After re-signing with Kessel Ferrari for 2017, I would compete in a 488 GT3 along with my team mates from the Gulf 12 Hour in the Blancpain Endurance Series AM category, Jacques Duyver and Marco Zanuttini.
For the first race at Monza, testing went well; but it turned out to be a non-starter after Marco got caught up in the first corner pile up caused by some over-zealous Pro Cars.
Round 2 at Silverstone saw an immediate recovery, where I took pole in class, and finished 2nd in class – my first podium in the Endurance Series .
Then came the call from Kessel: I would be racing in the Sprint Series as well, with my 2016 team mate Stephen Earle. The prospect of becoming an overall Blancpain GT Champion now became a possibility.
We headed to Zolder where I took another pole in class and we won both races. Despite driving the previous generation 458 GT3, this was valuable track time for me, giving me confidence as we headed to the Paul Ricard 6hr in the 488.
The event turned out to be one of my best. Throughout the weekend, we were constantly in the top 10 overall – from free practice to the race, bringing our car from a lap behind in the final two hours to take the win. In the process I was one of the fastest cars on the Blancpain grid and winning my first race in the Endurance Series felt amazing – especially in the circumstances in which we managed the win.
From Paul Ricard our focus switched to the big one: the Spa 24 Hour. Testing went smoothly, which turned out to be a preview of our race weekend.
In the end I again managed pole in class, including outpacing my Gold and Silver ranked team mates in the sister 488 Kessel Ferrari. However the highlight was actually winning the race, leading all but one hour of the event and showing respectable pace throughout.
By now we had taken the lead of the Endurance Championship, but my attention had to turn back to Sprint Racing as we headed to Hungary.
Once again in the 458 GT3 we were up against a grid full of current machinery piloted by the world’s finest GT drivers – and yet only just missed out on the top 15 qualifying shootout by 0.15 seconds. According to my Kessel engineer, it was one of the best laps I’ve driven, and the fastest lap in a 458 at the Hungaroring.
In Race One we ended with a win; however Race Two was a DNF when a Bentley took out my unsuspecting team mate, Stephen Earle – who was heroically driving in two categories on the same weekend in unbelievable heat!
Shortly after Hungary, we arrived at the Nurburgring for the final Sprint event, and despite my first time there our pace was really good. I out qualified my more experienced Gold ranked team mate in the sister 488 and again just missed out on a top 15 slot for super pole.
To win the Blancpain Sprint Championship we just had to finish each remaining race, which we did. However, a highlight for me was taking over the car from Earle in Race Two and pulling away from the leading Pro Cars who were fighting for a Championship themselves. Nurburgring quickly became one of my favorite tracks!
Two Championships in the bag (Sprint and Overall), one to go!
To secure the title at the final round of the Endurance Championship, we only had to finish, making the race more relaxed. That said, I was focused on making it a Championship hat trick for my first full season of Blancpain.
We were quick – and proved as much when I beat my more experienced Gold ranked team mate in qualifying. We turned everything down for the race and brought our car home in 3rd place, enough to seal the most important title in the Blancpain GT Series.
My last event for the year was defending my 2016 Abu Dhabi 12 hour win in a Dragon Racing GT3, which we did – a nice cherry on the David Perel 2017 season cake!
If you’d told me I would win the Paul Ricard 6 Hour, Spa 24 Hour and all three Blancpain titles… I would have thought you mad. But it happened all in the same year. Amazing.
For 2018 I have been upgraded to Silver which puts me in a perfect position for my dream of competing in a GT or LMP car in the Le Mans 24 Hour.
I need to finish off by saying a big thank you to everyone who made my season possible: My whole family, Alan Macdonald, Ronnie Kessel, Giacomo Piccini, Ricci Zani, Geo Regazzoni, Tiziana Borghi, Franzi Baier, the whole Kessel team and importantly my co-drivers Stephen Earle, Jacques Duyver and Marco Zanuttini. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to achieve all my motorsport dreams this year.