Stephen Errity, GT correspondent
Winning a one-hour sprint race after spinning on the first lap is no easy task, but that's exactly what Giuseppe Ciro and Gaetano Ardagna Perez managed in the first of the weekend's two GT3 European championship races at Zolder. Perez was caught out by wet conditions at the first corner and dropped to the back of the field at the start. But despite a drying track as the pit window approached, Perez's #50 AF Corse Ferrari was the only car in the 12-strong field to change from wet to slick tyres, and his co-driver Ciro was thus able to scythe his way up through the order in the second half of the race as other struggled to prevent their wet rubber overheating.
Stefano Gai had started from pole position in the sister AF Corse Ferrari, and held on to his lead through the first corner, ahead of Cesar Campanico in the Novadriver Audi R8 and Dominik Baumann in the Nogaro race-winning Heico Gravity Charouz Mercedes SLS. Baumann pursued Campanico aggressively for several laps, but only got past when Campanico himself made an ill-advised bid to grab the lead from Gai. Behind this trio, Max Nilsson in the other Heico Mercedes was hassling GT3 Europe newcomer Hari Proczyk in the Rhino's Leipert Lamborghini Gallardo for fourth.
Then came the crucial pitstops – and the failure of any car except the #50, now running well down the order courtesy of Perez's spin, to make the correct decision to change to slick tyres. As soon as Ciro took over the car, he began lapping between five and seven seconds faster than the rest of the field, and the 43-second deficit to the leaders was reduced to zero in almost no time.
A charging Michael Lyons, who took over the #51 AF Corse car from polesitter Gai, almost claimed second in the final laps from Proczyk's co-driver David Mengesdorf. However, as the pair came up to lap the Lamborghini driver's unfeasibly slow Russian team-mate Natalia Friedina, Lyons was baulked as he attempted to pass around the outside and had to settle for third – the second double podium finish for AF Corse in as many races.
Baumann's co-driver Dominik Buhk spun during his stint, allowing Nilsson's co-driver Mika Vahamaki to sneak into fourth in the sister Heico Mercedes. Elsewhere, Ni Amorim wasn't able to match Cesar Campanico's pace in the Novardriver Audi R8, and ended up sixth at the flag.The pair of Russian Bears Motorsport Ferraris wound up seventh and eighth, while the #12 Leipert Lamborghini finished three laps down on its podium-finishing team-mate, courtesy of another dismally slow performance by Natalia Friedina.