Saturday afternoon’s race, the first of the two FIA GT3 races of the weekend at Brno, was slightly delayed to carry out repairs to the pit-wall barriers following a horrific crash in the preceding Lamborghini Super Trofeo race. The #24 ARGO Racing Lamborghini Gallardo sat on pole, with the #9 BMW Alpina B6 alongside and three Corvettes behind – Callaways’ #101 and both Graff racing Z06s. But the weather would be the biggest factor in the hour-long race: and what a race it was!
The ever-present rain clouds had doused the track again, making it a tough call for the teams on the grid: tyres were being changed to the very last second before the formation lap and the rolling start behind the safety car. Most cars, like the #76 Team Need For Speed BMW Z4 Coupé, were up on their air-jacks until the last moment.
But realistically, wet tyres were the only option: it may have been dry on the grid, but there was standing water all round the track and the rain clouds still hovered overhead. A couple of cars gambled on slicks, such as the second-placed #9 BMW Alpina – a big mistake, which they and other cars paid for with early pit-stops to swap to wets after finding the conditions just too treacherous.
The #24 Gallardo led the field away at the green flag, but was soon being swamped in a sea of Corvettes: firstly he was taken by the #101 Callaway, then by the #16 Graff Racing Corvette soon after.
Starting from 21st, #76 Team NFS’ Patrick Soderlund had a great start to his stint: he was up to 14th on lap three after making some great overtaking moves and also taking advantage of the cars stopping for wet tyres. Unfortunately as the track became wetter he fell prey to the faster cars making their way back up through the field and began to drop back again.
As the pit window for driver changes opened for the senior drivers to take over, halfway through the race, the rain seemed to be easing: the #6 Saintloc-Phoenix Audi R8 made a risky but inspired swap to slicks: but too late! They had stopped outside the pit-stop window and were penalised with a stop and go. Next to be penalised was the #24 Gallardo: they changed drivers whilst the engine was still running, and their drive-through lost them the chance of a podium.
The second half of the race was particularly exciting to watch: there were fantastic battles throughout the field on the greasy track. Seventh to 12th was quite a fight to the end, as the two Hexis Aston Martins fought with a brace of Audi R8s, the #87 Chad Ferrari 430, the #25 Argo Racing Gallardo and #14 Fischer Ford GT.
The big BMW Alpina was desperately trying to fight back through the field after losing a lap at the beginning of the race after the team’s bad tyre choice, but despite some great moves they only got back up to 16th by the end.
From lap eight the two Team NFS BMW Z4s had been together, fighting their own little internecine battle: #77 and #76 swapping positions on an almost lap by lap basis. After Edward Sandström took over the wheel of #76, he managed to bang in a series of metronomic 2:22s laps and with four laps to go passed Claudia Hurtgen in #77. At the chequer it was a disappointing18th and 19th places for the Team NFS BMW Z4s, with #76 leading #77 across the line, but a lap down on the leader.
Unfortunately the Porsche teams were looking like they would have a very poor weekend: Silverstone winners Trackspeed could only manage 27th, another team to make the mistake of starting on slicks. The highest placed 911 was the #12 Muelhner 911 RSR in 15th, a lap behind the winner.
So, it was a Corvette whitewash (rainwash?) by the time the flag dropped: #16 followed at a distance by the #101 Callaway and #18 Toni Seiler Racing Z06Rs, the #24 Gallardo ending up fourth.
The changeable conditions had made for a fantastic race, but the Corvettes were untouchable. The leading ‘Vettes were banging in laps in the 2:15-2:16s bracket, far faster than anyone else except the slick-shod #6 Audi R8. Would the second race be fall to American power as well?
EUROPEAN GT3 ROUND 2 RACE 1 RESULT
1: #16 Graff Racing Corvette Z06.R (Joakim Lambotte/Mike Parisy) 25 laps
2: #101 Callaway Competition Corvette Z06R (Daniel Keilwitz/Christian Hohenadel) +18.776s
3: #18 Toni Seiler Racing Corvette Z06R (Toni Seiler/Dino Lunardi)+24.347s
4: #24 Argo Racing Lamborghini Gallardo LP560 (Philip Geipel/Albert von Thurn und Taxis) + 34.187s
5: #17 Graff Racing Corvette Z06R (Arnaud Vincent/Arnaud Peyroles) +1:05.758s
Sunday’s race looked like being blessed with, amazingly, an absence of rain – and even a little bit of sun! Edward Sandström in #76 had qualified 16th; this time the pro drivers would be taking the start.
