Brno 2006: Clean-sweep for Janis and Bert
28 May 2006
Zakspeed Racing's Jarek Janis and Sascha Bert dominated the second round of the FIA GT Championship at Brno in the Czech Republic on Sunday.
Their #9 Saleen S7 was fastest in free practice; Janis claimed pole position, as well as the fastest race lap, and last, but by no means least, Bert and Janis won the race, finishing over a minute ahead of their nearest rivals, the Phoenix Racing Aston Martin DBR9. Phoenix was the only other car to lead the race, Andrea Piccini having taken the lead at the start, holding Janis back for the first 13 laps.
"This weekend is a like a dream comes true. I'm really happy to be here in the first place,” said Janis. “At the beginning of the race, Piccini, in the Aston Martin was a little bit quicker then me, I could see that on the straight he had a big advantage, so it was not easy to overtake him. But my tyres were working very well, and then Piccini seemed to have problems on his car. We had a quite a big fight, and I finally found a gap to overtake him. Then Sascha did a great job and we did not have any problems. I would like to thank Michelin because the tyres were very good, and we would like to dedicate this race to Mr. Michelin who unfortunately died this Friday. Anyway, to win my home race is great, I would like to thank my team; we did not have any problems during the whole weekend, they all worked very hard."
Bert was equally delighted. "I'm really happy to be here in this championship, and I'm happy with this result for my sponsors and for the Zakspeed team. During the winter nobody was thinking about us, but I have a great team-mate, Jarek did a great job, and it is fantastic to be here, in this press conference, in the middle of the table! We are leading the championship, so I hope we can carry on and have a good result at the next race. With such a team, and partners, and Michelin tyres, it is possible to have more good results!"
Janis and Bert now lead the GT1 drivers' classification, three points ahead of Silverstone winners Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels, while Zakspeed is now joint second in the GT1 teams' standings. In the manufacturers' vup, Saleen has already scored more points after two races, than they scored in the whole 2005 season! The last Saleen victory in the FIA GT Championship was in Imola 2004, when Vitaphone Racing's duo of Bartels and Alzen claimed the win.
After a gap of over two years, Piccini and Jean-Denis Deletraz meanwhile returned to podium, with a fine race in their #5 Phoenix Racing Aston Martin DBR9. Also Michelin shod, the car led the race for the first 13 laps. After the first pit-stops, the car lost one place to the #23 Aston Martin, but Piccini regained the lost position 18 laps from the end, and held on to take the runners-up spot, despite a train of cars following closely behind him.
"It is really great for us to be back on the podium. We are really enjoying today because, at the end, we are the first Aston Martin. It is like a victory for us because the Saleen was on another planet, it was not possible to beat the Zakspeed team, but we are really happy to score points for the championship. We received the car only ten days before Silverstone, but the experience of Phoenix Racing is huge and they immediately did a great job and the right choice concerning the car and Michelin also helped us a lot,” said Deletraz.
"I had a good start, we arrived together on the first corner, Janis braked very late, so I went carefully, and finally I was able to pass him on the next corner,” added Piccini. “Then he was pushing very hard, it was difficult to keep him behind, and a few times we were closed to contact but it was a fair and fantastic battle. My tyres were maybe a little more damaged then his, I think his car preserved the tyres more than ours. At the end of the race I could see the others in my mirror, and my team gave me all the information I needed. Everything was under control, we were preserving the fuel and our car in order to finish in second position, the Saleen was too far away anyway, so I was very careful at the end."
The Phoenix car eventually crossed the line two seconds ahead of the #23 Aston Martin Racing BMS DBR9, with Fabrizio Gollin and Fabio Babini taking the third podium position.
"I'm very happy with this third place,” said Babini. “The car was not perfect, but it was not easy to work this weekend: when the weather is always changing it is not easy to test good solutions for the car. The third place was the maximum for us today, but very soon it is going to be possible to fight for the first place."
Gollin added: "A podium is not bad! The race was very nice, with a hot fight at the beginning, maybe too much! But it was good for the show and for us, and it is not so bad for the championship. I think our set up was not perfect for this race, so it is good to finish third. The Saleen is on another planet, but we are working hard on the car, so I hope we will be closer in the next race."
Silverstone winners Bartels and Bertolini finished fourth in the #1 Vitaphone Racing Maserati MC 12, recovering after a spin early in the race, while the #24 Aston Martin BMS DBR9 was fifth, ahead of the B-Racing Lamborghini Murciélago.
The #4 GLPK Carsport Corvette took the final point for eighth, despite failing to finish, having spun out further to a collision with the #2 Vitaphone Maserati of Thomas Biagi. The Maserati was awarded a stop-and-go penalty for this avoidable collision, which was converted into a 30-second addition to his race time, putting him in seventh position behind the Lamborghini. The B-Racing car, having put in an impressive performance, also fell victim to the #2 Maserati. For this second offence, the black and green car was awarded a drop of ten grid positions in its next FIA GT race, in Oschersleben on July 2. However, the team has appealed this decision, and therefore the results remain provisional.
