FIA GT Championship 26 - 28 June 1998 Hockenheim Round Sunday 28 June 1998 - Race
Overnight rain left the track damp for the morning warm-up, but by the end of the 30-minute session, the sun had dried it off, leaving the many spectators with a bright, warm day.
The damp conditions at the start of the session saw the Porsches, with Alzen and McNish, head the times. The Bitter was out on the track once more, as was the newly-repaired #11 Persson Motorsport Mercedes CLK-GTR. As the sun dried the track, times tumbled, with at one point the DAMS Panoz and Davidoff McLaren leading the field. At the end of the session pole-setter Schneider put in a lap of 2:00.511 - two and a half seconds faster than anyone else.
Three out of three
At Hockenheim, AMG Mercedes got the race they would have liked at Le Mans. The two new editions CLK-GTR silver cars started from the front row and raced in formation throughout the 74 laps, taking the chequered flag just over two and a half hours later. Schneider and Webber, winning the race with a lead of over a minute, were never in danger of being challenged. "The car was really fantastic. The team knows the circuit very, very well, and knows all the secrets." Ludwig, comfortably second in spite of a ten second pit-lane speeding penalty for Zonta, was pragmatic about finishing second. "We were on different strategies. He was racing, I was cruising!"
The Battle for Third
With AMG Mercedes cruising towards their third victory of the season, the real battle was going on for third place. For the first half of the race, Mercedes cars looked certain to take the first four places, with the two V12 engined Persson cars in third and fourth place. However, Christophe Bouchut, driving the #11 Mercedes CLK-GTR, could not restart the car after a routine pit stop. With the starting engine blown, the car was push-started - against the regulations. "I knew it was wrong, but I was in the car - I couldn't just get out," Bouchut said. Black flagged, the car was then out of the running, finishing 19 laps down. Tiemann and Gounon, in the #12 seemed certain to step up to the third podium spot, but a fuel-pressure warning meant extra pit stops. Coming out from a final splash and dash pit stop, Eric Bernard, driving the Panoz, took the advantage at the chicane, and came through to take third.
Panoz, the Heros
DAMS have made steady progress at a circuit where they did not expect to do particularly well, and went away with third place, after a last-minute battle between Eric Bernard and his old team-mate Jean-Marc Gounon in the Persson Mercedes. "It is very narrow in the chicane, and I touched him. But it was not a big push. I have a lot of confidence in Jean-Marc, and he has a lot of confidence in me." The Panoz kept their third place ahead of Persson. "I am really happy, especially for Don Panoz, because it's very important for him to have some good results in Europe," Bernard said. "This is a very happy result for all the DAMS team and all Panoz Motorsport." I am a little surprised about the result. I wasn't sure. Places like Silverstone suit the car a lot. But right from the beginning of practise we showed we were in the top 4/5 all weekend, so I don't think it was a real fluke result. Everything went well, and third place is a fantastic result."
Roles were reversed at Hockenheim, where the Porsche 911 GT1 cars, almost faultless at Le Mans, hit a series of problems at the high-speed circuit. Everything started on lap 13, when the #8 made an extra pit stop, due to vibrations and flat spots on the tyres. This put their schedule out, but they continued to race strongly, lying fourth towards the end of the race, and battling fiercely with the #12 Persson for third. However, at the exit of the chicane, while at maximum boost, Uwe Alzen left the track violently, hitting the barrier and catching fire in a spectacular fashion. "I am fine. But without the accident, we could have been third for sure." The second factory-entered Porsche, driven by Yannick Dalmas and Allan McNish, finished sixth after losing a lot of time early on. "About three-quarters of the way through the first stint, Yannick got caught with a GT2 , which caused him to spin. We lost two laps while the car got taken out of the gravel," Allan McNish said afterwards. "This made all the difference, because we were out of sync on the pit stops, so we came back from ninth to finish sixth. On the positive side, the lap times were quite competitive, and it's our first point." The Zakspeed cars also had problems, with Sandy Grau's car going up in flames while he was in fifth place. Bartels and Hahne, in the #6, twice had a flat tyre, eventually finishing just out of the points in seventh.
McLaren in the Points Again
It was the second finish in the points for the Davidoff McLaren driven by Thomas Bsher and Geoff Lees, who were fifth at the chequered flag - in spite of a 10 second penalty for an incident with the Seikel Motorsport Porsche 911 GT2. "I'm normally quite careful with back-markers. I have to say this is the first stop and go penalty I've had, and I've been racing for 27 years," Geoff Lees said afterwards. "The car was fine - we had a little trouble with the tyres and had to run a bit gentle." Finishing sixth at Silverstone, how far does Lees think the car could go ? "About fifth. That's about it."
GT2 : Vipers reign supreme
Olivier Beretta and Pedro Lamy took their third consecutive GT2 victory for Viper Team Oreca today, followed by their team-mates Wendlinger and Donohue in the #52 Viper. Oreca now lead the GT2 Teams Championship by a massive 34 points ahead of Elf Haberthur. "You reap what you sow," Beretta said afterwards. "We have worked very hard for this. But we had no problems at all today." The Vipers led throughout, as their main challenger during qualifying, the Marcos LM600, dropped out of contention with first a spin into the gravel, followed by overheating problems. After being hit by an assortment of problems during the first two races, the Roock Racing Porsche 911 GT2 cars finished well today, in third and fourth places, taking their first points of the year. "We put in a lot of work to be competitive here," Sascha Maassen said. The race was not without incident, however, as the third placed #57 car had an almost continuous oil temperature warning, and the #56 car, driven by Ortelli and H|rtgen, lost time due to a puncture. "We were an easy third before the puncture," a disappointed Ortelli said. "Next time"
Elf Haberthur : Second Overall
With a fine fifth place in GT2, Elf Haberthur Racing have overtaken Konrad Motorsport for the second place in their category. "We can't do anything against the Vipers or the Roock cars," Michel Neugarten said afterwards. "So fifth is the best we can hope for. We drove a safe, careful race. Our only problem is with the tyres - with hard ones, we slide too much, and the softer ones wear out too quickly. But this is the best we can do - even if you put Michael Schumacher in the car, he couldn't do better !"
"We finished !" Rob Schirle, after a trouble free race for the Ford Saleen Mustang.