Dubai: Race report

The new Dubai Autodrome hosted a tremendous round of the FIA GT Championship this week, with a breath-taking race around the 5.39 km circuit. In extreme temperatures, the cars and drivers gave the spectators a fascinating display of GT driving,...

The new Dubai Autodrome hosted a tremendous round of the FIA GT Championship this week, with a breath-taking race around the 5.39 km circuit. In extreme temperatures, the cars and drivers gave the spectators a fascinating display of GT driving, in a race that finished after nightfall. Gabriele Gardel put in the drive of his life in the nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello he shares with Matteo Bobbi, catching and battling with the Maserati MC 12 of Herbert and De Simone towards the end of the three-hour race. Another close N-GT race saw Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr take their third consecutive victory, despite having 75 kg penalty weight. The N-GT Drivers' title battle between them and second-placed Stephane Ortelli and Emmanuel Collard will therefore continue to Zhuhai.

FIRST FIA GT RACE IN THE DESERT

With the start being given by His Highness Sheikh Hamdam bin Mohamed bim Rashid Al Maktoum, President of the Dubai Autodrome, the first round of the FIA GT Championship to take place in the United Arab Emirates, and the first round outside Europe since 1999, could not have got off to a better start. A successful debut was crowned by a thrilling race, with all the best aspects of GT racing, including an unscheduled finish after dark, due to a red flag in the FIA European Touring Car Championship earlier in the afternoon. The weather was extremely hot, making this three-hour race a real test for drivers and machines alike. The drivers seemed very happy with the event. Thomas Biagi, third across the line with the Car Racing Ferrari, echoed many of them when he said : "I also have to congratulate the Dubai track, the organization and Stéphane Ratel, because they put a lot of effort in and everything was just perfect in this first race here!"

VICTORY FOR BOBBI AND GARDEL

Fast all weekend, the nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello, which has suffered plenty of bad luck through the season and lost out on the title to their team-mates Gollin and Cappellari last race, put in a spectacular performance to win the inaugural FIA GT race at the Dubai Autodrome. On differing strategies, Gardel came out for the final stint 34 seconds behind the nr 34 Maserati, and proceeded to catch up with the car five laps before the end. The two cars then battled nose to tail for a couple of laps, with Gardel taking the lead when the Maserati made a last-minute splash and dash.

"I have to thank everybody who made this victory possible," Gardel. "It was a fantastic race. To win the first race here in Dubai is really a dream! The fight with the Maserati at the end was really nice, very clean. I tried to do my best, but he did a good job to protect his position. In the end, it all worked out. I don't really know what else to say. It's fantastic!"

Gardel and his team-mate, Matteo Bobbi finished ahead of the Maserati, with the Care Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello crossing the line third, driven by Thomas Biagi, Lilian Bryner and Enzo Calderari, and the Vitaphone Saleen, which recovered from a difficult weekend, two fires and a back-of-the-grid start in order to finish third on the GT podium. This result guaranteed the second place in the GT Drivers Championship to 2003 Champion Matteo Bobbi and his team-mate Gardel, behind their team-mates Gollin and Cappellari, who finished 5th today, despite carrying a hefty 150 kg penalty weight. The Scuderia Veregra Chrysler Viper, driven by His Highness Sheikh Maktoum, Narain Karthikeyan and Anthony Beltoise, finished tenth in GT.

Taking the points for fifth in GT was the nr 11 GPC Ferrari of Morbidelli and Babini, with Erdos and Newton sixth in the points, and the Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen finally breaking its duck and taking two points for seventh for Paolo Ruberti, Gabriele Lancieri and Rocky Agusta, while JMB Racing's Ferrari 575 M Maranello of Daoudi, Kutemann and Garbagnati claimed the final point for eighth in GT.

In the Teams Classification, although BMS Scuderia Italia has secured the title, the fight for second place goes on between GPC Giesse and JMB Racing, while in the Drivers, third place behind the two BMS duos could go to any of seven drivers.

THREE IN A ROW FOR MAASSEN AND LUHR

The N-GT title fight will carry on until the last round in Zhuhai. Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr, driving the nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS, finished ahead of their sister car, the nr 50 Freisinger Porsche of Stephane Ortelli and Emmanuel Collard. They have therefore closed the gap between the two to just 4.5 points, with ten available in the final round in Zhuhai. "The heat was really bad! Lucas was coming in early and was totally shattered, and I had to end my stint earlier than planned as well because I wasn't feeling all that good as well--" Sascha said . "Lucas did a fantastic job, though. He wanted to have the main part of the work here in Dubai, both in qualifying and during the race, and I'm really thankful for that! For the Championship, things don't look so good. So far, both Porsches have finished all the races and never had a technical problem, and I don't expect that to change during the final race." The nr 62 GPC Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari 360 Modena of Christian Pescatori and Jaime Melo came in third, having led mid-race after making two very long stints, but the car could not keep the advantage during their final stint and the Italo-Brazilian duo had to settle for third.

