Back in May we published a piece entitled “RejectWatch 2017“, in which we completed a census of Formula One rejects still active in other series. It’s time to have another gander at the newfound land these drivers discovered in their respective series in 2017.
As a brief reminder a reject is defined as an F1 driver who, assuming a 10-6-4-3-2-1 points system, has scored no more than two points in his F1 career. This year Esteban Ocon and Lance Stroll escaped the ranks of rejectdom , leaving behind them Stoffel Vandoorne, Jolyon Palmer, Pascal Wehrlein, Marcus Ericsson, Pierre Gasly, Antonio Giovinazzi and Brendon Hartley.
The Stéphane Ratel Organisation organises a staggering number of grand touring championships, many of them under the Blancpain umbrella.
The main Blancpain GT Series is a combination of two championships, the Endurance Cup and the Sprint Cup. The all-reject duo of Will Stevens and Markus Winkelhock shone in the Sprint Cup driving the Team WRT Audi. After a rough start, they won the Main Race in Zolder and scored three more podiums. In contention for the title until the final race, they had to be content with second place to teammates Stuart Leonard and Robin Frijns.
For Endurance races however, Stevens joined the other Audi pairing of Marcel Fässler and Dries Vanthoor, while Winkelhock drove with Team Saintéloc in Le Castellet and Spa. The Brit had no luck, failing to finish any Endurance race, while the German fared much better, winning the Spa 24 Hours for the second time with Christopher Haase and Jules Gounon. Meanwhile, Stevens was replaced for the event by André Lotterer.
Olivier Beretta was the only reject to compete in all Endurance Cup events, driving for AF Corse with Lorenzo Bontempelli and Motoaki Ishikawa, with a top 20 finish in Spa being the highlight. 24th in the Pro-Am championship standings was small comfort for the Monégasque who was one of the world’s best GT drivers for a decade.
Returning to Blancpain after a year mostly away from racing, Tomáš Enge appeared at Paul Ricard and Catalunya for Reiter Young Stars with Caitlin Wood and Marko Helistekangas with little success.
The Intercontinental GT Challenge, loosely consisting of the Bathurst 12 Hours, Spa 24 and Laguna Seca 8 Hours, is rarely taken seriously. Only four drivers entered all three events, one of them being Markus Winkelhock. With different teammates each time, Winkelhock won in California on top of his Spa win. This was enough to seal the title ahead of his Spa teammate Haase.
Entering just Bathurst as GT mercenaries, Pedro Lamy failed to reach the finish in his Mercedes-Benz co-driven by his usual teammates and DTM legend Bernd Schneider, as did Tomáš Enge in the M Motorsport KTM.
At the end of the year, the Ratel Organisation organised the third FIA GT World Cup, an invitational GT3-only event in the streets of Macau. Lucas di Grassi was invited to drive an Audi R8 LMS, but his appearance was short-lived as he suffered two accidents in two races, completing a total of five racing laps. The weekend was dominated by Macau specialist Edoardo Mortara.
2017 was also the first season of Blancpain GT Series Asia. The full season benefited from the presence of Malaysian Minardi driver Alex Yoong, sharing an Audi R8 with Alex Au to three podiums and second place in the Pro-Am standings behind Hunter Abbott. Joining the South East Asian specialist in the Sepang opener as part of an aborted attempt at entering the Asian racing scene was Will Stevens, who recorded a Pro-Am podium with Jeffrey Lee.
Finally, although he chiefly stars as an actor and commentator these days, Paul Belmondo appeared as a guest driver in the GT4 European Series Southern Cup round in Barcelona, seemingly on a whim. He and Thierry Soave finished both races out of the top 20, positions Belmondo was used to in his F1 days.
24 Hours of Le Mans
As mentioned in the article earlier this year, the endurance representative of motorsport’s Triple Crown accepts entries from championships aside from the WEC. In the LMP2 class, Channel 4 pundit Karun Chandhok finished 11th in a Tockwith Motorsports Ligier, two spots and eight laps ahead of ELMS regulars Jan Lammers, Frits van Eerd and Rubens Barrichello.
Jan Magnussen, Antonio García and Jordan Taylor were leading the LMGTE Pro class for Corvette, until a last-lap puncture demoted the team to third behind the winning Aston Martin. The LMGTE Am category meanwhile was won by Will Stevens with Blancpain co-star Dries Vanthoor and later ELMS compère Robert Smith in the JMW Ferrari.
The Dutch company organises three championships, nominally for GT, touring cars and prototypes. The first two comprise a loose assortment of 12 and 24-hour races held around the world, aiming for a relaxed atmosphere.
As a result, few major drivers compete in it for more than a race on weekends away from their regular engagements. This year, Bernd Schneider was the only reject to do so twice in the A6 class, driving his usual Mercedes in Dubai and Mugello without troubling the top 20. All others only appeared once.
