Darren Turner and Tomas Enge took an easy victory for Young Driver AMR in the Qualifying Race in Interlagos, pushed to victory by a decisive pitstop.
Turner had started for victors at the Nurburgring earlier in the year and while he took the rolling start from third on the grid he took second as the front row pairing of Nicky Pastorelli and Xandi Negrao obligingly made an Aston Martin sized gap for Turner to fill as they plunged in the Senna-S for the first time.
Negrao – one of five Brazilians added to the field for the race in Sao Paulo – held onto the lead from Turner with Alex Margaritis in third, Pastorelli being forced back to fourth. The Greek's Corvette is one of several car involved in the battle for the drivers' championship, his teammate Marc Hennerici entering the race with an outside chance of taking his chances to the final race.
So it was the German who was probably the most animated person on the team when an over-zealous move by Pastorelli on the fifth lap tipped the Corvette into a win. You could almost sense the panic in Pastorelli's All-inkl Murcielago as the line up the inside of the corner rapidly filled with yellow Corvette and he tried to escape, Pastorelli straddling the kerb before the inevitable happened. Contact, a spinning Corvette and a leaping Hennerici in the Phoenix/Carsport garage where he was waiting to take over the car.
Margaritis was able to recover, but the incident dropped them down to seventh and out of the points giving podium places in the Qualifying Race.
The championship leaders – the No.1 Vitaphone Maserati crew of Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini had started from 19th on the grid – presenting an opportunity to their rivals. Thomas Mutsch had started brightly in the ballast free Matech Competition Ford GT. However, his race came to a very premature end on the beginning of the third lap. Mutsch had pulled out of the slipstream of Frank Kechele's Reiter Engineering Lamborghini – the standard overtake at Interlagos – and was most of the way alongside before Kechele tried any form of defense.
The move to the left only succeeded in clipping Mutsch, the Ford flicked into the air before sliding into turn one with a trail of smoke. Mutsch retiring the car almost as soon as it came to a halt.
“When you have someone turning in at the braking zone like that there is not much chance,” blasted Mutsch. “I am happy to hold my hands up and say that Navarra was all my fault but here I had my race ended by something that I had no control over. I am really very annoyed to have my race ended like that and our championship chances badly affected. I am disgusted to be honest.”
At the head of the field Negrao held the lead from Turner – the two allowed to break away by the Pastorelli-Margaritis incident earlier. Turner ould later say he believed the Maserati had more pace, but he was still able to stay close behind the leader throughout the first 25 minutes. And when both cars came into the pits for the their driver change at the first opportunity Turner was almost attached to rear of Negrao's Maserati.
With Enge strapped into the Aston and Enrique Bernoldi in the MC12 the two exited the pitlane, with the Aston ahead and enjoying a larger margin than Negrao had even had in the race's opening stint.
At that moment the race was decided, Enge had a two second lead once the ten-minute pit window had closed, and the lead only increased from there. There was further setback for the erstwhile leaders, when they were given a drive through penalty for the mechanic throwing the car's old tyres into the garage during their pitstop. The penalty dropped them back to fifth, though they climbed back to fourth in the remaining laps when Bernoldi passed a struggling Dominic Schwager. Schwager had taken over from Pastorelli in third place, but had lost place to first Peter Dumbreck in the Sumo Power Nissan, then Clivio Piccione in the no.10 Hexis AMR entry – who went on to complete the podium positions.
“The guys did a fantastic pit stop and got us out two seconds ahead of the Maserati,” said Turner. “I tried to close the gap to the lead as much as I could before the stop. The team has done a great job in setting up the car and it really shows. The most important thing is that we are in a good position for tomorrow's race.”
Hennerici took the Corvette back up to sixth ahead of the other Matech Ford GT – the pair of Neel Jani and Nicolas Armindo also recovering from an earlier punt off the track.
The points leading Maserati had a quiet but effective race to climb steadily up the other to finish eighth – firmly within striking distance of securing the championship after the Championship Race, especially after Mutsch's early retirement.
There was also a retirement for the no.41 Marc VDS Ford. On the last lap, with Matteo Bobbi at the wheel the car suffered a rear suspension failure on the exit of the long turn three, which pitched the car into a series of pirouettes before striking the barrier hard on driver's left.
They will start the Championship Race – the weekend's second 60-minute – race from 20th.