Vitaphone Maserati and drivers Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels broke their Championship Race win duck in the FIA GT1 World Championship by taking a convincing, though not always entirely comfortable win at Paul Ricard.
The German-run team completed their domination of the weekend adding the win, and 25 championship points, to glory in the Qualifying Race and pole from the initial time trial session.
“It's a great day, a great victory,” said Bartels. “I'm happy to have also this year, in the new era of GT1 championship a victory in my pocket; it feels fantastic. But there is still a long season if you calculate how many points there are to score still, around 200 or something. We're still far away. These points mean nothing so far, and I think the championship will remain open until the last two races.”
The happiness of a first Sunday win for Maserati was only added to by a surprise podium for the Hegersport example of Alfred Heger and Alex Margaritis. Between the two MC12s was the Sumo Power GT Nissan of Peter Dumbreck and Michael Krumm, bouncing back with an impressive result after a Qualifying Race when they seemed to be drifting unstoppably backwards. However, Dumbreck, bringing the car home, had no answer to the Maserati by the time he inherited second place three laps from the end, faced with a deficit of nearly 12 seconds.
It was not always that easy for Bartels and Bertolini.
The start was almost a carbon copy of the beginning of the Qualifying Race, with the pole sitting Maserati beaten back into third by the opening corner, Peter Kox stealing the lead from second on the grid, while Warren Hughes made his way around the inside of Bertolini by taking his Sumo Power car off the track.
But 'steal' proved to be operative words for both of Bertolini's rivals. Kox was the first to be slapped with a drive through penalty, a jump start explaining the cushion the Reiter Lamborghini had immediately found, while Hughes was given the same penalty for passing outside of the track limits, though both Vitaphone Maseratis and the Phoenix Corvette of Andrea Piccini had already despatched the Briton by the time he served his penalty.
When Kox pulled the Reiter Murcielago into the pits (realistically ending Lamborghini's best weekend of the season – he and Christopher Haase would finish a lowly 18th, their teammates the brand's best finisher in tenth) it could easily have been the beginning the sort of Vitaphone exhibition that long-time fans of FIA GT series should be familiar with.
Piccini, driving in the series for the first time since Abu Dhabi, had other ideas, his yellow Corvette seemingly defying belief to have the temerity to match the Vitaphone duo.
After following the no.2 car, driven by Enrique Bernoldi, for a number of laps Piccini launched a move down the inside into the final corner – a tight right hander. The move itself was clean, and successful, but the Italian jink right one on the straight to try and block any Bernoldi comeback led to contact, the Maserati's suspension failing and retirement for Bernoldi. The Brazilian, interviewed for TV was understandably critical of Piccini's move, offering it up as a explanation of why he had been a Formula One driver and Piccini was “nothing”.
The Corvette survived damage free, catching Bertolini and even trying to repeat the late, lunging move into the final corner. This time however, it did not work, the Corvette ending up pirouetting across the High Tech Test Track's striped run-off areas. The was no sign that contact had sent the Corvette spinning, though the two did nearly come together again as Piccini regained the track as Bertolini came in for his pitstop, but as the Corvette carried on down the pit straight in the lead it was the final time the Maserati would be troubled upfront.
Piccini came in late during the tem minute window to hand over to Marc Hennerici and when the car exited the pits it had fallen off the metaphorical rear bumper of the no.1car to over seconds behind, though still in second. Hennerici would maintain second before Piccini's Bernoldi-angering move was punished with a stop-go penalty.
Third after the pitstops was the Matech Competition Ford GT, Thomas Mutsch having taken over from Romain Grosjean. The French/Swiss had started seventh, but taken advantage of the early penalties to move up, but perhaps by talent level, perhaps by the car and tyres screaming in protest Mutsch was unable to keep the car on the podium. Dumbreck went past first, a wiggle wide at the first corner let Margaritis through before Maxime Martin took his Marc VDS Ford GT past his more illustrious brand-mate. The fourth place Martin and driving partner Bas Leinders took the Belgian squad's first points of the season.
Hennerici finished fifth after taking his penalty, coming out ahead of a struggling Mutsch. The Warren Hughes/Jamie Campbell-Walter recovered from their own penalty for eighth.
Bertolini and Bartel's perfect point scoring weekend gives them the championship points lead on 77 points each having passed the Matech pairing, who each have 62 points.