The Bahrain GT Festival proved to be a great success, with teams, drivers and the enthusiastic spectators, offering two days of close and thrilling GT races with a fine grid of 48 cars. For the first race at the magnificent Bahrain International Circuit since the Formula One race in April, a fine meeting was enjoyed by all.
BRABHAM AND SIMONSEN GIVE COOPERS RACING OVERALL VICTORY
The inaugural GT Festival, which took place at the magnificent Bahrain International Circuit saw two fine days of racing culminate in overall victory for the Coopers Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello of David Brabham and Allan Simonsen. After four closely-fought races, Brabham crossed the line 16 seconds ahead of the Larbre Competition Viper, which had taken second place shortly before the end, the DDO Saleen S7 having dropped down to third due to a broken differential. An early challenge from the Wieth Ferrari 550 Maranello ended when the car suffered an engine problem. During the one-hour final race, the field was closed up twice by safety car periods, allowing the race to close up. "It is great to be here in Bahrain; the circuit and facilities have been outstanding, and the racing has been really good as well." David said.
LONG AND NIELSON WIN GT2
Patrick Long and Lars Nielson finished fifth overall to win GT2 in their Infineon Team Farnbacher Porsche 996 GT3 RSR, having had a successful weekend. The prospect of a fight to the end with the nr 35 JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena of Jean-Philippe Belloc and Sergei Zlobin was cut short when the Modena pulled out after a puncture caused damage to the radiator and bodywork. With the Mosler MT900 also suffering problems, second place was taken by the Vertigo Gillet of Renaud Kuppens and Bas Leinders -- the only driver to have prior experience of the track, due to his position as a Formula One test driver for Minardi. Rob Croydon and Adam Sharpe finished third in the Tech 9 Porsche 996 GT3-RS, a car which missed the early qualifying races but quickly made up time after receiving spare parts.
VICTORY FOR LARBRE COMPETITION IN GT3
In the GT3 class, Larbre Competition was victorious, team owner Jack Leconte having got back behind the wheel for the first time this season, alongside fellow Frenchman and Porsche specialist Roland Berville. Their Porsche 996 GT3 Cup class finished a fine 7th place overall, ahead of Cyrill Helias and Frank Colas in the Pilotage Passion Porsche, with Team Aero's Morgan Aero 8 GT an excellent third for Keith Alhers and Aaron Scott.
STORY OF THE MEETING
The meeting got underway with two one-hour qualifying sessions. The DDO Saleen took provisional pole in the first session, but its time was superseded by that of the Coopers Racing Ferrari in the second, giving him pole position for the first of three 35-minute single-driver qualifying races, each setting the grid for the next race. Patrick Long led the GT2 class, while Christophe Bouchut was fastest in GT3, in the RSG Lamborghini he shared with Philippe Charriol.
The first race took place as the sun was setting; night fell rapidly, and the race was stopped after nine laps. Simonsen pulled away in the Ferrari, followed by an astonishing Patrick Long in the GT2 class Porsche. He was gradually overhauled by the faster GT1 cars, namely the nr 12 Larbre Viper and the nr 1 Saleen, finishing fourth and leading GT2 when the red flag fell. Bouchut won GT3, finishing eighth in his Lamborghini.
The second race, which took place early on Monday morning, was a real thriller. David Brabham started from pole in the Coopers Ferrari -- each driver having to take the start of two races during the meeting -- but he was followed closely by Dominique Dupuy in the DDO Saleen S7. They continued to fight nose to tail throughout the 35-minute race. On the final lap, when Brabham became briefly caught in traffic, Dupuy seized his chance and overtook, taking the chequered flag shortly afterwards. Sergei Zlobin was the GT2 star during the second race, bringing the JMB Racing Ferrari home first, in fifth place, having fought almost throughout the race with Frederic Dedours in the nr 12 Larbre Competition Viper. In GT3, Fabien Giroix, in the First Racing Porsche, came home ahead of Charriol in the Lamborghini he shared with Bouchut. This race also saw the Wieth Ferrari make its debut, Hubert Haupt coming up from the back of the grid to take third, although the car was later relegated to the back of the grid after scrutineering.
Race three looked like seeing a replay of the Brabham / Dupuy dual, but unfortunately a puncture forced the Saleen into the pits, rejoining and recovering to seventh place. Similarly, the Wieth Ferrari, starting from the pit lane and with an overheating engine, made it back up to eighth during the 35 minutes. But this left Brabham with a clear run, and his nr 8 Ferrari won ahead of the nr 12 Larbre Viper and the nr 2 Force One Viper with Antoine Leclerc at the wheel. Belloc put in a fine performance in GT2, closing in on the fast-starting Patrick Long and overhauling him on lap 14. GT3 was won by the Tech 9 Porsche of Phil Keen, in his first-ever GT race, ahead of the Larbre Competition Porsche. The Bouchut/Charriol Lamborghini did not take part, suffering from starter problems, and did not start the final either.
The final saw Simonsen take the lead, first followed by Makowieki, and then by Fiat in the nr 1 Saleen. Kaufmann, in the Ferrari, leapt up to third. Belloc was leading GT2 in fifth place. The Wieth Ferrari returned to the pits on lap three, while Simonsen gradually extended his lead over the nr 1 Saleen to 20 seconds by lap 5, but the safety car, coming out on the next lap, closed up the field. But any hopes of a renewed fight were extinguished when the Dane pulled out a lead of over six seconds on the first lap after the safety car. The pitstops began, while a further safety car period, to allow a Porsche to be recovered from a dangerous place, brought the field up close again. Brabham and Dupuy took over their respective cars for the final stint, and although the gap between the leaders went down to just over two seconds, the Ferrari kept the advantage and took the chequered flag after 26 laps and one hour of racing. The Saleen, with differential problems, dropped back behind the nr 12 Larbre Viper on the final lap. The Stealth B6 finished fourth, with Patrick Long fifth in the leading GT2 car, after a puncture from Zlobin took the JMB Racing Ferrari out of the race. The nr 2 Force One Viper was sixth, ahead of the leading GT3 car of Berville and Leconte. The Vertigo Gillet was eighth overall, claiming a GT2 podium finish. The Pilotage Passion Porsche was ninth, with Croydon and Sharpe rounding off the top ten in their Tech 9 GT2 Porsche.
<pre> Winners of the Final
GT1 : 8 David Brabham Allan Simonsen Coopers Racing Ferrari) 12 Frederic Makowiecki Larbre Competition Viper) 1 Dominique Dupuy Francois Fiat DDO Saleen S7
GT2 : 34 Patrick Long Lars Nielsen Team Farnbacher Porsche 996 GT3 47 Renaud Kuppens Bas Leinders Gillet Vertigo 44 Rob Croydon Adam Sharpe Tech 9 Porsche 996 GT3
GT3 : 62 Leconte Berville Larbre Competition Porsche GT3 Cup 66 Frank Colas Cyril Helias Passion Pilotage Porsche GT3 Cup 71 Keith Alhers Aaron Scott Team Aero Morgan Aero 8 Cup