The Vitaphone Racing Maserati of Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels converted pole position for the Qualifying Race into a win at Paul Ricard, continuing the record of scoring in every round of the championship and pole for tomorrow's Championship Race.
The pair were largely untroubled during the hour long race, though Bartels, who started the car did lose the lead initially to the Reiter Lamborghini of Christopher Haase who edged the Murcielago ahead before the field had made the first turn after the rolling start. Bartels, like his Aston Martin rivals at Brno, would later complian about the light prcedure, saying the lights “went red-green-red-green”.
However, and despite the fact that the Lamborghinis have been consistently the fastest of the series' brands around Paul Ricard this weekend, Haase was little more than a cork in the bottle at the head of the field. Bartels followed him in second for the opening third of the race, with Mike Hezemans' Mad Croc Corvette in third, having escaped from between the pair of Sumo Power Nissans in the opening exchanges.
The Corvette's departure briefly led to an intra-team battle between the two Nissan GT-R, Jamie Campbell-Walter passing Peter Dumbreck. Unshackled from behind his teammate it soon became clear that Dumbreck had been holding up Campbell-Walter, and the rate he was able to gain on the leading trio – occasionally by as much as a second a lap – only served to illustrate Haase's pace, or obvious lack of it.
Much of the lack of pace was probably down to the tyres, which Haase described as having basically become useless after only six laps. Time and again he took the inside, defensive line into the left-right-left chicane that interrupts the gargantuan Mistral Straight this weekend. Bartels continued to look for the move, the front four, Campbell-Walter now on the back of the train, all jinking out from behind each other, headlights ablaze despite the Mediterranean heat leeching up to Paul Ricard.
Bartels did make it past, Haase almost seeming to give-up his defensive ploy, taking to the complete other side of the track at the point he had defended hard enough a few laps earlier to cause a lurid lock-up from the experienced Maserati man. The speed of the MC12 was immediately apparent, Bartels pulling out a 3.5 second lead after only a lap over second place Hezemans, who had found a similar way past Haase a lap after.
The lead of over five second Bartels had accrued by the time the leaders began to make their compulsory pitstop was enough to see him though to the checkered flag. His lead stretched to as much as ten seconds, though Bertolini was able to ease off in the closing laps, winning by only 5.5 seconds officially. The ease of his victory may have been helped by the Corvette, now with Xavier Maassen aboard fell back behind the Lamborghini, the Reiter team pitting early to install Peter Kox – their better driver by a distance – in the car. Maassen would lose third, the podium place, and the final points available in the Qualifying Race to Warren Hughes in the Nissan three laps before race’s end.
The second Vitaphone car of Miguel Ramos and Enrique Bernoldi finished fifth ahead of the lone Phoenix Corvette.
The championship leading Matech Competition pairing of Thomas Mutsch and Romain Grosjean escaped their 15th place start and the midfield melee to recover up to seventh. Mutsch, taking the first stint in the car had begun the charge, and broke away from the fighting pack by passing though the middle in a three-abreast move into the first turn between one of the Hegersport Maserati's and Dumbreck's struggling Nissan.
The race was, by the standard of the first three weekends of the new World Championship a calmer affair, with less in the way body damage than most race – despite the effort of the pack stuck behind Dumbreck, whose personal involvement ended by causing a concertina as he exited the final corner before coming into the pits. The slow Nissan forced Fred Makowiecki in the no.9 Hexis Aston Martin to ckeck-up, onto the front bumper of Karl Wendlinger Swiss Racing Team Nissan, tipping the Aston into a spin into its own tyre smoke as driver's behind scrambled towards the pitlane entrance.
The moment typified a poor race in a poor weekend for Aston Martin, given they have been fighting for wins at both Brno and Silverstone. The Young Driver AMR Tomas Enger/Darren Turner car was the top example of the brand, though even they will start tomorrow's Championship Race back in tenth.