INTERVIEW WITH A CHAMPION: MICHAEL BARTELS
"After a rather frustrating end to last season, when we missed out on the Championship by just one point in the court afterwards, the team's motivation was very high to do better in 2006. I think we achieved all our goals -- to win the Teams Championship, the Drivers Championship and of course the highlight, to win the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa for the second time in the row. Out of the ten races, Vitaphone won five, which is not so bad, and we had a podium finish in nearly each race. However, I think there is still room for improvement; it is still a very young structure, only our second full season as a team, and I think every winter you need to climb up to the next step, to be better.
When you look at the records, from the 31 races we have done in the FIA GT, I think we have won ten, with the Saleen and the Maserati, and quite a few podiums, which is a successful record. But we also made some mistakes, there are a few areas we would like to improve, and we will work very hard over the winter to get this restructured and make less mistakes.
It was very nice to win the first race, and to have the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy presented by Sir Stirling Moss. We are now in the record books, and on the Trophy, and that will never be deleted. I was really very happy with the opening race in Silverstone. It was not just my success, but that of my team-mate Andrea Bertolini, the whole team and our sponsors. I think I am a very lucky person to be part of this Vitaphone success story over the past three years. Every morning when I wake up, I tell myself I'm a lucky person to be driving a Maserati MC 12, which is one of the most brilliant race cars I have ever driven.
I started off in the FIA GT Championship with Zakspeed in the Porsche 911 GT1, in 1998. I remember from that era that Mercedes was too strong -- and I think everyone in the FIA and SRO learned that lesson, which is why we haven't had ten Maserati victories this year! It was also nice, after my touring car experiences, to jump in a high-level sportscar such as the Porsche GT1. But I think if you compare it to now, a lot of things have changed. The cars are more competitive, on a higher level. It's nice to be now in the modern times of GT racing.
Spa is a race that will go down in history. I had thought that it would not be possible to have anything better or more thrilling than our 2005 victory, but this one was a double thriller, which even Hitchcock could not have done better. But this sort of race is only possible if you have good, strong, fair competitors. It was nice to be fighting for the victory in Spa against German teams -- it was like a national fight. I was very much involved in the foundation of Phoenix Racing in 1999, with Mr Moser. He was my engineer at Zakspeed in 1998, and I was together with him in 1999 and 2000. So it was nice to fight directly with them for a big victory. Every time we are together we talk about that Spa race. Even now that half a year has passed, everyone still wants to discuss this. It was the racing highlight of the season. The real highlight was to win the Championship, especially one race before the end. It was especially nice to do it in Italy, for Andrea, on his home ground in front of his family and friends. It was also special for me; I'd have to say that I'm not 100% German any more, I'm half Italian.
Andrea and myself were clean throughout the season, we used our chances when the car was light, and scored points when we could. If we had to write the story before the season, we would have written it exactly as it played out. We were counting on three victories: we said we had to win the first, and then Spa, and then one more. And I won in Oschersleben, after three times trying, I finally won. It is home ground for me, I like the circuit a lot, and then it was a double victory for the team, so fine -- but not comparable with Spa. The Spa circuit is incredible, one of the last 'character' circuits in the world, which has not changed so much due to Formula one standards. It is always a great pleasure to drive there with the MC 12, to go through the forest. It reminds me of the long Hockenheim circuit, where you are alone in the woods for a long time. You have a lot of time to think. I remember after the last pit stop in Spa, when Fassler was only five seconds behind me... you think a lot from Eau Rouge to the first corner!
We are planning next season at the moment. We are putting our package together, and by Christmas we should know a bit more. We are hoping to build up a strong two-car team, but nothing is finalized yet. But it's all looking OK. And there should be more Maserati cars competing next season. We're working hard and we'll be pushing like crazy!"
INTERVIEW WITH A CHAMPION: ANDREA BERTOLINI
"It has been a great season, very eventful, with a great fight, and a high level of competition. When you win in these conditions, the atmosphere is very high. Last year, after I lost the Championship in the last round due to a mechanical problem, I worked very hard over the winter on the development of the MC 12 and the Pirelli tyres. The Vitaphone team is very strong, both on and off the track. When you arrive in the last race without the pressure, the satisfaction is double. There was a great atmosphere in Dubai. I will remember this season for a long time.
I have been part of the development of the MC 12 from the beginning; I worked very hard with all the people, and this is the result after years of very hard work with Maserati and Pirelli. It's a great result for Pirelli too. I am very confident for the future, as the GT car is the most important thing for all the people in the factory. I hope for the future that we will have good rules; the world economy is very bad and a lot of money and energy has been spent on the GT car, so it's good for them to win this title.
The FIA GT Championship is my second family; my racing career started in the FIA GT, straight after karting. This is very special. I remember in 2001, it was a very different season -- we didn't have the budget, no new tyres or brakes, but it was a good start, and I want to thank all the people who helped me, and all my team-mates throughout the seasons. This year, my team-mate in this adventure, Michael Bartels, is a very strong man outside, but also on the race-track. I want to thank all the people, all the Pirelli and Vitaphone guys, and all the people at Maserati Corse. When you win the title with the car you developed, it's very special. The car is my baby. Many times, when I come back to the workshop, I speak to my car -- you can ask any of the guys at Vitaphone -- I always touch my car, speak to it -- and they all think I'm crazy. But for me, it's important. Without a strong car, you don't win the Championship.
In 2003, I won the award for the Driver Performance of the Year. I would like to thank all the members of the press who voted for me. After I won it, I felt -- OK Andrea, now, every race, you push 100%. It was a good start for my career. It really meant something to me.
This season, we had three important races. The first one was Silverstone, the second was Spa and the third was Adria when we won the title. But the first one, for the atmosphere in the team, was the most important. You arrive in the first race with a lot of pressure. After free practice in Silverstone, we'd had some problems, but we went on to win the race. When I saw all the names on the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy, I had goosebumps. And then Spa. When you win a 24-hour race, and when 20 minutes before the end, there are only eight seconds between the leaders, there is tremendous pressure. To be at 100% over 24 hours is quite amazing. It was my first 24-hour victory, and it was a good confirmation for Maserati, to win two years in a row.
It wasn't just luck, it was the car. The last good memory is Adria, in front of all my family and friends, in a very good atmosphere. The feelings were very, very high, as we had a lot of pressure. I pushed all the team to try and win the title there, because my dream was to arrive in Dubai with no pressure, especially after last year.
It has been a great, great season, for all the GT1 cars, and all the competitors, as every race we had new opponents. We had a big fight with Piccini and Deletraz in the Phoenix Aston Martin, but it was always a clean fight, a sporting fight. It was real sport. When we won the 24 Hours, Andrea Piccini congratulated me, and I saw in his eyes that he really meant it. Finally, I would like to thank all the SRO guys, Benjamin, Patricia, Jacquie -- as you all helped me a lot throughout the season."