The fourth round of the 2004 FIA GT Championship proved to be a breath-taking action-packed race, with some hot racing taking place in bright sunshine at
Hockenheim.

The lead changed hands many times, with first the Konrad and then the Vitaphone Saleens dominating the race. However, when both S7s suffered mechanical problems, the Ferrari cars took over and, after a short safety-car period had bunched the cars up during the final stint, the GPC Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari 575 Maranello looked to be on course to take its first-ever win.

But the drama was not over and, when a puncture interrupted the #11 car's progress, the BMS Scuderia Italia and Care Racing 550 Maranellos found themselves on the podium, having enjoyed a near problem-free race. And, after two early season wins for team-mates Luca Cappellari and Fabrizio Gollin, it was time for reigning champion Matteo Bobbi and new co-driver Gabriele Gardel to take the top step.

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An equally fine battle took place in the N-GT category, where the GPC Giesse Ferrari 360 Modena led for much of the race, only for a problem in the pits to give Freisinger Motorsport its third consecutive win. Crossing the line just ahead of the leading Freisinger Yukos Porsche, the Sascha Maassen/Lucas Luhr combination was also joined on the podium by the luckless Ferrari crew.

BMS Scuderia Italia's podium sweep was not the first time the three 550 Maranellos had dominated the top three spots, but it had not happened since Barcelona last year - and appeared unlikely until the closing moments of the Hockenheim event. In a race of ups and downs, the reliability and consistency of the BMS cars, added to careful fuel strategies, won out, while their rivals fell by the wayside.

Second until two laps from the end, the #1 car took the lead when the rival GPC Giesse 575 being driven by Fabio Babini suffered a puncture.

"We were lucky when Babini had a problem with his tyre," Bobbi admitted, "I'm very happy for the team - they did an unbelievable job today. We've worked very well during the whole weekend. It was a hard week for us because we arrived here after we lost our appeal, and our motivation had dropped rather low after that."

After taking the chequered flag in second place on three occasions this year, the Bobbi/Gardel duo finally took their first win of the season, finally breaking the Swiss driver's victory duck in the championship.

"For me, this is a dream come true!" Gardel beamed, "During my stint, it was mostly my job to preserve fuel, because we couldn't push as I would have liked to just to have a 'splash-and-dash' in the last five minutes of the race. I managed to gain two laps in my stint, so I think I did a really, really good job, and I'm really happy."

Despite starting from the pit-lane, and carrying the maximum weight of 100kg, the #2 BMS Ferrari of Gollin and Cappellari took second place, having made steady progress throughout.

"We were very lucky," Cappellari admitted, "I think we did a great race, but to come out second is just unbelievable. This morning, we only thought about scoring some points for the championship, so this result is great for Scuderia Italia!"

"I'm very surprised with second place!" co-driver Gollin echoed, "The weekend has not been so good for us - the engine broke on Friday and we had to start from the pit-lane. It was very hard to drive with 100kg weight on board, but we managed to find a good set-up for the weight in qualifying and, in the end, we were very lucky."

Third place went to the Care Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello of Lilian Bryner, Enzo Calderari and Stefano Livio, who took their best result of the season to date, despite admitting to going the wrong way on set-up and suffering a spin with Bryner at the wheel.

"I'm not very happy," Livio sighed, despite having just stepped down from the podium, "The set-up is my responsibility so, while I'm very happy with third position, I'm unhappy at making a mistake with the set-up. I'll try to do better next time."

"We made a little mistake yesterday, because we changed the set-up and were too soft," Calderari expended, "It was very, very difficult to drive the car with a full tank. We also knew we were short of fuel so I just tried to do as many laps as possible. In the end, I managed to do two more laps than we originally planned and we could finish the race without a final splash. It was very surprising for us when we finished third but, after all the problems we had in the last races, I think we deserve it!"

Creation Autosportif took its best finish of the season in fourth, ahead of the two GPC Giesse Ferraris, and was another team to thank fortune.

"We had a bit of luck for once," lead driver Jamie Campbell-Walter commented, "I knew the car was good - it suited the track - and, a lap before I pitted, we were only 21secs behind the leaders, which I think showed we were on the pace. Then Jamie [Derbyshire] had an okay stint, probably the best stint he's done all season, and brought it back home with no problems. We were lucky with the safety car, as we had to make a 'splash-and-dash', so we effectively got it for free. It was a bit of luck, but we'll take all the points we can get."

The GPC found itself at the opposite end of the luck scale, with all its cars suffering misfortune in one way or another.

"It was so difficult to drive the car, we had so much oversteer," Mike Hezemans reported, "Sometimes the car was very fast, sometimes not. At least we finished, which is something, but we had to gamble a bit as we weren't fast enough. I spun on oil in my stint and lost a bit of time but, with the pace car, that didn't matter. It is always a disaster when you have to start so far behind."

