Paul Ricard: Race report

A beautiful and spectacular circuit, the Paul Ricard HTTT proved to be perfect for Corvette this weekend, with the American brand taking not only its first win of 2006, and its first FIA GT victory with the C6 model, but also its first-ever...

A beautiful and spectacular circuit, the Paul Ricard HTTT proved to be perfect for Corvette this weekend, with the American brand taking not only its first win of 2006, and its first FIA GT victory with the C6 model, but also its first-ever one-two in the history of the Championship. The fifth round featured a thrilling battle between GLPK Carsport and PSI Experience, as well as an excellent recovery from the Vitaphone Maserati, which started from the pit lane to finish third. GT2 also featured a close battle, although this time the opponents were in the same team, as Scuderia Ecosse turned pole into victory for Kinch and Kirkaldy, with second for Mullen and Franchitti. JMB-Gruppe M made it an all-Ferrari podium, Tim Sugden and Iradj Alexander-David taking third. The 5.791 km circuit, including the 1,8 km Mistral straight, meant that the full 500 km were completed in two hours 50 minutes, in the bright sunshine of the south of France.

ONE-TWO FOR THE CORVETTE C6 -- AND VICTORY FOR GLPK CARSPORT

An exciting race-long battle around the spectacular Paul Ricard HTTT circuit saw GLPK Carsport take their first win of 2006, which was also the first victory for the Corvette C6R. However, they had to work hard for their win, as PSI Experience -- also entering a Corvette C6R -- fought them all the way. The two cars pulled away from the rest of the pack from the start, and the lead changed hands a number of times. However, smoother pit strategies for the nr 4 saw Kumpen gain the advantage in the final hour, and he was able to keep ahead of the charging Menten until the end of the 87th lap, which marked the full 500 km distance -- the first time a race has gone full-distance this season.

Hezemans, Kumpen and Longin crossed the line just three seconds ahead of PSI's duo of Menten and 2001 FIA GT Champion Belloc, Kumpen admitting that he might not have been able to resist the Dutchman had the race completed the full three hours.

Third place on the podium went to the nr 2 Vitaphone Maserati MC 12, which made a fantastic recovery after a collision with a GT2 car on the way to the starting grid damaged the car, forcing them to start from the pit lane. However, rapid work from the team and good drives from both Biagi and Davies saw the car climb up to third, salvaging a podium finish for the team. However, both drivers are keen to put the bad luck that has dogged them this season behind them, and hope for an incident-free race in Dijon.

Race Alliance had its best race to date, with Wendlinger and Peter finishing fourth and the leading Aston Martin DBR9 car today. With some very close fighting between the four Aston Martin cars, the nr 33 was followed home by the nr 23 Aston Martin Racing BMS DBR9 and the nr 5 Phoenix Racing car, which recovered well to finish the race after missing much of Saturday's practice further to a gearbox sensor problem. Seventh place went to the Spa victors, Bartels and Bertolini in the nr 1 Vitaphone Racing Team car, the 125 kg total weight the car was carrying a definite handicap on this circuit. Both the nr 1 and the nr 9 Zakspeed Saleen were awarded 30 second penalties for an avoidable incident at the very end of the race, but this had no effect on the final result. The Zakspeed car, which also started from the pit lane after an engine change, made a good climb up the field to fifth, but a problem with the floor of the car dropped Bert and Montermini back, and they finished eighth with one point.

Technical problems prevented both the Balfe Saleen and the Red Racing Lister Storm from finishing.

FULL POINTS FOR SCUDERIA ECOSSE

With pole position, first and second place and the fastest GT2 race lap, Scuderia Ecosse definitely swept the board at the Paul Ricard HTTT circuit. However, the battle between the team's two Ferrari 430 GT2 cars was every bit as close as that between the fighting Corvettes in GT1. They crossed the line separated by just 0.963 seconds, and the gap was frequently less than that during the 500 km race. Kinch and Kirkaldy took the win, in the nr 62 car, moving to within 11 points of the current Drivers Championship leaders, Matteo Bobbi and Mika Salo. Mullen and Franchitti led in the middle stint, after Kinch briefly went wide, but had to settle for second, as well as setting the fastest lap in GT2, with a time of 2:00.943.

