Bahrain GT Festival – The Final – Race Report
Cooper Ferrari(!)

60 minutes of racing around the Bahrain International Circuit brought the 2004 GT festival to a close, with 40 cars taking the start.

From the off it was Simonsen into the lead in the #8 Coopers Racing Ferrari 550, the Ferrari’s sprint start bettering Dedours’ Larbre Viper’s. Haring up to third was Wolfgang Kaufmann, from eighth on the grid - the Wieth Ferrari driver then defending his hard-fought position vigorously from the close attention of Lacroix-Wasover in the Force One Viper in a door banging moment through turn three. Very Grand Am.

In GT2 it was Belloc’s Ferrari that was first to show, Lars Erik Nielsen hanging on gamely against the pro.

Francois Fiat meanwhile was right in the thick of things in the DDO Saleen, the gentleman driver looking to keep the gap to the leader as narrow as possible, before handing over to Dominic Dupuy later.

There was contact further down the field between the Rollcentre Mosler and the #33 Laurent Nef Porsche. Both would continue but later retire, the Mosler with a broken left front wishbone, the Porsche with various componentry strewn around the infield.

Adam Sharpe had a fantastic first three quarters of a lap, up to sixth overall in the #44 Tech 9 GT2 Porsche, but a spin on the outside of Turn 12 would drop the car right down to the back of the field. Contact? The trailing rear bodywork seemed to indicate that it was a not entirely solo effort.

Kaufmann meanwhile had made his way past the second Viper and up into second spot (best ever performance by the German 550, great to see) and was now haring off in pursuit of Simonsen, with Fiat up to fourth, having got by the Force One Viper. But it was a short lived moment of glory for the Wieth 550, the car pitting into retirement at the end of lap three after losing a cylinder, Kaufmann bitterly disappointed at such an early end to a very promising run. He had had the Coopers car in his gunsight!

Further down the order the Morgan was charging, Aaron Scott powering the Aero 8 up to 12th overall in the early stages. Also storming along was the #66 Porsche of Colas, up from 43rd on the grid to an incredible eleventh place, after 10 minutes.

Francois Fiat was having a fine run, up to second place having demoted both Vipers. Simonsen though was now almost 20 seconds ahead - but not for long.

With 14 minutes of the race run the Safety Car appeared, reason unknown, but cynics were to speculate that there were several cars that would struggle to make the 60 minute race at racing speed on their available fuel load. No matter, the field closed up, the Lexus initially failing to pick up the leader, but Simonsen slowing to allow the correct order behind the SC.

Three laps under the full course yellow were deemed to be enough and we were off once again, Simonsen haring away with a lap in the 1:59s, good enough to open an immediate 6.5 second gap.

Belloc and Lecroix meanwhile were having a spirited tussle over fourth place, with the Viper grabbing the slot, losing it again and then diving up the inside of the Ferrari: there was contact, the Viper spun out and Belloc continued, untroubled, his place intact.

Dedours was now monstering Fiat for second place, but with the pitstop window (23 to 37 minutes) now open, both of these and Lars Erik Nielsen, opted to pit immediately.

Terry Pudwell pitted early on too, to hand over the #14 Stealth to Nigel Greensall, the Stealth well up the order in the first part of the race, but a slow pit stop costing time and places.

A retirement amidst a fierce GT3 battle was the #60 Jaz Porsche, a rear blowout happening just as Craig Rapp passed the pits: to continue round would have damaged the car beyond the scope of available parts – game over.

Simonsen was next of the front runners to head pitwards, to hand over the #8 Ferrari to David Brabham, his lead now 21 seconds - but as he did so the Safety Car appeared once again, this time for the recovery of the #33 Porsche, damaged in the earlier incident with the Rollcentre Mosler.

The US Carworld Viper then briefly led the race, the major GT1 and GT2 players all having by now pitted, but when the big Dutch-run car followed suit it was the #66 Porsche (from the back of the grid) which inherited the class lead. The Morgan meanwhile briefly held ninth place, before being swallowed up by a gaggle of recovering GT2s.

With 20 minutes to go the gap was now 5.2 seconds from Brabham to Dedours in the #12 Larbre Viper, with Dupuy closing in fast. Brabham was easing away and Dupuy looked eager to keep in touch: the Saleen was right on the tail of the Viper and the two Frenchmen staged their very own drag race, the Viper proving that the years have not dulled its edge in this respect, Dupuy giving best at the first attempt to the Chrysler but making the very same move stick next time around - the gap to Brabham ahead now 6.5 seconds.

Greensall in the Stealth had made rapid progress and now lay in fifth position, with the 50 minute mark fast approaching.

The GT2 battle was suddenly reshuffled as Sergey Zlobin, aboard the #35 Ferrari, suffered a major front right blowout: the Russian continued towards the pitlane at considerable pace, the front corner of the Ferrari disintegrating rapidly with large chunks of bodywork flailing! Racing with gusto, Russian style.

The inevitable retirement of the JMB car elevated the #44 Tech 9 Porsche into third position in GT2, with 10 minutes left to run.

The gap at the front of the race was also changing: the #70 Ruffier Porsche spun in front of Brabham and the required avoidance cost the Australian more than half of his advantage over the Saleen, the deficit now 2.8 seconds with six minutes remaining.

Brabham though responded immediately, posting the fastest lap of the race, a 1:59.201, to draw further clear, five seconds the advantage once again. From then on a win for the Coopers Racing car was assured, the advantage at the chequered flag a full 16 seconds… but not from the Saleen.

The Larbre Viper of Makowiecki and Dedours inherited second place on the very last lap, after the DDO Saleen of Dupuy and Fiat suffered a severe engine problem in the closing stages and was forced to crawl home. It was a sad result for the DDO squad after a spirited display.

Nigel Greensall and Terry Pudwell scored an excellent fourth place finish in the GTS classed Stealth B6, ahead of the GT2 winning Farnbacher Porsche RSR of Patrick Long and Lars Erik Nielsen, the Porsche outpacing the plucky Gillet Vertigo of Renaud Kuppens and Bas Leinders for class honours, with Adam Sharpe and Rob Croydon scoring an excellent third in class for Tech 9.

In GT3 it was initially a French Porsche 1, 2, 3 before the third placed First Racing car was disqualified for overtaking the Safety Car. A very happy Larbre Competition team principal Jack Leconte was the class winner with Roland Berville, just ahead of a short of fuel #66 Pilotage passion 911 of Helias and Colas.

Third place in GT3 went to the Team Aero Morgan Aero 8, after an excellent run from Aaron Scott and Keith Ahlers.

David Brabham: “Job done but in the final we were lucky with the safety car as we were tight on fuel, but Allan did a fine job pulling out the gap from the start.”

Patrick Long: “It was a really challenging format, no free practice before timed qualifying on a new and unfamiliar circuit, but I enjoyed the meeting enormously.”

Lars Erik Nielsen: “We have had a great season with the Porsche RSR, apart from one incident where we damaged the rear end we’ve had no damage at all – we have however wrecked several hire cars on the way to and from circuits!”

Jack Leconte: “I am delighted with the win. I have not driven competitively (for a long time) and before that I fought for four years in the Carrera Cup with Roland Berville. It’s good to join up and win together.”

All in all an excellent event at a quite stunning facility. Seldom if ever has GT racing been made more welcome, and 40 plus cars made for a spectacular event. With thanks to those who made our excursion here possible – you know who you are.

Where to next year?


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