Stephen Errity, GT Correspondent
Giuseppe Ciro and Gaetano Ardagna-Perez celebrated a perfect weekend in less-than-perfect conditions with victory in Sunday's second GT3 European Championship race at Zolder. It was a case of deja vu for the drivers of the #50 AF Corse Ferrari 458, as once again they found themselves on the right tyres at the right time, with a big speed advantage over their competitors.
The Sainteloc Audi team had locked out the front row in qualifying, but Ciro had a strong start and managed to pip Gregory Guilvert in the #16 Audi R8 for second place on the first lap. Elsewhere, ex-Lada WTCC pilot Kiril Ladygin showed the first flash of potential in 2012 for the Russian Bears Ferrari team by passing Max Buhk's #1 Heico Mercedes SLS for fourth.
Buhk's team-mate Max Nilsson was in even more trouble, though, beaching the sister #2 SLS in the gravel trap and ruining the race for himself and co-driver Mika Vahamaki. Up front, Guilvert re-asserted himself after a couple of laps, capitalising on a mistake from Ciro to reclaim second, but then threw it all away by spinning himself at turn one. He and Marc Sourd, race winners last time out in Nogaro, would eventually finish seventh.
Ladygin was now running third as a result of Guilvert's spin, and was not only keeping up with, but catching, Ciro in second. Buhk had got the bit between his teeth as well, and looked determined to reclaim the place Ladygin had taken from him earlier. The pass came at turn two, then Ladygin spun shortly afterwards, but didn't lose any more places.
At the pitstops, both Heico Mercedes crews pitted early and opted for slick tyres. Up front, polesitter Dino Lunardi had made serene progress at the front of the field, and along with second-placed Ciro left his stop until the very last moment. However, Lunardi instructed the Sainteloc team to leave the R8 on wet tyres when handing over to co-driver Jerome Demay. Over in the AF Corse pit, they did the opposite: Perez took over from Ciro, but a set of dry-weather tyres was fitted to the #50 Ferrari.
A trip through the gravel for Dominik Baumann in the #1 Mercedes shortly after the stops suggested that slicks were still marginal on the damp track. Before long, however, the conditions had changed sufficiently to hand the advantage to those on dry tyres and Perez had easily caught and passed Demay for the lead. That wouldn't be the only place Demay would lose, however – overheating wet tyres meant he soon found himself fourth, behind Hari Procyk's #11 Leipert Lamborghini Gallardo and a recovering Baumann, who would go on to finish second and third respectively. Demay lost a further two places in the final laps of the race: the Ladygin/Maleev Ferrari came home a strong fifth, while Stefano Gai and Michael Lyons in the second AF Corse Ferrari were sixth, despite a spin early on in the race for Lyons.