Stephen Errity, GT Correspondent
After two difficult rounds so far this year, Fred Makowiecki and Stef Dusseldorp finally celebrated a double victory in the GT1 World Championship as the series visited Navarra in Spain. These are the first wins of the season for the 2011 GT1 team champions HEXIS and the first-ever wins in international competition for the new McLaren MP4-12C GT3 car.
Technical problems in qualifying seemed to signal the start of another glum weekend for the #1 McLaren crew, and they had to start at the back of the grid in race one after failing to set a time. The #2 car of Alvaro Parente and Gregoire Demoustier lined up seventh, but going into the race it didn't look this would be a dominant HEXIS weekend.
At the start of the first race, fifth-place qualifier Mike Parisy in the #9 Team China Porsche ran wide through the first corner and lost a couple of places, but Milos Pavolvic in the lone Ford GT had a much better start and was up to an unprecedented fifth at the end of the first lap.
But even this wasn't the most impressive start on the grid – that honour went to Parente in the #2 McLaren, who had vaulted from seventh to the lead. He then set about building a gap to second-place Darryl O'Young in the #25 Reiter Lamborghini, who was himself managing the gap back to third-place Niki Mayr-Melnhof in the #17 Vita4One BMW.
Yet by now all eyes were on Stef Dusseldorp, who was at the head of a train of cars in sixth place and had the fifth-place Ford GT in his sights. He began to pick off cars one-by-one, slicing past at the end of the pit straight lap after lap. In quick succession, he passed Pavlovic, Filip Salaquarda in the #3 AF Corse Ferrari, Mayr-Melnhof and front-row starter O'Young, putting the #1 McLaren in a strong second place ahead of the pitstops.
Dusseldorp's co-driver Fred Makowiecki was immediately fast upon taking over the car for the second stint, and the race now came down to an intra-McLaren battle as 'Mako' reeled in his fellow Frenchman, Parente's co-driver Demoustier, for the lead. The #1 car was clearly faster, and Demoustier duly ceded first place without undue fuss, leaving Makowiecki free to cruise home unchallenged.
The front-row-qualifying #18 BMW Z4 of Yelmer Buurman and Michael Bartels had been forced to start from the pitlane due to a fuelling issue, but young Dutchman Buurman put in a stellar opening stint to hand the car over to his team boss in third – a position they would hold until the chequered flag. Meanwhile, O'Young's #25 Lamborghini co-driver Peter Kox provided most of the action in the second stint, passing both of the All-Inkl Mercedes to elevate his car to fourth by the end of the race, right behind Bartels' BMW.
HEXIS' result in Saturday's race gave them the front row of the grid for race two in Sunday, and they wasted no time in making an efficient getaway once the lights went out. But although Makowiecki and Dusseldorp once again outclassed the field to win, they would not be followed home by the #2 car this time.
Early in the race, Saturday podium finisher Bartels suffered a temporary loss of power in the Vita4One BMW, slowing on the straight and then spinning in the first corner. This allowed the All-Inkl Mercedes crews into third and fourth positions, which became second and third after the stops: an uncharacteristically slow HEXIS pitstop for the Demoustier/Parente McLaren had cost precious seconds.
Parente was able to use the MP4-12C's prodigious pace around Navarra to pass Mayr-Melnhof and recover to fourth by the end, but he could find no way past the Mercedes SLS juggernaut, so Basseng/Winkelhock and Jager/Pastorelli would fill out the remaining podium positions in race two. Mayr-Melnhof also had to cede his fifth place to team-mate Buurman in the closing stages, as the #18 Vita4One BMW is in a stronger position in the championship standings than its #17 sister car.