FIA GT3 is the sportscar category that seemingly laughs in the face of the global recession. Since its launch in 2006, the grids have been packed and the racing has been frantic: not surprising with almost 40 cars on track for most rounds.
Whereas the grid of ground-shaking monsters in the current GT1 category has withered (and died completely in North America) due to manufacturer pull-outs and spiralling costs, and GT2 grids have yo-yoed up and down, how's this for the list of manufacturers in GT3: Ascari, Aston Martin, Audi, BMW Alpina, Corvette, Dodge, Ferrari, Ford, Lamborghini, Jaguar, Morgan and Porsche. Amazing. The line-up makes me salivate, and here it is definitely the cars that are the stars, not the drivers.
I remember being a bit bored when GT3 was announced, thinking it would further dilute sportscar racing with straight-from-the-road models. But no; GT3 cars are heavy on the aero kit and sprouting enough wings to get a Jumbo off the ground. And flames. Plenty of flames.
So Speedhunters are here to cover the opening round of the 2009 championship. GT3 is the traditional mix for sportscar racing of rich gentlemen drivers and young guns for hire, with a bunch of seasoned pros thrown into the mix. Each weekend consists of two one hour races with one mandatory pitstop for a driver change, which makes for plenty of track time.
Saturday saw qualifying and the first race: new-for-2009 cars shone – perhaps surprisingly until you realise one of the cars is Audi's new R8 LMS. Four were out, run by Audi DTM teams Phoenix and Rosberg. The sleek Jaguar XKR-S and BMW Alpina B6s also showed well for this first round. However, the growling Morgans hit the front: the #100 car of Johan-Boris Scheier and Dimitri Enjalbert set the fastest time in the session to decide the race one grid and the sister car, #101 driven by Gael Lesoudier and Maxime Martin, was quickest in the second qualifying. But that's not to say they dominated: there were eight different makes in the top 12 for qualifying 1; seven in qualifying 2, separated by less than a second. The entire grid of 37 cars were within about 5 seconds of the pole car!
So, race one: on the rolling start the leading Morgan was beaten to the first corner by the #3 Hexis Racing Aston, but fought his way back past by the Maggots/Becketts complex – two Audi R8s were right behind, #32 and #26. The sister Morgan had no such luck: #101 spun and fell to last. Seven cars were nose to tail over seventh place right up until the first stops: the racing was intense.
The pit window was just open when the first major crash happened. Although there had been a near miss when the fourth place Audi had a damn good go at spearing the second and third place cars when he got his braking wrong, and an Aston and Ford GT ended up apparently trying to mate at Becketts, this was rather more serious. The #37 Zakspeed Viper wiped itself out on the Armco at Priory corner on lap 15 – the tight left-hander in the 'stadium' section of the circuit – and wouldn't be repaired in time for Sunday's race. I found the Viper sitting forlornly in the paddock on Sunday, still missing its nose and with its rear torn apart. On the steering wheel was a hand-written sticker in German saying 'Nicht Bremsen': 'Do Not Brake'. Looks like the driver took that pretty literally…
After the stops the #26 Audi of Christopher Haase fought his way to second, behind the still-leading Morgan, and was soon past into the lead. However a debut win for the Audi was denied by a transmission failure with only 10 minutes to go.
Towards the end of the race, fighting over fourth place were the #17 Corvette, #18 Porsche and #28 Ford. As the latter two got past the 'Vette was immediately under pressure from another three cars: Claudia Huertgen's #24 BMW, another Ford GT and – amazingly – the recovering #101 Morgan, which had sliced through from the back of the field. All three got through before the end, demoting #17 to ninth. But the Morgan cruised to its debut win – the marque's first international win since 1962!
RACE ONE RESULT:
1 #100 AutoGt Racing Morgan Aero Super Sport (Scheier/Enjalbert) 31 laps
2 #03 Hexis Racing Aston Martin DBRS9 (Accary/Rodrigues) +10.502s
3 #32 Team Rosberg Audi R8 LMS (Armindo/Campanico) +23.933s
4 #28 Fischer Racing Ford GT (Nygaard/Gruber) +28.388s
5 #18 Muhlner Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup S (Bergmeister/Jirik) +30.689s
6 #101 AutoGt Racing Morgan Aero Super Sport (Lesoudier/Martin) +26.913s
7 #02 Matech GT Racing Ford GT (de Doncker/Lunardi) +39.771s
8 #24 BMW Alpina B6 GT3 (Huertgen/Walter) +45.783s
9 #17 Marc Sourd Racing Corvette Z06 GT3 (Pirri/Alessi) +48.966s
10 #27 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS (La Marca/Deletraz) +54.446s
So Sunday mid-morning and race two. This time the Morgan converted pole into the lead, hotly pursued by the #17 Corvette, #19 Porsche and #02 Ford.
Come the pitstops and disaster struck Saturday's race winner. The Morgan pitted on lap 13, but wouldn't restart and car and driver were left stranded.
Then on lap 17 the sole remaining Viper clashed with Musch in the #01 Ford GT at Stowe corner, at the end of the longest, fastest straight at Silverstone: the Viper was out on the spot; the Ford limped backed to the pits billowing tyre smoke.
On the same lap another Ford GT was attacked by the #11 Porsche: not a great time for Ford drivers, but even worse for the Porsche. That's gotta hurt. The other Prospeed Porsche also ripped off the front left quarter in an accident 20 minutes into the race. Sometimes you just don't have the luck… There's going to be some serious wallet-emptying this week.
The Italians didn't have the best showing this weekend: the Lamborghini and Ferraris just didn't have the pace to match the rest. Also, I found it funny how cars like the Gallardo, that look so extreme on the road, can actually look strangely, well, 'normal' on track. Compare the relatively sedate lines of the 430 or Lambo to the extreme cuts of the R8 for instance! That said, perhaps it's the carbon panels and the liveries on the R8.
The second place Corvette, which had plummeted down the order on Saturday, now suffered the same fate due to a drive-through penalty and dropped to seventh.
This left a battle to the end between a pair of Audis and a pair of Astons: eventually the new Audi R8s won out and claimed the final podium spots behind the dominant Morgan.
RACE TWO RESULT:
1 #101 AutoGt Racing (Lesoudier/Martin) Morgan Aero Super Sport 31 laps
2 #26 Phoenix Racing Audi R8 LMS (Haase/Mies) +18.704s
3 #32 Team Rosberg Audi R8 LMS (Armindo/Campanico) +23.095s
4 #3 Hexis Racing Aston Martin DBRS9 (Accary/Rodrigues) +23.276s
5 #04 Hexis Racing Aston Martin DBRS9 (Rodrigues/Makowiecki) +42.947s
6 #18 Muhlner Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup S (Bergmeister/Jirik) +46.228s
7 #24 Alpina BMW Alpina B6 GT3 (Huertgen/Walter) +47.617s
8 #17 Marc Sourd Racing Corvette Z06 GT3 (Pirri/Alessi) +51.016s
9 #28 Fischer Racing Ford GT (Nygaard/Gruber) +54.448s
10 #19 Muhlner Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3 Cup S (Morley/Edwards) +55.477s