A close and exciting third race of the FIA GT season saw the Ferrari stranglehold broken at last as Saleen took its first win in the series in the hands of German team-mates Uwe Alzen and Michael Bartels.
The American muscle car made its series debut at the start of the 2002 season but, despite concerted efforts from both RML and, more impressively, Konrad Motorsport, had not managed to best either Ferrari or Lister in the victory stakes until Magny-Cours 2004. Ironically, however, it was the Vitaphone Racing Team - only formed by DTM refugees Alzen and Bartels for this season - that claimed the breakthrough win.
The black-and-turquoise S7R took the lead at the start and held on throughout the three-hour event on to take the maiden victory while, in N-GT, Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr took their second consecutive win, leading an all-Freisinger podium which also saw Russian drivers Nikolaj Fomenko and Alexei Vasiliev claim their
first-ever top-three finish.
Sunday dawned bright and warm over Magny-Cours and, although the skies clouded over during the main event, it stayed dry until the race had finished. After qualifying second fastest on Saturday, Bartels took the lead at the start and held on to it, only dropping briefly off the top during the first round of pit-stops, when he handed to Alzen. The German crossed the line with a 30-second advantage over the #1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello of Matteo Bobbi and Gabriele Gardel - which, remarkably, appeared to have taken its third runners-up spot in as many rounds.
"It's great to finally see the chequered flag after two very disappointing races," Bartels said, recalling the early exits at both Monza and Valencia, "The car was quick again and, this time, we could actually make use of that. I think we did a quite good job, and I'd really like to thank Pirelli for all their hard work. I've never driven a car which keeps its tyre performance on such a high level over the distance."
"I can only thank the team for their great work - it's a great result for them and should help to build up motivation for the next races," Alzen echoed, "It was especially important for Pirelli to be in front of Michelin. I just hope we'll be equally lucky for the next races - especially our home race in Hockenheim. Then we can tackle the
Although it crossed the line ahead of the third-placed JMB Racing Ferrari 575, the BMS car was later awarded a 50-second penalty after Gardel was adjudged to have caused an avoidable accident - with the sister #2 BMS entry! The punishment also promoted team-mate Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari to third, with Bobbi and Gardel dropping to fourth. The penalty has been appealed, however.
"That's racing - such things just happen, even though it's a shame when it happens with your team-mate," a disappointed Gardel admitted later, "It's been a good race for us otherwise."
"Gabriele was very fast compared to Cappellari, and tried to overtake him, but Luca closed the door," Bobbi said, describing his team-mate's costly indiscretion, "It's a racing accident but, of course, it's not good because we're in the same team."