Zhuhai: Saturday practice report

Corvettes lead GT1, Porsche fastest in GT2 For the fourth time, the FIA GT Championship has headed to Asia, and the Zhuhai International Circuit in the People's Republic of China. For the first time, the season opener will be held at the track.

Corvettes lead GT1, Porsche fastest in GT2

For the fourth time, the FIA GT Championship has headed to Asia, and the Zhuhai International Circuit in the People's Republic of China. For the first time, the season opener will be held at the track. With 24 cars in attendance, 15 in GT1, eight in GT1 and one G2 car, the 2007 season looks like getting off to an excellent start ! With so many potential winners on Sunday, suspense is total for the first race of the season !

PADDOCK RUNDOWN

The fifteen GT1 cars present in Zhuhai will be joined by more from Silverstone onwards, some in the context of the Citation Cup. With five Maserati MC 12 cars, five Aston Martin DBR9, three Corvettes (one C5 and two C6 models) and two Lamborghini Murciélagos, variety is ensured. In the GT2 category, the forces are equally distributed, with four Ferrari 430 GT2 cars and four Porsches, three of the new 997 GT3 RSR models and one Porsche 996 GT3 RSR.

As far as the drivers are concerned, quality is also the name of the game. One major change is that with the new two-hour format, all teams have opted for just two drivers.

Six former or reigning FIA GT Champions are on the grid, including Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini (2006), Thomas Biagi (2003), Christophe Bouchut (2002, 2001 and 2000), Stephane Ortelli (2002 -- 2003) and Karl Wendlinger (1999). 19 of the 48 drivers are previous race winners in either category, with Ortelli leading the table with 15 wins, ahead of Bouchut and Collard with 12 apiece. In terms of pole positions, Hezemans leads the overall poles with 9, while Bouchut and Ortelli have 11 each, but split between the categories. In terms of race attendance, there is a clear winner : this is Gerold Ried's 100th FIA GT race.

Fifteen different nationalities are represented among the drivers, with the biggest groups being the Italians (11) and British (10). There are five Germans, four Belgians, four Austrians, three Dutch drivers, two French and two from Switzerland, and one each from Portugal, the Republic of San Marino, Finland, Monaco, the Czech Republic, Canada and Russia.

HANDICAP WEIGHTS

No success ballast is carried for this race. However, the GT Bureau has applied a number of weights in order to balance the performance of the cars. Therefore the five Maserati MC 12 cars, two each from Vitaphone Racing and Scuderia Playteam Sarafree, and one from JMB Racing, all carry 25 kg. In GT2, the cars which have two 'well-known' drivers on board have 28kg, calculated to be equivalent to half a second a lap over the year. This applies to the nr 50 and 51 AF Corse Motorola Ferrari 430 GT2 cars, and the nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2.

FORMAT CHANGES FOR 2007

Changes for this season include two eighty-minute free practice sessions on the Saturday, followed by two 15-minute qualifying sessions, one for the GT1 cars, and one for the GT2/G2 cars. Sunday will feature a thirty-minute warm-up, followed by the two-hour race. During the race, each car must make two pit-stops with driver change. The minimum driving time per driver is 35 minutes.

The cars also have additional restrictions, with a maximum of three engines per season for GT1 cars, and limited sets of brakes and gear ratios. Any car using more than the stipulated number will incur a stop and go penalty.

FIRST FREE PRACTICE : KUMPEN AND COLLARD LEAD THE FIRST SESSION OF THE YEAR

The first 80-minute practice season of the year was close and varied, with rain showers and a wet track making things even more interesting, with slick, intermediate and wet tyres all being used. Four different makes led the session, with Aston Martin, Lamborghini, Maserati and finally Corvette all taking their place at the top of the times. But in the end it was the Corvette C5R of Kumpen and Longin -- victorious here in 2005 -- which set the best time. In GT2, BMS Scuderia Italia started its first GT2 season with the best time, for Collard in the nr 97 Porsche 997 GT3 RSR.

