33,000 fans (41,000 over the weekend) watched an eventful seventh round of the FIA GT Championship at the Motorsport Arena Oschersleben, enjoying the warm sunshine. The victory went to the nr 10 Vitaphone Maserati MC12 of Fabio Babini and Thomas Biagi, their first race win of the season; they finished 20 seconds clear of Championship leaders Andrea Bertolini and Karl Wendlinger, in the nr 15 JMB Maserati MC12, who snatched the place with less than two laps remaining. They pushed the nr 6 GLPK Corvette of Mike Hezemans, Bert Longin and Anthony Kumpen down to third.
The GruppeM Porsche squad secured the Teams' Championship with yet another 1-2, the nr 88 car of Emmanuel Collard and Tim Sugden winning a close-fought battle with the sister nr 88 car of Championship leaders Marc Lieb and Mike Rockenfeller. Third was the nr 69 Proton Porsche 996 of father and son Gerold and Christian Ried.
Results are pending the fuel analysis of cars 9, 10, 6, 15, 88, 69 and 101.
VICTORY FOR VITAPHONE
Claiming their first outright victory of the year, Fabio Babini and Thomas Biagi clearly had the fastest car on the track in the early running; but they were overtaken at the first corner by Mike Hezemans, in the nr 6 GLPK Corvette. When Hezemans got past the nr 9 Vitaphone Maserati MC12 of Michael Bartels and Timo Scheider, Babini was forced to hold position before finally finding a way past after 17 laps. He quickly caught Hezemans and when the Corvette driver made a small mistake he pounced to take the lead on lap 40 - but then had to pit on the next lap. Biagi fell back to third after all the stops had been made, which became second after the GLPK car was slowed by tyre wear. In the final stops the nr 9 car hit electrical problems which proved terminal, leaving Babini to complete the final stint with a healthy lead. This result lifts the two drivers to equal fourth in the Championship, level on points with their Vitaphone team-mates. "This result was important for Thomas and myself after not finishing at Spa," said Babini. "The car was really good for the whole race - it was easy to put in fast laps and overtake other cars." Thomas Biagi was equally happy. "I have to say that this is a lucky place for me - I won here back in 2003," he said.
FROM EIGHTH TO SECOND FOR JMB RACING !
Problems in qualifying, plus 100kg ballast, left the nr 15 JMB Racing Maserati MC 12 down in eighth on the grid - a major handicap on such a tight, narrow circuit. But Andrea Bertolini and Karl Wendlinger fought back with the help of good strategy to claim a place on the podium, Wendlinger ensuring it was second when he got past the GLPK Corvette on the penultimate lap. "I was trapped in traffic in the first stint," Karl explained, "so the team called me in early, to get some clear track." Bertolini was delighted with second place. "It's a fantastic result, especially since we were carrying the maximum penalty weight of 100kg - it almost feels like a victory," he said.
FOUR PLACES - FOUR DIFFERENT CARS
In the first 45 minutes of the 3-hour race, it seemed that the GLPK Corvette might be able to stay ahead of the Maserati challenge, but it was not to be. Mike Hezemans said that tyre choice was to blame for the GLPK Corvette losing places at the end of each stint. "We've been struggling for grip, so we put on the softest tyres we could," he said. "They worked really well at the beginning of each stint, but went off at the end."
Fourth went to the nr 5 Konrad Saleen S7 R of Robert Lechner and Jean-Marc Gounon, a result which pleased Gounon on his return to the series after a two-year break. "I really wanted to help Franz Konrad for asking me to race for him, and to show that the Saleen still has good potential," he said. "The car was well-balanced, and the lap times were good right to the end."
By finishing in eighth place, the nr 13 Reiter Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT pair of Norman Simon and Peter Kox claimed the first ever point for the Italian manufacturer. "The car is really good on the tyres; it was important to finish, and to show that the car can be competitive," Kox said.
