The future of the series may be in doubt, but the 2009 FIA GT Championship has attracted the sort of quality entry one would hope for.
Series boss Stephane Ratel is planning to make FIA GT into a world championship next season. Teams have their concerns about the commercial viability of a more far-reaching calendar, but the short-term result is that we effectively have seven marques represented across three unofficial classes this year.
The leading contenders in the title chase, which kicks off at Silverstone this weekend, will undoubtedly come from the outgoing GT1 cars, the machines that have battled it out at the front in recent times.
Behind them will be the new ready-for-2010 GT1 cars. Built to tighter - and Ratel hopes, cheaper - regulations. These won't match the older warriors with which they officially share the GT1 class, but they should give us a glimpse into the future. And part of that future is the return of a works Nissan team to GT racing.
The final category will be GT2, which has again attracted a high quality of drivers in the top entries. If Ratel's 2010 GT1 plans come off, GT2 will become the basis of a new European GT competition.
Maserati MC12 and Aston Martin DBR9
Two-time champions Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini, victors in 2006 and 2008, return to lead the squad's attack. The second car shouldn't be discounted either: Alex Muller showed good form in an Aston last year and he and team-mate Miguel Ramos shouldn't be too far away.
The pair that beat the Maseratis to victory three times last year also returns, though Karl Wendlinger and Ryan Sharp have moved from Aston to Saleen.
Ex-Formula 1 racer Wendlinger and Sharp were perhaps unfortunate not to be closer to lifting the 2008 crown in their Jetalliance Racing DBR9. Members of that team have now moved with the duo to the KplusK Motorsport squad and its S7.
The Saleen has often flattered to deceive in GT racing, but Wendlinger and Sharp can be relied upon to get the car to the front. Three other Saleens, another from KplusK, and two from Full Speed Racing, are unlikely to be quite as fast, though it will be interesting to see how former Champ Car racer Mario Dominguez fares in the second KplusK machine.
Among those most likely to challenge the mid-engined Maseratis and Saleens is the PK-Carsport Chevrolet Corvette C6.R of Mike Hezemans and Anthony Kumpen. The privateer Corvette teams in FIA GT have never quite been able to match the success of the works team elsewhere, but the car did take three wins last year. Old hands Hezemans and Kumpen also have the experience to be in the hunt come the end of the season.
The Luc Alphand Aventures line-up has yet to be confirmed, but expect reigning Le Mans Series GT1 champion Guillaume Moreau to figure at the front if he appears.
Another ex-F1 racer, 1996 Monaco Grand Prix winner Olivier Panis, is likely to be quick on his outings for DKR Engineering, while reigning FIA GT3 champion James Ruffier should be a points scorer in the Selleslagh Racing Team Corvette he shares with the experienced Bert Longin.
Perhaps the strongest driver line-up on the grid will be found in the new Nissan GT-R. Former Japanese Super GT champion Michael Krumm teams up with double GT1 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Darren Turner, who is also driving for the works Aston Martin LMP1 team in the LMS.
This is a works car, despite the input from former Aston team Gigawave, so the Nissan won't score points. Nissan hopes the part-season - it only plans on competing at four of the eight rounds - will be a precursor to customer team interest in 2010.
Ford GT and Nissan GT-R
GT2 will be a Porsche versus Ferrari affair once again, despite the rapid partnership of Stefan Mucke and Frederic Makowiecki in the sole Hexis Racing AMR Aston Martin Vantage.
Ferrari's 430 GT has had the edge over the 911 GT3-RSR in recent years and it is numerically stronger going into 2009 as well. Of the seven entered, three are likely winners.
Reigning champions Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander return with AF Corse and must start as favourites, but the CRS Racing pairing of Andrew Kirkaldy and double LMS GT2 champion Rob Bell should push them all the way.
BMS Scuderia Italia's two cars should benefit from a switch from Pirelli to Michelin rubber, and lead pairing Matteo Malucelli and Paolo Ruberti are already proven winners in the series.
Ranged against the Ferraris are four Porsches, but only one has drivers capable of becoming the first non-Ferrari GT2 champions since 2005. Emmanuel Collard and Richard Westbrook team up once again with Prospeed Competition.
If, as recent form suggests, the latest 911 is a step closer to the top Ferraris, Collard and Westbrook will win races.
It all means there should be fierce inter-marque rivalry throughout the field. The loss of a GT1 Aston entry is a shame, but the addition of Ford and Nissan should mean the series still entertains in what is an inescapable transitional season.
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