The ever-controversial Maserati MC12 continues its career thanks to the efforts of Vitaphone boss Michael Bartels. He led the push for the car to be grandfathered along with the Chevrolet Corvette and Aston Martin, even though carbon-chassis supercars of its ilk are a no-no under the new GT1 regulations.
Pragmatism ruled the day, and the most successful team in FIA GTs was able to seemlessly move across to the new championship. The next hurdle for Bartels was to find a second team to field a pair of MC12s, no mean feat given that it is the most expensive car to run. His solution was to field a second pair of MC12s himself under the Hegersport banner of old mate Altfrid Heger.
#1 Michael Bartels (D)/Andrea Bertolini (I)
This line-up was good enough to notch up a series of FIA GT titles, but the bar has been raised higher now.
#2 Miguel Ramos (P)/Enrique Bernoldi (BR)
Bernoldi joins Vitaphone, but unless Ramos returns to his form of 2008, he is unlikely to win this year.
Triple H Team Hegersport
#33 Altfrid Heger (D)/Alex Margaritis (GK)
The combination of a 52-year-old on the comeback trail and a DTM midfielder is unlikely to be at the sharp end.
#34 Matteo Bobbi (I)/Bert Longin (B)
If Bobbi can re-light the fire that took him to the FIA GT title in 2003, this duo could be potential winners.
Nissan has taken advantage of a new rulebook that allows a mass-production sportscar such as the GT-R to be competitive with more exotic machinery. The V8-engined car was given a handful of development outings last year and by the end of the season was more than a match for the only other new-rules car present, the Ford GT.
Since then, the Nissan has been on a diet to reduce its centre of gravity and get the car under the 1250kg limit. The programme was hit by the sudden closure of the Gigawave team just before Christmas, but start-up team Sumo Power stepped into the breach to join the experienced GT engineer Othmar Welti's Swiss Racing Team in a matter of days.
Swiss Racing Team
#3 Karl Wendlinger (A)/Henri Moser (CH)
Moser did little in a GT2 car in 2008 and to suggest that he'll be a worthy complement to Wendlinger's talents.
#4 Seiji Ara (J)/Max Nilsson (S)
Ex-Le Mans winner Ara, who wasn't on the pace when he tested for Sumo, is joined by German F3 midfielder Nilsson
Sumo Power GT
#22 Jamie Campbell-Walter (GB)/Warren Hughes (GB)
Combination of an ex-FIA GT champ and a touring car and GT racer winner has created an ultra-strong line-up.
#23 Peter Dumbreck (GB)/Michael Krumm (D)
This might well be the best driver pairing in the series; they have bags of tin-top and GT experience between them.
The Matech organisation is the kind of independent 'tuner' that Stephane Ratel has trumpeted as the alternative to manufacturer involvement. The Swiss-funded, German-based organisation has tacit backing from Ford (it's the European agent for Ford Racing tuning bits), but is on its own financially and technically. Finances don't seem to be a problem.
It tested what team boss Martin Bartek calls a "handmade" car in FIA GTs last year, but has returned with a heavily revised version that shares few components with its predecessor. The 2010 car, says Bartek, has been "designed with the appropriate tools". Matech fields two (don't call them works!) cars, along with FIA GT stalwart Marc VDS, which formerly competed as the Belgian Racing Team.
#5 Thomas Mutsch (D)/Romain Grosjean (F)
If Grosjean gets to grips with GT racing in a hurry, this duo could be strong enough to mount a title challenge.
#6 Natacha Gachnang (CH)/Cyndie Allemann (CH)
Female crew is likely to gather more headlines than trophies, though Gachnang has shown sportscar form in Formula Le Mans.
Marc VDS Racing Team
#40 Bas Leinders (B)/Maxine Martin (B)
Martin is one of a line of GT3 front runners aiming to prove himself at this level. Leinders is a good yardstick.
#41 Markus Palttala (FIN)/Renaud Kuppens (B)
Both halves of this partnership are underrated, but expect them to spin the odd surprise rather than win races.
Aston Martin Racing was one of the 'gang of four' manufacturers that tried to derail Ratel's plans for the new GT1 category, but when a customer came knocking asking if its successful DBR9 could be reworked to the new rules, AMR was only too happy to oblige and produce the necessary dumbing-down kit.