GT1 TEAMS CLASSIFICATION CLOSES UP
After the seventh round of the Championship, Vitaphone Racing Team is still in the lead of the GT1 Teams Championship, with a margin of 13 points over JMB Racing - two points less than before the race. Larbre Competition fell back to 28 points behind the leaders.
COLLARD AND SUGDEN WIN THE GT2 RACE
Emmanuel Collard and Tim Sugden took victory over Marc Lieb and Mike Rockenfeller. In the nr 88 GruppeM Porsche 996, they led the first stint but relinquished the lead due to a poor pit-stop; Collard then passed Lieb with a forceful move - one that Lieb felt may have been a little too forceful. The 75kg ballast carried by Lieb and Rockenfeller in the nr 66 car left them unable to hit back. "Our first stop wasn't good, and I came out right behind Marc [Lieb]," explained Collard. "It's really difficult to overtake on this track, and we had a small contact. But after that I could pull away, and got a 20s gap."
Lieb saw it a little differently. "Emmanuel gave me a little push into Turn 2 and the car started to slide; I thought I could catch it," he said. "But he still had the power down and pushed me out of the corner." Third went to the nr 69 Proton Porsche team of Christian and Gerold Ried, a fine result after being forced to change the gearbox after the morning warm-up.
Right from the start, the nr 6 GLPK Corvette gave notice of their intentions, Mike Hezemans diving down the inside of the nr 10 Vitaphone Maserati MC12 in the first corner to take second place. Three laps later he repeated the move on the nr 9 Vitaphone Maserati to take the lead. He was able to extend a small lead, but not get clear. Babini, in the nr 10 Maserati, always looked quicker and was trying to find an opening past the nr 9 car, but it took until lap 17 before he got past. He then closed on the Corvette, and when Hezemans ran wide on lap 39 he was through for the lead - just a lap before he pitted to hand over to Biagi. Two laps later Hezemans handed over to Longin, and on lap 44 Bartels finally pitted the nr 9 car from the lead, with Scheider taking over. They dropped back to second behind the Corvette, but on lap 50 a GT2 Porsche spun and collided with Longin, at the wheel of the GLPK Corvette, causing damage to the left front of the car. From then on he was forced to drive defensively, but a small error on lap 58 let Scheider through into the lead; nine laps later Biagi took advantage of slower traffic to also go past.
The final stops proved decisive; an electrical problem prevented the nr 9 car starting, and despite the team's best efforts the problem could not be fixed and the car was out of the race. That left the nr 10 car with a healthy lead, and they had a trouble-free run from there to the finish. It appeared that the Corvette was equally secure in second, but soft tyres going off towards the end of the race left Kumpen unable to respond when Karl Wendlinger, in the nr 15 JMB Maserati MC12 he shares with Andrea Bertolini, challenged him in the closing laps and went past with only 2 laps of the race remaining.
Fourth, after a solid run, was the nr 5 Konrad Saleen of Lechner and Gounon ahead of the second JMB Maserati, the nr 16 of Peter, van de Zwaan and Zani. Deletraz and Piccini finished sixth in the nr 2 GPC Ferrari 575 Maranello, with seventh going to the nr 11 Larbre Ferrari 550 Maranello of Lamy and Gardel. The final points position went to the nr 13 Reiter Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT of Kox and Simon, the first FIA GT points ever won by the Italian marque.
GRUPPE M CLAIM THE TITLE
British team GruppeM now has an unassailable 86-point lead in the GT2 Teams' Championship, ensuring they win the title with four rounds still remaining. "We're very pleased to have secured the Teams' Championship," said Tim Sugden. "It's been a good effort from everyone through the whole year."
MOSLER HAS FAULTLESS FINAL RACE
The nr 101 Balfe Mosler MT900R of Shaun Balfe and Jamie Derbyshire, the sole competitor in the G2 class at Oschersleben, put in a faultless performance to come home behind the two GruppeM cars. "We've really enjoyed the season, and we're trying to put together a programme to compete in all the rounds next year," explained Balfe.