It was another solid display of the Modenese cars’ reliability and performance in a race where the outcome was affected by wet weather.
The Vitaphone Racing Team can feel a little regret at the second place taken Bartels/Biagi/Van de Poele/Lamy as the crew was leading by a lap just 58 minutes from the end. However, the expert Belgian spun on the slippery surface during an especially heavy downpour. He finished up in the sand and lost the lead and a lap because of the time it took to fish him out. The car, long in second, had moved into first place as the eighteenth hour struck.
The German team’s crew of Montanari/Ramos/Bobbi/Lemeret deserve a mention owing to their fantastic showing as they finished fourth after long holding third position.
Playteam Sarafree ended its debut outing in the 24 Hour with a solid fifth spot courtesy of Bertolini/Piccini/De Simone/Pier Guidi. The quartet held the lead before a banal problem forced them into the pits for over three laps. The team’s other line-up had to retire a few minutes from the end after a clash with another car sent Giambattista Giannoccaro into the crash barriers.
The fifth and final MC12 to take on the Ardennes test was that fielded by JMB Racing for Peter/Franchitti/Macari/Aucott. The crew took the car to seventh. Despite the fact that this was the first time the four had been brought together and that two are true gentleman drivers (Macari and Aucott compete in and lead the Citation Cup), the crew managed to steer clear of the trouble that put paid to many other drivers’ chances.
The 24 Hours of Spa is very important in terms of the championship as points are awarded at the end of six, twelve and twenty-four hours.
Maserati has increased its advantage in the Manufacturers’ Cup. It now stands on 117.5 points, 35 more than Corvette who are second on 82.5.
Thomas Biagi still heads the Drivers’ championship with 45 points. He has a nine point lead over the Hezemans/Deletraz pairing (36), eleven more than the Bertolini/Piccini duo (34) and sixteen up on Bartels/Montanari/Ramos (29).
The Vitaphone Racing Team (Maserati MC12) has extended its lead in the Teams’ championship and now has 74 points. Next come Scuderia Playteam Sarafree (Maserati MC12) who have earned 40.
The race report
Following an incident-free start with the five MC12s occupying places in the top ten, Massimiliano Busnelli had an unfortunate clash with a GT3, ran off the track and damaged his car. The driver from Lombardy managed to make it back to the pits to rebuld the front and rear ends, a job the Playteam Sarafree mechanics took just 13 laps to complete.
The safety car came on on lap 77 and the group bunched up again as the three hour mark was reached. At this point, the number 11 Playteam Sarafree car was in fifth and the Vitaphone Racing entrants in sixth and seventh.
The situation was unchanged at the restart, apart from Pedro Lamy setting the fastest lap time during his stint (2´16'452 on lap 142) as he upped the tempo.
It was at this stage that a few drivers retired, just as the number 12 MC12 was making a superb comeback to 22nd place.
Approaching the six hour mark, the first of three where championship points would be awarded, a terrible crash involving a GT2 car meant the safety car was once more called on. The positions were fixed and Bertolini was holding second behind the number 33 Aston Martin. Lamy was in fifth and Montanari sixth.
However, between hours six and nine, the race order changed with the retirement of Wendlinger/Sharp/Lichtner/Lechner's car. After nine hours, three MC12s were in the top four with Alessandro Pier Guidi heading Matteo Bobbi and Eric Van de Poele.
Another important stage of the race in terms of championship points came after twelve hours. The Corvette driven by Deletraz/Hezemans/Gollin/Fassler led with a one lap advantage over Bartels/Biagi/Van de Poele/Lamy's and Bertolini/Piccini/De Simone/Pier Guidi's Maseratis. The MC12 crewed by Montanari/Ramos/Bobbi/Lemeret was fourth, two laps down. The JMB Racing Team car was continuing its good form in eighth even though it was a little way off the leaders, as was the second Playteam MC12 in fifteenth.
With the drivers nearing their 300th lap, Andrea Piccini, in third, was forced to pit with a rear light problem. This cost the quicker Playteam MC12 three laps. The problem, repaired by the mechanics, appeared again a few laps later when Alessandro Pier Guidi was at the wheel. Another pit stop was inevitable but this time the problem was resolved in record time.
It was now that the rain, long expected by all the teams, began to come down. In these difficult conditions, Fabrizio De Simone and Pedro Lamy produced a series of fast laps that saw De Simone consistently outpace the other drivers, thanks also to his Pirelli wet weather tyres.
The Portuguese driver, meanwhile, quickly closed the 1´40' gap that separated him from the race leader, Fabrizio Gollin, and hit the front.
On lap 425, the safety car made yet another appearance and the teams took the chance to make their pit stops. The race order at this point was: Biagi, Fassler (2´33' down), Kumpen (3 laps down), Montanari (3 laps down) and De Simone (4 laps down). The Roman driver headed back out for his third stint having refuelled but sporting the same set of tyres.
The safety car turned off its lights and left the scene on lap 440. This was the signal for the race to start up again. Montanari appeared determined to chase third place and earned it on lap 458 by overtaking Kumpen. However, the safety car had come back on lap 457 because of the difficult track conditions and Fassler’s spin while chasing down Thomas Biagi was testimony to the tricky surface. The Vitaphone Racing Team made the most of the fact that the cars had bunched up to switch Thomas Biagi with Eric Van de Poele in the number 1 car and Matteo Bobbi with Christian Montanari in car number 2. Playteam Sarafree also took the opportunity to replace Fabrizio De Simone with Andrea Bertolini.
Rain continued to fall during the closing stages of the race, forcing the safety car back out on lap 490. It stayed on for ten laps and the field came together once more. Van de Poele built a one-minute lead over Fassler when it left but then came his unfortunate spin. The incident cost the Belgian a lap and saw Fassler inherit the lead. The Vitaphone Racing Team made their final driver switch early and replaced Van de Poele with Pedro Lamy for the last 58 minutes. Christian Montanari also got into some difficulty after a planned pit stop and had to come in again to swap his tyres. This added delay saw him slip to fourth.
With the drivers secure in the top positions, the teams were only waiting for the chequered flag to be flown. At the finish, the Corvette C6R crew of Hezemans/Deletraz/Fassler/Gollin crossed the line first, in second came Poele/Bartels/Biagi/Lamy’s MC12 (1’17”756 down) with the Corvette C5R driven by Kumpen/Longin/Mollekens/Bouvy in third (3 laps off the pace). The MC12s driven by Lemeret/Ramos/Montanari/Bobbi and Bertolini/Piccini/De Simone/Pier Guidi closed out in fourth and fifth, respectively while Macari/Aucott/Peter/Franchitti took their JMB Racing MC12 to a fine seventh.