Verstappen, Bleekemolen and van Merksteijn to race Porsche UPDATE Another former F1 driver, Olivier Panis - a veteran of 158 races until 2004 - recently joined the French Oreca-Matmut team for 2008, which will contest the Le Mans Series and the 24 hour race with a prototype car.
Under the banner of Van Merksteijn Motorsport by Equipe Verschuur, Jos Verstappen, Jeroen Bleekemolen and Peter van Merksteijn will be racing a Porsche RS Spyder sports prototype next season. The program includes participation in the 1000 kilometer races of the Le Mans Series (LMS) plus the Le Mans 24 Hours, provided the team will receive an invitation from race organizers Automobile Club de l'Ouest. Jeroen Bleekemolen and Peter van Merksteijn already have a lot of experience in endurance racing, both having already raced at Le Mans as well. For Jos Verstappen, the most successful Formula 1 driver ever from The Netherlands with two podium finishes and 17 world championship from 107 Grand Prix starts, switching to endurance racing means an entirely new challenge. "The Porsche RS Spyder is a very good car and I have a lot of confidence in the team. I am really looking forward to this new duty", says Verstappen.
The Porsche RS Spyder, an open-top sports prototype especially built for endurance racing purposes, won eight of the twelve rounds of last season's American Le Mans Series, beating even the more powerful opponents from the LMP1-category. In 2008, the Porsche RS Spyder will be racing in Europe for the first time, a premiere eagerly awaited by many sports car fans. Dutch team, Van Merksteijn Motorsport by Equipe Verschuur is one of three teams having received the opportunity from Porsche Motorsport to enter such a car for the Le Mans Series. "It is a fantastic car and a fantastic project", says team owner, Peter van Merksteijn, who has entrusted preparation and running of the car to the seasoned specialists from Frans Verschuur's crew.
Jos Verstappen, who raced in Formula 1 from 1994 till 2003 for the Benetton, Simtek, Footwork, Tyrrell, Stewart, Arrows and Minardi teams and then competed for Team Netherlands in the inaugural season of the A1GP series, will be starting a new chapter in his motorsport career. "I am looking forward to being able to race again next season, and especially so in the Le Mans 24 Hours. That is a highlight for any racing driver", says Verstappen. "Endurance racing with its pit stops and driver changes is entirely new to me and I will have to learn a lot, but I am very confident that I will be able to succeed. Of course, Porsche is a great brand with many decades of experience and an incredible pedigree in motor racing. The team also consists of people who know their way at this level, so from that point of view, all the key factors are in place."
Peter van Merksteijn is equally enthusiastic about the two drivers who will be sharing driving duties with him behind the wheel of the Porsche RS Spyder. "For me, Jeroen Bleekemolen is the coming man of this moment, while Jos Verstappen has made a great name for himself in motorsport", says Van Merksteijn. "Of course, they outclass me in terms of experience, but they both have promised that they will push and support me while I myself will be doing all I can to put in the best performance in terms of speed and fitness." Van Merksteijn, whose group of companies is among others specialized in the production of industrial fences, is a passionate motorsport enthusiast and a regular competitor in both rallies and races.
Jeroen Bleekemolen is being considered as one of the most versatile drivers in The Netherlands. He raced in Formula Ford, Formula 3, the DTM and one-make series, is the regular driver of Team Netherlands in the A1GP series and has a lot of experience in endurance racing with sports and GT cars, including the Le Mans 24 Hours. In the Porsche racing fraternity, he also has a strong reputation, having won three races in the 2007 Porsche Mobil1 Supercup, the highest number of victories achieved by one driver in this season of the one-make series racing on the support bill of Formula 1 Grands Prix. "Being given the chance to race with the Porsche RS Spyder is fantastic", the youngest member of the Dutch motorsport dynasty says. "It is the spearhead of all Porsche racing activities and there is a lot of focus on it. For me, this really is a great challenge!"
The Le Mans Series season includes five rounds of 1000 kilometers each, the season opener taking place at the Circuit de Catalunya near Barcelona on April 6. The Le Mans 24 Hours are scheduled for the weekend of June 14 and 15. In preparation for the season, Van Merksteijn Motorsport by Equipe Verschuur will be completing a comprehensive test program with the Porsche RS Spyder including the two official Le Mans Series test days at the Paul Ricard circuit in France on March 2 and 3.
Calendar 2008 Le Mans Series
March 2-3 Test Paul Ricard/F
April 4-6 1000 km Circuit de Catalunya, Barcelona/E
April 25-27 1000 km Monza/I
May 9-11 1000 km Spa-Francorchamps/B
August 15-17 1000 km Nürburgring/D
September 12-14 1000 km Silverstone/GB
2008 Le Mans 24 Hours
June 1 Official test day
June 14-15 Le Mans 24 Hours