The second race was fast and furious from the off: as the 30 cars spread out across the track and piled into the first corner the dust started flying.
The melée went well for some: Sanström gained five places!
But not for others… The #14 Fischer Ford GT of Christopher Nygaard (a driver racing in both GT3 and GT1 machinery over the weekend – a busy man!) was squeezed out and fired off the track, collecting the unfortunate Kevin Estre in the #12 Muelhner Porsche on the way. Scratch two cars.
Sometimes the picture tells you all you need to know…
The inevitable safety car period to allow the marshals to clear the two cars from the gravel trap took three laps out of the race; at least the restart was clean as the field was a little more stretched out. But within a lap the #33 Audi R8 LMS spun exiting the second corner and also ended up buried in the kitty litter. They lost five minutes whilst the Audi was dug out and put back on the track.
Up front the pole position Chad Ferrari of Diego Alessi had the #16 Graff Corvette glued to its tail: #101 miscued the rolling start and fell back into the clutches of the BMW Alpina. First and second looked like this for 18 laps!
The fire-breathing #1 Hexis Aston Martin DBRS9 of Fredéric Makowiecki (another driver with both a GT1 and GT3 drive) had made a good start and was hustling for second, but had then lost a place to the BMW after running wide after the restart.
Although the leaders were edging away, there was a huge gang of cars battling for seventh to 19th. As usual, the corners from the downhill drop of turn five to the bottom of the circuit were the places to see the action happen.
The #98 Marc VDS Mustang might have looked and sounded great, but it’s got a long way to go before it’s on the pace of the leading cars. It was giving away 10kph on the straights and was about two and a half seconds slower than the fastest cars.
After the pit-stops, the #24 Gallardo was slicing through the field: it had been mired in 10th for the first half of the race, but when Philip Geipel took over he set a blistering pace and gained almost a position a lap.
#77 had a much more anonymous race: it stayed around 18th place until the stops, and then in 16th after, which is where it finished.
Although the challenge from the Muelhner Porsche team had fallen apart, with #12 destroyed in the first corner and the early strong running of #11 spoilt by a stop-go penalty, the Prospeed team were at least nearer the front of the field. The #18 Toni Seiler Corvette was sandwiched in seventh place between the #60 and #61 911 RSRs from lap 18 all the way to the end.
Lap 18 – disaster for the leading #87 Ferrari. The Chad 430 suffered not one but two stop-go penalties, one for the Ferrari not adhering to the minimum pit-stop time and a second for the car stopping in the fast lane of the pits after they realised the first error! This dropped #87 to 15th and out of podium contention.
The Alpina made it up as far as second on lap 19, with the #24 Argo Lamborghini right behind. But the Gallardo forced its way past on lap 24 and was followed through by the #101 Corvette a few corners later.
Ninth place was being fought over by the #25 Argo Gallardo, #6 Phoenix Audi R8, Patrick Soderlund in the #76 Team NFS BMW and the #20 Trackspeed Porsche. Patrick made a great move on the Audi on lap 25 and stuck to the Gallardo from then on – they would cross the line just 3/10ths of a second apart!
Once again the #16 Graff Corvette crossed the line in first: two wins in one weekend moved them up to third in the championship behind Philip Geipel in the #24 Gallardo and the #101 Callaway Corvette, whose magnificent fightback had paid dividends. There were a number of casualties littered around the track as I was walking around the track perimeter: in addition to the two cars taken off at turn one were the #88 Ferrari sitting behind the barrier at Turn 9 and the #100 Callaway Corvette parked on the hill between turns 12 and 13.
It was a good race for #76: 10th place, just 39s off the lead, and more points was a fine reward for a hard weekend’s work. It also means the Z4 has scored points in both of the opening rounds.
Four races in: six to go. The next round is at the Jarama circuit in Spain, near Madrid. I’ll selfishly hoping I won’t need so much rain gear for that one.
EUROPEAN GT3 ROUND 2 RACE 2 RESULT
1: #16 Graff Racing Corvette Z06.R (Joakim Lambotte/Mike Parisy) 27 laps
2: #24 Argo Racing Lamborghini Gallardo LP560 (Philip Geipel/Albert von Thurn und Taxis) + 4.687s
3: #101 Callaway Competition Corvette Z06R (Daniel Keilwitz/Christian Hohenadel) +8.491
4: #9 Team S-Berg Racing BMW Alpina B6 GT3 (Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof/Martin Mätzke) +16.434s
5: #1 Hexis AMR Aston Martin DBRS9 (Manuel Rodrigues/Frederic Makowiecki) +23.824s