BERTOLINI AND KIRKALDY ON POLE IN MUGELLO
For the seventh round of the FIA GT Championship, teams and drivers For the seventh round of the season, the teams and drivers of the 2006 FIA GT Championship have headed south, for the first Italian race of the season, at the universally popular circuit of Mugello. With Italian drivers among the most numerous in the paddock, it is an important race for many, and with only three rounds remaining after this weekend, the points on offer are becoming steadily more significant.
With qualifying taking place on a wet but drying track, it produced one of the most exciting 20-minute sessions so far. Many teams went through their full panoply of tyres, starting with wets, through intermediates to slicks. Andrea Bertolini claimed his first pole of the year, in the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati, while Andrew Kirkaldy, in the nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2, maintained not only his team's 100% pole record, but became the first man to set pole position for five races in the row in the history of the FIA GT Championship.
BERTOLINI CLAIMS POLE FOR VITAPHONE
Racing at what he refers to as 'his second home', Andrea Bertolini claimed pole position for Sunday's 500 km race with a fine lap of 1:48.436, set towards the end of the 20-minute session. "It was a very special session for me, because I was qualifying in Italy," Bertolini explained. "It was a very exciting session and a hard one too. But the team worked wonderfully and was well coordinated, calling me in to change the tyres at the right moment." I started on intermediate tyres and then after a lap we changed to slicks. I'm really, really happy."
He will start alongside the nr 9 Zakspeed Saleen, qualified this time by Sascha Bert. As the flag fell to mark the end of the session, the Saleen was still down in the depths of the classification, but a final lap on slick tyres was enough to place it on the front row of the grid.
As for third place, it went to a newcomer to the Championship : the nr 40 Scuderia Playteam Maserati MC 12, qualified by Finnish driver Toni Vilander. Recovering from a crash in free practice, the team put in an excellent performance to place the car third.
The Maserati -- Saleen -- Maserati trio was followed by a quartet of Aston Martin DBR9 cars, led by Fabrizio Gollin in the nr 24 Aston Martin Racing BMS car. He set exactly the same time as the nr 33 Race Alliance car -- but having set the time first, gains the advantage on the grid. The nr 23 BMS car was just two hundredths of a second behind, with the nr 5 Phoenix Racing -- carrying 80 kg penalty weight -- a further five tenths behind. Despite the difficult conditions, the session was extremely close, with the top six cars within nine tenths of a second.
The nr 2 Vitaphone Maserati was eighth, ahead of the nr 11 Balfe Saleen, which had been lying second in the wetter part of the session. There were problems for the nr 4 Corvette, which will start from 17th position on tomorrow's grid, while the Lamborghini did not take part, further to problems during the second free practice session.
FIVE IN A ROW FOR KIRKALDY
Not only does Scuderia Ecosse continue to dominate qualifying for the GT2 category, the Scottish team having claimed all seven pole positions to date, but Andrew Kirkaldy, with his sixth pole and fifth in a row, has set a new record for the FIA GT Championship. No-one has ever before managed to set five poles in a row -- the previous record was four, held by Bernd Schneider and Ricardo Zonta, both in the early days of the Championship.
"It was a difficult session, trying to find the grip," Andrew said after an impressive session, especially considering this was his first visit to the Italian circuit. "I'm just delighted to be on pole here, I'm honoured to beat the AF Corse drivers, since they know the track better then most, especially Jaime. It's a fantastic track, but it's not easy. But all the way through testing we've all done very well. I'm very happy, and Nathan knows the place well, so that should help."
During the wetter part of the session, both Andrew Kirkaldy and Mika Salo placed their cars up with the GT1 cars, the nr 62 Ferrari being provisional second on the grid for a number of laps. But as the track dried, they returned to their more usual grid positions. Kirkaldy will start ahead of the two AF Corse cars, with Melo outqualifying Salo by six tenths of a second. The second Scuderia Ecosse car was fourth, ahead of the JMB GruppeM Ferrari, and the two Ebimotors Porsches. The nr 101 Belgian Racing Vertigo was 18th, and will start alongside their fellow Belgians in the GLPK Corvette, making for an interesting start to the race.
Round 7 of the FIA GT Championship, from Mugello, starts at 13:30 today.