In the damp early part of the session, Barwell's Aston Martin DBR9 set the best time of 1:37.901, Jonny Kane at the wheel. He was followed by Bouchut in the nr 7 All-Inkl.com Lamborghini, and the leading GT2 car, the BMS Scuderia Italia Porsche 997 of Collard and Malucelli.

Twenty minutes into the session, the rain started to come down heavily and all cars pitted for rain tyres This continued for approximately thirty minutes, before the conditions began to dry, and more improvements were seen. Bertolini in the nr 11 Scuderia Playteam Sarafree improved to second overall behind Kane, while Busnelli, in the nr 74 Ebimotors Porsche, took the lead in GT2.

Five minutes later, the lead finally changed, with Menten putting the nr 8 Lamborghini at the front, improving to 1:36.570. He was displaced by Wendlinger in the nr 33 Jetalliance Racing Aston Martin. Lechner, in the team's second car, improved to third. The next car to lead the time sheets was a Maserati MC 12, the nr 2 Vitaphone car in the hands of Miguel Ramos. With twelve minutes to go, a fourth brand took the lead : Deletraz, in the nr 5 Carsport Holland Corvette, set a time of 1:33.135. At this stage, four makes were in the top five, separated by just a second. Ramos further improved, going under the 1:33 barrier to 1:32.567. Towards the end of the session, just before the rain started up again, Anthony Kumpen set the best time with a lap of 1:32.274 in the PK Carsport Corvette C5. The nr 2 Vitaphone Maserati was second, ahead of the nr 5 Corvette C6 of Hezemans and Deletraz, with the nr 11 Playteam Maserati fourth. Jetalliance's Wendlinger and Sharp were fifth and the first Aston, ahead of the team's second car. In GT2, after the early Porsche dominance, the dry sector saw the Ferrari cars improve, with Bruni in the nr 51 AF Corse Motorola car setting a time of 1:36.760 fifteen minutes before the end, and the nr 63 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari second. But the best time remained in the hands of the Porsches, with the nr 97 BMS Scuderia Italia Porsche of Collard and Malucelli setting a time of 1:35.765, ahead of the nr 51 AF Corse Motorola Ferrari of Bruni and Ortelli, with Kirkaldy third for Scuderia Ecosse.

There were problems for the nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse car, which blew an engine, rear left suspension issues for the nr 19 PSI Corvette and transmission problems for the nr 22 Aston Martin Racing BMS car.

PSI LEADS SECOND FREE PRACTICE; BMS CONTINUES TO LEAD GT2

With the rain continuing in Zhuhai, the teams were faced with a largely wet second free practice session. However, conditions dried towards the end, and times fell as some teams ventured out on slicks. The best lap was set by Philipp Peter in the nr 19 PSI Corvette C6, with a time of 1:34.432, 1.7 seconds ahead of the Carsport Holland Corvette of Hezemans and Deletraz. The nr 36 Jetalliance Aston Martin of Lukas Lichtner-Hoyer and Robert Lechner was third, ahead of the nr 12 Scuderia Playteam Sarafree Maserati of Alessandro Pier Guidi.

In GT2, the BMS Scuderia Italia Porsche of Collard and Malucelli set once again the fastest time, with a lap of 1:39.915, ahead of the nr 63 Scuderia Ecosse car of Niarchos and Kirkaldy, with Busnelli and Zani third in the Ebimotors Porsche. The nr 62 Ferrari missed the session due to its engine change.

Hezemans's Carsport Holland Corvette led the start of the session in the wet, ahead of Biagi in the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati. Half-way through the session, Biagi improved to move into the lead, with a time of 1:43.483. With 30 minutes to go, the nr 19 PSI Corvette improved to second. In GT2, Collard led early on in the BMS Porsche, until Vilander set a better time in the AF Corse Motorola Ferrari. For the last fifteen minutes, the track dried and the times fell rapidly.

