Team Modena Charge To Fourth at Spa
Team Modena Recovered from an early race incident in today's Spa 1000km round of the Le Mans Series to take fourth in class and tenth overall, after being at the tail of the field on the second lap at the famous Belgian circuit. Rapid lapping from drivers Antonio Garcia and Christian Fittipaldi combined with inspired strategy from the pit crew saw the team's Aston Martin DBR9 recover and come through the field - to finish just shy of taking the final podium place.
The team had worked well through Friday and Saturday's three Free Practice sessions, the DBR9 consistently among the class front-runners. Garcia qualified the Aston Martin fourth in the LM GT1 class, and 25th overall, on the 48-car grid in Saturday's 20-minute qualifying session. The rapid Spaniard could have been even quicker, slower cars hampering his flying laps in the session.
"The traffic was a nightmare," said Antonio after the session. "I twice got blocked badly by cars that were just on their way back to the pits, I had to slow to get some space on the track, and that meant the tyres were not at their best when I wanted to go quick again. We have been doing a lot of work on our race set-up and the car looks good now."
Garcia was in the DBR9 at the start of the race, but a spin on lap two lost him time and the team slipped a lap down as he recovered and last in class. From then on the pace of the car was matching the front runners, Garcia pitting after 23-laps, last of the LM GT1 cars to do so, to hand over to Fittipaldi having just moved back onto the lead lap as others pitted.
Consistent lapping from Fittipaldi, despite an oil smeared windscreen, saw him bring the car back towards the rest of the LM GT1 class runners and pit when fourth in class. A fired-up Garcia then took over and was often the quickest LM GT1 car on the circuit, pitting at the end of a Safety Car period on lap 69.
Almost as soon as Fittipaldi was back in the Team Modena DBR9 the Safety Car was out again, unfortunately just after the race leader had lapped the Brazilian, effectively putting the car a further lap behind its rivals. Once racing was resumed an optimistic dive up the inside by an LMP2 car at the La Source hairpin saw the car hit the Aston Martin hard enough to fire the heavier car off the circuit, Fittipaldi recovering without making contact with the barriers but with the steering now mis-aligned.
"It was impossible to get into a rhythm with the Safety Car coming out so much," said Fittipaldi, "and then it caught us at just the wrong time and we lost a lap. Then I was hit by a car I never even saw, I was on my normal line and turning and I am pretty sure that if my car was not there the guy wouldn't have made the corner and gone straight. He nailed me and I was lucky to be able to continue, both wheels were damaged."
Garcia's final stint in the car saw rain make the surface slippery, the Spaniard however confident he could maintain his pace and fun fourth in class, now back up to 13th overall after their first lap losses. A perfectly timed call for Garcia to pit and a rapid stop from the crew to turn the car round and send it out during a final Safety Car period left Fittipaldi in position to think about chasing down the car third in class and snatching the final podium position, but there were not enough laps left and he was still 15-seconds behind as the chequered flag flew.
"I think that was my first mistake in the car," said Garcia of his early race moment. "I was fast through Eau Rouge and used the kerbs, went to the outside, but was tight on brakes and the rears locked. I was stuck on the kerb and had no traction, and had to wait before I could move.
"I was then able to lap quickly, my second stint was really good and I was able to catch the leader a little. The Safety Car lost me ground, and then we lost a further lap. I really liked the slippery conditions, I know this track has a lot of grip even if it is wet, so I was pushing hard, minimum risk but taking some risks, the team letting me know if anyone was lapping quicker so I could push more."
"We had an interesting and incident-filled race," said Team Modena Sporting Director Rik Bryan. "We could have possibly qualified a little quicker, then Antonio has a spin on lap two and was only able to rejoin after the field had gone past again, putting us a lap down. One of the Safety Cars came out at just the wrong time for us and lost us another lap, but on the next two we were able to make up ground. We just didn't quite have enough time left to challenge for third despite how quick we were lapping. We fought back from being last in class to fourth and in the top ten overall."
Next LMS Race: Silverstone, Northants, UK, September 15th / 16th
Next Avon Tyres British GT Championship round: Thruxton, Hampshire, August 25th / 26th