A nail-biting race, staged in front of 32,000 spectators, took the suspense right down to the chequered flag - and beyond - in the sixth round of the FIA GT Championship at Donington Park.

Uwe Alzen and Michael Bartels fought up from the back of the grid in the #5 Vitaphone Saleen, overtaking long-time race-leader Karl Wendlinger's #17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 Maranello in the closing stages of the race, only for a collision with the #99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche at the penultimate corner to break a rear wishbone, and cause the black-and-aqua car to limp across the line in second place behind the Ferrari.

However, the #17 car was then awarded a five-minute penalty for failing to comply with parc ferm? restrictions, dropping it down to fifth and giving the Vitaphone Racing team a win it thought it had lost. JMB Racing has appealed the stewards' decision, meaning that the GT results remain provisional for the time being.

In N-GT, St?phane Ortelli and Emmanuel Collard gave Freisinger Yukos Motorsport car its second win of the season but, despite starting on pole, the Franco-Monegasque duo trailed the sister car of Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr for much of the race. It took a late pit-stop to drop the #99 car to second, allowing Ortelli to take his third win in a row at Donington - all with three different team-mates.

British GT regular Gruppe M Europe came in third, with 17-year old Jonathan Cocker becoming the series' youngest ever podium finisher, having partnered 2003 race-winner Tim Mullen behind the wheel of the team's Porsche.

The race began as it would end - with controversy - as the #1 BMS Ferrari swept into the lead ahead of the pole-winning #4 Konrad Saleen, but was then judged to have made a jump start, and was awarded a drive-through penalty. This dropped Bobbi down to fifth, while the Konrad car assumed the lead. The incidents began almost as early, however, as the #4, with Toni Seiler at the wheel, spun into the gravel on lap 6, rejoining at the back of the field and allowing Wendlinger to take the lead in the #17 JMB Ferrari.

Once the Austrian took control, the situation stabilised, with the JMB car ahead of the #2 BMS and #11 GPC Ferraris, with the penalised #1 car also up to fourth. Meanwhile, Bartels, starting from the rear in the Vitaphone Saleen, was up to eighth by lap 15.

After making an early first stop for fuel on lap 26, the #5 machine took the lead as the rest of the field completed its first round of pit-stops on lap 42. Bartels, who had not handed over to team-mate Alzen now had a lead of 20 seconds over Jaime Melo, who had replaced Wendlinger in the #17 car.

It wasn't until lap 55 that the leading Saleen pitted, with the #17 JMB car retaking the race lead as Bartels handed over to Alzen. The ensuing second round of pit-stops then gave the out-of-synch Vitaphone car the lead and, by lap 82, Alzen was leading Wendlinger by 33secs. The German, however, had to make another stop and, pitting on lap 86 for fuel only, allowed Wendlinger back in the lead, with the Saleen third.

Alzen was determined not to simply cede the team's earlier advantage and, on lap 90, sets the fastest race lap of the day - in 1min 28.906secs - before taking second place in his pursuit of the JMB car.

The #17 and #5 entries continued to lap in similar times thereafter, maintaining a gap of around ten seconds between them, with the #1 BMS Ferrari keeping a watching brief close behind the Saleen. As the end of the three hours approached, however, the JMB got lower and lower on fuel, and Wendlinger had to slow slightly. Alzen, courtesy of his later stop, was able to up his pace, eventually overtaking the black Ferrari on lap 115 and then pulling away.

There was still drama in store for the fans, however, as, slowing for the race's final corners, there was a collision between the race leader and the recovering #99 Freisinger Porsche, which broke the Saleen's rear wishbone. Alzen, angered by the incident, hobbled to the line, but Wendlinger was close enough to squeeze past and ensure that the #17 Ferrari got there first.

"At the end, Lucas Luhr was too late on the brakes and he hit me in the back," Alzen fumed, "It was not easy to get back to the start and finish straight."

The result continued Vitaphone's mixed weekend. Fastest in free practice, Alzen and Bartels lost their qualifying times from the fastest session, then had to change an engine which forced them to start from the back of the grid. However, after the impressive rise from the rear of field turned to disaster on the penultimate corner, the two Germans provisionally regained the win after the JMB Ferrari was penalised. As a result, the Vitaphone Saleen crew was able to 'celebrate' its third win of the season.

