Sumo Power GT denied victory in opening round
The Sumo Power GT team returned for its second season in the FIA GT1 World Championship with a vengeance this weekend, its first 2011 encounter at the impressive Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi. The Brazilian paring of Enrique Bernoldi and Ricardo Zonta in Nissan GT-R
- 20 scored a fourth-place finish in Saturday morning's race one, before Enrique went on to dominate the first-half of race two, until a Ford GT crashed into Ricardo as he was driving down the pit lane following the mid-race tyre and driver swap.
Their team-mates David Brabham and Jamie Campbell-Walter in Nissan GT-R
- 21 had a less fortunate weekend: Although setting times in qualifying and the two races that were on - or even ahead of - the pace of the other Nissans running at the front of the field, a number of issues meant that the highly experienced Anglo-Australian combination was to come away from the event scoring eighth and ninth-place finishes in race one and race two respectively.
For all but Jamie, Friday evening's qualifying session was the first time the other three drivers had piloted a Nissan GT-R in a competitive situation. But that didn't stop both cars going straight through to Q2, with David setting the second-fastest time in Q1.
However, only car 20 made it through to the shoot-out for the top eight positions in Q3, which saw Ricardo and Enrique qualify in P7 and David and Jamie (who was held up on his flying lap) in P9. But, due to a pit-lane infringement during Saturday morning's warm-up, they ended up in P14.
To watch the cars blast away from the first rolling start of the new season and cascade into turn one of the Middle East's state-of-the-art track, endorsed the fact that GT1 racing is a true spectacle. Then things got even more dramatic, when an Aston Martin spun in the middle of the pack and two other cars consequently joined in the chaos.
Luckily, Ricardo and Jamie - who were first to drive the Sumo Power GT Nissans in this race - were only effected by the incident in a positive way, with car 20 ending the first lap in fourth and car 21 seventh. Jamie then claimed sixth on lap five and fifth on lap ten, which meant that - at this point - all four Nissans in the race were circulating one-after-another, with only the Ford GT of Fredrik Makowieki ahead of them.
Unfortunately, Jamie's hard work was undone at the compulsory mid-race pit stop to change tyres and drivers, when a delay in swapping the wheels saw David rejoin the race in 11th place. He then did what he could to make up the deficit, passing three cars during his second-half stint.
Enrique, now in car 20, continued to hang on to fourth place until the finish, whilst trying not to put any undue stress on his car's transmission after he heard noises coming from the gearbox. Therefore, to ensure there were no issues for race two, the Sumo Power GT team completely changed the car's transaxle before the start of the evening's Championship Race, in which most of the points are scored.
Due to the high ambient temperatures in the UAE, the Championship Race took place in the evening and, with grid positions decided by the finishing positions of the Qualifying race, Enrique was to start in car 20 from the second row. And what a monster of a start it was! The Brazilian launched his Nissan between the front row sitters Martine Maxine in a Ford GT and Peter Dumbreck in another Nissan and exited turn one in the lead.
In contrast, David - in car #21 - had cars all around him and took to the side of the track in order to avoid any contact. However, track officials ruled that he had run a little too wide and he then was given no choice but to serve a drive through penalty. This enforced delay dropped him to 17th, although he soon began making up places before swapping with Jamie on lap 16.
Enrique controlled the race from the front and, although under pressure from the pursuing pack, never looked flustered. A great pit-stop by the Sumo Power GT crew got Ricardo on his way in 28 seconds but, as he drove down the pit lane, the Ford of Fredrik Makiaweki was released too soon and it slammed into the side of Ricardo's Nissan. Amazingly, instead of turning away or backing off, Makiawiki tried to push the Nissan into the wall, the incident earning him a drive-through penalty a few laps later.
Such was the impact, it punctured the Nissan's front-right tyre and Ricardo had to pit after his first lap. He then had to pit a few laps later when officials called him in for a seat-belt check. But, as it turned out, the car's suspension had been damaged in the pit lane dispute and, rather than make matters worse, the team decided to call it a day for car 20 at this point in the proceedings.
In the meantime, Jamie was on one of his familiar overtaking sprees and had climbed to ninth place by the time cars crossed the line. It was a disappointing end for what had initially looked like it was going to be the first victory of the year for the Sumo Power GT team, but spirits in the team were high, as they now know that they have a recipe for success in the making.
The team now heads back from Abu Dhabi and prepares for the second round of the FIA GT1 World Championship, which takes place at Zolder in Belgium on 9th & 10th April.
As a mark of respect following the country's recent disasters, both of the team's Nissan GT-Rs carried stickers which read: 'don't give up Japan'. In addition, all team members wore black armbands during race-day.
Enrique Bernoldi (Car 20)
"To get fourth when we had a few problems in the first race was good. The guys in the team worked really hard to get the car ready for race two, so to be able to go into the lead straight away was fantastic. The timing was just right. I saw the gap in front and just drove through it. I was then able to manage the pace. It was such a shame that we were in a good position for the win and then for Ricardo to be hit in the pit-lane. At least we know we can be at the front now."
Ricardo Zonta (Car 20)
"Our car was better than it had been all weekend in the qualifying race and we were able to get fourth place. The team did a great job getting the car ready for the main race and gave us a quick car. Enrique was able to take the lead from the start, but I could not believe that the Ford drove into me in the pit-lane. That was just crazy and dangerous! I don't know what he was thinking. Of course, it put me out of the race."
David Brabham (Car 21)
"It's certainly been an educational day. Although I've competed in lots of GT races, this is my first time in GT1 and the way some of the things work in this championship is different than what I've been used to in others. The car was the best it's been in today's championship race and I was able to set a string of respectable lap times, so with a bit more work and spending more time in the Nissan, I think we have a good package."
Jamie Campbell-Walter (Car 21)
"Both David and I have had better weekends that's for sure. Considering things came together so quickly before the start of the season, I think everyone did a great job to produce such a good car for the main race. It's been great working with David this weekend and, even though we didn't get the result we were looking for, I think we have a really good chance for good results this season."
Hiroki Furuse (Team Manager)
"Race one was the first for many of us in the team and therefore we were very pleased to score a top-four finish. Before we came to this race, we said we would be happy to take away a few points - and I'm pleased to say that we achieved our aim. We showed the potential of our team and the potential of our Nissan GT-Rs."
Andy Barnes (Team Principal)
"A fourth place in the first race was a good result and then, to be leading the second race from the start was fantastic! All the team pulled together to get the car ready for race two and Enrique drove incredibly well, so I was gutted for all of us when Ricardo had to retire. We didn't deserve that - especially as it wasn't his fault. David and Jamie had a character-building weekend, but their lap times showed they can be at the front. We'll just have to bounce back in Zolder!"
-source: sumo power gt