Michael Bartels (DEU) and Yelmer Buurman (NLD) struck the first blow in the drivers’ championship battle on day one of the final round of the FIA GT1 World Championship at Donington Park.
The Vita4One BMW pair produced the fastest overall lap time of 1:27.693 in the two Free Practice sessions held in cold, overcast conditions on the sweeping circuit in the east midlands of England.
It looks like the car is competitive here.
Bartels and Buurman (142) are currently one point behind Marc Basseng and Markus Winkelhock in the All-Inkl.com Münnich Motorsport Mercedes No.38 (143) in the title chase.
Bartels, the multiple FIA GT champion, was pleased with the team’s opening gambit.
“It looks like the car is competitive here. Yelmer, especially, found the performance window quite quickly,” Bartels said.
“As we know it is very tight in the championship contest so every small advantage is important. We still have some work to do but it is a good start to the weekend.
“Tomorrow we will have a good day of rest and then we are back on Saturday. We are hunting.”
Basseng stopped the car out on the circuit as a precautionary measure with concerns over a wheel rim towards the end of the second session.
“We are struggling quite a lot, the speed is absolutely not there. It’s going to be very difficult,” Winkelhock admitted.
“I hope it’s going to be better in Qualifying but the performance gap is pretty big right now to the BMW. Balance-wise, the car is not too bad but we need to find some pace for sure.”
The quickest of the Hexis McLarens was the No.1 car of Fred Makowiecki (FRA) and Stef Dusseldorp (NLD) with a best lap of 1:27.842, good enough for second overall.
Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) and new partner Adam Carroll in the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT No.32 (1:27.893) – third fastest.
Northern Ireland’s Carroll has replaced Stephane Ortelli, who is on Audi duty in France this weekend.
The No.37 Mercedes of Nicky Pastorelli (NLD) and Thomas Jager (DEU) was fourth overall with a 1:28.048. The lap time of the second Mercedes didn’t escape the notice of the wily Bartels.
“One Mercedes showed that it is possible to perform. It’s too early to tell if that is the real performance of the No.38,” Bartels declared.
The Reiter Lamborghini pair of Peter Kox (NLD) and Stefan Rosina (SVK), the Qualifying Race winners in the penultimate round at Nurburgring, were fifth quickest overall with a time of 1:28.070.
Italy’s Marco Cioci, who is partnering Filip Salaquarda (CZE) this weekend, had an off-track excursion in the No.3 AF Corse Ferrari at turn 4 at the start of the second session.
Salaquarda and regular partner Toni Vilander gave Ferrari its first Championship Race win at Nurburgring but the Finn has other driving commitments and misses the Donington finale.
Cioci, a Ferrari factory driver, has previous experience at Donington Park. “I know the track quite well as I was here a few months’ ago for European Le Mans Series and I know the car well. The tyres, I don’t know so well, but we are in good shape after today,” he said.
“I am here to help AF Corse Ferrari to score some solid points to end the season well.”
Explaining the accident, he said: “I was out on cold tyres and I just lost the back end of the car and went into the tyre barrier.
“There was more noise than impact so the car is OK and I’m OK.”
The Sunred Ford GT No.10 of Frenchmen Benjamin Lariche and Laurent Groppi, managed a best time of 1:29.091 at the tail-end of the time sheets.
Tomorrow is a rest day and the action resumes on Saturday with Qualifying at 09:30 and the Qualifying Race at 14:45.
Source: FIA GT1 World