In many ways my season kicked off in December 2016 driving in the Gulf 12 Hour with my new teammates Jacques Duyver and Marco Zanuttini.
Qualifying 3rd in class, we lost a lap in the first hour due to an unfortunate Safety Car / Pit Stop calculation and spent the next 11 hours chasing, but with an hour remaining we took the class win. Probably the biggest win of my GT career to that point.
Turns out we were just getting started.
After resigning with Kessel Ferrari for 2017, I would compete in a Ferrari 488 GT3 along with my teammates from the Gulf 12 Hour in the Blancpain Endurance Series AM category.
Testing went well but the first race in Monza was a non-starter after Marco got caught up in the first corner pile up caused by some overzealous Pro Cars.
We immediately recovered in round 2 at Silverstone where I took Pole in class, and claimed my first podium in the Endurance Series finishing 2nd in AM.
After Silverstone I got the call from Kessel telling me I would be racing in the Blancpain 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, constantly in the top 10 overall in free practice, and then bringing our car from a lap behind in the final two hours to take the AM 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 to do it.
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 out pacing my Gold and Silver ranked team mates in the sister 488 Kessel Ferrari. However the highlight was actually *winning* the Spa 24 Hours, 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.
If you’d told me I would win the Paul Ricard 6 Hour, Spa 24 and all three Blancpain titles… I would have thought you mad.
Once again in the 458 GT3 we were up against a grid full of current machinery only just missed out on the top 15 qualifying shoot out by 0.15 second against the world’s finest GT drivers. It was one of the best laps I’ve driven, and according to my Kessel engineer, the fastest lap in a 458 at the Hungaroring.
In Race One we ended with a win and the Sprint Cup Championship. Race Two wasn’t as lucky, with a DNF when a Bentley took out my unsuspecting team mate, Stephen Earle – who was heroic driving two categories in unbelievable heat, on the same weekend!
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.
With the Sprint Cup in the bag we had the freedom to go ‘all out’ in the races. 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!
For the final round of the Endurance Championship we only had to finish the race to win it, however I was super focused on making it a Championship hat trick for my first full season of Blancpain. So there was nothing relaxing about it.
We were quick and proved as much when I beat my more experienced Gold ranked team mate in qualifying. For the race we turned everything down and just brought our car home in 3rd place, enough to seal the most important title in the Blancpain GT Series.
If you’d told me I would win the Paul Ricard 6 Hour, Spa 24 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.
My last event was defending my Abu Dhabi 12 hour 2016 win in Dragon Racing’s 458 GT3 which we did, a nice cherry on the 2017 season David Perel cake!
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, Marco Zanuttini and Nikki Cadei. Without them I wouldn’t have been able to achieve so much this year.
Thank you also to everyone who supported me this year, it’s been a surreal experience and I hope to continue to make South Africans proud into the future!