The fourth round of the 2004 FIA GT Championship proved to be a breath-taking action-packed race, taking place in bright sunshine around the Hockenheimring. The lead changed hands many times, with first the Konrad and then the Vitaphone Saleen S7 cars dominating the race. When both cars suffered mechanical problems, the Ferrari cars took over the lead. A short safety-car period bunched the cars up during the final stint, and GPC Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari 575 Maranello looked to be on course to take its first-ever win. But a puncture for the nr 11 car propelled the BMS Scuderia Italia and BMS Care Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello cars onto the podium, after a near problem-free race for the 2003 Champions.
A fine battle took place in the N-GT category. The GPC Giesse Ferrari 360 Modena led for much of the race, but a problem in the pits gave Freisinger Motorsport its third consecutive win, crossing the line just ahead of the leading Freisinger Yukos Porsche, with the Ferrari third.
The results are provisional, pending the fuel analysis for cars 1, 27, 62 and 99.
The skies were overcast and grey at the start of the race, giving some worries about possible rain. However, the weather improved drastically, the sun came out and the track remained dry.
ALL-RED PODIUM FOR BMS SCUDERIA ITALIA
BMS Scuderia Italia achieved a clean sweep in Germany today, placing the three cars it runs on the podium, for the first time since Barcelona 2003. However, until the final moments before the chequered flag dropped, such a result appeared unlikely. A race full of ups and downs saw the reliability and consistency of the BMS cars, added to careful fuel strategies, win out, while their rivals fell by the wayside. Second until two laps before the end, the nr 1 Ferrari 550 Maranello of Bobbi and Gardel took the lead when the nr 11 GPC Giesse Ferrari 575 M Maranello, driven by Fabio Babini, suffered a puncture. "We were lucky when Babini had a problem with his tyre and we could win the race. I'm very happy for the team - they did an unbelievable job today, with three cars in the top three positions," Bobbi said. After taking the chequered flag in second place on three occasions this year, the duo therefore finally took their first win of the season, which is also Swiss driver Gabriele Gardel's first win in the Championship.
"For me, this is a dream come true!" Gardel said. Despite starting from the pit-lane, and carrying the maximum weight of 100 kg, the nr 2 Ferrari 550 Maranello of Gollin and Cappellari took second, having made steady progress throughout. Third place went to the Care Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello of Lilian Bryner, Enzo Calderari and Stefano Livio, their best result this season to date.
Gollin and Cappellari have retained the lead of the Championship, three points ahead of Bobbi and Gardel, with the JMB drivers from the nr 17 car still third, despite retiring today, after suffering two punctures. In the Teams Classification, BMS has a 44 point lead over GPC Giesse Squadra Corse, with JMB Racing third.
Creation Autosportif took their best finish of the season, in fourth, with the two GPC Giesse cars fifth and sixth.
THREE IN A ROW FOR MAASSEN AND LUHR; GPC UNLUCKY IN THIRD
The N-GT win today went to Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr, victorious in their home race, with a German-built car and a German team, Freisinger Motorsport. However, this ideal situation looked far from certain for much of the race, as the undoubted star was the nr 62 GPC Giesse. With Fabrizio De Simone overtaking Lucas Luhr early on after a fascinating fight, the car remained firmly in the lead until the second pit-stop, when the Ferrari 360 had a problem starting. The resulting time loss put De Simone and Pescatori down in third, behind the eventual winner, the nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS. A late-race safety car period, to allow tyre rubber to be removed from the track, closed up the field, giving a thrilling last-laps battle between Luhr and Ortelli, lying second in the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Motorsport Porsche. However, due to a broken front splitter, which happened during contact at the start, Luhr kept the advantage, crossing the line just 0.824 seconds ahead of Ortelli, with De Simone 7.7 seconds further adrift.
"Of course it's good for us, it's good for Freisinger, and it's good for Porsche to win here in Germany," Luhr said. "But I honestly feel sorry for the GPC drivers. If they hadn't had the problem, we wouldn't have won the race."
Behind the third-placed Ferrari, Proton Competition was fourth, with AB Motorsport fifth.
In the Championship, Ortelli and Collard lead by two points over Maassen and Luhr; both cars will be carrying the maximum 50 kg for the next round in Brno. In the teams points, Freisinger Yukos has a 13-point lead over Freisinger Motorsport, with GPC Giesse Squadra Corse third.
