FIA GT Championship – Zhuhai – Race Report
A hot and
humid final race of the 2004 Championship saw Maserati takes its
second win from its four race season, but this time the AF Corse
team scored points – lots of them, for a 1-2 finish, Andrea
Bertolini and Mika Salo easing up towards the end to take the flag
a second and a half ahead of the Fabrizio de Simone / Johnny Herbert
car. Only the Bobbi / Gardel Ferrari managed to make a race of it
over the three hours, but they were in brake trouble, and had to
add water at their second stop (of three).
Lucas Luhr and Sascha
Maassen secured the N-GT title, after a first DNF of the season
for the Ortelli / Collard Porsche. The class win went to Christian
Pescatori and Jaime Melo, and some significant retirements eventually
saw the Vonka Racing Porsche take third in class, Jan Vonka and
Miro Konopka making just one pit stop – but coming home nine
laps behind the winning GPC Ferrari.
For the GT racers it
was a three stop race round the Chinese track (heavy on brakes and
fuel), but with one significant exception - and that turned out
to be a wrong move for the crew in the #11 GPC Ferrari 575.
It was a long
way to travel for some bad racing luck for two British teams, the
RJN Nissan and both GNM cars in trouble very early on. The Nash
Porsche wouldn’t start (and didn’t) while the Saleen
(driveshaft) and the Nissan pitted after one lap. The 350Z was eventually
out with radiator trouble after 27 laps, the S7-R completing 45.
Erdos (right) made a blinding start to leap into second (from sixth)
on lap 1, but although he held off the Maseratis until lap 11, by
then Bobbi (leading, above) was 11 seconds up the road in the lead.
Erdos made an early stop for fuel (lap 16), but lost nine minutes
in the process.
It wasn't initially
for fuel though: "I was having problems right from the start
with low battery voltage. The alarms were flashing on my dash from
the start of the race and the car was beginning to misfire from
the end of lap 2. At around lap 4 or 5 Johnny Herbert (in third)
in the Maseratti hit my back end and made me go wide. I lost second
and then two more positions. I had settle down in fifth place when
Karl Wendlinger hit me - a very ambitious "lunge" into
turn 1. This put his and my car into a spin and lost me some time.
We were having problems with the alternator though as early as lap
one, so I knew that I would have had to pit to fix the problem."
stops began as early as lap 25 (Drudi in #2), but more representative
ones started on lap 28, Salo (from third, on Herbert’s tail)
to Bertolini, who continued on the same Pirelli rubber. Bouchut
had been seven seconds behind the MC12s in fourth (in the Care Ferrari
550), well clear of the Vitaphone Saleen, Babini in #11 and Chris
Goodwin in the non-delayed RML Saleen.
The bulk of the first
stops occurred between laps 31 and 34 (in what turned out to be
a 113 lap race), but Uwe Alzen had trouble refiring the #5 Saleen
– and that was race over for the car that has enlivened a
good many events this year.
Babini was the last
stopper, on lap 36, when in the lead. But 36 times three is 108
(laps), so five were going to have to be found from somewhere.
New tyres for
Gabriele Gardel dropped him to third, so other than Gardel and Morbidelli
briefly leading thanks to stopping later than the Maseratis at the
second stops, it was a Maserati ahead all the way to the flag.
There was some place
changing going on in N-GT, Pescatori leading at the start, but Collard
taking over in #50 by lap 13, Maassen moving up to second on lap
17. Marc Lieb was an untroubled fourth at this stage, in the GruppeM
Lucas Luhr relieved
Maassen on lap 31, Melo Pescatori on lap 36 – and Ortelli
Collard on lap 38, but the #50 Porsche was in gearbox trouble, and
it lost 22 minutes. Unless something extraordinary happened in N-GT,
Ortelli was never going to make it three titles in a row –
as long as the #99 kept going, which it did. Second place was enough
for Luhr and Maassen to take the title, Melo and Pescatori taking
the Chinese chequer in the Ferrari.
“This season has
been very particular (special?) for my team because we started at
the last moment,” said the Italian N-GT winner. “In
one race, we would be fast and at the next, we would have a problem.
I hope to continue in this category and in this car next season
because it is very fast and we have a lot of experience with it."
when I woke up, I had this feeling that me and Sascha would be the
champions at the end of the day,” said Lucas Luhr, after securing
second place at the flag. “When the race started, the first
laps were not so good. But we finished after all. We have won six
races this year. I think we have had the fastest car and we deserved
to win this title. I did the middle stint and I flat-spotted my
tyre coming out of the pits (?). Then I heard on the radio that
Ortelli had problems and then later, I saw him in the gravel trap.
