Weekend to forget for Sumo, Brabham
11 April 2011
The Sumo Power GT team experienced possibly its worst FIA GT1 World Championship weekend ever at Zolder, when neither of its Nissan GT-Rs finished Saturday's race and then, on Sunday, both crashed at the start.
The team realised that their trip to Zolder was going to be a tough one, but didn't expect it to be as tough as it turned out to be.
Unseasonally warm and dry weather for Friday's free practice and pre-qualifying sessions allowed the Sumo Power GT team to try a variety of set-ups, which was a welcome opportunity, as there was some concern prior to arriving that the track's tight and twisty sections would not bring the best out of its Nissan GT-Rs.
The workout appeared to have paid dividends when Jamie Campbell-Walter and David Brabham had no problem in getting car #21 into Q3 and consequently went on to qualify P8. However, with some cars – including the sister Sumo #20 - getting a three-position penalty applied for not slowing down enough under a yellow flag during pre-qualifying, Campbell-Walter and Brabham lined up for the qualifying race in seventh.
With turn one being a narrow and tightening left-hander only 300 yards after the start, it was perhaps inevitable there would be some sort of contact between the 18 GT1 cars on the grid. As it turned out, it was the Aston Martin and Lamborghini on the front row that had a coming together, forcing Brabham - who was first to drive in car #21 - to take evasive action.
Even though there was less than 0.5secs separating the Australian from the cars ahead, positions were maintained until the mandatory mid-race pit-stop, where every team had to change four wheels and its drivers. Having rehearsed the procedure many times since round one, the Sumo crews were on top form and both cars were stopped in their respective pit boxes for a shade less than 25 seconds.
Campbell-Walter, who had swapped with Brabham, rejoined the race in sixth position, confident that he could start to push as the Nissan felt the best it had all weekend. However, with just a few laps of the race to go, the Briton also had to stop, when a drive-train problem brought his car to a halt and he had no choice but to pull off the circuit.
With both of the GT-Rs restored to 100 per cent and everything going well in the Sunday morning warm-up, hopes were high that the Sumo cars would improve on grid positions of eleventh and twelfth in the main championship race.
Tension mounted as the field headed towards the line for the rolling start, especially in light of the previous day's turn one incident, but, this time, the chaos started before cars even reached the first bend.
As the lights went green, the #20 Sumo car moved into the centre of the track to get a clearer run up to the first corner but, as he did so, the car alongside him moved the other way. The two of them touched and the Nissan spun sharply left - straight into Campbell-Walter in car #21!
As if locked together, the two Sumo Power GT Nissans slid all the way down the wall on the outside of the track, until they parted company at the entrance of turn one. However, both were so badly damaged that there was no chance of continuing and it brought what started out as a promising weekend to a disappointing end.
“I can't believe what happened out there! Everyone is trying to win the race in the first 200 yards," JC-W fumed, "I was just driving down the inside of the track in a straight line and suddenly Ricardo, who must have got tangled up with another car, spun into me and I got pushed into the wall. I ended up in the gravel on the outside of turn one with no steering and that was it. Race over.”
The championship now heads to Portimao in the Algarve for round three on 8 May, a circuit that holds good memories for Sumo Power GT, as it won the qualifying race there last year.
“Although we didn't finish yesterday's race, the team has worked hard to improve things from Abu Dhabi," Brabham concluded, looking for positives from a frustrating weekend, "But, as for today's race, what can I say? All we can do now is repair the car and rebuild the sprit of the team before the next round.”