There’s just one more race left in this year’s FIA GT3 championship, and today’s first race through the the sand dunes of Zandvoort hasn’t made title outcome that much clearer. The amazing Dutch track is a great venue for the GT cars: it’s fast and flowing, but the narrow twists, cambered corners and swooping elevation changes made it look far from easy to race on. But who wants to see cars cornering like their on rails? Opposite lock, smoking tyres under braking and desperate scrabbling for grip out of corners is what we want, and that’s what this place delivers.
2010 FIA GT3 vice-champion Paul van Splunteren started from pole position and stretched out a lead in the Prospeed Porsche 911 GT3R during his stint that never looked under any serious threat – despite the following cars keeping him in sight. The Porsche looked mighty around here: having that engine over the rear wheels looked like it was definitely giving better traction. It’s a good way for them to finish the year after a string of patchy results: they’ve won twice, but only scored three other times in 11 races.
British GT regulars Scuderia Vittoria have entered a couple of GT3 rounds this year, so don’t score drivers’ title points for their strong second place finish – that confused the points table after the race, as originally both the #6 Team Need For Speed BMW Z4 of Edward Sandstrom and Abdulaziz Al Faisial and #33 Belgian Audi Club R8 drivers looked like they could still mathematically win the title. But once the officials realised their mistake the title slipped just those couple of points out of reach…
The last spot on the podium went to the #24 Lamborghini Gallardo: I was surprised they made it, as early in the race the car stuttered in front of me accelerating up the hill from turn four and lost a couple of spots with a dead engine before it refired. Pit-lane speed limiter maybe? Anyway, the Gallardo fought back and was homing in on the Ferrari in front by the end. Third kicks them up the chart and keeps them as outside bets.
The other drivers to benefit were the two Heico Mercedes crews: they’d started 11th and 12th and made it to fourth and fifth. That not only kept the #44 car in Driver’s title contention, but leapfrogged Heico up to third overall in the Teams’ Championship.
Behind the top five there was a pitched battle of half a dozen cars that never let up throughout the race. Local Porsche team Aevitae Bleekemolen had been running strongly near the front, only to fall back (and then fail entirely on the last lap after being spun out by a Faster Racing BMW): they were swamped by the chasing cars. Every lap the order changed as they came swarming past!
The two Team NFS BMW Z4s made amazing progress from poor grid slots – Edward and ATF had started right at the back after a big crash for a Ford GT in the first part of qualifying stopped the session before they’d had a chance to post a proper lap. As usual, Edward put in a storming first stint, but they couldn’t quite make it into the points. #6 finished 13th, just a place behind the sister Team NFS BMW of Csaba Walter and Claudia Hurtgen.
So in the Drivers’ title hunt, the #50 Ferrari 458 pair of Francesco Castellacci and Federico Leo break the century barrier after their ninth place finish – every point will prove vital. Mike Parisy has closed the gap to 12 points as the #3 Graff SLS came home eighth – but that means his normal team-mate drops back, as the team split them up for this race weekend. I never understand why when you’ve driven with the same driver for the whole year that you wouldn’t want to win together too…
As the sun sets over Zandvoort the teams can look forward to a relatively late start tomorrow – the race starts at 13:15 CET, and we’ll be posting up a link to the live stream of the race before the lights go green. Of the 12 drivers still in with a chance, six start in the top 10, so it’s going to be a great race. Nothing to lose – everything to win!
2011 FIA European GT3 Drivers’ Championship with one race to go
1: #50 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia (Francesco Castellacci/Federico Leo) 101 points
2: #3 Graff Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (Mike Parisy) 89
3: #4 Graff Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (Philippe Giauque) 83
4: #35 Faster Racing BMW Z4 (Jeroen den Boer/Hoevert Vos) 81
5: #9 LMP Motorsport Aston Martin DBRS9 (Maxime Martin/Gael Lesoudier) 81
6: #24 Reiter Lamborghini Gallardo (Albert von Thurn und Taxis/Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof) 80
7: #44 Heico Motorsport Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG (Brice Bosi/Dominik Baumann) 79
2011 FIA European GT3 Teams’ Championship with one race to go
1: Team Need For Speed By Schubert 158 points
2: Faster Racing by DB Motorsport 147
3: Heico Motorsport 141
4: Graff Racing 124
5: AF Corse 119