FIA GT3 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP - R5 MUGELLO - RACE 1
For the final two races of what has been an extremely successful inaugural season, the FIA GT3 European Championship has moved to Italy, and the beautiful Mugello circuit, in the heart of the Tuscan region. With 42 cars due to take part, representing all eight makes which have raced this year, the challenging 5.245 km circuit should provide a perfect backdrop for another two fascinating races. Keeping the suspense going to the end, Sean Edwards and Phil Keen took a fine win in the ninth and penultimate round of the FIA GT3 European Championship, to move into a one-point lead in the provisional classification. Their Tech9 Motorsport Porsche 997 GT3 finished ahead of the nr 46 Damax Ascari and the nr 27 Racing Box Dodge Viper Competition Coupe in atrocious conditions at the beautiful Mugello circuit.
Rain was forecast for the weekend. A heavy shower took place before qualifying, drying progressively through the session. For the race, however, the rain came down and stayed.
QUALIFYING : COLLINS ON POLE FOR DAMAX ASCARI
The 20-minute qualifying session for the first Mugello round took place in damp conditions, with a heavy shower having drenched the track approximately five minutes before the session started. Disrupted by two red flags, the track was drying throughout, but many drivers found it hard to get the right pace in the difficult conditions.The Vipers dominated the session in the early stages, with first the nr 26 Racing Box and then Anthony Reid, in the nr 29 Pouchelon cars leading the time sheets. After the second red flag, first Jonathan Cocker, in the nr 44 Barwell Motorsport Aston Martin DBRS9 moved up to second. As the chequered flag fell, Ben Collins, in the nr 47 Damax Ascari, set a lap of 2:13.356 to take pole position, 1.426 ahead of Reid. Allan Simonsen was fourth in the nr 34 JMB Racing Ferrari, ahead of Patrick Bornhauser in the nr 10 Dodge Viper Competition Coupe. There were problems for the nr 13 Lamborghini Gallardo which crashed and looks unlikely to start the afternoon's race.
Ben Collins was delighted with his first FIA GT3 pole : "It's my first time here and I absolutely love the circuit, it's a fantastic place. The session was quite frantic; I actually went out on slicks to begin with when it was raining, which wasn't the way to go, with the wheels spinning down the straight. So we came in and really winded up spending the whole time in the pits because each time we went out, it was red flagged, so I didn't actually place a time until the last five minutes. By then, I had the wets on and I just had one clear lap , which was good enough for pole. The car was great, it handles very well in the wet and the dry, so hopefully there's a chance of winning the race."
While qualifying had been damp and drying, the rain came down for the first Mugello FIA GT3 race and continued to fall. Sean Edwards and Phil Keen put in a fine performance in extremely wet conditions to win their second race in a row, following on from round eight in Dijon. Phil Keen started the race from 9th position on the grid, as the slower of the two drivers, and survived the visibility problems in the heavy traffic to climb up to second place by lap 8, gaining on race leader Collins. Edwards took over after the pit stop, claiming the lead from the nr 47 Ascari on lap 17. Despite growing pressure from Andy Thompson, he crossed the line 2.3 seconds ahead of the Ascari to claim a well-deserved win.
Ascari proved it was definitely back in the competition, when Allison and Thompson gave Ascari its first top-three position since Silverstone. As well as finishing second, and setting the fastest lap of the race, their nr 47 sister car of Collins and Zwart led for much of the race, eventually finishing 6th overall
Third place went to Ceccato and Livio, who also came to Mugello as Championship contenders. With ten points for today's win, Edwards now has a one-point lead in the provisional Championship classification, ahead of Ceccato, Livio and Bornhauser, all on 43. Although only one point behind at this stage, the Racing Box duo will start tomorrow's race from the back of the grid after an engine problem, making their chances of a good finish extremely difficult.
Four different makes finished in the top four, as the nr 23 BMS Scuderia Italia Aston Martin DBRS9 was fourth, ahead of the Auto Sport Promotion Porsche of Cattaneo and Morgan Moullin-Traffort, who put in an impressive performance in his stint, climbing up the field. Bornhauser and Makowiecki were eighth in the Racing Logistic Viper. The leading Ferrari was that of Silverstone victors Simonsen and Lester, in ninth, just ahead of the Maserati of Sperati and Palma, and the Reiter Lamborghini Gallardo of Bontempelli and Linossi.
Phil Keen - nr 9 Tech 9 Motorsport Porsche: "The start was really bad; I was behind an Ascari and I just had to back off and find a clear gap, wait for the car's windscreen to clear so I could get going. We managed to catch Ben Collins as he was leading, but I just couldn't get through because of the bad weather."
Sean Edwards - nr 9 Tech 9 Motorsport Porsche: "Obviously Phil did a mega job getting us from P9 to P2 before the pit-stop, which was just amazing. I got out in P3, but the conditions were really undriveable. I caught the leading Ascari before the pit stops, and he seemed to be going quite slowly, then I had Andy Thompson catching me up, not letting the pressure off at all. I had to keep pushing on, the back-markers were just getting in the way, and I had some contact. The car was just aquaplaning down the straight, and I was having a windscreen problem, because it was all fogged up, and I was looking down the straight, trying to wipe the screen. It was unbelievable; I just ended up trying to follow the white lines. It wasn't ideal, but we won. The team did just a mega job, and the car drove perfectly. The circuit is completely different in the wet. If we win, I'm going to love the circuit. We start from pole tomorrow, so there's hope."
Matt Allison-- nr 46 Damax Ascari KZ1R: "I'm very happy, it's my first ever FIA race, and to finish on the podium was great. The start was very tricky, to say the least. But I got up to second place at one point. The Ascari has quite wide rear tyres and aquaplanes quite badly. But I handed it over to my more experienced team-mate quite early on really, and he did a good job."
Andrew Thompson -- nr 46 Damax Ascari KZ1R: "I was pushing hard obviously. Ascari have been pushing hard away from the circuits to try and come here for the last race and to win a race before the end of the season. There's only so far you can push in conditions like we had today. Going down the straight, the car was really unpredictable, going left and right and spinning the wheels. Sean Edwards went very well, and we tried hard to catch them but didn't. We're glad to be on the podium, but we'd also like to win a race, so maybe tomorrow."
Andrea Ceccato -- nr 26 Racing Box Dodge Viper Competition Coupe: "It was a good race for the championship. Yesterday we had a big problem with the engine and crashed. Today we had an electronic problem and only managed to do two laps in the qualifying. It's important for the championship, but tomorrow I will start from the 40th position, and it's very difficult to win the championship from there. Thanks to my team, because they worked hard all night and today on the electrical problem. Thanks to Stefano because it was a fantastic race and I hope that tomorrow we'll do well, but it's going to be very difficult."
Stefano Livio -- nr 26 Racing Box Dodge Viper Competition Coupe: "I want to thank my team, and Andrea. We did have some problems though. If the engine doesn't cause us any problems tomorrow, we have a chance at winning the championship. But sadly I think that tomorrow will be the end for us. This season has been okay, but good seasons are the ones where you win."