FIA GT Championship – Zhuhai – Race Report
Maserati MC1212

dailysportscar.comA 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.

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dailysportscar.comTommy 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."

‘Regular’ 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.

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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 Porsche.

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."

"This morning, 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.”

GruppeM didn’t 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.

Herbert completed 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.

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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 DNF’d.

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.

GT Driver Points
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

N-GT Driver Points
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?

 

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