In the premier A6 class, the season-opening Dubai 24 Hours was won by Brendon Hartley in a Porsche 991, while Jean-Éric Vergne retired a Renault RS01 from the same class co-driving with Louis Delétraz (son of reject legend Jean-Denis Delétraz). Also in Dubai, noted Dutch elder statesman Michael Bleekemolen drove a TCR Seat Leon with his son Sebastian, his first 24-hour race since 2010.
Later in the year, Tomáš Enge retired from the SPX class in Mugello driving a KTM X-Bow, and Jan Lammers did the same in Imola driving a Ginetta, achieving no success.
Many of these drivers were also spotted in the Touring Car Endurance Series, again for just one race to complement their calendars. Schneider furnished his sparse calendar with 16th in the Spa 12-hour race and Lammers competed in the 24-hour event in Misano, finishing in last place. Jan was joined on the Misano grid by Gabriele Tarquini, his new Hyundai failing to finish. However, Bleekemolen had the most success by surprisingly winning the TCR class at the Barcelona 24-hour event.
International GT Open
This offshoot of Euroformula Open consisted of seven double-headers across Europe, and was the full-time focus of Vitantonio Liuzzi, driving a Lamborghini Huracán to three podiums in the Pro-Am class with Hiroshi Hamaguchi. This marked the Italian’s rather disappointing return to full-time racing. Tomáš Enge also entered the Pro class in Spa-Francorchamps with Craig Dolby in a Lamborghini Gallardo, but they finished last in the first race and did not start the second.
ADAC GT Masters
Germany’s own highly-competitive GT series was another of the many championships that Markus Winkelhock tried his hand at. His second season in the category proved even less successful than the already meagre first, as he and Mücke teammate Filip Salaquarda could only record two top ten finishes.
Pirelli World Challenge
The all-purpose Pirelli World Challenge attracts an eclectic mix of GT and touring car racers. Both competing in races counting towards the SprintX GT Championship, two rejects had cameos with varying success. Simtek, Pacific and Forti titan Andrea Montermini allied with Daniel Mancinelli for the Virginia round, winning his very first race in the series and finishing fourth in the other. Indefatigable hired hand Will Stevens also appeared in Utah paired with Andrew Kim, finishing the races in 14th and 31st place.
Super GT Series
The first and foremost of three Japanese championships tackled in this article, the Super GT Series has long been Japan’s premier tin-top category. This year’s reject flag was chiefly flown by Kazuki Nakajima, returning to the series after two years away. Co-driving a Toyota with James Rossiter of near-USF1 fame, he took victory at Autopolis, but despite consistent scoring further podiums were not forthcoming.
In the lower GT300 class, it was original Super Aguri driver Yuji Ide who represented the rejects. Driving the Elcars Bentley with Ryohei Sakaguchi, Ide continued his year-on-year slide down the pecking order. For the first time since 2006, Ide did not score a single Super GT point.
Two-time Super Formula champion Kazuki Nakajima‘s form in Japan’s premier GT series was rather similar to his Super Formula form. He and 2011 champion André Lotterer started the year with a win each, but a late-season charge allowed rookie Pierre Gasly to unexpectedly challenge for honours. With a half-point deficit going to the final round in Suzuka, Gasly interrupted his Toro Rosso campaign for a title shot. Unfortunately the meeting had to be cancelled amidst typhoon conditions, gifting the title to Hiroaki Ishiura.
Super Taikyu Series
Japan’s foremost super touring championship had two rejects in its 2017 ranks after lengthy absences from full-time racing. Former Prost and Minardi hand Shinji Nakano, after many years of sporadic GT appearances, drove the number 97 Honda Civic with Shinichi Ito and a rotating cast of third drivers in the TCR class. Nakano and his teammates won their class in Sugo and Okajima, but ultimately lost the class title by just four points to the sister Dome-prepared car.
Naoki Hattori – best known as Coloni’s last-ever driver – shared an ST-3 class Toyota with Takayuki Hiranuma and Shigekazu Wakisaka. Signalling a return after eight years away from competition, Hattori’s crew was similarly successful, reaching the class podium five times in six races, but a lack of victories left the team in third place.
Audi R8 LMS Cup
The single-make Asia-only championship has been the playground of Alex Yoong since 2012. Third that year, second in 2013, and champion the following three years, with 21 wins in 53 races, Alex was favourite to repeat his success.
However, the young Belgian driver Alessio Picariello had seriously challenged him in 2016, and went one better in 2017. The 41-year-old Yoong fought back by winning two races, but inconsistency ended his title hopes, relegating him to fourth place. Will Stevens was initially poised to compete in the series full-time, but as other commitments piled up he postponed his entry and eventually was replaced by Stéphane Richelmi. Not surprising, as this is the sixth time in this article that Rochford’s finest has been mentioned!