After a great qualifying session, the #23 Sumo Power GT Nissan GT-R of Scot Peter Dumbreck and German Michael Krumm were looking to take on the dominant #7 Young Driver Aston Martin DB9 and Vitaphone Maserati MC12s at the sharp end of the Qualifying Race. Mired at the back of the grid after not being able to get their Nissan GT-R to handle to their liking in qualifying, the #22 of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Warren Hughes would have to put in a stunning performance to get themselves into contention for tomorrow's Championship Race.
World GT1 features a Qualifying Race that sets the grid for the main race: both races are an hour long, but in the Qualifying Race only the top three score points: eight for the win, then six and four points respectively. The Championship Race uses the F1 points system: the top 10 score, from 25 points for a win down to 1 point for tenth.
The grid was full of local colour… most of it smiling.
Sumo Power's Sleepy-san showed his British side, acting as flag man for #23 on the grid. He'll be eating Marmite next.
Sometimes drivers need to take a little comfort break before getting into the car…
Either that or the Mad Croc grid girls scared him off.
The grids are always packed with pit crew and team personnel: add in grid girls, officials, guests and general hangers-on and it's amazing any car makes it to their grid position without ploughing into someone. The clock ticked down as the crews carried out their final prep amongst the throng of people: once the five minute hooter goes the grid gradually started to clear.
Missing from the grid was the #24 Reiter Lamborghini of Peter Kox and Christopher Haase: it was stuck in the garage after an accident in the first part of morning qualifying.
At the rolling start the cars were tightly bunched in their two-by-two formation: as the safety car peeled into the pit-lane the pack blasted off, Vitaphone Maseratis to the front.
But from the second row Peter Dumbreck made a fantastic start, pushing through to second place at the first corner after taking the outside line into turn one. The #2 Maserati was the loser in all this, dropping back three places to fifth, whilst the #1 car was already driving off into the distance. Michael Bartels' lead was almost two seconds after just one lap.
The racing was exciting for the whole hour: the cars broke into three main packs, with the lead trio off on their own and then two more gaggles of cars in hot pursuit. There are plenty of places to try for a pass at Brno: it's a wide track and features lots of fast straights into tight corners. The gradient makes it even more challenging, and even easier for drivers to make mistakes.
One place at Brno where there is almost constant action is turn six, as the track drops down into the natural amphitheatre that features turns six to eight. The #40 Marc VDS Ford GT had been another car to make a poor start: it had dropped from eighth to 17th by the end of the first lap, and then spent a fair portion of the race bottled up behind its sister car. Frustration obviously overcame the driver: he was way too hot coming into turn six and the car begun to pirouette as he tried to avoid hitting #41. After a full 360-degree spin through the gravel he ended up back on the track past turn seven, and, spewing gravel everywhere, was able to carry on.
Even a talent like Mika Salo can't make up for a gentlemen driver partner: the #12 rumbled around doing 2:03s laps at the hands of Pertti Kuismanen until an early stop and driver changeover, after which Salo was able to bring the car back onto the pace of the leaders with 1:58s laps. But with such a competitive grid this kind of driver pairing never stands a chance. 19th place and second-last runner was the result.
The #34 Triple-H Maserati had a tough race: starting 10th, they dropped back at the start and were then barged past by #22 on its epic journey up the order. #34 fell down as far as 14th before fighting back up, using its rear-mounted flame-thrower when necessary. They must have to replace the rear bodywork on these MC12s after every race!
The Hexis Astons had a rather anonymous hour, finishing ninth and tenth after starting ninth and 13th.
#22's problems in practice had been diagnosed as a broken front right wheel bearing: with that fixed for the race, Jamie Campbell-Walter was making meteoric progress through the field: up six places to 15th from 21st on the first lap alone! He was putting car after car to the sword: so much for overtaking being difficult!
Whilst the #1 MC12 was almost a second faster a lap, Dumbreck kept Darren Turner in the #7 Young Driver Aston Martin behind him for his whole opening stint, never wavering as Turner continually harassed him. As the pit-stops began cycling round, #23 made its stop and emerged with no sign of the pursuing Aston. Unfortunately the pursued had become the pursuer, as a problem with the air jacks at the stop lost #23 vital seconds and dropped it 11 seconds and down into third place.
#22 pitted soon after, and Hughes took over from JCW: their slick stop gained them four positions, and Hughes emerged in an incredible ninth place! Hughes had the Hexis Aston of Jonathan Hirschi in close attendance, but looked set to see him off to the flag.
But with just one minute to go disaster struck #22… Braking for turn one, Hughes felt the pedal go to the floor: he just made it round the corner, but as he approached the third turn, a tight left-hander, one of the rear brakes completely failed: he went straight on and into the barriers. Later investigation found that debris had built up on the rear suspension arm: put under load, the lump of rubber eventually flew off and knocked off a brake pipe, causing the brake fluid to leak. Game over for #22 after a fantastic race: a frustrating end, and it means they'll have to do it all again tomorrow as they'll start right at the back in the Championship race.
Up the road, Krumm continued to chase down Tomas Enge in the #7 Aston, matching the pace of leading #1 Maserati, but couldn't get near enough to make a move before the end. A fine third place was a good result though.
With the #38 All-Inkl Lamborghini finishing fourth, the #11 Mad Croc Corvette fifth and the #5 Matech Ford GT in sixth, it meant all the GT1 marques were represented in the top six.
Victory for the #1 Vitaphone Maserati moves them into a slender championship lead, and it will likely be the same three cars battling for the win tomorrow.
Bartels and Bertolini are no strangers to winning in GT1: but the good thing is that no one car seems to be dominating at the moment.
Krumm and Dumbreck seemed pretty deflated after the race: the problem with the air-jacks had lost them at least one position and perhaps a shot at the win.
But third was still a good result and it put them in a strong position for the following day's main race. They've got some points on the board; now they want a victory to match the sister car's win at Silverstone.
Talking of #22, the damage was light – in relative terms – but the front of the car was looking pretty sorry for itself. The crew worked late clearing out the gravel and replacing the bodywork.
Up and down the pit-lane work continued into the evening. Even with the garage doors down you could hear the sound of hammers and pneumatic drills, and at the back of each garage were rows of wheels being checked and cleaned. A beautiful sunset lit up the paddock: could that mean an end to the rain? I hoped so…