Oschersleben ends in stewards' room
22 September 2003
The 25,000 spectators in the grandstands of the Motopark Oschersleben were treated to an action-packed FIA GT race around the tight and winding German circuit, but could not be sure of the result as they headed for the exits at the end of the day.
With overtaking difficult, partly due to the circuit and partly due to the narrow speed differences between the GT and N-GT cars, the race was extremely close, with some fine battles. It was perhaps inevitable, therefore, that the final race result came not on the track but in the stewards' room, with BMS Scuderia Italia inheriting the overall win after the Lister Storm of Jamie Campbell-Walter was involved in an incident with a backmarker.
With the British Lister crew excluded for 'causing an avoidable accident', fellow 'Storm-bringer' Creation Autosportif took its first podium, ahead of the Care Racing Ferrari. In N-GT, a Ferrari one-two-three proved the pre-race predictions about this circuit, with JMB Racing taking a well-deserved second win of the season, ahead of the two Team Maranello Concessionaires cars.
Mike Hezemans, in the #5 Force One Viper, made the best start and got ahead of the pole-position holder Konrad Saleen, with the #7 Graham Nash Saleen in third place. Campbell-Walter made a good start in the #14 Storm, moving up to fourth.
The Konrad Saleen was faster than the Viper, but could not get past, and Hezemans withstood the pressure for six laps, before Walter Lechner Jr finally got ahead at the Shell Esses and then began to pull away. Behind the youngster, the #5 Viper, #7 Saleen and #14 Lister were all involved in a frantic battle for second place, while
a similar fight took place for fifth between the #4 Viper, #15 Lister and #23 Ferrari.
On lap 19, Campbell-Walter overtook Thomas Erdos for third place, and began to chase down Hezemans. By the time the first pit-stops took place, however, Lechner Jr had built up an impressive lead of over 30secs, although this was reduced to 18 after his stop to hand over to Toni Seiler, who soon found himself under pressure from a charging Nathan Kinch in the #14 Lister, while Anthony Kumpen - now in the #5 Viper - was close behind in third.
"The car was very good today," Lechner reported, "I lost out at the start and the Viper was so very quick at getting away - I had no chance. Although I was quicker, I
could not overtake. I tried to prepare my moment for six laps, until I decided my only chance was to go for it. That worked, and I pulled away. I was pushing really hard, doing a qualifying lap each time. I have only one stint in the car, so I have to give everything I have."
On lap 64, the leading Saleen slowed with a problem with the front left wheel, but it was Kumpen, who had earlier overtaken Kinch, who took the lead. However, the Force One Viper, which had already lasted longer than in any other race this season, ran into its all-too-familiar reliability problems, handing the Lister the lead.
Although Kinch then had a spin, he continued out front with no problems and handed back to Campbell-Walter, who was followed at a distance by the #23 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello, with the nr 4 Force One Viper nearly a minute behind the BMS car, with only these three cars on the same lap.
On lap 101, however, the simplicity of the race changed. With the Lister Storm coming up to lap the #4 Viper of Phillipe Alliot, the two cars collided, with the Viper going into the pit wall. Although Alliot climbed out of the wrecked car, the safety car was brought out for the track to be cleared, closing the field up.
The Lister appeared to have got away without any significant damage from the collision and, at the restart, Campbell-Walter pulled clear from the #23 Ferrari, eventually taking the victory with a lead of 23 seconds. The #6 Creation Autosportif Lister finished in third place, giving drivers Bobby Verdon-Roe and Marco Zadra their best result of the season.
"It was a great result, we're over the moon," BV-R grinned, "It's also good timing as Mike Jankowski's father died last week, and it is nice to be able to dedicate this to him. I actually thought about him when I was driving around behind the safety car.
"As for the race, it was a bad first stint and bad start - [team-mate] Jean-Marc [Gounon] came flying past us in the second car. We were not very competitive, but Marco did a very good job, and other people started hitting problems, so we moved gradually up the field. I spent the last laps behind the #14 Lister, and it was quite encouraging to actually be quicker than him. We seem to be much closer to the works cars pace now - we have found something with the diff, which seems to work."
"We finally found the luck we needed, and I think it is very good for the team," Zadra agreed, "We have all put so much into this programme, and this result is incredible. I am very happy with this result, which is my first podium since winning the FIA Sportscar Championship in 2001 - it has been a long time."
Later, a steward's enquiry into the accident between the #14 Lister and #4 Viper saw them exclude the winning car from the results for 'causing an avoidable accident' - and outcome naturally appealed by the Lister team.
A separate enquiry excluded the #2 Konrad Saleen, which was originally classified in sixth place, for dangerous driving during the safety car procedure.
All this off-track activity changed the finishing line-up, with the #23 BMS Ferrari taking another win for Matteo Bobbi and Thomas Biagi, ahead of the Creation Lister, with the Care Racing Ferrari of Lilian Bryner, Stefano Livio and Enzo Calderari promoted to the final step of the podium.
"The team did really good work yesterday to set up the car for the race," Biagi reported, "With the restrictors we have, it was sometimes difficult to even overtake the N-GT cars, as we have no power at the top - and it's going to be more of a problem in Estoril and Monza. But we are very pleased to win and to extend our points lead.
"But both Matteo Bobbi and myself would like to dedicate this win to Marco Gadola, who is not here this weekend due to the death of his father. We would like to thank him for all his hard work. We did our best for him."
"The car went well, but it was a difficult race, and very hot," Bryner said of her time in the #21 car, "We had a problem in our second pit-stop, when the car wouldn't start, but, other than that, is was okay and we were very pleased to finish on the podium."
The podium result was good for the third of the Care Racing-entered cars, and Calderari insisted that the #21 could still fight for the title.