"We had a lot of troubles in the early part of the weekend, and had to change the engine overnight, but, for me, it was an absolutely great race," Alzen said, "Pirelli did a great, great job - we did one and a half stints on the same tyre, pushing very hard. I had a little brake problem, but we had to push very hard at the end, and it was a good result.

"One of our biggest concerns was to come through the traffic at the start," Bartels continued, "There were a lot of little groups of cars fighting for position, and we took great care not to hit anybody or get involved in any big fights. Then, of course, we had our strategy, which in the end was the right one.

"We had a few problems at the end of the race, as we used a lot of fuel, but I think the Ferraris were in problems too - if they want to match our speed, I think they need to make another stop. I think we still have an advantage - we were also running with ballast here and the car was still competitive."

Wendlinger, after his fuel-conservation run towards the end of the three-hour event, was awarded a five-minute penalty after taking the flag, apparently for infringing parc ferm? regulations having stopped at his pit and left his car to be taken to the secure paddock area by other team members.

"It was an interesting and difficult race - you had to be on the limit throughout the stint but, on the other hand, you had to keep an eye on the fuel gauge," Wendlinger said before hearing of his punishment, "The car worked very well but, at the end, I had to save fuel so I lost some time. However, I preferred to do this than run out."

The #11 GPC Giesse Ferrari 575 M Maranello, initially third, inherited second for Fabio Babini and Philipp Peter, after the #1 BMS entry was forced to make a 'splash-and-dash' fuel stop.

"We were close to a win in Hockenheim, before a puncture, but since then we have been testing hard," Peter revealed, "We are not yet where the Saleen is, but we are getting closer. Fabio did a great race, but I was not so happy with my stint, as I seemed to get traffic in all the wrong places. But I tried to keep the car on the track
and we were able to finish third.

"However happy we are with the result, we have to check on the problems we are having with the fuel. The consumption is not right with what we calculated, and the reserve is not working, which is why Fabio lost 20-25 seconds in his stint."

The #1 and #2 BMS Ferraris took third and fourth, after following a different strategy.

"It was a really tough race today," Gabriele Gardel noted, "Matteo did a good start, but he had to make a drive-through. His first stint was really good, and I was pushing like a devil in my stint - I was going like in qualifying, because I knew Peter was there and Bartels would come through. And we knew from the start that we would have to do the 'splash'."

After the penalty was assessed, Wendlinger and team-mate Melo were classified fifth, ahead of Emanuele Naspetti and GPC newcomer Gianni Morbidelli, with Care Racing seventh and Tommy Erdos and Mike Newton taking the final point for RML on home soil.

"We suffered once again for starting down the grid," Erdos admitted, "I had a bit of contact with a Viper at the start, but could run at a good pace, although we had a problem with the gearshift, which was hard work. Mike got in and had a very good stint, then, at the end, I was pushing hard and doing good times, but we just didn't seem to be able to make up the gap ahead of us. We had the pace this weekend, but we were too far back."

The pole-sitting Konrad Motorsport Saleen came home 14th in class.

"That was a strange race," Walter Lechner Jr admitted, "Toni took the start and I think he was too much under pressure, he made a mistake and spun, which meant we lost nearly a lap. Paul [Knapfield] took the second session, and did quite a good job, bringing the car back in one piece, but when I took over, after 20 or 25 minutes there was a problem on the rear. I made a stop for new tyres and it went better, but then it started having rear problems again. I couldn't push, and I thought it was better to stop before I had a big problem or a crash"

There was no more luck for the lone Lister in the field, which Jamie Campbell-Walter and Jamie Derbyshire took to 15th in class for Creation Autosportif.

"We changed the engine to the spare yesterday, and unfortunately the one we had in the car before was about 30hp more powerful than the spare," JC-W sighed, "We
were down on power, then the gear linkage broke. They fixed it, and the car was quite good when we were running alone but, when we were in traffic, they killed us. It was going okay and then the gearbox broke. I never seem to have much luck at Donington."

Pending the results of the appeal, BMS duo Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari lead the championship with 45 points, eight ahead of Bobbi and Gardel. Bartels and
Alzen are on 30 points, with Wendlinger, Babini and Peter all on 25. In the Teams classification, BMS Scuderia Italia continues to lead, with 82 points compared to 37 for GPC Giesse Squadra Corse. JMB Racing and the Vitaphone Racing team are provisionally tied on 30.

