Mugello, Italy -- 17 September 2006: Chris Niarchos and Tim Mullen took fifth place in today's FIA GT race in treacherous wet conditions, more reminiscent of Knockhill than Tuscany! Before the race the rain had been steadily falling all day, but...
Mugello, Italy -- 17 September 2006: Chris Niarchos and Tim Mullen took fifth place in today's FIA GT race in treacherous wet conditions, more reminiscent of Knockhill than Tuscany! Before the race the rain had been steadily falling all day, but the conditions had eased just before the start, leading the team to opt for drying wets, the tyre between intermediates and full wets. Just two minutes before the green flag, when it was too late to change tyres, the conditions worsened dramatically. As the field came around to take the start the cars were sliding all over the place then, just after crossing the line, the no.62 Ferrari, driven by Andrew Kirkaldy, aquaplaned straight off the track, shortly to be followed by a spinning Porsche. Race over for car 62. It was a real blow for the Scottish duo as Andrew Kirkaldy had taken pole position on Saturday; his sixth pole of the season, the seventh for the team, and the first ever five-poles-in-a-row for the FIA GT Championship! Also, Nathan Kinch, who knows Mugello well, didn't get a chance to race, so it was especially disappointing for the young Aberdonian.
Tim Mullen meanwhile was trying to make the best of the conditions and with twenty minutes gone he had pitted for full wets and was up to third place, chasing down Rui Aguas. Before he was able to pass the tyres began to go off as the rain had eased. He had a small 'off' at the one hour mark but this caused no damage and he took the opportunity to pit for drying wets. Once he rejoined, Tim was the fastest GT2 car on the track and remained that way until the track had dried sufficiently for intermediate tyres. Tim stayed out a little longer before pitting to hand over to Chris Niarchos who bravely ventured out on slick tyres.
A dry line had started to appear around the track and Niarchos carefully found his limit, getting faster and faster with each lap. Chris was delighted to overtake ex-F1 star, Mika Salo, in the closing stages of the race, and came over the line in fifth position after a thoroughly enjoyable stint.
Chris Niarchos: "I've had a podium at Le Mans and now I've overtaken Mika Salo so I think I'll retire! Just kidding! I was a little dubious about going out on slicks; the first part of the lap was still pretty wet so I tiptoed through there the first few times. After that the track got better and better and I had a fantastic time. Passing Mika was the icing on the cake."
Tim Mullen: "The first lap of that race was the scariest lap I've ever driven; we were aquaplaning over the start/finish line in second gear at 30mph! The first lap was a case of creeping around hoping not to go off or be collected by anyone else going off. I came in for full wets at the end of the lap as it was undriveable and I was then able to get up as high as third and give Aguas a hard time. As the track dried the tyres started to go off but I needed to stay out and make the most of things. Towards the end of my first stint I went off at the last corner after I got a neutral and locked my wheels, so I came in for a set of drying wets. Once I had those tyres on I was fastest in class before the track dried enough for inters. By the time my run came to an end there was a dry line so I pitted for slicks and Chris took over the driving."
Nathan Kinch: "What can I say? That must be my shortest race -- ever!"
Andrew Kirkaldy: "There was absolutely nothing I could do to stop that happening. I tried to accelerate off the line but the car wiggled around so I eased off. The Maserati in front of me then slowed so I wasn't actually doing anything, just holding it in a straight line, and I aquaplaned straight off."
Stewart Roden, Scuderia Ecosse Team Principal: "Obviously it's not great for the Championship but at least no other Ferrari won the race (the no.75 Ebimotors Porsche won the GT2 race). Chris certainly sounded like he was enjoying himself out there today! It's a shame for Andrew and Nathan but the conditions were dreadful. Let's hope Budapest is kinder to us."
Thoughts now turn to Silverstone for Chris Niarchos and Tim Mullen as the British GT Championship challenge is red hot as the season nears it end.
-credit: scuderia ecosse