The new campaign promises to deliver action-packed GT3 racing from the season opener at Monza (13-14 April) through to the finale at Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (28-29 September), while the marquee Total 24 Hours of Spa will once again take centre stage on 25-28 July.
With the official test days at Circuit Paul Ricard just one month away (13-14 March), now is the ideal time to catch up on the key changes that have been made ahead of the upcoming campaign.
On many fronts, this will be a year of stability. Few major alterations have been made to the Blancpain GT Series, making 2019 a season of evolution rather than revolution.
The most significant news is the creation of the Blancpain GT World Challenge. As part of this new endeavour the Blancpain GT Series Sprint Cup has become Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe, joining similar regional categories in Asia and America.
Manufacturers entered in the World Challenge will score points through their nominated local drivers, allowing them to compete in a worldwide customer racing championship.
This represents a significant sporting development, but in a practical sense it will not lead to any major changes for what was previously known as the Sprint Cup.
Indeed, the championship will retain the same format as in 2019, with a pair of one-hour races that both pay equal points staged across the weekend. It will continue to award teams’ and drivers’ titles in Pro, Pro-Am, Silver Cup and Am Cup, and will also remain part of the overall Blancpain GT Series.
As such, the adoption of the Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe name will not impact upon the style or standard of racing at sprint-format events. Rather, it will add the intrigue of an extra championship battle for fans to follow, with leading international GT manufacturers looking to prove the superiority of their customer racing programmes.
While the newly named series retains many key ingredients from the Sprint Cup, some small tweaks have been made to the Blancpain GT Series ahead of the new campaign.
The full-season entry for World Challenge Europe will be capped at 26 cars this year. An upper limit of 28 cars will also be imposed, allowing for additional entries to join on a race-by-race basis.
There are also new developments aimed at further improving safety. Notably, a minimum pit stop time will be introduced for Pro-Am and Am Cup competitors in Blancpain GT World Challenge Europe. As has been the case in previous seasons, no time restrictions will be placed on Pro or Silver Cup entries.
What’s more, mechanics at World Challenge Europe events will be allowed to carry a maximum of one tyre at any time in the working zone. The rules regarding pit stops at Endurance Cup rounds remain unchanged from 2018.
There is a slight adjustment for the Total 24 Hours of Spa, however, with the technical pit stop no longer restricted to a pre-determined mid-race window. All technical pit stops must have begun before the end of the 22nd hour.
A further safety initiative will see a new in-car marshalling system adopted in 2019. This will help to keep competitors fully informed while on-track, providing information on red flags, full-course yellow periods and other important updates.
On the sporting side, the Silver Cup will grow further this season. Open only to Silver-graded drivers, the category has been a popular part of the Sprint Cup since 2014 and expanded to the Endurance Cup for the 2018 campaign. This also led to a new overall Silver Cup drivers’ title being created last year.
In 2019 it will grow further as, for the first time, teams’ titles will be awarded for the category. This will allow the most successful Silver Cup squads in the Endurance Cup, the Blancpain GT World Challenge and the overall classification to be recognised for their efforts.
Finally, the rules regarding private testing have been altered for 2019. From eight days before the start of the season, Blancpain GT Series teams will not be able to carry out a private test at any circuit that will host a round of the 2019 championship.
This will be balanced by the introduction of additional official test days, which will take place at four to five of the events staged this season. The final decision on venues will be made in due course. What has been confirmed is that the official test day preceding the Total 24 Hours of Spa will expand, with two days of running on 2/3 July at the Belgian circuit.
With the new developments for 2019 taken care of, it is almost time to shift focus to matters on the track. The Blancpain GT Series season is very nearly upon us.