25 Sainteloc Racing Audi has become the Ingolstadt marque’s leading challenger thanks to a combination of consistency and impressive speed, with Christopher Haase and Simon Gachet scoring four podiums in the past five races – including a victory at Zandvoort. They will travel to Hungary 27 points shy of the championship lead and, while the title may be a long shot, this has nevertheless been a superb showing by the Sainteloc outfit.
It is noteworthy that each of these crews has at least one driver with title-winning pedigree: Caldarelli clinched the Endurance Cup title in 2017; Stolz and Engel claimed the same crown last year; Bortolotti and Engelhart were Endurance and overall champions in 2017; and Haase took the Endurance championship in 2012.
In the teams’ standings Orange1 FFF Racing leads the way on 81.5, with Black Falcon next up on 72. As is the case for their drivers, these two outfits look most likely to leave Hungary with the championship trophy. Nevertheless, AKKA ASP (64.5), Grasser Racing (58.5), Belgian Audi Club Team WRT (58) and Sainteloc Racing (56) also remain in mathematical contention ahead of the finale.
The title battle will play out as part of a 16-car Pro field at the Hungaroring. The entry list features the same contingent that competed last weekend in Germany, as well as the addition of Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup outfit Dinamic Motorsport. The Italian squad will field a Porsche 911 GT3 R for Giorgio Roda and Sven Müller, increasing the overall number of brands racing in Hungary to seven.
Epic battle expected with six crews in Silver Cup contention
Earlier in the season Nico Bastian and Thomas Neubauer (#89 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG) looked almost certain to clinch the Silver Cup title, but a run of misfortune coupled with a resurgence from their rivals has transformed the class into a battle royal. Six crews are mathematically eligible for the title, with just 5.5 points separating first from third heading into the finale.
Bastian/Neubauer still top the table on 83 points, closely followed by Mattia Drudi and Milan Dontje on 81.5 after the #56 Attempto Racing Audi crew scored their maiden class win in the Nürburgring’s opening contest. Hugo de Sadeleer and Aaro Vainio enter the finale on 77.5, having swept the weekend at Zandvoort and picked up a podium in Germany.
The outsiders are led by Timur Boguslavskiy (62 points), who will share his #90 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG with Felipe Fraga in Hungary. Rik Breukers and Oscar Tunjo (#10 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT) bagged their maiden win in the second Nürburgring run, keeping their hopes alive with 61.5 points, while the sister #17 crew of Shae Davies and Tom Gamble are also mathematically eligible on 55 points.
AKKA ASP has a more useful advantage in the teams’ standings, with 114.5 points to Attempto Racing’s 85. Nevertheless, recent results have shown that the championship situation can change quickly in the Silver Cup class. A total of seven cars will be among the runners in Hungary, with the #519 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini joining the title protagonists.
FFF takes on Rinaldi in Pro-Am battle, AF Corse still in the hunt
The Pro-Am battle has been a hugely entertaining subplot throughout the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe season. There has been little to choose between #519 Orange1 FFF Racing Lamborghini of Hiroshi Hamaguchi and Phil Keen, and the rival #333 Rinaldi Racing Ferrari of Rinat Salikhov and David Perel.
The FFF duo hold the advantage as it stands, heading to Hungary with 102.5 points compared with the Rinaldi crew’s 94. While Salikhov and Perel have arguably shown greater pace, the Hamaguchi/Keen pairing has displayed greater consistency. As such, the battle remains finely poised ahead of the decider. Victory in the second Nürburgring race means that Louis Machiels and Andrea Bertolini (#52 AF Corse Ferrari) remain outside contenders with 77 points on the board. Given their vast experience, this duo should not be ruled out just yet.
With each squad running one entry apiece, the situation is the same in the teams’ championship. As such it is a case of winner takes all in the Pro-Am battle. A total of four crews will compete in Hungary, with the #87 AKKA ASP Mercedes-AMG completing the quartet. In addition to the title-contending classes, the full-season HB Racing Ferrari will represent the Am Cup category with Florian Scholze and Wolfgang Triller at the wheel
Diverse support package for season finale
In addition to the main on-track action, the Hungaroring event is set to feature a particularly diverse line-up of series. This will be led by regular support category Formula Renault Eurocup, which makes the sixth of seven appearances this year alongside the Blancpain GT Series. Fans will also be treated to a one-off appearance by the X-Bow Battle – a one-make championship that caters for the distinctive KTM machine – as well as the FFSA F4 French Championship.
As for the main event, the opening 80-minute free practice for Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe contenders will get underway at 10.25 on Friday, followed by a second session at 15.20. Qualifying will take place at 10.30 on Saturday morning, setting the grid for a pair of 60-minute contests. The first comes later that day at 15.10, before the season-closing Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe race gets underway on Sunday at 13.45. With the stage set, a thrilling conclusion to the 2019 campaign awaits in Hungary.