THE RACE STORY
The start : Lechner Jr and Luhr take the lead
A relatively calm start saw Walter Lechner Jr, in the yellow Konrad Saleen S7, keep the lead at the start, pulling away from the Vitaphone Saleen. Bouchut, in the nr 10 Zwaan's Racing Chrysler Viper, made a good start and was pushing Wendlinger for third. In N-GT, the nr 99 Porsche got the best at the start, leading the nr 62 Ferrari.
De Simone takes the N-GT lead
On lap 11, after a long close battle, Fabrizio De Simone overtook Lucas Luhr to take the N-GT lead. Briefly, the nr 50 also got ahead of the nr 99, but by lap 13, the race order had been established with the Ferrari ahead of the nr 99 Porsche and the nr 50 Porsche.
Driveshaft problems for Konrad puts Vitaphone in the lead
On lap 15, Walter Lechner Jr pulled into the pits, with a driveshaft and gearbox problem in the nr 4 Konrad Saleen, just as he had pulled out the biggest gap so far. Bartels took the lead in the nr 5 Saleen, while Matteo Bobbi was challenging Karl Wendlinger for second place.
First pit stops : Wendlinger out of fuel
At the time of the first pit stops, Karl Wendlinger lost some time after a faulty fuel lamp saw him out of fuel; the nr 17 JMB Ferrari rejoined the race in fourth place. Bartels opted to stay in the car, meaning he came out with a 30 second lead over Gardel in the nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari, with Goodwin a fine third for RML. At this point, however, the fastest man on the track was Tommy Coronel in the nr 14 Lister Storm, down in 11th place but lapping in the 1:39 bracket.
Driver change at Vitaphone; Gardel takes the lead
On lap 51, the nr 5 Saleen finally changed driver to Alzen. The car rejoined in fifth, while the race lead went to the nr 1 BMS Ferrari, Gardel at the wheel. The nr 8 RML Saleen, Goodwin at the wheel, was steady in second, with Peter, in the nr 11 GPC Ferrari, overtaking Wolff in the JMB Ferrari for third.
Alzen fights back
Over the next twenty laps, Alzen was on the move in the nr 5 Saleen, lapping in the 1:38 bracket and overtaking the cars ahead of him. By lap 70, he had caught Gardel and overtook him, pulling away. Two laps later, he had a lead of 10 seconds.
Vitaphone retires; GPC loses time in N-GT
After the other cars made their second stop, Alzen had a lead of nearly 1 minute 26 seconds, with the nr 1 BMS Ferrari second and the nr 11 GPC Ferrari 575 third. However, he pulled into the pits on lap 80, and the car would not restart, retiring with a broken starter motor. This left Matteo Bobbi in the lead, 24 seconds ahead of Fabio Babini in the nr 11 GPC Ferrari, with Robert Lechner in the nr 17 JMB Ferrari third. There were also problems for the N-GT leader, with a longer than scheduled pit stop saw the car take a while to restart, losing the lead of the class.
Lister on fire; punctures for JMB
Between laps 82 and 87, Hockenheim was a very busy place. The nr 14 Lister Storm pulled over, flames licking over the car and Tom Coronel jumping out, after a part of the fuel injector broke and caught fire. Both the nr 18 and nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars had punctures, with rubber debris from the 17 left on the track. The nr 56 Porsche was left stranded in the middle of the circuit at the final corner with broken suspension.
Safety Car sees GPC take lead
The safety car came out between laps 91 and 95, in order for the rubber debris to be cleaned off the track. This closed the field up considerably. At the restart, Babini was right behind Bobbi, with Gollin third, 4.8 seconds behind. Barbosa, in the nr 8 RML Saleen, was fourth. In N-GT, Ortelli was 1.7 seconds behind Luhr. The next lap, Babini took the lead from Bobbi. The nr 8 car pitted with brake problems.
Puncture for GPC; triple for BMS
On the penultimate lap, the nr 11 GPC Ferrari suffered a puncture and pitted, rejoining down the field. The nr 1 BMS car took the lead ahead of the nr 2 and nr 3 Ferrari 550 Maranello, giving BMS a triple win. In N-GT, Luhr kept the lead despite a charging Ortelli, with De Simone coming in third.