27 June 2004
Donington 2004: JMB, Vitaphone - win, lose, win.
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 fermé 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, Stéphane 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.
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