As the 2018 season is getting underway the Blancpain GT Series began as it does every year: with the annual pre-season test at Circuit Paul Ricard. Two days of testing was given to the 45 cars that made the trip to the sunny south of France.
Two new cars made their first public appearance in Europe. One from Bentley, the other from Nissan. Both brands have been racing somewhat outdated looking cars in the past seasons when the rapid development of third-generation GT3s made these two big cars seem like remnants from earlier times. That is no longer the case as both cars have undergone a major redesign to fit in perfectly with the new world of GT3.
As aero-efficiency is now the name of the game, the noses of the Continental and GT-R have been lowered and clunky bodywork swapped for neatly fitting and well-engineered body panels. Fundamentally a lot has changed with both cars as well: Bentley has taken the joint Bentley-Porsche-developed MSB chassis platform as the basis for the Continental giving the Bentley a sportier foundation, whereas Nissan has gone to great lengths to make the chassis competitive for all-round GT3 racing by lowering the engine and with it lowering the centre of gravity for more mechanical grip. Although the Nissan GT-R Nismo GT3 is still the same model that the Japanese came onto the GT3 scene with many years ago, this is by far the biggest leap forward the GT-R has made.
Emil Frey Racing is bringing a new car to the series as well. The Swiss team enters the Lexus RC-F GT3 that saw action in the International GT Open championship last year, while the in-house developed Jaguar XK takes a backseat as the Jag’s primary pilots move to the Lexus. The void in the remaining sole Jaguar is filled by a trio of youngsters who will be going after the Silver Cup.
At the end of the first day of testing, however, Team Parker Racing showed the old Bentley’s continuing prowess by standing atop of the timing sheet with a 1:52.454 lap time set by Callum McLeod. The Brit won’t be competing the full season in Blancpain GT—instead flying the Bentley flag in the British GT Championship—but might make a one-off start in Brands Hatch. British GT champion Seb Morris will lead the Team Parker Racing charge in the Blancpain GT Endurance Cup.
Day two saw Attempto Racing go fastest with a 1:53.103. The Germans didn’t need long to readjust to their new car, having switched from Lamborghini to Audi for 2018. The day before they already showed their teeth by placing second.
Photos by Daniele Paglino.