Report: Free Practice Report, Algarve 2009
Vitaphone and AF Corse set the pace in the Algarve
For the sixth round of the 2009 FIA GT Championship, the teams and drivers have headed south, to the Algarve region of Portugal, and the new Autodromo Internacional Algarve. The track – 4.6528 km long – is spectacular and challenging, and already a favourite with the drivers. Undulating, with some steep inclines, sharp drops, crests and nearly blind corners, it should provide an amazing backdrop for Sunday’s two-hour race, which starts at 14:20 local time (15:20 CET)
Although generally warm and sunny, there is a lot of wind in the Algarve, with temperatures cooling in the evenings. A short shower on Friday, and clouds on Saturday, shows that the possibility of rain cannot be totally excluded ...
Positions are close in both GT1 and GT2 with just three races to go. Bartels and Bertolini, reigning Champions, scored maximum points in Budapest to regain the GT1 lead, while their Vitaphone Racing Team has a healthy margin in the GT1 Teams title. But the crew of the nr 4 Pekaracing Corvette Z06, Spa winners Hezemans and Kumpen, are just four points behind with a lighter car. Xavier Maassen is third, with SRT pairing Longin and Ruffier fourth.
In GT2, the situation is even closer. AF Corse’s Bruni and Vilander lead, two points ahead of Budapest winners Westbrook and Collard and their Prospeed Competition Porsche. The two teams are equal on points, with Prospeed having the lead thanks to more wins. But the fight looks like carrying on… The results are still provisional, pending anti-doping controls in Budapest, and concerning an outstanding appeal and technical checks in GT2.
The points leaders have hit the maximum in both GT1 and GT2 for this race, on a track where the weight could be costly. The nr 1 car has 100 kg, with the nr 4 on 70 kg, the nr 33 on 60 kg and the nr 8 on 20 kg. In GT2, AF Corse’s nr 50 has 50 kg, plus 50 kg crew handicap. The nr 60 Prospeed has 25 kg, also plus 50 kg for the all-Platinum crew. The nr 61 has 20 kg, with the nr 77 on 10 kg after their first podium. They also carry 40 kg crew handicap.
This round sees 19 cars take part, 8 in GT1 and 11 in GT2. Unfortunately, K plus K Motorsport, Matech GT Racing and Luc Alphand Aventures are missing this event, one of the longest journeys of the season. Further to the loss of the nr 19 car in a fire on its way to Albi, Xavier Maassen, lying third in the classification, has returned to the nr 8 Sangari Team Brazil Corvette with Bernoldi and Streit, to hold to defend his position from the close-challenging SRT crew. There is only one other driver change to note : Ettore Bonaldi will be driving the nr 78 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 430 GT2 with Diego Romanini. The 47-year-old Italian has previously raced in the FIA GT3 European Championship.
FREE PRACTICE: ALEX AND ALVARO FASTEST IN THE ALGARVE
Pole man for the last three races, Alex Müller proved his speed again today, setting the best time in free practice during the final few seconds of the 80-minute free practice session. His lap of 1:40.979 in the nr 2 Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati MC 12 placed him 0.47 ahead of the nr 1 car of Bartels and Bertolini, which had set a time of 1:41.450 despite the 100 kg success ballast in the car. The nr 8 Sangari Team Brazil car led early on, but a spin for Streit flat-spotted their tyres so the car could not respond later in the session. The nr 33 Vitaphone Racing Team DHL car of PierGuidi and Bobbi was fourth, but lost part of the session due to a puncture. SRT’s Corvette was fifth, with Pekaracing 6th. The nr 11 Full Speed Racing Saleen was seventh with the Marc VDS Racing Ford GT 8th.
In GT2, AF Corse’s nr 51 Ferrari 430 GT2 of Alvaro Barba Lopez and Niki Cadei set the pace, exchanging fastest times for much of the session with Brixia Racing’s Porsche 997 GT3 RSR of Martin Ragginger and Luigi Lucchini. Barba Lopez set a best GT2 time of 1:45.136. Points leaders Vilander and Bruni were third, ahead of Pecom Racing’s Russo and Perez Companc. The top four GT2 cars were within half a second of each other. With a new and challenging circuit to discover, a number of cars had spins and excursions off the track. The nr 11 Saleen returned to the pits smoking, further to a gear-box problem, and the nr 61 Porsche also lost much of the session due to a gear-box problem.
PREQUALIFYING : SAME TEAMS, DIFFERENT CARS … BERTOLINI AND BRUNI SET THE PACE
Vitaphone Racing Team and AF Corse continued to set the pace in the Algarve, during the 80-minute prequalifying session. However, whereas this morning has seen the lighter cars set the times in the morning, the midday session saw the heavier, points leaders set the best times in both categories. Andrea Bertolini set the best time overall, with a lap of 1:40.923 in the nr 1 Maserati MC 12, just one hundredth ahead of the nr 33 Vitaphone Racing Team DHL Maserati MC 12 of Bobbi and Pier Guidi. SRT was the best of the Corvette cars, with Longin placing the nr 3 car third, ahead of the PK and Sangari cars.
In GT2, it was Gianmaria Bruni who set the best time, with a time of 1:45.468, just five thousandths faster than the nr 61 Prospeed Porsche of Holzer and O’Young, which had solved its gearbox problems from the morning. Barba Lopez was third in the second AF Corse car, with the nr 97 Brixia Porsche fourth.
The session was red-flagged briefly to allow for debris to be recovered from the track. There were also less incidents than in the earlier session. It continues to be extremely close, with the top five cars in four tenths of a second, and the top four GT2 cars even closer – with only a tenth between them.
The nr 11 Full Speed Racing Saleen S7 did not take part in the session, further to its gear-box problems.
RUN FOR THE EARTH
The FIA GT Championship’s ‘Run for the Earth’ operation, aimed at raising money to offset the Championship’s carbon emissions, got underway today in the Algarve, with a water-polo match in the circuit’s swimming pool. Marc VDS Racing lined up against a team made up from the Sangari and Full Speed Racing teams, for a frantic and exciting match. Although very evenly matched, Marc VDS Racing emerged victorious, 10 goals to 8. The team – which had already claimed victory in the final Run for the Earth in Argentina last season – thereby retained their title. “We’re keeping the title – we’ll put it back in play at the next round !” commented Renaud Kuppens, normally seen behind the wheel of the nr 40 Marc VDS Racing Ford GT. “It was very competitive – as soon as there is a cup to win, we all want to get it ! It was fun – luckily the pool wasn’t too deep. We hope to continue like this for the rest of the weekend.” The highest points scorer was Xavier Maassen, playing with his new Sangari team-mates. “It was alright – we had great fun, scored some goals. It was a bit cold at the beginning, but it’s a good cause so we’re here.”
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