I was imagining hearing things in the car all the time. I am glad
that the race is over. Sascha and I have been driving together for
four years and it is our third title together and I think that this
is a pretty good result.”
manage the podium that might have beckoned after Ortelli’s
problems. “Tim went into the gravel but we were still running
third,” said Marc Lieb. “But then I could tell something
was wrong. It got worse and worse and finally the driveshaft broke.
That was it. It is a great shame for the team as it would have been
nice to finish the season with a podium.”
So Vonka cruised round
to third in N-GT, on just the one pit stop.
Back to the GT race
– where the one hour top four (Maserati, Maserati, #1 BMS
Ferrari and #3 Care Racing Ferrari) was the top four at the end.
Gardel hung on well,
again, in the second stint in #1, even closing a little on the Maseratis
(on their used rubber) – but it turned out that all three
of the podium finishers had slight problems. For Bertolini, it was
a spin after contact with Michael Mallock’s RML Saleen (on
lap 51), which dropped the Italian to second, behind de Simone in
#34. Johnny Herbert took over in this one on lap 63 – Gardel
only six seconds behind de Simone just before the second stops.
some off-the-pace laps at around the 80 lap mark, just after two
hours had elapsed, and dropped behind Mika Salo – and that
was the finishing order resolved. Herbert’s misfire seemed
to cure itself, but the Maserati was still good enough on the day
to beat the best of the Ferraris, the #1 car with its braking problems.
Salo pitted on lap 87
(this car’s third stop), Herbert on lap 94 (handing back to
de Simone), and that was just about that.
“We did not have
any problems with the (#33) car at all and we have a good team to
support us,” said Mika Salo. “For next year, we will
test a lot during the winter in order to make the car faster and
more reliable.” Oh gawd….
Frederic Dor was something
of a star in ‘his’ Ferrari 550, setting some very impressive
1:34/35 laps, and showing just what a fine machine the Prodrive
550 still is. The #2 car wasn’t as quick as it would have
been with the champions at the wheel, but Drudi / Dor / Cadei all
showed that it’s the perfect gentleman’s racer. They
finished twelfth overall.
The loser over
the last segment of the race was the #11 GPC Ferrari 575, in which
Fabio Babini seemed to be trying to eke out the fuel to find another
five laps worth in the third stint. Everyone else made three stops,
and with Babini even visiting the gravel twice late on, he dropped
to eighth overall. Fourth or fifth had looked on the cards, but
Bouchut helped Calderari / Bryner to fourth, with Wendlinger / Marques
and Iradj Alexander fifth for JMB. GPC’s #13 was sixth, with
Michael Mallock scoring two FIA points for seventh, with Chris Goodwin.
So a funny
old season came to an end, a long way from home. No 2004 GT Champions
present (on the track at least), but perhaps next year’s were?
The GT points were dominated by Prodrive 550 drivers – in
positions first through to sixth – and then 575 drivers (seventh,
eighth and ninth). Alzen and Bartels were either on the podium or
N-GT turned out to be
disappointing before the season even started, with only GPC stepping
up to take on the green, yellow and white Porsches. The RSRs took
nine wins, the 360 GTC just two – and Lucas Luhr was probably
right, he and Maassen were deserving winners, after taking six victories.
1 Luca Cappellari 10 10 6 8 6 4 18 8 10 5 85
Fabrizio Gollin 10 10 6 8 6 4 18 8 10 5 85
3 Matteo Bobbi 8 8 5 10 5 12.5 5 5 10 6 74.5
Gabriele Gardel 8 8 5 10 5 12.5 5 5 10 6 74.5
5 Enzo Calderari 4 6 2 2 18 6 4 8 5 55
Lilian Bryner 4 6 2 2 18 6 4 8 5 55
7 Fabio Babini 6 3 3 5 6 17 4 2 4 1 51
8 Karl Wendlinger 5 8 8 10 7.5 2 6 4 50.5
9 Philipp Peter 6 3 3 5 6 17 4 2 3 49
10 Uwe Alzen 10 10 8 10 6 44
Michael Bartels 10 10 8 10 6 44
1 Sascha Maassen 10 10 10 8 8 9.5 10 10 10 8 93.5
2 Lucas Luhr 10 10 10 8 8 9.5 10 10 10 8 93.5
3 Stephane Ortelli 10 6 8 8 6 10 18 8 8 8 90
4 Emmanuel Collard 10 6 8 8 6 10 18 8 8 8 90
5 Christian Pescatori 8 8 6 10 4 6 6 10 58
6 Alexei Vasiliev 5 6 5 18 6 5 3 48
Next year will undoubtedly
be different, but in ways that have yet to become clear. Can the
575s be made faster? Is there a will to do so? Can the Murcielagos
be made faster and more reliable? Can the Saleens be made more reliable?
What chassis will BMS Scuderia Italia use? Will someone familiar
step up to the bar in ’05 (and find that winning form again)?
Can N-GT (GT2) recover to its former level?