Report: Race Report, Zolder 2009
Thrilling finale in Zolder
The 2009 season of the FIA GT Championship came to an exciting close at the Belgian circuit of Zolder, with an action-packed race in front of over 16,000 spectators (20,500 over the weekend) crowded around the 4.006 km circuit. All eyes may have been on the title contenders, but it was the nr 33 Vitaphone Racing Team DHL Maserati MC 12 which took a lights-to-flag victory, giving Alessandro Pier Guidi and Matteo Bobbi their only win of the season. They finished ahead of the Pekaracing Corvette Z06 of Hezemans and Kumpen, and the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati MC 12 of Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels, who thereby secured the GT1 Drivers Championship for the third time. In GT2, it was the nr 61 Prospeed Competition Porsche 997 GT3 RSR which claimed the victory, giving Richard Westbrook the GT2 Championship title, finishing ahead of Paolo Ruberti and Matteo Malucelli, in the nr 77 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 430 GT2, with third place going to CRS Racing’s nr 56 pairing of Andrew Kirkaldy and Rob Bell.
The results remain provisional pending appeals against decisions 15 and 17, technical checks and fuel analysis.
VICTORY TO PIER GUIDI AND BOBBI; TITLE TO BARTELS AND BERTOLINI
There were celebrations in the Vitaphone camp today when Alessandro Pier Guidi and Matteo Bobbi finally claimed the victory they had been looking for since joining the Championship mid-season. After the nr 33 Vitaphone Racing Team DHL car finished second in the Total 24 Hours of Spa and second in Hungary, 2003 Champion Bobbi and Pier Guidi – a leading driver in a Playteam Scuderia Maserati in 2007 – dominated the Zolder race after inheriting pole position, when both the Pekaracing Corvette and the nr 2 Vitaphone Maserati were demoted by five grid positions after setting their fastest qualifying times under yellows. Pier Guidi kept the advantage at the start, pulling out an early lead, and was never seriously threatened . “I think we finished in the position where we were meant to be. We went really fast and were flying throughout the whole race,” Bobbi commented. “I have to thank the team for preparing a wonderful car.”
Title contenders Pekaracing were second across the line, after starting from 6th on the grid further to their qualifying penalty. Despite a fine performance, and a clever strategy from both Anthony Kumpen and Mike Hezemans, in a Corvette Z06 weighted with 60 kg success ballast, their second place was not quite enough to overcome the deficit of four points separating them from the drivers of the nr 1 Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati MC 12. “I would have liked to win the championship, but it wasn't possible,” Hezemans commented. “We had quite a good start and then I was just stuck behind Bertolini and Bernoldi, and then we decided to come in early, to try and make up some time. Then we had to come in for another set of tyres at the end, which was okay but I think that without the weight that we had, the Vitaphone was just very quick. That was basically it.”
Third today was enough for Vitaphone’s Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels to keep ahead of Hezemans and Kumpen in the points, and thus retain the title they have won in 2006 and 2008.” I feel really, really good. It was a really hard weekend for us,” Andrea Bertolini said. “I think we had a really good race. We've won the title three times now and this is a first. We have a really strong team, a really strong car.” The nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati put in another strong performance, starting from the second row; they have scored points at each round and never finished lower than fifth. After the end of the race, the nr 1 Maserati received a 30-second time penalty for a pit stop infringement, but this did not affect their position or points.
The nr 19 Luc Alphand Aventures Corvette Z06 was fourth today after a drive-through penalty, finishing ahead of the Sangari Team Brazil Corvette of Bernoldi and Streit, and the SRT Corvette of Ruffier and Longin, who held on to their third place in the Drivers classification. The nr 2 Maserati was classified seventh, after a late-race excursion into the gravel. The nr 35 Nissan GT-R was eighth, after a long pit stop further to brake problems, resulting in a 24-minute pit stop. However, the car’s lap times clearly showed its potential for the future 2010 GT1 World Championship.
In the Teams Championships, Vitaphone finished ahead of Pekaracing in the GT1 category, with SRT taking third.
After the race, Pekaracing lodged protests against the nr 1 and 33 cars, concerning the success ballast carried by those cars and a pit stop infringement on the nr 1. The Stewards declined the protests concerning the success ballast, and awarded the nr 1 car a drive-through penalty converted to a 30 second penalty for the nr 1 car. Pekaracing has appealed the two decisions concerning the nr 1 car, meaning the results are provisional. They are also provisional pending technical checks and fuel analysis on cars 1 and 4.
WESTBROOK WINS TO TAKE 2009 TITLE
In the lead-up to the Zolder season finale, it was two versus two : Westbrook/Collard against reigning Champions Bruni and Vilander. This turned into a three-way fight when Collard and Westbrook split, racing in different cars with Marco Holzer and Martin Ragginger respectively, thus eliminating their crew handicap for this final round. A strategy which proved to be correct for Richard Westbrook, who, after a strong performance from the nr 60 Prospeed Competition Porsche he shared with his young team-mate Holzer, took a fourth win of the season to secure the 2009 title. “It was a great race and I'm glad it stayed clean,” he said afterwards. “I think we deserved it. We proved that we had a really good race car. It was really important when Gimmi [Bruni] pulled away at the start that I just kept my head and told myself that it would come back to me, and it did and we slowly closed the gap. It was important to overtake him. Then it was pretty straightforward. Over the course of the season, I think we deserve it. We've had some great victories and this one's really special.” However, Westbrook admitted it was a bittersweet victory, however, having won without his regular team-mate Collard at his side.
Incredibly fast in the damp conditions that reigned at Zolder this weekend, the Pirelli-shod nr 77 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 430 GT2 of Ruberti and Malucelli finished second – their best result of the season. “The race was really good. We had a good pace, the car was consistent,” Ruberti said.”From the back, we finished 2nd and we're really happy. We had a difficult start this year. Last year went a lot better, finishing 2nd in the championship. This year we had a lot of trouble; but after Spa we were more competitive.”
British team CRS Racing crossed the line in third place today, Rob Bell and Andrew Kirkaldy maintaining their 100% points-scoring record in the 2009 season, a unique feat this season. “It was pretty good for us,” Kirkaldy said. “Our pitstop crew did a good job, and we came out just in front of the Russo car, then had a really good stint and managed to pass the AF Corse car and then O'Young in the Porsche. It worked really well. It's been a difficult year. There have been a few changes to the car that we haven't got to grips with and we've had a few problems, but in all it's good for the guys to finish on a high and I look forward to next year.”
2008 Champions Bruni and Vilander finished in fourth position, unable to respond with the 100 kg they carried, a combination of crew weight and success ballast. Trackspeed’s nr 59 car of Bergmeister and Mamerow was fifth, just ahead of the nr 97 Brixia Porsche of Collard and Ragginger. This placed Collard third in the 2009 GT2 Drivers Classification. Cadei and Barba Lopez were seventh, to place them fourth after a fine maiden season. The final point went to the nr 61 Prospeed Competition Porsche of Marc Lieb and Darryl O’Young.
In the GT2 Teams Classification, AF Corse claimed the title ahead of Prospeed Competition, with CRS Racing third.
Results remain provisional pending technical checks.
ON TO THE FUTURE
So, after 13 seasons and 132 races, the FIA GT Championship draws to a close in its current format. It will undergo a metamorphosis over the winter months to emerge in 2010 with the FIA GT1 World Championship and the FIA GT2 European Championship, for the start of a brand new adventure. As Michael Bartels said at the End of Season party, “See you all in Abu Dhabi !”
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