Highlight of the Blancpain GT Series – world’s biggest GT3 series – still is the Total 24 Hours of Spa. We had the chance to experience this incredible race in the presence of Arnaud Blandin, Brand Manager Blancpain France. He explains us how the Swiss watch brand came to be the main sponsor of this greater than great event for car aficionado.
In 2009 you made your entry into the single brand racing events with the Lamborghini Super Trofeo…?
Arnaud Blandin: “Indeed, that is how we made our first steps into automobile racing, and the idea of Lamborghini was to engage with a partner in watchmaking which was virgin so to say, and did not have any previous partnerships. There were not many left. Jaeger Lecoultre was with Aston Martin, IWC with Mercedes-AMG, Breitling with Bentley, … So we form a good partnership, as Lamborghini did not have any previous ties with a watchmaking brand, nor did we have on the other hand with a car manufacturer. It is also fortunate that both brands are part of large industrial groups. Lamborghini is part of the big VW concern, and we are embedded within the Swatch Group. Lamborghini makes still its own V12, and we produce our triple barillet and our movements for our top range watches which we don’t sell it to other manufacturers, just as Lamborghini reserves its V12 exclusively for its own cars. Also the production volumes coincide. When Lamborghini produced yearly some 1,000 cars, we made about 10,000 watches, and six or seven years later Lamborghini rolled out 2,500 units, and we make some 25.000 watches.”
How did it start?
Arnaud Blandin: “It all started in 2009. Our president Marc Hayek participated in the Super Trofeo with his Lamborghini as the races were open both for professionals and amateurs. These were short races, and where held as weekend guest racing events within the GT1 and GT3 championships, organized by SRO. One day, SRO asked Marc Hayek if Blancpain could stand for the timekeeping of these championships. This we accepted, as we have within the group a unit called Swiss Timing that also does the timekeeping for other brands within the Swatch Group as Omega (eg atletics), Longines (eg jumping), and the others. In 2009 and 2010 we were the official timekeepers, and in the meantime Stephane Ratel, Founder and CEO SRO Motorsports Group, had profound discussions with the pilots, asking them what they expected from these racing weekends. It is important to get more enthusiasts wanting to participate in these events, and be willing to spend yearly a few hundred thousand Euros to race six weekends. It appeared clearly from the discussions that the races were too short, taking typically some 35 minutes. So they decided to create the Blancpain GT Series, and Stephane has abandoned the GT1 and GT3 championships and concentrated now on this new GT Series, and notably the endurance versions. Now the amateurs can run several hours in the weekend.”
The fusion took place in 2009?
Arnaud Blandin: “No, actually, it was done in 2011, or rather 2010. It attracted more public interest, notably television, which is more difficult for single brand racing, as the cars look all the same and you appeal only to a specific group of aficionados, i.e. those who are fond of the brand. Here in the GT Series we have now Aston Martin, Ferrari, etc, and this also means a lot more participants. We ended up with a field of not less than 63 cars, compared with only 12 cars in the original Super Trofeo races.”
Last year you had the same amount of cars?
Arnaud Blandin: “Indeed, we cannot have much more, the maximum lies at around 67 if I am right.
And so we produced watches which are more dedicated to the auto sport, but with subtle reminiscences. We never made a watch with expressly Lamborghini engraved in it. It is rather a shape which remembers the contours of the emblems of the sports cars, the carbon fiber finish, the dials and arrows, which remembered for instance the stop lights of the Gallardo.”
Last year you did not introduce a new model dedicated to the race or Lamborghini?
Arnaud Blandin: “I have to admit that we did not especially develop this… It is rather regretful…
I agree, but we share the philosophy of car making, there is precision in design and manufacturing in both, we both have wheels, clutches in our products. We put our present product line forward, and also our marine diving watches appeal to car enthusiasts, but it is true that we did not develop a specific car racing watch.”
How does it work?
As was the case in 2016, the Blancpain GT Series – world’s biggest GT3 series – includes ten rounds : five endurance meetings and five sprint meetings.
As has become the tradition, the season starts with a two-day official test at the Circuit Paul Ricard in the month of March. Just like in 2016, April sees an Italian double-header, with the season opener at the Circuit Marco Simoncelli in Misano, followed by the first of the endurance races at the Monza Temple of Speed.
The two Italian meetings are again followed by back-to-back races in Great Britain, a sprint event in Brands Hatch and an endurance race at Silverstone. Next up, on June 2nd to 4th, is a welcome return to the Belgian track of Zolder.
At the end of June, the cars race into the night with the very successful Circuit Paul Ricard 1000 km, after which it will be time to prepare for the highlight of the Blancpain GT Series season, the Total 24 Hours of Spa. The official test day for the Belgian endurance classic takes place on July 4th, with the race itself starting on Saturday July 29th.
After a welcome summer break, the second half of the season starts at the Hungaroring at the end of August, followed by the last of the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup races at the Nürburgring. A three-hour endurance race at the Circuit de Catalunya rounds off the 2017 season of the Blancpain GT Series, a season that will certainly add to the rich history of the series.
2017 Blancpain GT Series Calendar
13th-14th March Official Blancpain GT Series Test Day Paul Ricard
01st-02nd April Misano (ITA) – Sprint
22nd-23rd April Monza (ITA) – Endurance 3 hours
06th-07th May Brands Hatch (GBR) – Sprint
13th-14th May Silverstone (GBR) – Endurance 3 hours
02nd -04th June Zolder (BEL) – Sprint
23rd-24th June Circuit Paul Ricard (FRA) – Endurance 1000kms
04th July Official Test Day Total 24 Hours of Spa (BEL)
27th-30th July Total 24 Hours of Spa (BEL) – Endurance 24 hours
25th-27th August Budapest (HUN) – Sprint
15th-17th September Nürburgring (DEU) – Sprint
30th Sept-01st October Barcelona (ESP) – Endurance 3 hours