If the GT1 race was close though, the GT2 class battle was epic. Less than ten laps before the end, the class was being led by the #59 AF Corse Ferrari 430 GT2, with Rui Aguas at the wheel. Aguas was under attack from a fast-closing Andrew Kirkaldy in the #62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari, who had just overtaken his team-mate Tim Mullen in the #63 car, who was suffering with its tyres. But as the #63 fell back, the two leaders collided, leaving fourth-placed Iradj Alexander-David to take the chequered flag eight laps later, in the #55 JMB GruppeM Ferrari 430 GT2. The car had been on a different strategy from most of the others, after an early puncture forced them to pit early. Tim Sudgen stayed out until the 50-lap point, nearly at the maximum of the possible driving time, and handed the car over to Iradj, who put in a fine performance, and claimed the win, making up for their Silverstone retirement.
"It was an amazing race, ten minutes before the end of the race I wanted to go back to the truck to get out of my overalls, because I was sure that we were going to finish fourth! And then I changed my mind and went back to the garage and I saw that we were third! It was an incredible finish, Iradj did a great job at the end, and we are very, very pleased," said Sugden.
This was Iradj's first FIA GT victory and he was delighted: "It is my first win in this Championship, and I really appreciate how we won this race. We were nearly last at the beginning, when Tim had a flat tyre. So we changed the strategy and Tim did a great job after his pit stop, he made so many fast lap times. He managed to give me the car in quite a good position, and then I finished the job. A few laps before the end there was oil on the track, so I chose to push in order to make the difference. It was very slippery; it was like on a race on ice! We have to thank the team and Pirelli for their great job."
For the second race in a row, the #75 Ebimotors Porsche 996 GT3 RSR finished in second position, Emmanuel Collard and Luca Riccitelli making up for disappointing qualifying performances by the strong race times. Although the Porsche cars may not be as dominant as they were in 2005, when they won all 11 races, their reliability and strength, especially in difficult conditions, meant that they still have an excellent fight in GT2.
"It was a bit special at the end today, the five last laps were crazy. Something happened and I went from fifth to third position, so I pushed harder, and I had a big fight with the others cars at the end. We did not expect such a result at the beginning of the weekend, and it is good for the championship. It is good fun, and I hope that it is going to be like this during all the season," said Collard.
"I can't say anything more, the others explained everything! It was an incredible and crazy race! I was on the pit wall during the last fifteen minutes, and everything was changing so often! Emmanuel did a great job, pushing hard until the end, and he managed to finish second,” added Riccitelli. “Oschersleben is going to be a new track for me, so it is going to be something interesting. During the race we are close to the Ferrari cars, we have to get to the finish of each race, and we will be there!"
With another eight points, Collard and Riccitelli are in the joint lead of the GT2 drivers' classification.
Despite the disappointment for the #59 car, which went out when it was leading the class, and for which offence the #62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2 will receive a penalty of ten grid positions in the next race, AF Corse's #58 car of Matteo Bobbi and Jaime Melo finished in third position. This has placed them in the joint lead of the drivers' classification, with Collard and Riccitelli, and has allowed AF Corse to maintain its lead in the teams classification, two points ahead of Ebimotors.
"To be honest I'm not very happy with this result,” 2003 champion Matteo Bobbi explained. “The car was good, we did a good job, and we were obviously fighting for the victory. But we took a drive through penalty, and after that the race was finished for us. We are already full of weight because we are two professional drivers, whereas Iradj and Tim had less weight on their car even if they are very fast. So it is not easy with the weight. Anyway the race was good, we are leading the championship, it is going to be a hard fight until the end of the year and we'll see what happens!"
"The race was good, I was leading at the beginning, and I tried to increase the gap between me and the JMB car. Then the Scuderia Ecosse cars went very quick, and pushed me a lot, it was hard to keep them behind. For sure we could have won the race, but the championship just starting, it is a long and tough championship," added Melo.
The #62 Ferrari 430 GT2 ran strongly for much of the race, but a mistake meant that the car went back out on old tyres and it dropped back in the closing stages, meaning that Tim Mullen, who had started from pole, and his new team-mate Phil Bennett, finished in fourth position in GT2. This was the first points for the British team, after problems meant neither car finished in Silverstone.
"It was very frustrating, we should have been first or second,” said Mullen. “There was a mistake in the last pit stop, when they should have changed the left-hand side tyres but they didn't. So I did a whole stint on used tyres. They were good for a long time, but then they just went off. The left rear couldn't cope, and I was just going slower and slower. If we had just changed the tyres, I would have been fine. But they were passing me as if I was stopped. Disappointing."
Mullen and Bennett were followed by the #74 Ebimotors Porsche of Luigi Moccia and Emanuele Busnelli. The #59 AF Corse Ferrari of Mika Salo and Aguas was classified sixth after the accident with the #62 Scuderia Ecosse car, with Christian Ried and Horst Felbermayr Jr seventh. The final point went to the second JMB GruppeM Ferrari, of Antoine Gosse and Peter Kutemann.
The FIA GT championship now continues at Oschersleben in Germany at the beginning of July.