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575 takes debut win as Biagi/Bobbi sew up titles

6 October 2003

For the first time ever, the FIA GT Championship has had a bright and sunny race weekend in Estoril, and an exciting, close race took place around the 4.183 km circuit.

A Ferrari-dominated weekend saw JMB Racing win in both categories, giving the new Ferrari 575 M Maranello a win in its debut race, while third place gave BMS Scuderia Italia drivers Matteo Bobbi and Thomas Biagi the GT Drivers title in their first season of GT racing.

Andrea Bertolini and Fabrizio De Simone's third win wrote another chapter in the extremely close N-GT category, meaning that the three-way fight between Freisinger, JMB and Team Maranello Concessionaires goes on to the final round in Monza.

After an extremely difficult season, when their Ferrari 550 Maranello cars proved to be fast but unreliable, JMB Racing have put their bad luck behind them with a fine win for the brand new nr 9 Ferrari 575 M Maranello of Philipp Peter and Fabio Babini. With the car winning on its first time out, it was a great relief for the whole team.

"We are all very emotional today - all the team was crying," Peter said. "Even in our most positive moments we did not believe we could do this. I would like to really thank Pirelli, who changed the compound in the race."

His teammate Fabio Babini, who last won at Silverstone last year in a Paul Belmondo Racing Chrysler Viper GTS-R, was also delighted. "I really like this track; I pushed hard in the last stint, and I am very pleased for JMB Racing, Pirelli and N-technology."

BMS Scuderia Italia duo Luca Capellari and Fabrizio Gollin finished second after a spirited fight, crossing the line just 16 seconds behind the victorious duo after 106 laps of the hot Estoril track.

Third place in Estoril was enough to secure the 2003 GT Drivers' Championship for Matteo Bobbi and Thomas Biagi, following an amazing debut season in GT racing. The two young Italians, both single-seater drivers, have led from the start of the season, winning five races in a row, and a sixth (appeal pending) in Oschersleben. The two were both delighted with the title and relieved that the pressure was now off them before the final race in Monza.

"I lost the title last year by one point in the final race, and I did not want to go through that again," Bobbi explained.

As for Biagi, he dedicated his title to his best friend, Alfredo Melandri, killed in 1998 in Formula Three testing. "When he died, I had two choices – to stop races or to go ahead. I decided he would want me to race on, and so I want to dedicate this title to him."

With Gollin and Cappellari finishing in second place, and the Lister Racing cars failing to make the end of the race, BMS Scuderia Italia is now assured of the Teams' Championship, regardless of the ongoing appeal concerning Oschersleben.

JMB Racing's Estoril domination was complete, with the French team achieving the rare feat of claiming victory in both categories. Andrea Bertolini led from pole, and despite a starting problem in their second pit stop, which resulted in a stop and go penalty for a push start, recovered to win the race, finishing 22 seconds ahead of the nr 88 Team Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari of Jamie Davies and Darren Turner.

"I am very happy, for me, for the team and for Pirelli," Bertolini said afterwards. With the nr 50 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS of Stephane Ortelli and Marc Lieb finishing fourth, the title battle goes on to Monza.

Ortelli and Lieb have a lead of 9.5 points over Jamie Davies, and ten points over De Simone. This means that if the nr 50 car fails to score in Monza, and the nr 88 TMC car wins, Davies could be Champion.

In a similar scenario, if the nr 52 wins, De Simone could be Champion due to a greater number of victories. In the Teams Classification, Freisinger Motorsport leads by 16 points, with 18 still in play at the final round.

Although the Konrad Saleen briefly took the lead at the start, by the time the drivers came round at the end of the first lap, Walter Lechner Jr had been spun around by Mike Hezemans and the pole sitter in the nr 5 Force One Chrysler Viper GTS-R, was leading the race, followed by the Capellari/Gollin BMS Ferrari.

An incensed Lechner Jr soon overtook the N-GT cars, and was 15th by lap 5 while Gollin took the lead after a good battle with Hezemans on lap 9, and began to pull away slightly. The Babini/Peter nr9 Ferrari 575 Maranello was in third place, with the nr 15 Andrea Piccini/David Sterckx Lister Storm the highest place Lister, after the Jean Marc Gounon/Paul Knapfeld Creation Autosportif car failed to take the start and the sister Marco Zadra/Bobby Verdon-Roe machine stopped on the circuit with a problem after just three laps.

