Stephen Errity, GT correspondent
Matt Halliday and Mike Parisy made up for their race-one grid penalty by winning the second GT1 World Championship race of the weekend at Zolder. Starting from third on the grid, both #9 Exim Bank Team China Porsche 911 drivers put in a masterful performance in yet another rain-affected race where tyre choice was crucial.
There was no clear consensus over which tyres to start the race on, but a brief heavy shower in the early laps soon saw those on wets come to the front. Miraculously, there was no contact through turn one on lap one, and despite starting on slick tyres, Thomas Jaeger in the #37 All-Inkl Mercedes SLS was able to snatch the lead from wets-shod polesitter, and race-one winner, Michael Bartels in the #18 Vita4One BMW Z4. Even though he was on the correct tyres for the conditions, Bartels continued to lose places in the Z4, eventually dropping to fifth behind an on-the-move Fred Makowiecki in the #1 Hexis McLaren.
As the rain intensified, Belgian Maxime Martin, starting the unfancied #7 Valmon Racing Aston Martin from seventh on the grid with wet tyres, was able to work his way up to the lead past Jaeger, who was starting to struggle on his slicks. Third-place starter Halliday was close behind – and also on wets. His initial attempt to pass for second backfired, leading to several more laps of furious racing, with some light contact, allowing Makowiecki to gain some ground on them.
When the pit window opened, the track had dried considerably, and once again Exim Bank Team China were on the ball with tyre strategy, putting slicks on the car when Parisy took over. Jaeger handed over to Nicky Pastorelli, but the All-Inkl team were trumped in the pitlane by Hexis Racing, who managed to get Stef Dusseldorp out in front of him in the #1 McLaren that had been started by Makowiecki.
Pastorelli and Parisy had taken over their respective cars from Jaeger and Halliday, but the battle between the Mercedes and Porsche resumed just as intense as before. Parisy had a key advantage though: the Exim car had stopped several laps earlier than the All-Inkl Mercedes, and so had much more heat in its tyres. This was dramatically illustrated when Parisy rocketed past both Pastorelli and Alvaro Parente in the #2 McLaren in one go on the pit straight. It wasn't long before he also passed the #7 Aston Martin for the lead – the equalizing effect of a wet track having faded and Maxime Martin's less experienced team-mate Alexei Vasiliev struggling to stay on the pace.
Rain fell again briefly on some corners during the second half of the race – but not long or hard enough to require a change back to wets for any drivers. It was enough to catch Pastorelli out through turn one, though, dropping him behind Filip Salaquarda in the #3 AF Corse Ferrari 458. That car had been started by Toni Vilander on slick tyres, and the Finn said afterwards he had to call on his rallying experience to keep it on the road in the early laps. On slick tyres after the stops, Salaquarda had briefly held the lead, but faced the same problem Pastorelli had: cold slick tyres on a cold and damp track. He soon lost out to both Parisy's Porsche and Yelmer Buurman in the Vita4One BMW started by Bartels, but would hold on to claim the final podium position for Ferrari.
The fight between Parisy and Buurman would define the closing laps of the race, though it was spoiled somewhat by the intervention of backmarkers Peter Kox (a lap down after his Lamborghini started on the wrong tyres) and Buurman's team-mate Mathias Lauda in the #17 Vita4One BMW. Neither Kox nor Lauda got out of Buurman's way as quickly as they should have, giving leader Parisy some breathing room in the lead and putting the victory beyond doubt.
Behind the top three, Pastorelli recovered to fourth after his spin, even managing to regain the position lost to Stef Dusseldorp's McLaren in the pits. Nogaro double winners WRT Audi had a poor race: both cars took the wrong tyres at the start, then Stephane Ortelli tapped team-mate Oliver Jarvis into a spin during the second half of the race, but kept going to finish sixth ahead of the Demoustier/Parente McLaren.
After the race, Parisy paid tribute to his team (the Exim Bank cars are run by Belgian endurance racing specialists Muhlner Motorsport), saying: “It's been an amazing weekend for such a new team – the deal to run this car only came through at the very last minute before Nogaro. Today is one of the best days of my life.” His Kiwi team-mate Halliday was equally effusive. “We had to stay as calm as possible in very difficult conditions. We got the maximum from the car and made the right decisions all weekend.”
The result moves Halliday and Parisy up to second in the GT1 drivers' standings, although Ortelli and Vanthoor retain the overall lead thanks to their sixth-place finish in today's championship race.