The Ferrari domination was near complete, with the 430 GT2 cars occupying the first six positions at the end. Third place went to JMB-GruppeM, with Tim Sudgen and Iradj Alexander claiming their best result since their Brno win. The two AF Corse Ferrari 430 GT2 cars, both of which were extremely heavy after their excellent results in Spa, finished in fourth and fifth places. This not only maintained their positions at the top of both the Teams and Drivers classifications -- where Bobbi and Melo now lead by one point -- but also ensured that they will lose some weight for round six in Dijon.

RSV Motorsport, on their second event in the Championship, placed their nr 81 car of Peter Sundberg and Domingo Romero in sixth position, scoring three points. The best Porsche was the nr 52 Renauer Motorsport Porsche of Wolfgang Kaufmann and Luca Moro, in seventh. The nr 75 Ebimotors Porsche of Collard and Riccitelli took the final point for eighth, despite a series of punctures for the Italian team. Konopka and Rosina were ninth for the ARC Bratislava team, ahead of the second JMB-GruppeM and RSV Motorsport cars.

RIVERSIDE VICTORIOUS IN G3

After the Dodge Viper Competition Coupe and Aston Martin DBRS9 cars took part in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, it was the turn of the Corvette Z06 and Ferrari 430 GT3 Challenge cars from the FIA GT3 European Championship to take part in the FIA GT Championship. Although JMB's Ferrari GT3 cars suffered from engine misfire problems, the two Riverside Corvette Z06 cars finished the race in 21st and 22nd positions -- the longest race to date for the relatively new cars. Therefore victory in G3 along with the overall win made it an excellent weekend for Corvette -- which also moved ahead of Saleen in the Manufacturer's Cup.

A SUCCESSFUL EVENT

Philippe Gurdjian, the Chairman and CEO of the Paul Ricard HTTT, was delighted with the success of the first official FIA race to be run at the circuit since it was modernised and renovated to become the premiere test and communication circuit in 2002.

"For the first time since the circuit was modernised, we had the pleasure of seeing a round of the FIA GT Championship take place here. Having welcomed a round of the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli during the Ferrari Days on July 28th and 29th, as well as the competitors in the FIA GT, the Touring Cup and the Group C GTC Racing series this weekend, we have been pleased to prove to anyone who still had any doubts, that the new concept of security that we have put in place here, most notably with the asphalt runoff areas, is perfectly adapted to racing. The teams and drivers seemed delighted with their first race experience at our track, and the footage shot during the weekend showed once more to the TV viewers the beauty of the Pop Art circuit I designed."

Stephane Ratel, Chairman of SRO and promoter of the FIA GT Championship, was equally pleased with the event. "I am very pleased with this weekend at the Paul Ricard HTTT circuit. The drivers really enjoyed themselves at this circuit, with its exceptional facilities, and which is, according to many of them, one of the most beautiful tracks."

VITAPHONE AND AF CORSE STILL LEAD

The fifth round of the FIA GT Championship, half-way through the season, did not bring many changes to the points classification. Vitaphone Racing Team retained the lead in the GT1 Teams Championship, with 65 points. However, Aston Martin Racing BMS overtook Phoenix Motorsport by half a point, with Zakspeed fourth, and GLPK fifth. In the Drivers classification, Bertolini and Bartels have a seven-point lead over Piccini and Deletraz, with Sascha Bert third.

In GT2, AF Corse has a healthy lead over Scuderia Ecosse, although the Scottish team moved nine points closer to them this weekend. Ebimotors is third, with JMB-GruppeM fourth. In the Drivers classification, AF Corse drivers Matteo Bobbi and Jaime Melo have a one point lead over their team-mates Salo and Aguas, with Kinch and Kirkaldy 11 points behind. Aston Martin leads the GT1 Manufacturers Cup, ahead of Maserati and Corvette, while Ferrari has a lead of nearly 99 points in the GT1 Cup, ahead of Porsche and Spyker.

ROUND 6 - COMING SOON

So the 99th race in the history of the FIA GT Championship saw a historic one-two for Corvette. For the one-hundredth race, the Championship will remain in France, the teams and drivers heading north to the circuit of Dijon-Prenois, in two weeks time, on September 3rd.

-credit: www.fiagt.com

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Mika Salo , Matteo Bobbi , Jaime Melo , Wolfgang Kaufmann , Stéphane Ratel , Tim Sugden , Iradj Alexander-David , Luca Moro , Philippe Gurdjian , Sascha Bert , Domingo Romero , Peter Sundberg , Alexander Iradj
Teams Aston Martin Racing , AF Corse , Phoenix Racing , Team Zakspeed