"We will continue to fight to see if we can win the championship," the Italian confirmed, "Bobbi and Biagi have a good lead, but we are not far behind. There are no team orders, and I think we will have some good races."
The #7 Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen was now fourth, with the #18 Zwaan's Racing Chrysler Viper fifth and the second GNM Saleen sixth. The Wieth Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello took a well-deserved two points for seventh.
"It was hard work out there today, but we feel we are definitely making progress, and that we might be actually getting ahead of ourselves," early frontrunner Erdos reported, "We're competitive, or thereabouts, and we have made good progress compared to Anderstorp. The trouble here was that the Viper was very strong in terms
of straight line speed, and we couldn't pass.
"My water temperature went all the way up to 98°, and I had to drop back to run in clean air for a while. Unfortunately, we then developed a misfire and had to contend with that throughout the rest of the race, which cost us a lot. But the team has done an excellent job to put us up here - the only thing we need to do is to get more running away from the track, to see what works before we get to the race meeting."
The #10 JMB Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello took its first point of the season - Christian Pescatori getting on the scoreboard at long last - having been running a competitive fifth for much of the race. However, the good run came to an end with a suspension failure, but this was still better news than that which befell the sister #9
car which, although fast throughout the weekend, failed to start the race after an engine problem in the warm-up.
"We had a brand-new engine for the warm-up this morning, but it broke and we couldn't even race," a dejected Philipp Peter said, "Our career with the 550 finished like it started, but we can now turn a page and we are all looking towards the future."
In N-GT, Andrea Bertolini, in the #52 JMB Racing Chrysler Viper, made a good start and, by lap three, had already put three GT cars between his Ferrari and the #50 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS, in third place.
The #57 MENX Ferrari 360 Modena incurred damage in a collision before the first corner, and had to pit for new tyres, effectively putting the car out of contention.
By lap nine, however, Freisinger's Stephane Ortelli was only four seconds behind Bertolini, followed by Darren Turner in the #88 TMC car. The situation remained remarkably stable for the next thirty laps, until the leader came into the pits for a first stop.
The #88 Ferrari then got ahead of the Freisinger Porsche and took the class lead, having opted not to stop until after lap 50. Indeed, the three leading N-GT cars, the #88 Ferrari, the #61 EMKA Porsche and other TMC 360 Modena were all yet to stop at this point, meaning the #52 car was fourth. When the cars finally pitted, JMB's Fabrizio de Simone took the lead again in the Ferrari, with the Freisinger-TMC order restored in his wake.
The final pit-stops for the #52 and #50 put the #88 back in the lead, but Bertolini retook the advantage on lap 93, while Ortelli, who went wide on his first lap out of the pits, dropped back to fifth.
"It was a very good race," Bertolini revealed, "In the second stint, Fabrizio was very quick - it was an unbelievable stint. It is very hard, because the N-GT class is very
close, and all the drivers are fantastic. This is only our second win, as the throttle broke in Anderstorp, but four or five cars could have won every one of our races. I think this is a special day for us and for Ferrari, to have all our cars on the podium."
"It seems that all the Ferrari cars were in good condition here," co-driver de Simone agreed, "We had a really good step up with the tyres, all the work everyone has done in Ferrari, Pirelli and the team have all been in the right direction and it was really good out there. It was difficult today with traffic, and cars going off and bringing dirt onto the track, so we just paid attention and built up the times."
By lap 110, after the safety car, the #61 EMKA car was running second in N-GT but, over the last few laps it dropped back to fourth, overtaken by both TMC Ferraris for an all-Ferrari podium for the second time this year, and an identical result to Barcelona.
"A very good day for TMC, and we're happy," the British team's title chaser, Jamie Davies said, "Obviously we would have liked to win the race, but second and third for the team is very important, and it has helped my championship hopes.
"Darren made an exceptionally good start in his stint, and handed the car over to me. We had a problem with the drink in Darren's stint, and my stint was with no drink and no radio either, so I was not sure what the situation was when the safety car came out, so I got caught out on the restart. We just pushed on as we could, it was a difficult race, but we managed to get some points out of it."
"The second half of the race was not as good as the first, with Jamie struggling with the balance," Turner added, "At one stage, we dropped to third and then got back up to second. To have both cars on the podium is a big boost for everyone in the team, and maybe in the next race we can make sure we are on the top step.
"Incidentally, the drinks bottle didn't work for Jamie because I trapped the pipe in the door, so that was my fault!"
TMC team-mate Kelvin Burt finally got to see the chequered flag again, helping Tim Mullen bring the #89 Ferrari to the end of the race.
"It was quite hot out there, and it's the kind of circuit where you have to concentrate really hard - it's very busy," Burt admitted, "The other problem is that the slower GT cars are slower than us in the corners, and they can hold you up and then accelerate, so it's a bit of a yoyo."
"The traffic was a major factor, more so than at any of the other tracks we've been to," Mullen agreed, "The conditions of the track were changing every lap. But it's
a good result for the team - our car went pretty well throughout and caught up at the end, but we definitely have to do a bit of work to catch the Pirellis, and we'll have to push hard for the last two races."
The EMKA car finished fourth, after an extremely rapid engine change between the warm-up and the start, with the lead Freisinger entry fifth.
The #74 Eurotech Porsche finished in a good sixth position on the return of Mike Jordan and Mark Sumpter to the championship, with the team reaching their objective of getting both cars to the finish line. The #99 RWS Yukos Porsche of Stephane Daoudi and Toto Wolff was seventh, dropping a place on the last lap, with the #51 Freisinger Porsche of Bert Longin and Gabriele Gardel taking the final point for eighth.