"I don't know what to say," Babini's team-mate Philipp Peter sighed after watching the Italian drop to sixth after their puncture, "It was an excellent race, and I had an excellent second stint. It was fun out there - and fair - but then, 39 seconds before the end.... It still has not really sunk in yet. There is no if or when or what - that's motor racing. It's unbelievable....."

After maiden success last time out at Magny-Cours, it was not a good race for the various Saleens.

"We don't yet know the problem with the #4, and the #5 was running perfectly until the starter motor broke during the final stop," Franz Konrad commented on behalf of early pace-setters Konrad Motorsport and Vitaphone Racing, "The #4 broke the driveshaft, which was damaging the output flange on the gearbox. We tried to fix it quickly, and I don't know if the gearbox failed by itself or whether it was due to the driveshaft.

RML's Mike Newton reported a problem with the brakes on his red-white-and-blue S7.

"We were running an experimental material, and we had to make extra stops because the brakes were breaking up," he said, "That's the penalty for running at the leading edge - things are going to go wrong occasionally. The car eventually stopped with what we suspect is transmission failure. The #8 was doing really well but, by the end, the brakes were too much of a problem, which is a shame because I think they had the potential to be somewhere between fourth and the podium at the end."

There was worse news for the returning Lister team, which saw Tom Coronel pull off with flames licking from underneath the black-and-white Storm.

"There was a part on the fuel injector that broke, so it filled up the airbox. And, as it is 45psi, within a minute there were four litres of fuel in there," the Dutchman reported, "When it overheated and caught fire, I just jumped out of the car - before it had even stopped! I had no choice. I wanted to turn everything off but, as the engine is at the front, I had so much fire there inside the window, so that was it."

Gollin and Cappellari have retained the lead of the Championship, three points ahead of Bobbi and Gardel, with the #17 JMB crew still in third, despite retiring after suffering two punctures at Hockenheim.

In the teams' classification, BMS has a 44-point lead over GPC Giesse Squadra Corse, with JMB Racing third.

Maassen and Luhr proved victorious in their home race - with a German-built car and a German team in Freisinger Motorsport. However, this 'ideal situation' also looked far from certain for much of the race, as the undoubted star was the #62 GPC Giesse Ferrari.

With Fabrizio de Simone overtaking Luhr early on, following a fascinating fight, the Italian car remained firmly in the lead until the second pit-stop, when it had a problem re-starting. The resulting time loss put de Simone and co-driver Christian Pescatori down in third.

A late-race safety car period, to allow tyre rubber to be removed from the track, closed up the field, giving a thrilling last-lap battle between Luhr and Freisinger stable-mate Stephane Ortelli, but a broken front splitter, which happened during contact at the start, kept the Monegasque behind, crossing the line just 0.824secs adrift of the winning Porsche.

"I had a great fight with Fabrizio and St?phane during my first stint, and Sascha did an excellent job on the middle stint, but we knew we couldn't keep the times as low as the Ferrari guys," Luhr admitted, "Of course, it's good for us, it's good for Freisinger, and it's good for Porsche to win here in Germany, but I honestly feel sorry for the [GPC] guys."

After Maassen pitted a little early with a suspected puncture, Luhr also struggled to get his car re-fired at the final pit-stop, but was able to rejoin the fray with enough of an advantage to hold on to the flag.

"At the end, I was really close, but we were lacking downforce in the right-hand corners - and there are quite a lot of them here, unfortunately," Ortelli lamented, "I could feel that the car was good, and I was able to follow Lucas - and believe me, I was pushing like hell to catch him."

The Porsche driver also agreed that the Ferrari had been the class of the field.

"We were fighting like crazy at the beginning of the race - the three of us - but, with the bent front-splitter, I wasn't able to follow them anymore," he continued, "In the end, Ferrari deserved a much better result than third position, and I feel really sorry for them."

"I don't know what happened, really," de Simone revealed, "But that's racing. Things like that happen. The car was well balanced, and the tyres were perfect, so I was very happy because we had a good fight with the Porsches. Everything was looking good."

Behind the third-placed Ferrari, Proton Competition was fourth, with AB Motorsport fifth, both cars being classified after a collision between themselves in the Stadium section.

"The other car was fine, but it broke our suspension," reported AB's Antonio de Castro, "It was a shame, as we were doing well. We were so unlucky this weekend, with cooling problems, gear-box."

In the N-GT Championship, Ortelli and Collard lead by two points over Maassen and Luhr, but both cars will be carrying the maximum 50kg for the next round in Brno, giving the luckless Ferrari a chance to close the gap. In the teams points, Freisinger Yukos has a 13-point lead over Freisinger Motorsport, with GPC Giesse Squadra Corse third.

The results are provisional, pending the fuel analysis for cars #1, #27,# 62 and #99.