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San Luis 2008: Kumpen, Longin take surprise win
23 November 2008
Bert Longin and Anthony Kumpen emerged as the surprise winners of the final round of the FIA GT Championship in Argentina, but fifth place for Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels was enough for the Vitaphone Racing duo to secure the 2008 drivers' title.
Longin and Kumpen had endured a trying campaign after switching to the Saleen S7R this season, but ended it in the best possible fashion with a victory few had expected when the final two hour race of the campaign kicked off at the all-new venue.
At the start, Frederic Makowiecki had jumped into the lead of the race from second on the grid after pole-man Marcel Fassler appeared to slow just before the lights turned green and led the early stages of the race in the Larbre Saleen before Fassler managed to battle his way back into the lead. For Larbre, a strong run would end in disappointing fashion immediately after the opening pit-stop, when Roland Berville went off into the wall on his out lap.
It left Fassler and team-mate Ricardo Risatti in the lead of the race but Fassler clouted the wall exiting the final corner and was forced to retire having damaged the rear suspension on the pole-sitting Corvette.
It meant the sister car of Mike Hezemans and Fabrizio Gollin – the car seeking to deny Vitaphone the title – found itself embroiled in a fight for victory with the Longin/Kumpen Saleen over the closing stages, although the result itself would have no bearing on the outcome of the title with Bartels and Bertolini running in fifth place.
Hezemans looked set for the win before Longin battled past and he was able to hold on to take the win by little more than half a second. The battle between the pair would go beyond the chequered flag however as they tangled on the slowing down lap, with Hezemans tipping Longin's Saleen into a spin. With the car damaged, Longin then found himself slamming into the wall as he attempted to get the car back on track and ended up taking a trip in the medical car back to the podium.
Behind the top two, Maxime Soulet and Christian Ledesma completed the podium for SRT having been forced to start from the back of the grid rather after an infringement in qualifying while the ACA Argentina Ferrari 550 of Jose Maria Lopez and Esteban Tuero took fourth – Lopez having been one of the stars of the opening half of the race as he battled his way through the field to run in a podium position before the driver change.
Bertolini and Bartels then completed the GT1 cars to make it to the finish in fifth place, lifting the 2008 crown in the process. Elsewhere, the sister Vitaphone Maserati failed to make it to the end after going off while lapping a damaged GT2 car while the second ACA Argentina was another early retirement.
In GT2, the fans had reason to cheer after Argentine duo Matias Russo and Luis Perez Companc secured victory for the Advanced Engineering team, finishing less than a second ahead of Gianmaria Bruni and Toni Vilander who had done well in the race after a qualifying accident left the AF Corse pairing to start from the back of the field.
Russo had led the GT2 battle early on but Vilander hit the front after the driver change only for Russo to return to the Advanced Engineering car to chase down the #50 car and take the win in the later stages. Capping a strong season for AF Corse, Thomas Biagi and Christian Montanari completed the podium.
A spin at the opening corner would cost Andrew Kirkaldy and Rob Bell dearly as they finished fourth ahead of Mikael Forsten and Markus Palttala in the lone Porsche running at the finish; the sister car of Emmanuel Collard and Richard Westbrook dropping out early on.
Also in the wars were Scuderia Ecosse, with the car of Jamie Davie and Fabio Babini sporting a number of bent panels by the finish and also losing time with a puncture which helped lead to the retirement of the #2 Maserati. The second CR Scuderia car of Chris Niarchos and Tim Mullen also endured a difficult end to the year as a damaged throttle cable left the pair lacking outright speed and they trailed in well off the pace.
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