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Mugello: Balfe Motorsport race report

BALFE TEAM TAKES POINT AFTER TREACHEROUS RACE The Balfe Motorsport team managed to take a single championship point for eighth place in class after a treacherous three hours race at Mugello in Italy at the weekend. The latest round of the...

BALFE TEAM TAKES POINT AFTER TREACHEROUS RACE

The Balfe Motorsport team managed to take a single championship point for eighth place in class after a treacherous three hours race at Mugello in Italy at the weekend.

The latest round of the FIA GT Championship started well for the NetJets.com backed squad, with Shaun Balfe initially holding a front row position throughout the first 15-minutes of the 20-minute qualifying session.

The session had started incredibly wet and as the track dried Shaun had been able to get an early 'banker' lap. As the rest of the GT1 grid came in to change over to slick tyres the Balfe team were waiting in the pit-lane to see if they had left it too late. Unfortunately the timing screens showed that the track was getting quicker and the Saleen S7R would eventually drop to ninth place.

"It was good to be at the top end of the timing screens for a while," said Shaun Balfe. "I knew the track would get quicker throughout the session and I went a little bit faster near the end too, but we thought that some of the other teams had left it a bit too late but they managed to sneak in late laps which dropped us down."

The three hour race gave the team even more excitement and nerves as heavy rain fell as the cars lined up on the gird. As the safety car led the field away on the parade lap it got even heavier, meaning Balfe was driving blind due to immense amounts of spray from all of the other cars.

As the lights went green the two cars at the head of the field sprinted away, but the remaining cars behind were all struggling to stay on track, with the car alongside Balfe on the grid aquaplaning off the circuit and hitting the concrete wall on the start finish line.

"It was probably the worst conditions I've ever driven in at the start of the race," admitted Balfe when he got out of the car. "The Ferrari was right next to me on the grid and with all the spray I didn't even see him go off. I had to radio the team to ask if the race had started as I couldn't even see the start gantry it was that bad!" He added.

After a handful of very steady laps the rain eased off and conditions improved. Balfe ended his superb opening stint and handed over to Nigel Taylor. A great call by Taylor allowed the team to know when it was the right time to change over to slick tyres. However, the team kept him out for a handful of extra laps, allowing it to get into a fuel stop window and minimize the amount of time needed in the pits.

The excitement for the team wasn't over yet though. With 25-minutes of the race left to run and with the team looking at a points scoring finish, Balfe ran wide and off the dry line at one of the corners and ended up buried deeply in the gravel trap.

An unhappy Shaun radioed the team to explain that he was in too deep to be able to get out and advised that he was getting out of the car. As the team sent someone to fetch him and resigned to the fact that its race was over, he was back on the radio to explain that he'd been recovered by the marshals and was back on track.

It was a nail biting final 20-minutes for the team as they watched Shaun reel off the laps, bringing the car over the line for its first race finish in the last three races.

"It was a simple mistake and I thought I was going to get away with it, but once I was off the dry part of the track the car just headed straight for the gravel," said Balfe. "I think I surprised the marshals when they pulled me out as I realised I could get back on to the track from where they had put me so I just fired up the engine and went for it."

"We lost three laps, but we were desperate to finish this race after the problems we've had in the last two rounds so it was definitely worth it," he added.

The team now has a swift turnaround before heading to the Hungaroring in Hungary in just two weeks time.

-credit: bm

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