Sébastien Loeb (FRA) and Alvaro Parente (PRT) took a convincing win in this morning’s wet qualifying race at Circuito de Navarra, Spain. Taking their McLaren MP4-12C to a third qualifying race victory of the 2013 season, the French team led the race throughout after Parente executed one of his customary electric starts to go from 4th to 1st at the start, laying the foundations for Sébastien Loeb to complete a classy victory.
With the 60-minute race delayed for 10 minutes after a shower descended upon the 3.933kms track, most teams scrambled to change from slick to wet tyres. However, pole man, Stefan Rosina (SVK) in the Lamborghini Blancpain Reiter and 3rd on the grid, Oliver Jarvis (GBR) in the #12 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMs ultra were the only runners to opt for slick Pirelli’s and it soon became evident this was the wrong choice, as they fell back by up to 10 seconds a lap.
Parente soon opened up a convincing gap to the rest of the pack before handing over to Loeb in the pit window. Despite a small drama closing the door of the McLaren, Loeb exited the pit lane and was never headed, sealing his and Parente’s third qualifying race of the season after similar successes at Nogaro and Slovakia Ring.
Claiming second place were Pro Cup title protagonists Edward Sandström (SWE) and Frank Stippler (DEU) in the #13 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMS ultra. Starting on the front row, Sandström drove impeccably in the tricky conditions, spiritedly holding off fellow title rival Laurens Vanthoor (BEL) in the sister Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 LMs ultra just before the pit stops, before the Belgian muscled his way through in an impressive display of close wheel-to-wheel racing between the teammates.
With both Sandström and Vanthoor pitting on the same lap, the Belgian Audi Club Team WRT completed their usual excellent pit work but decided to go for slick tyres on the #11 Audi for Stéphane Ortelli (MCO) to return to the race. Believing that the tack would dry out in the final stages of the 60-minute encounter, Ortelli was sent back out in to the fray but a late race shower put paid to their plan and Ortelli fell back in to the clutches of the wet-shod cars. He eventually took the chequered flag in 7th place overall and 4th in the Pro Cup class, meaning both his and Vanthoor’s title lead is now cut to 16 points.
An excellent 10th overall were ‘Caca’ Bueno (BRA) and Allam Khodair (BRA) who blazed their way through the field after starting the #0 BMW Sports Trophy Team Brazil BMW Z4 from the pit-lane after being forced to fix their ECU just before the start.
If the title race in the PRO cup is getting more interesting then the fight in Pro-Am is reaching fever pitch after this morning’s race. The GRT Grasser Racing team enjoyed perhaps their best race of the season to claim the Pro-Am category win and also place a brilliant 3rd overall. Starting from back in 15th place on the grid the all-Austrian team watched in delight as their Lamborghini, in the hands of Gerhard Tweraser (AUT) was the fastest car overall in the final stages of the race. Tweraser even picked off Ortelli and revelled in the grip of the Pirelli wet tyres to ensure that team mate Hari Proczyk (AUT) is now just 6 points behind Pro-Am drivers points leaders – Sergei Afanasiev (RUS) and Andreas Simonsen (SWE). The HTP Gravity Charouz pair had an equally impressive race, coming from 14th on the grid to finish 2nd to the Grasser Lamborghini, albeit 26 seconds behind.
Completing the Pro-Am podium were the Team Novadriver Audi pair of Cesar Campanico (PRT) and Michael Ammermüller (DEU). Despite some damage to their Audi R8 LMS ultra after early race contact, Campanico brought the car home after a thrilling late battle with Ortelli’s Audi and the #10 McLaren of Andreas Zuber.
Not only claiming a victory in the Gentlemen Trophy class but also displaying a polished performance throughout the difficult conditions this morning was Michele Rugolo (ITA) and Claudio Sdanewitsch (DEU) in the AF Corse. They took a best ever overall result for a Gentlemen Trophy class car with 8th place today. Rugolo ran as high as 4th in the early running, enjoying an exceptional start to mix it with the Pro and Pro-Am class runners.
Alvaro Parente (PRT), Sebastien Loeb Racing – McLaren MP4-12C #9 (Pro)
“I was happy to start from fourth place on the grid because rolling starts are trick. Indeed, sometimes you see the lights well and sometimes you don’t, with all the cars in front of you. But this start went well, and it was a great race from then on. So far, we have been competitive in wet and dry conditions, and we have been having a really good time. Set-up wise the team has done a great job. There was a stressful moment during the pit stop with the door not closing but Sébastien (Loeb) sorted it out quickly. We are looking forward to the Main Race this afternoon.”
Gerhard Tweraser (AUT), GRT Grasser Racing Team – Lamborghini LP560-4 #25 (Pro Am)
“It is actually the first race weekend for me in FIA GT Series. For the race, I must say a big thank to Hari (Proczk) in first because he did a great job at the start and was very fast. I think that the pit stop was also good, even if we can still improve it a little. When I went on the track I realised that I did not hear anything on the radio so I just pushed every lap. I think that the Lamborghini was very good today, thanks to the team. I am really looking forward to the Main Race where we will start in a very good position.”
Michele Rugolo (ITA), AF Corse - Ferrari 458 Italia #50 (Gentlemen Trophy)
“My start was perfect. I had a really good car and I think I pushed really a lot during the first laps. But at the end of my stint, I slowed down a bit because I did not want to disturb too much the cars that were fighting for the championship. Then, I gave the wheel to Claudio (Sdanewitsch) and he did a perfect job, very consistent lap by lap and he was also gaining time compared to the cars in front of him. We lost a bit of time during the tyre change so if it did not happen we might have even finished in a better position!”