The N-GT results showed that Donington obviously suits Stephane Ortelli, who has now won the class there every year since 2002. Teamed with Romain Dumas in 2002, Marc Lieb last year and now with Emmanuel Collard, the Monaco driver finished ahead of team-mates Maassen and Luhr to take the 2004 win - and also to become the first driver to be hit with the extra 25kg penalty weight for winning with the maximum ballast of 50kg.

"It was an amazing fight today," Ortelli conceded, "We had to fight against time as we had a gearbox problem this morning, and had to repair it for the race. We were really struggling.

"In the first two laps, I had a good fight with Lucas, who overtook me in the chicane and, from then, I was not quite quick enough and lost a bit of time. Emmanuel did a fine stint, then I was pushing hard in the third stint. We've been lucky all day - particularly to have the problem in the warm-up and not in the race."

Maassen and Luhr lost any chance of breaking Ortelli's run when the #99 car was forced to make an unscheduled pit-stop on lap 110, and then almost cost themselves any chance of taking points when the younger German ran into the back of Alzen's Saleen. Luhr, however, disagreed with his fellow countryman's assessment of the incident.

"I heard what Uwe said, but I cannot really quite agree with his point of view," he insisted, "If he says I made a mistake, okay, I made a mistake and I apologise for
that. I definitely didn't want to destroy anybody's race, but I think it was a misunderstanding. There was no place for me to go."

The British GT Championship was well represented in the final standings, with Gruppe M's Porsche 996 GT3-RS finishing third and Scuderia Ecosse's Ferrari 360 Modena taking fourth with Scots Nathan Kinch and Andrew Kirkaldy fourth.

"I'm very pleased," teenager Jonathan Cocker said after guiding the Porsche to third place along with team-mate Tim Mullen and claiming the record as youngest FIA GT podium finisher, "It's fantastic to have my name to something like this. I didn't know I would be doing the race until quite late on, so it's quite a surprise to come here and have the whole weekend racing when I thought I'd be at home.

"The race was fantastic, Tim drove really well and I put in a good stint. This is the longest time I've ever driven the car for at one time, but it was good fun - you get into a rhythm and it flows naturally. But it was also nice to get out of the car and have a good breather, as it gets very hot."

For Ferrari regular Mullen, the race provided an altogether different challenge.

"This weekend is the first time I've ever driven a Porsche," he explained, "I'm more of a Ferrari man, and it was very different in a number of ways. But I think I got to grips with it pretty quickly, and it's a great result for the team. We didn't have any problems, despite the team only really being set up for this race - the car was run by a different team in the British GT Championship."

GPC Giesse's pairing of Christian Pescatori and Fabrizio de Simone were fifth, ahead of another British GT entry piloted by Mike Jordan and Dave Warnock. Jens Petersen's Porsche also finished in the points, with father and son team Gerold and Christian Ried taking the final point for eighth in the Proton Competition Porsche.

In the overall classification, Ortelli and Collard are now two points ahead of Maassen and Luhr, with de Simone and Pescatori are a further ten points behind. Freisinger Yukos lead the Teams with 64 points, while Freisinger Motorsport is on 46 and GPC Giesse on 36.

A third class was racing at Donington, with two TVR Tuscan T400R cars competing in the Spa 2 class, equivalent to the Group 2 at the Spa 24 Hours. The #153 RSR car of Nigel Greensall and Lawrence Tomlinson finished 18th overall, ahead of the sixth-placed N-GT car - to the delight of the team.

"We're thrilled - it's just so nice to be part of it all," Greensall said, "The car was perfect, there were no dramas at all. We would have been sixth in the N-GT, which is fantastic. The car went like clockwork - clockwork orange!"

The #154 Chamberlain-Synergy car was involved in a collision with the #9 Zwaan's Viper, landing in the gravel.

No penalty weight adjustments will come into force until Imola, as ballast is carried at Spa, where the Proximus 24 Hours forms the next challenge for the teams. Double points are on offer, with half normal points available after six hours, half after twelve, and the normal amounts after the full race distance.