30 May 2005
Imola 2005: Corvette makes it four from four.
Four races, four different winning cars has got the 2005 FIA GT Championship off to a competitive - and completely unexpected - start, with the GLPK Corvette completing the quartet in dominant fashion at Imola.
In front of 22,000 sun-baked spectators, the three-hour race took a high toll on the field, with an unusually high attrition rate and only 14 cars classified at the end. But the survivors - as well as those who did not make it to the chequered flag - put on an intriguing show in difficult conditions, with the top six cars on the same lap just minutes from the end.
In the end, however, the day belonged to GLPK-Carsport, which became the first Belgian team to win outright when its Corvette C5-R crossed the line ahead of the mixed pack of Ferraris and Maseratis, and to GruppeM, which claimed its third one-two of the season with a fine win for Emmanuel Collard and Tim Sugden.
For the first time in nine years of racing, grid ceremonies aside, the Belgian national anthem was heard at a FIA GT Championship round as GLPK-Carsport claimed its maiden win, and the first in the series for the Corvette C5-R. Mike Hezemans, Bert Longin and Anthony Kumpen put in a faultless performance, leading for nearly the entire three hours, except for a short time before their second pit-stop.
Hezemans started from pole, but only after a major scare for the team when, faced with a broken gearbox and considering retirement after the warm-up, the team managed to repair the car in time for the start.
"I didn't know how long it would last, so I decided to push very hard for the first laps, at least to give the spectators a good show," Hezemans explained, "But, after around 25 laps, everything was feeling good, and I was very positive."
Setting the fastest lap early on, the Dutchman handed the car over to Longin without losing the lead. The Belgian, who endured a torrid time at Silverstone, put in a great stint, resisting pressure from Thomas Biagi until he opted to let the Italian Maserati driver through.
"I knew they had to do an extra stop, so I decided to be cool out there today," Longin said.
Kumpen took over for the final stint and, when the Maserati pitted, found himself in the lead - just as Longin had surmised.
"I had quite a comfortable gap of over thirty seconds, so I just had to keep ahead," Kumpen explained, "But I was getting pretty worried, as you begin to hear all the noises and worry that there will be a problem with the car."
The Corvette crossed the finish line 19 seconds ahead of the #11 Larbre Competition Ferrari 550 Maranello of round one winners Pedro Lamy and Gabriele Gardel, with the #10 Vitaphone Maserati of Biagi and Fabio Babini third on a disappointing day for the Trident marque.
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