The world’s biggest GT series is back, and it’s all change after series owner Stephan Ratel took the decision to merge his two major championships.
The uber-successful Blancpain Endurance Series has now been joined by the former FIA GT series to create one large championship running to GT3 rules
The changes mean teams competing in two different types of GT racing with battle for an overall championship as the GT series becomes the Blancpain Sprint series.
Come the end of the season three titles will be awarded, Endurance, Sprint and an overall victor of the two combined.
This weekend the series kicks off with its now traditional Italian leg for the Endurance series at Monza, but internal grumblings over the winter see just 44 cars entered, down from the sky high 60+ grids of 2013.
That gird will include 13 cars in the top Pro category, and 21 in the Pro-Am cup, including defending drivers champion Max Buhk, back at the wheel of his HTP Motorsport Merc SLS.
Overall Endurance champions WRT return with their R8 LMS peddled this year by Marc Basseng, Lars Vanthoor and former Kessel race winner Cesar Ramos.
Blanpain’s main asset so far has been it’s sheer variety of machinery, this season that is boosted by the addition of M-Sport’s brand new Bentley Continental GT3.
It will join the dazzling array of R8, SLS, Chevrolet Camaro, Corvette, Nissan GTR, Ferrari 458, McLaren MP4-12C and Aston Martin Vantage which have made the series so exciting to watch.
After a winter of much internal grumbling though not all the top-line teams will be returning to the series.
While Hexis racing have pulled their MP4-12C out of the competition, the bigger shock came with the announcement that GT stalwarts Marc VDS would not be competing in either version of the series apart from the showcase Spa 24 hours.
The Belgian team have been involved in every iteration of the SRO series, but took the decision earlier this year to pull out of Blancpain.
Audi team Phoenix have chosen to concentrate on the Sprint side, while Prospeed and former GT1 World Champions Vita4One will be absent from Monza.
The absence of both Marc VDS and Vita4One ends BMWs participation in the top Pro category of the Endurance series.
The newly renamed Sprint Series boasts a grid of 22 cars, including reigning FIA GT champions Laurens Vanthoor and Stéphane Ortelli.
Vanthoor remains at the wheel of his WRT R8 but Ortelli will compete in the colours of G-Drive in another R8 also run by WRT.
All eyes in the series (which kicks off at Nogaro on April 20th) will be on the BMW of former Cart Champion, F1 driver and current Paralympic champion Alex Zanardi.
The Brazillian, who lost his legs in a horror Cart smash in 2001, will return to racing for the first time since he competed in the WTCC in 2009.
Since then Zanardi has concentrated on hand cycling, winning gold at London 2012, and he will dovetail competing for BMW with training for the next games in two years time.
With GT3 racing as close as it has ever been, and several teams starting their season already at Bathurst the series should be as exciting as ever. However it remains to be seen how teams will cope with trying to budget for both series in order to win the overall title.
All the races can be found on our 2014 Motorsport Calendar where you can add them to your own via the click of a button!
• April 18th – 21st : Coupes de Pâques, Nogaro, France
• May 17th – 18th : Brands Hatch, Great Britain
• July 4th – 6th : Zandvoort , the Netherlands
• August 22nd – 24th : Slovakia Ring, Slovakia*
• September 5th – 7th : Algarve, Portugal
• September 27th – 28th or October 4th – 5th : Navarra , Spain
• November 1st – 2nd : Baku World Challenge, Azerbaijan
• April 12th – 13th : Monza, 3 hours, Italy
• May 24th – 25th : Silverstone, 3 hours , Great Britain
• June 28th – 29th : Paul Ricard, 3 hours, France
• July 23rd – 27th : Total 24 Hours of Spa, Belgium
• September 20th – 21st : Nürburgring, 1000 km, Germany