The French Hexis team, which has represented AMR in GT3 and briefly GT2, was the first to sign up, though its plans were fluid for much of the winter: it needed four paying drivers to make the sums add up. The opposite is true of the inappropriately-named Young Driver AMR team, which is funded by Danish entrepreneur Jan Struve and run by GT3 graduate Fischer Racing.
Young Driver AMR
#7 Darren Turner (GB)/Tomas Enge (CZ)
This line-up is among the top two or three in the series. Should be title contenders if team is up to job.
#8 Stefan Mucke (D)/Christoffer Nygaard (DK)
Mucke is a sportscar star in the making, but his chances here will depend on GT3 frontrunner Nygaard's pace.
#9 Frederic Makowiecki (F)/Jean-Denis Deletraz (CH)**/Philippe Dumas (F)*
Makowiecki has proved he's no slouch and Deletraz has his good days, but this pairing is a mid-field runner at best. Team boss Dumas will drive in place of Deletraz at Abu Dhabi.
#10 Clivo Piccione (MC)/Jonathan Hirschi (CH)
Piccione was a winner in GP2, Hirschi runner-up in Renault Meganes last year, but both are new to GT racing.
Chevrolet Corvette C6.R
The old warhorse of the GT1 category enters its third decade of competition. Don't forget that the C6.R is built around the same spaceframe chassis as the C5-R, a car that made its race debut way back in 1999.
Carsport Holland boss Toine Hezemans, father of FIA GT stalwart Mike, commissioned Corvette builder Pratt & Miller to produce a kit to convert the C6.R to the new rules and re-formed a successful relationship with the German Phoenix Racing squad to field a pair of 'Vettes.
Meanwhile series boss Stephane Ratel brokered a deal for the Selleslagh Racing Team and DKR Engineering teams, both FIA GT regulars, to run a car apiece under the banner of the Mad-Croc energy drink company.
#11 Xavier Maassen (NL)/ Alex Muller (D)*
Maassen looked much more the real deal in 2009, his second season in GTs. Line-up could win races if Muller is confirmed for the season.
#12 Olivier Gavin (GB)**/Mika Salo (FIN)/Pertti Kuismanen (FIN)
GT big shots Gavin and Salo share a seat alongside sextagenarian Kuismanen. They won't be winning races in this series.
#13 Andi Zuber (A)/Marc Hennerici (D)
A strong combination on paper, though Zuber is new to GTs and the Hennerici's successes have come a notch below this level.
#14 Mike Hezemans (NL)/Andrea Piccini (I)*
This pair of multiple racer winners in FIA GTs should add to their tally if Piccini's deal for Abu Dhabi becomes permanent.
Lamborghini Murcielago R-SV
Reiter Engineering — once an overt, if poorly-funded Lamborghini factory team - has the Italian supercar manufactuer's blessing to go racing with its products. It is a tuner very much like Matech, though probably with the nought less in the budget department.
The team run by Hans Reiter, who engineered the Le Mans-winning BMW V12 LMR in 1999, signed up to build a new-rules GT1 contender based on the latest Murcielago SV last summer, though the new racer shares much with its predecessor, the R-GT. (One car on the grid is a converted R-GT). Reiter, as usual, runs its own team, while the second squad is All-Inkl.com Racing, which is returning to the GT arena after a two-year absence.
#24 Peter Kox (NL)/Christopher Haase (D)
If Haase is as good as he looked in winning the FIA GT3 title, he and veteran Kox will be up there.
#25 Ricardo Zonta (BR)*/Rafael Daniel (BR)*
Zonta, FIA GT champion in '98, teams up with Brazilian GT3 race winner Daniel, just for round one at the moment.
All-Inkl.com Munnich Motorsport
#37 Marc Basseng (D)/Christophe Bouchut (F)/ Thomas Jager (D)
Ex-FIA GT champ Bouchut can't do all the races, but when he's present - and fired up - he and Basseng should be contenders.
#38 Dominik Schwarger (D)/Nicky Pastorelli (NL)
Two handy drivers with good GT experience should be in the mix, though probably not taking race victories.
* Abu Dhabi only
** Not present at Abu Dhabi
Read the full preview to this season's FIA GT1 World Championship in this week's AUTOSPORT magazine, or in the digital edition.