After the first round of pit stops, Anthony Kumpen, in the nr 5, began to chase down Luca Cappellari in the nr 22 BMS Ferrari, overtaking him on lap 42. However, brake problems saw Kumpen spin out on lap 56, retiring shortly afterwards. This put the battle for the lead between the nr 22 and 23 BMS cars, and on lap 58, Thomas Biagi took the lead. The nr 9 Ferrari then overtook the nr 22 car for second place. At this stage, there were four Ferrari cars in the top four, with no Lister cars left running, both the nr 14 and nr 15 Jamie Campbell-Walter/Nathan Kinch machine having retiring with mechanical problems in the transmission.

The situation was still similar at the end of the second round of pit stops, with the nr 23 ahead of the nr 9 and the nr 22. However, Babini was closing on Bobbi, and lapping quicker, and the JMB Racing driver took the lead on lap 87; six laps later, Gollin overtook his teammate Bobbi, whose car was carrying 50 kg penalty weight, for second.

With the nr 2 Konrad Saleen recovering to fourth, the situation remained like this until the chequered flag fell, giving JMB Racing its first win of the season, and a maiden win for the Ferrari 575 M Maranello.

Gollin and Cappellari took second, putting them back up to second in the Championship, while Bobbi and Biagi secured the title with third place, the two podium finishes putting BMS Scuderia Italia in definitive command of the Teams title, regardless of the result of the outstanding Lister appeal.

With the nr 2 Konrad Saleen fourth, the Zwaan's Racing and Roos-Optima Chrysler Vipers had fine finishes in fifth and sixth places, with the two Graham Nash Motorsport cars seventh and eighth.

The nr 52 Bertolini/de Simone JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena led from pole in N-GT, and although it was followed by the nr 89 Kelvin Burt/Tim Mullen TMC Ferrari at the end of the first lap, by the time the cars settled down, the nr 61 EMKA Porsche and the Freisinger Porsche had relegated the TMC cars to fourth and fifth places.

The classification remained static until the nr 50 Freisinger Motorsport car came into the pits early, suffering from vibrations. This changed the strategy of the car, which had been aiming for a one-stop race and had therefore been conserving fuel.

When the nr 52 Ferrari made its pit stop on lap 41, the nr 61 Tim Sugden/Emmanuel Collard driven machine briefly took the lead, before pitting in its turn. This placed the TMC cars, on a one-stop strategy, in the lead. They finally pitted simultaneously on lap 52, by which time the nr 52 retook the lead, with the nr 61 second and the nr 50 third.

Once again, the situation stabilised, with the leading cars close together. The nr 50 pitted again on lap 69, bringing the TMC cars to third and fourth. The situation changed on lap 78, when the nr 50 Porsche received a 60 second stop and go penalty for speeding in the pit lane, while the nr 52 was also called in, for ten seconds, due to getting a push start after its second pit stop.

This dropped the nr 52 to third, and the nr 50 to sixth, behind the Jaroslav Janis/Robert Pergl MENX Ferrari. The nr 61 took the lead, but went wide after being overtaken by the nr 88 Davies/Turner TMC Ferrari, and pitted for two new tyres.

By lap 99, Bertolini had regained the lead, ahead of the nr 88 and nr 61. The nr 89 car stopped by the side of the track, moving the nr 57 MENX Ferrari up to fourth, but a final splash and dash dropped it back a place, giving the nr 50 Porsche fourth place.

As the chequered flag fell, the nr 52 JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena of Bertolini and De Simone took its third win of the season, ahead of the nr 88 Team Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari 360 Modena of Turner and Davies, with Sugden and Collard third in the nr 61 EMKA Racing Porsche 996 GT3-RS. Ortelli and Lieb were fourth, with Janis and Pergl fifth for MENX.

Sixth place went to the Eurotech Porsche of Mike Jordan and Mark Sumpter, with JVG Racing's Porsche seventh and the Autorlando Porsche of Diego Alessi, Maurizio Mediani and Edi Gay taking the final point for eighth.






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