Spa 24: Michelin race report

A ONE-TWO FOR MASERATI/MICHELIN AT SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS Vitaphone Racing collected its third 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps success in four years today. The unsettled, overcast weather didn't stop the German outfit's two Michelin-equipped ...

A ONE-TWO FOR MASERATI/MICHELIN AT SPA-FRANCORCHAMPS

Vitaphone Racing collected its third 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps success in four years today. The unsettled, overcast weather didn't stop the German outfit's two Michelin-equipped Maserati MC12s from claiming first and second places. The No.1 car of Bartels/Bertolini/Sarrazin/Van de Poele completed 577 laps (4,041km) to finish ahead of its sister car (No.2) shared by Ramos/Negrao/Lemenet/Pierguidi. The No.10 Aston Martin/Michelin of Simonsen/Peter/Turner/Thompson finished third to deprive the Italian carmaker of a one-two-three since the No.15 JMB Racing Maserati/Michelin finis hed just off the podium. All the Corvette/Michelins retired.

The GT2 category was won by the No.77 Ferrari of Ruberti/Malucelli/Camathias/Rigon, although the Porsche/Michelin brigade was in good form at the beginning of the race. The No.61 Porsche/Michelin (Collard/Westbrook/Lieb) actually led shortly before midnight but was forced to settle for second place.

Vitaphone Racing, which provisionally tops both the 2008 Teams and Drivers' standings, was chasing after its first win of the year after being beaten in turn by the Aston Martins and Corvette C6.Rs in the season's four previous races. It was finally at the legendary Belgian venue, host of the FIA GT Championship's annual 24-hour fixture, that the German squad finally succeeded in returning to its winning ways as its fast, reliable, black and green cars secured the top two places at the chequered flag.

The 60th 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps began in dramatic fashion even before Saturday afternoon's start when the pole-winning Saleen/Michelin of Vosse/Franchi/Lamy/Zacchia crashed during the morning's warm - up session and could not be repaired in time for the race.

Another favourite, the No.3 SRT Corvette/Michelin (Bouchut/Maassen/Soulet/Pillon) completed the opening lap in front but repeated brake problems prompted the Belgian team to throw in the towel early on.

The Phoenix Racing Corvette/Michelins dominated during the first few hours with the No.6 (Hezemans/Fassler/Deletraz/Gollin) and No.5 (Margaritis/MentenSchlunssen/Alzen) cars taking turns to lead as darkness moved in over the Ardennes, despite the difficult cocktail of damp and dry portions depending on where the successive showers chose to fall. The race then turned into something of a nightmare for the German team, since it went on to lose its No.5 c ar first of all (fire), with the No.6 car following suit (same reason) shortly before midday today.

In contrast, the Vitaphone Racing Maserati MC12s enjoyed a strong run. The two Italian machines took control at around the six-hour mark before trading places for much of the night. A particularly strong stint at sunrise from Stephane Sarrazin, who qualified the Peugeot 908/Michelin on pole position at Le Mans in 2007 and 2008, gave the No.1 car a decisive edge. The final part of the race enabled the two leadi ng Maseratis to profit from their reliability and clockwork consistency to cruise home to a resounding one-two result. Vitaphone Racing also picked up a big points haul this weekend since its two cars were in front at the three moments when championship points were awarded (after six hours, at mid-distance and at the end).

Maserati's domination of the GT1 category could even have been rewarded with a one -two-three finish as the JMB Racing challenged for third spot. However, the No.10 Gigawave Racing Aston M artin/Michelin - which trailed the leading duo at a respectable distance - was able to hold on to the third spot it inherited during the night. The No.33 Aston Martin/Michelin of (Wendlinger/Sharp/Muller/Lichtner -Hoyer) succeeded in matching the pace of the early pace-setters before going off, while the Lamborghini Murcielago lost time because of gearbox trouble.