An excellent fourth place went to the Gruppe M Europe Porsche of Marc Lieb and Tim Sugden, despite missing all of practice when their car failed to arrive after victory in Brands Hatch last weekend. The second GPC Giesse Squadra Corse car was fifth, for Drudi, Lambertini and Vosse. Vasiliev and Fomenko were sixth in the second Freisinger Yukos Motorsport car, with the two Proton Competition cars claiming the final points and keeping the German team in contention for the third place overall in the N-GT Teams Classification.

SECOND PLACE FINISH FOR MASERATI

With both cars qualifying in the top three, and running well in the early stages, it had looked as if today might belong to the AF Corse Maserati cars. Making their first pit stop well after most other cars, they led towards the end of the first hour. However, the nr 33 car of Salo and Bertolini pulled to the side of the track on lap 42 out of 88, with engine failure. The team explained that the engine had not been changed since the Imola round, due to testing the endurance of the car. The second car carried on, leading during the final hour and finally finishing second behind the nr 1 BMS Scuderia Ferrari. "The race was okay. Fabrizio started and settled down into a nice pace. By the time I took my turn in the car, we had a nice lead over the Ferrari. But our strategy didn't work out. We didn't expect the darkness to fall so quickly, and that messed up our final pit stop," Johnny Herbert said.

THE RACE STORY

The Start
Bobbi kept the lead at the start, ahead of the two Maserati cars and the Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen, which took fourth from the nr 11 GPC Ferrari. The nr 99 Freisinger Porsche took the N-GT lead ahead of the pole-sitting nr 62 Ferrari

BMS and AF Corse pull away
The nr 1 and nr 34 cars pulled away from the rest. The Vitaphone Saleen climbed up from the back of the grid, 13th by lap 10. The new circuit saw some close fighting between the GT cars, while the nr 50 Freisinger Porsche overtook the nr 62 for second in N-GT

First pit stops
The heat saw a number of differing strategies, with some cars aiming for 45 minute stops, while others tried for longer times. As the cars stopped, the Maserati cars led, until the nr 34 pitted on lap 28, when Thomas Biagi took the lead in the nr 3 car. When he finally pitted, the nr 1 retook the lead, Gardel at the wheel. The N-GT cars began to rise up the grid.

Mid race battles; Maserati 33 retires
During the middle hour, a fine fight between Alzen in the Saleen and Bryner in the Ferrari continued until lap 42 when the Saleen pitted. The nr 33 Maserati retired with engine failure on lap 42; the nr 1 BMS pitted on lap 44, putting the nr 34 Maserati in the lead. The nr 50 Porsche continued to lead N-GT

Melo leads N-GT; Bobbi in the lead in GT
Jaime Melo took the lead of N-GT on lap 66, running a very long stint despite the temperatures. A further round of stops put the nr 1 BMS car back in the lead. Bobbi pitted on lap 72, giving the lead back to the Maserati.

Final run for the flag, after dark
After its final stop, the nr 1 came out with Gardel at the wheel, 32 second behind the nr 34 Maserati with 27 minutes to go in the race. He made up the time, lapping consistently faster than the nr 34 and catching up with the blue car on lap 83, after dark. The two cars fought for a couple of laps, until the Maserati pitted for a final stop. The nr 1 crossed the line to win the second race of the season.

The nr 62 finally pitted on lap 75, and rejoined in third place, giving the win to the nr 99 Porsche ahead of the nr 50 car.

-fia-

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Johnny Herbert , Narain Karthikeyan , Christian Pescatori , Emmanuel Collard , Stéphane Ortelli , Sascha Maassen , Lucas Luhr , Matteo Bobbi , Gabriele Lancieri , Jaime Melo , Stéphane Ratel , Marc Lieb , Tim Sugden , Thomas Biagi , Gabriele Gardel , Enzo Calderari , Lilian Bryner , Paolo Ruberti , Sheikh Maktoum , Anthony Beltoise
Teams AF Corse , Proton Competition