QUAIFE DENIED PODIUM DESPITE IMPRESSIVE ZHUHAI DRIVE
Phil Quaife's bid to end his 2010 season with a podium at the Zhuhai 1000kms ended in frustration when, despite a fine performance from the Kent-based driver and his co-pilots Andrew Kirkaldy and Pierre Ehret, a starter motor issue in the final hour cost their CRS Racing Ferrari 430 a top-three finish in the competitive GT2 category.
The event in China marked the final round of the inaugural Intercontinental Le Mans Cup (ILMC) and drew a strong field to the 2.684 mile circuit in the Guangdong Province in the south of the country.
Quaife, Kirkaldy and Ehret immediately stole a march on their rivals when CRS Racing was one of just seven squads to use Thursday's optional test session to familiarise themselves with the track. In dry conditions, the same as predicted for race day, they were able to work on race set-up, an advantage lost by teams who chose not to attend as rain fell for Friday and Saturday practice.
Having placed highly in each session, the team reached qualifying in confident mood on a damp but drying track. Kirkaldy was one of the first to bolt on dry tyres and immediately topped the timesheets, although he was eventually shuffled down to fourth as conditions improved later in the session handing the advantage to those on fresher rubber.
On Sunday, Kirkaldy took the start and immediately stormed into the lead on the first lap. Throughout his stint, the Scottish-born driver fought hard with the Team Schnitzer BMW M3 and after handing over to Quaife, the 24-year-old continued the battle with the experienced Jorg Muller, holding second place for the duration of his time in the car.
A solid stint from Ehret followed, as the German kept the CRS Ferrari in contention before handing the wheel back to Quaife with the car in fifth place in the GT2 category.
What followed was perhaps Quaife's best stint of the entire season as he quickly climbed to third and held a consistent advantage back to ex-F1 driver and Le Mans 24 Hours winner Gianmaria Bruni, who was chasing behind in the similar AF Corse Ferrari.
Kirkaldy then took over for his final stint of the race and, with an hour to go, a podium finish looked secure barring any problems during a late splash-and-dash pit stop. Unfortunately, while the team were flawless in readying the car to return to the track, the 430 wouldn't re-start in pit lane and had to be pushed by the mechanics, something prohibited by ILMC regulations.
A stop/go penalty was therefore applied, but when Kirkaldy came in, the car again failed to re-start leaving the team with no other option than to change the starter motor and costing them all hope of a podium. Quaife re-joined towards the end of the race to finish fifth at the chequered flag.
Phil Quaife: "I'm so disappointed for the team because we deserved a podium today. The guys have done a great job all weekend and I was also really pleased with the way I drove, particularly during that second stint. We were comfortably third with an hour to go and everything looked good until the starter motor problem - but that's racing I'm afraid.
"While perhaps we haven't got the results our pace merited in 2010 I've loved every minute competing in the LMS and ILMC with CRS Racing. I'm already working on 2011, but depending on the team's plans for next year I'd very much like to stay with them."