1999 FIA GT Championship - Round 9 : Watkins Glen, NY (USA) Sunday, October 3rd, 1999 - Race Report
Weather Bright and sunny
Victory for Belloc and Donohue An eleventh-hour twist at Watkins Glen on Sunday gave Jean-Philippe Belloc a third FIA GT Championship victory of the season. The Frenchman and American co-driver David Donohue trailed their ORECA Chrysler team mates Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger for all but a handful of the 93 laps around the challenging 3.37-mile track in New York State. Only after both factory Vipers were forced to make last-gasp splash-and-dash fuel stops in the closing laps did Belloc emerge in a narrow lead he would hold over the final six laps.
"I don't really know what happened because I was in the car," said Belloc. "The last stint was very difficult because we had some gearbox problems." It appears that these problems played into Belloc's hands. His Viper required less fuel than the sister car at the final stop, which meant the Frenchman emerged with a three-second lead over Beretta.
Pole position qualifier Belloc had led the first lap, but ceded the lead to Beretta on lap two. "Olivier was really fast in the beginning. I didn't want to try to keep him behind because my car was sliding around a lot," he said. Belloc finished his first stint less than four seconds behind his team mate, while Donohue was only four seconds behind Wendlinger at two thirds distance. "I came into the pits in sight of Karl, but when Jean-Philippe went out we were some 10 seconds or more behind," said the American, whose first win of the season moves him up into fourth place in the FIA GT points. "I think the second stop over redressed the balance."
Beretta said he was not disappointed to miss out on what would have been a sixth FIA GT Championship victory of the year. "I'm very happy for Jean-Philippe and David," he said. "I was very happy with the car considering all the problems we had in practice and qualifying. Whether we finish first or second doesn't matter. The main thing is that the team won the race."
Beretta survived a late-race tangle with the Chamberlain Viper of Vincent Vosse in the closing stages. "I thought he was letting me past, but we touched in the chicane," he said. Beretta explained that he was happy to settle for second once he had found himself in second after his final fuel stop. "There was no point in putting both cars in the gravel."
First podium for Chamberlain's "Christians" Chrysler Vipers blocked out the podium positions for the fourth time this season. Third spot at Watkins Glen was taken by the Chamberlain car of Christian Vann and Christian Gläsel, the Anglo-German pairing's first podium finish of the season. Vann dropped to sixth after getting blocked at the first corner. "Beretta got an awful start and boxed me in. I lost a lot of momentum and Kaufmann and Hezemans [in Porsches] got past me." Vann was able to complete the race without making a splash-and-dash fuel stop like the factory cars. "It was tight, but it looks like we did our sums right last night."
The second Chamberlain car was not so lucky with the fuel. Front-row qualifier Xavier Pompidou trailed the ORECA Vipers through the first hour before running out of fuel after 30 laps. "It wasn't a miscalculation," said team boss Hugh Chamberlain.
"It was just that he was using more fuel than expected because he was trying to keep up with the ORECA cars." Pompidou was able to get the car back to the pits, but Michel Ligonnet rejoined down in 10th place. The Frenchman and Belgian Vincent Vosse staged a fightback that brought the car as high as fifth place. Vosse lost that position three laps from home when he was tapped into a spin by Beretta.
Vosse was part of a thrilling four-way scrap for fourth place that last much of the final hour. Belmondo Viper driver Luca Drudi, Mike Hezemans in Konrad's lead Porsche 911 GT2 and Vosse ran nose-to-tail in a battle for fifth place for more than 10 laps before they were joined by Bob Wollek in the Freisinger Porsche. Wolfgang Kaufmann and the sportscar veteran had battled back into the points after the former had lost time when an unexplained puncture dropped him out of fourth after just 14 laps. Wollek was back up to fourth when he made his final stop with 35 minutes to go. The team changed just the rear tyres and kept Wollek in the car to try to get him back out ahead of the battle for fifth. The tactic worked, but Wollek, on cold tyres, dropped behind Hezemans on his first lap out of the pits. Hezemans' tenure on fourth place lasted only two laps before gearbox failure put the car he shared with team boss Franz Konrad out of the race. "After the puncture fourth was the best we could hope for," said Wollek.
Belmondo Racing fifth and eighth Drudi, who shared with team boss Paul Belmondo, claimed fifth after Vosse's spin. "The way this weekend started, fifth was a good result," said Belmondo. "We much more competitive in the final hour after we switched to a new compound of tyre." The second Belmondo car of local driver Steve Pfeffer and Rael ran as high as fourth in the former's hands early on and went on to finish eighth.
First N-GT car seventh Seventh and first of the American-entered cars competing in an invitational class was the Schumacher Racing Porsche 911 GT2 of Larry Schumacher and John O'Steen. "I guess we're a seventh-place car," said the former in reference to the repeat of their finishing position at Homestead, Florida, last weekend. "We went faster than we had in qualifying and we didn't have a problem all weekend".
Second in class was the Reiser-Callas Porsche 911 RSR, which finished 10th overall in the hands of David Murry and Joel Reiser. "It was a no-hitch race," said the former.
Third in class was Jeff Nowicki's Specter Werkes Chevrolet Corvette GTR. "Our only problem was low oil pressure," said Andy Pilgrim, who started and finished the race. "Just to be on the safe side we topped it up with 15 minutes to go."
Retirements The second Konrad Porsche of Charlie Slater and Diez Villarroel retired with engine failure, caused by a suspected over-rev.
The unusual SSZ Stradales lasted only four laps until the team decided to call it a day after the car lost second gear.
Next round The FIA GT Championship climaxes at Zhuhai in the People's Republic of China on November 28.