Maserati celebrated their first ever one-two finish today in the China round of the FIA GT Championship held at the 4.3km Zhuhai International Circuit, the final round of the 2004 season. The AF Corse duo of former Formula 1 pilot Mika Salo of Finland and Andrea Bertolini of Italy won the grueling three-hour race just 1.671 seconds ahead of team mates Johnny Herbert of Britain and Italian Fabrizio de Simone.
Pole-man Matteo Bobbi and Gabriele Gardel were third across the line in the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello. Bobbi had got off to a blinding start, setting the fastest lap of the race of 1:32.490 in the opening stages.
Said a delighted Salo: "It was a good race. We had a good start, but Bobbi was really fast in the beginning. We weren't the fastest car in the field, but we managed a great result, so we're pretty pleased!" Bertolini had a moment when he spun, but managed to recover without damaging the car. Both drivers had high praise for their Pirelli tyres, which were reliable and consistent throughout.
First in the highly competitive N-GT class was the G.P.C. Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari 360 of Christian Pescatori and Jaime Melo, followed by Freisinger Motorsport's Sascha Maassen and Lucus Luhr in the Porsche 996 GT3-RS. The second place finish was enough to clinch the N-GT Championship for the duo.
Third in the class was Jan Vonka and Miro Konopka in the Vonka Racing Porsche 996 GT3, which managed to go the distance with only one pit stop.
"I'm very happy to win as it's the last championship race of the year. It's important for the team," said Pescatori.
Fourth in the N-GT category were Briton Matthew Marsh and Hong Kong racing star Charles Kwan in the second G.P.C. Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari. The pair got off to a good start, and were running fourth in their class up to the first pit stop. However, a starter switch malfunction delayed their stop, losing them valuable time. During their second pit stop, the problem reoccurred, resulting in an accumulated time loss of at least 10 minutes.
The pair did brilliantly to finish fourth, just missing out on the podium finish in a one-off appearance in this prestigious, international championship.
The second Hong Kong team of Philip Ma, Michael Choi and Samson Chan also acquitted themselves well, finishing 19th overall in the 30-car field in the DAMS Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT.
Off the rolling start, Bobbi led from pole in the Ferrari 550, but at the one hour mark it was Salo in the Maserati MC12 who led the pack by more than three seconds, followed by team mate and another former Formula 1 driver Herbert.
Leading the N-GT class one third of the way through the grueling race was Emmanuel Collard in the Porsche 996. Briton Matthew Marsh had driven the Ferrari 360 to an impressive fourth place in the class, when he handed driving duties to Hong Kong's Kwan.
Two-thirds of the way through, it was de Simone at the wheel of the Maserati who led the hard-charging field from AF Corse team mate Andrea Bertolini as rain clouds gathered overhead threatening rain, with the Ferrari of Bobbi/Gardel in 3rd. In the N-GT class, it was Jaime Melo of Brazil in the G.P.C. Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari 360 who led from Luhr in the Porsche.
Kwan had held the Hong Kong team's fourth position in the class after two hours of racing.
However, it was the Maserati of Salo/Bertolini which took the chequered flag in front of an enthusiastic Chinese crowed, thousands of whom turned out for the action-packed weekend of racing and the chance to see the awesome Grand Touring cars in action.
In addition to the headline FIA GT Championship round, the day also featured four action-packed support races.
The Zhuhai Touring Car race was won by Fung Man-Wai in a Honda EG6, followed by Kelvin So in his DC2 and reigning Asian Touring Car Series champion Gary Sham, also in a DC2.
In the Super Car Challenge, Round 6 of the series, Phillip Yau was the star of the show, having started from the back of the grid and worked his way expertly through the field to finish 3rd in his Mitsubishi EV8 MR. However, it was Li Siu Wa, also in a Mitsubishi, who took the top step of the podium, crossing the line a massive 18.887 seconds ahead of 2nd placed man, Michael Choi in a Porsche 993 Turbo.
The Hong Kong Automobile Lotus Challenge was won by Cham Kwong Ho in a Lotus Elise S2, from Hugues Ripert in a Westfield Megabusa. Third over the line was Chen Wai Huen in a Lotus Elise MS.
Hong Kong veteran racer Albert Poon finished second in today's Mini Car Race, almost half a Century after he first took to the race track. Poon led the race for nine of the 10 laps, but suffered a push-rod problem which slowed him down in the closing stages, and he was pipped to the post by Cheung Kwok Leung. Third overall was Kong Hau-Ming, first in Class D.
The weekend's racing was broadcast live by Zhuhai Television, Shenzhen TV Guangdong TV, and China Travel Satellite TV which goes out to 68% of China's population. The races will also be broadcast on pan-European satellite station Eurosport.
Zhuhai International Circuit will continue it's busy schedule of international regional and local races when it hosts a round of the FIM Asia Road Racing Championship from December 10 to 12.