Spanish GT Championship Reports - Albacete
Miguel Ángel de Castro and Ángel Burgueño scored a good if rather fortunate win in the first round of the 2004 Spanish Championship at Albacete on Saturday evening, April 24.

The Meycom Marcos LM600 drivers were fastest in qualifying but suffered a bad start and fell back.

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The Cor Euser / Van Donghen Marcos Racing International LM600 led early on but would be hobbled by unfortunate timing of Safety Car periods and would finish the race in seventh position.

After the obligatory pitstops and two yellow flags periods, the Darro Motor Sport SEAT Toledo GT was the new leader.

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Jordi Gene and Gines Vivancos car were heading for the first race win of 2004 after an impressive run, until the SEAT's engine dramatically let go just three laps before the end of the race, allowing the recovering Meycom Marcos LM600 of de Castro / Burgueno to take the honours.

Luis Villalba and Francesco Gutiérrez had a steady run to second spot in the Motor Competicion Porsche 911 RS, with Pedro Couceiro and Miguel Pais do Amaral scoring an excellent third place finish, from tenth on the grid, in the ASM Team Porsche 911 GT3-RS.

The brand new SEAT Cupra GT driven by José Manuel Valero and Jorge Martínez Aspar had a disappointing debut, the Lois Racing Lozano Motorsport car failing to finish after an accident. It was bad luck too for the Yellow Racing Team Ferrari 360. The Italian car didn't start the first race of the weekend, but the team would solve the problems for the second weekend race on Sunday.

Vicente Saez Merino was a big surprise in the race, in his Ferrari 360 Challenge car. The Valencian led from start-to-finish from the similar car of Manuel Cerqueda and Luis Pérez Sala. The final podium slot was claimed by Pedro Bastos and Armando Paes in their Porsche 911 Cup. Miguel Iacovacci (Venturi 400) won the GTC class.

Results 1st Race
1º. De Castro / Burgueño (Marcos LM600), 53’35’’
2º. Villalba / Gutiérrez (Porsche GT3 RS), + 11,179
3º. Amaral / Couceiro (Porsche GT3 RS), + 11"919
4º. Euser / Van Dongehn (Marcos LM600), + 41,215
5º. Saez Merino (Ferrari 360 Modena Challenge), + 1:06,522
6º. Balfe / Taylor (Mosler MTR900), + 1:06,693

Round two on Sunday would see another race in which the safety car had a key part to play, victory this time going to the Balfe Motorsport Mosler MT900R of Shaun Balfe and Nigel Taylor.

Although outgunned for power by the big Marcos LM600s, the Florida built Mosler was ideally suited to the tight and twisty Albacete circuit.

Nigel Taylor started well and moved the car up the order, before a safety car period intervened. The driver change-over window opened as the safety car pitted and the Balfe Motorsport crew responded immediately, bringing Taylor in on the very next lap.

As the rest of the field followed suit, Balfe took the opportunity to gain ground on the faster cars ahead.

With just five laps of the race left Balfe was in fourth position but inherited third as the Meycom Marcos spun. Balfe was now closing on the second place Mello-Breyner Porsche 911GT2 at over two seconds a lap. There was more to come however as the race leading Team Darro SEAT Toledo developed a problem and both Balfe and the car in front began to gain ground.

With the Mosler reeling in both the second placed Porsche and the leader it was going to be a close run thing to the flag. It was over sooner than expected however, Mello-Breyner taking a lunge at the leader with just two laps to go. The resulting contact was enough to put paid to both the Porsche and SEAT's chances of a race win. Burt Balfe was through to take the chequered flag, the race win, and the lead in the Spanish Championship.

“We learnt a lot from the first race yesterday and put things into place to give us as much chance as possible at getting onto the podium. As things worked out we did better than that," said a jubilant Shaun Balfe.

“It was hard work trying to match and better the pace of the cars in front though,” he added. “It has definitely been a steep learning curve. The rest of the teams know we mean business now so I’m sure the racing will get harder and even more competitive.”
With thanks to Sergio Fonseca and Adam Proctor

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