THE TWO MASERATI/MICHELINS TAKE CONTROL With a quarter of the 60th 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps already completed, the two Vitaphone Racing Maserati MC12s have taken over at the top of the provisional standings ahead of the ...
THE TWO MASERATI/MICHELINS TAKE CONTROL
With a quarter of the 60th 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps already completed, the two Vitaphone Racing Maserati MC12s have taken over at the top of the provisional standings ahead of the Phoenix Racing Corvette/Michelin. The No.1 car of Bartels/Bertolini/Sarrazin/Van de Poele leads the No.2 sister machine of Ramos/Negrao/Lemenet/Pierguidi by just a handful of seconds. The GT2 category is currently led by the No.77 Ferrari which has passed ahead of No.76 Porsche/Michelin.
The sky has been so cloudy over the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps since the end of the afternoon that it feels as though it's been dark for hours. The track conditions are presently a cocktail of dry, wet and drying portions depending on the showers that continue to fall and which are making tyre choice and strategies particularly difficult.
The No.6 Corvette ( Hezemans/Fassler/Deletraz/Gollin) led for more than four hours from Lap 3 until Lap 116, but the No.5 Corvette/Michelin of Margaritis/MentenSchlunssen/Alzen passed in front early this evening.
Meanwhile, the two Maserati MC12/Michelins run by Vitaphone Racing - which counts two wins at Spa two its name, but which is still chasing after its first success of the 2008 season - started to gradually home in on the Corvettes and the No.1 car passed in front with Stephane Sarrazin at the wheel just before the six -hour mark.
The Vitaphone machine enjoys the slenderest of leads over its stable-mate (less than five seconds), while the battle continues to rage for third place between the No.6 Corvette and the Gigawave Racing Aston Martin/Michelin (Simonsen/Peter/Turner/Thompson). The second Phoenix Racing car briefly led but fell back 10 laps following a spin at Le Raidillon and, more significantly, a small fire.
In the GT2 standings, the Porsche/Michelins seemed to have the edge in the wet, thanks notably to the No.76 car of Narac/Lietz/Long which led from the start and to the No.61 car of Collard/Westbrook/Lieb which has fought its way back to figure amongst the front-runners. However, the Ferrari F430s have now moved on top thanks one less pit stop, with No.77 currently la pping ahead of the No.50 Ferrari/Michelin (Vilander/Bruni/Melo/Salo).
Matthieu Bonardel (Four-wheel Programme Director, Michelin Competition):
Wet or dry?
"Since the start of the race, and despite what the spectators might be thinking because of the wet conditions, all the GT1 cars have been lapping on slicks. We saw a few attempts to switch to rain tyres in the case of the Ferrari in GT2 and the Maserati, but it didn't take them long to realise that it wasn't the ideal solution in the short term. Only the No.1 Maserati succeeded in profiting from this choice to take the lead at the six -hour mark thanks to an offset pit stop strategy."
A versatile soft compound tyre
"Our soft compound tyres have been running very well in the damp conditions. It is important to realise that one of the specific features of Spa is that it drains very well in the wet and Michelin tyres are particularly at home in that case. As far as the GT1 category is concerned, following qualifying, and in the belief that the weather would be quite hot for the early part of the race, certain teams chose to start on medium compound tyres. Others took the risk of starting on a soft compound combined with a shorter opening stint. The latter option turned out to be the most effective option since the track temperature didn't climb any higher than 22o.C and our soft tyres didn't suffer in the slightest. In the GT2 category, a large proportion of the teams chose medium compound tyres."
One or two stints?
"The GT1 teams have been running one-stint strategies on soft compound tyres since the start. More and more rubber is being laid down onto the track, however, and, if the race isn't affected by rain, I think we can expect to start seeing some double stints, again on soft compound tyres. "In the GT2 category, we have seen some double-stinting on medium compound tyres in the case of the AF Corse Ferrari. The Porsches have also started to try double-stints as grip improves.
"On the whole, the teams have had to adapt tyre choices, stint strategies and pressures as they go along. The chillier the temperature and the damper the track, the more the soft compound options, higher pressures and double stinting come into their own."