The GT2 category was won by the No.77 Ferrari of Ruberti/Malucelli/Camathias/Rigon, although the Porsche/Michelin brigade was in good form at the beginning of the race. The No.61 Porsche/Michelin (Collard/Westbrook/Lieb) actually led shortly before midnight but was forced to settle for second place. The AF Corse Ferrari/Michelin (No.50), which has already claimed three victories this season, had to sta rt from the back of the grid following an engine change, yet it managed to fight its way onto the GT2 podium at the finish. The team's other car (No.51) crashed out during the night, however. The No.76 Porsche/Michelin, which had emerged in front early on, lost a full hour following a gearbox change.

The next round of the FIA GT Championship will take teams to Romania in three weeks' time, with drivers trading the legendary sweeping corners of Spa-Francorchamps for the narrow streets of Bucharest

MICHELIN'S VIEW

Matthieu Bonardel (Four-wheel Programme Director, Michelin Competition)

"First of all I would like to congratulate Vitaphone Racing (Bartels/Bertolini/Sarrazin/Van de Poele). They moved into the lead during the night and stayed in front all the way to the chequered flag. As usual, this year's 24 Hours of Spa -Francorchamps turned out to be a thrilling race with lots of changes in the leaderboard.

"As far as tyres were concerned, the weekend was always going to be a big challenge because of the unsettled weather. About a month ago, we made an initial selection of tyres along with our partners and they all had 30 sets of dry weather tyres and 17 sets of wet weather patterns for each of their cars.

"This year, the most frequently used type of tyre was the slick. Our soft compound slicks fulfilled their mission to the letter, even when the track temperatures were quite high. During the night, the drivers were able to double-stint without any problems. Our medium compound slick also proved to be a competitive alternative during the daylight hours, but the hard compound wasn't used at all.

"The full range of wet weather tyres was employed, from the tyre designed especially for drying surfaces to the intermediate and full wets. The teams went for a variety of options and the showery weather made tyre choices particularly delicate, but everyone did a very good job.

"All of this year's three 24-hour races - the Nurburgring, Le Mans and Spa - saw rain and that fully justifies our having such a comprehensive range of products. The advice of Michelin's technical staff to the teams as a function of the different levels of grip available also played an important role. The changing weather meant that there was a real fight between tyre suppliers, too, and that placed the stakes even higher still."

Frederic Henry-Biabaud (Director, Michelin Competition)

"Once again, we have had a chance to show that our tyres are competitive, durable and versatile. The 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps is a key event for us since it involves top-of-the-range cars that the public can relate to competing in a highly demanding environment. For Michelin, this race was a chance to show our ability to respond to the varying and extreme conditions thanks to the range we were able to supply our partners. It's also thanks to this sort of challenge that we are able to progress and develop increasingly advanced tyres for our customers. We are strongly committed to the FIA GT Championship and we are following its future evolution very closely."

THEY SAID --

Stephane Sarrazin (driver, Vitaphone Racing Team):

"I am delighted to have been invited to contest the 24 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps. It's a great race to have won! Everything went like clockwork for us, from the pit stops to the tyre choices, and none of the drivers made any mistakes. We benefited from first class advice from our Michelin technician and the information we were given was spot on throughout the race. The most incredible thing was lapping on soft compound slicks in the wet. During the night, I stayed out on a damp track with slick tyres and I managed to post some really quick times! Very impressive! Our tyres didn't suffer in the slightest and, as usual, our Michelin tyres gave us a decisive advantage."

Michael Bartels (Team Manager, Vitaphone Racing):

"I can hardly find the words to describe how happy I feel. When I think of all the preparation that went into this race upstream of the start, to have finished first and second is fantastic! Our association with the people from Michelin functioned perfectly. They attended all our briefings and had all the data they needed concerning our cars. In return, we benefited from all the advice we needed to help make our tyre choices. By pooling all the information we had, we were able to optimise our stock of tyres and go on to win! Had it not been for our partnership with Michelin, that wouldn't have been possible. Tyres are a vital factory in any 24- hour competition. This weekend wasn't a sprint but a genuine endurance race and our extremely positive work with Michelin was founded on that approach. They supplied us with all we needed: great tyres and expert advice. We couldn't have asked for more."

-credit: michelin

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Stéphane Sarrazin , Michael Bartels
Teams AF Corse , Phoenix Racing