Bertolini went fastest for Playteam, followed by Philipp Peter in the PSI Corvette, while Collard improved in GT2 to take the lead. Peter's times fell to 1:34.432, at that point four seconds ahead of Bertolini in the Maserati. As the chequered flag fell, the nr 36 Jetalliance Racing Aston Martin went second-fastest, only to be overtaken in the closing moments by the nr 5 Carsport Holland Corvette.

Quotes from Zhuhai

Andrea Bertolini -- nr 11 Scuderia Playteam Sarafree Maserati MC12 : "The first session was a real shakedown for the whole team. The conditions of the track changed every five minutes. We worked well, and we have a good feeling, especially with the intermediate tyres. I don't know how the weather will be tomorrow, but a good point is that we have the same balance with the intermediate and slick tyres. The car is working well. A good start to the season. My memories of this circuit are from two years ago, when we ran with 150 kg penalty weight, and now the feeling is much better !"

Ferdinando Monfardini -- nr 22 Aston Martin Racing BMS Aston Martin DBR9 nr 22: "In the first session we had a transmission problem, so I only did one or two laps. I've never been here before, so I need to get used to the track, but it is not so difficult to understand it. Of course we'd rather not have had any problems, but it is better to have them now than during the race!"

Karl Wendlinger -- nr 33 Jetalliance Racing Aston Martin DBR9 : " When we put on slicks, the car was immediately good. It was fine, handling well. The set-up and balance is fine, and the second car was on time too. So it's looking good and we hope it carries on like this."

Chris Niarchos -- nr 61 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2 : "It is not so great to start the season with a wet track! It is my first time here, so during the first session I had to discover this circuit and I stayed on intermediate tyres for a long time, then we put slick tyres for Andrew. The car is OK, we had to know and to understand our new Pirelli tyres, but so far we are really pleased with it."

Andrew Kirkaldy -- nr 61 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2 : "It is my first time here, but the track is not difficult to understand. Basically it is long straights and hard braking, the corners are not so difficult. GT2 is going to be very interesting and very tough this year... I'll try to do as many pole positions as I did last year... but it is going to be really hard!"

Emanuele Busnelli -- nr 74 Ebimotors Porsche 911 GT3 RS (997) : "Our car is brand new... I have never driven it before, and it is my first time here. So I drove very carefully during the first session. We will try harder later, but it will be great to have a dry track in order to learn the car and this track quickly."

Marcello Zani -- nr 74 Ebimotors Porsche 911 GT3 RS (997) nr 74: "I was here in 2005, with a JMB Maserati, so I know the track, but it is my first time in this car. After racing in GT3 last year, my goal was to race in GT2."

Emmanuel Collard -- BMS Scuderia Italia Porsche 997 nr 97 : "It varied between wet and dry conditions. The car is good in the wet, but we'll have to see later for the dry. It's a bit soon. If it stayed like this for qualifying it would be good. But as we haven't driven much in the dry, if it doesn't rain tomorrow, it could be difficult.

Leo Machitski -- nr 99 Tech9 Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 RS (997) : "I did few laps in Monza, then a few laps in Nogaro... but the goal of all those test sessions was to get used to the car, not to set a time, so we kept something back. Here in Zhuhai, in the rain, we were again very careful. We can't wait for the race to push a little bit more."

-credit: fia

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Karl Wendlinger , Emmanuel Collard , Stéphane Ortelli , Michael Bartels , Jonny Kane , Anthony Kumpen , Christophe Bouchut , Gerold Ried , Miguel Ramos , Andrea Bertolini , Chris Niarchos , Ferdinando Monfardini , Thomas Biagi , Andrew Kirkaldy , Robert Lechner , Emanuele Busnelli , Marcello Zani , Leo Machitski , Lukas Lichtner-Hoyer , Philipp Peter , Alessandro Pier Guidi
Teams Aston Martin Racing , AF Corse