The new-look FIA GT1 World Championship got underway at Nogaro in France with Stephane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor taking victory for Audi in the qualifying race.
The field took the start in very slippery conditions, with Czech single-seater convert Filip Salaquarda visibly struggling in the opening laps behind the wheel of the pole-sitting AF Corse Ferrari, but managing to hold off Vanthoor and Britain's Oliver Jarvis in the second WRT R8. Salaquarda's lead was not to last however, his countryman Tomas Enge, who made the switch to the Reiter Engineering Lamborghini team in the off-season, carving his way from seventh on the grid to the front as early as lap 4.
Stuck behind Salaquarda, an increasingly-impatient Vanthoor was himself having to fend off the advances of 2005 British F3 champion Alvaro Parente, the Portuguese flying the flag alone for McLaren after Stef Dusseldorf crashed the sister car en route to the grid. As chinks in Salaquarda's armour started to appear however, 19-year old Belgian Vanthoor eventually muscled his way past, and was soon followed by Parente and Jarvis, dropping the Ferrari down to fifth, which Toni Vilander could not improve in the second stint.
During the pitstop phase, Hexis turned the McLaren around faster than WRT, allowing Gregoire Demoustier to emerge ahead of Ortelli, albeit still behind the Lamborghini now piloted by Albert von Thurn und Taxis.
However, Demoustier's second-place was short-lived, Ortelli powering past his less-experienced counterpart on cold-tyres within half a lap. Third soon became fourth for Demoustier with Frank Stippler, having taken over from Jarvis, demoting the French GT3 graduate further with an aggressive pass into Turn 1.
As the track dried, von Thurn und Taxis' handling got progressively worse, and was easy meat for the charging Audi pairing, first Ortelli, and then Stippler with just four minutes left on the clock. Nevertheless, he was delighted to round off the podium finishers ahead of Demoustier, Vilander's Ferrari, and the battling Munnich Motorsport Mercedes pair of Marc Basseng/Markus Winkelhock and Nicky Pastorelli/Thomas Jager.
“It is such a great win for us – I cannot believe we won the first race,” a delighted Ortelli said. “We had been testing on Tuesday in the damp and we did not expect to have a car that would cope as well in these conditions.”
“Winning the race is a dream start, and making it a one-two for Audi is just amazing.”
Former DTM man Jarvis was happy with second, but the 2005 McLaren Autosport Award winner is still waiting for his first win under a roof, having last won at Zandvoort in the single-seater A1GP championship back in 2007.
“I think we have had a very strong start in very difficult conditions for everyone,” Jarvis said. It's very close out there; we have some great teams and some great drivers. I think it will be a close season.”
Ortelli will start the points-scoring feature race from pole tomorrow with team-mate Stippler alongside. After Dusseldorp's embarrassing faux pas, Frenchman Fred Makowiecki will be entrusted with starting the feature race from the back of the grid.
“It was really difficult, we left on new tyres – we had three new sets after the problems in qualifying,” a devastated Dusseldorp said. “I wanted to warm up the tyres well for Fred in the second stint, but especially with the wet conditions and more rain on the track, and new tyres, it was quite tricky. I didn't push, but maybe I made a small mistake or with the gears – it's difficult to see on the data – and just crashed into the wall a little bit, but a little bit too much and it was over unfortunately.”
|1.||Laurens Vanthoor/ Stephane Ortelli||WRT Audi||1h00m26.351s|
|2.||Oliver Jarvis/ Frank Stippler||WRT Audi||+ 6.030s|
|3.||Tomas Enge/ Albert von Thurn und Taxis||Reiter Lamborghini||+ 6.914s|
|4.||Alvaro Parente/ Gregoire Demoustier||Hexis McLaren||+ 7.164s|
|5.||Filip Salaquarda/ Toni Vilander||AF Corse Ferrari||+ 31.293s|
|6.||Marc Basseng/ Markus Winkelhock||Munnich Mercedes||+ 33.785s|
|7.||Nicky Pastorelli/ Thomas Jager||Munnich Mercedes||+ 34.414s|
|8.||Darryl O'Young/ Peter Kox||Reiter Lamborghini||+ 47.177s|
|9.||Mike Parisy/ Matt Halliday||Exim Porsche||+ 48.622s|
|10.||Enzo Ide/ Francesco Castellacci||AF Corse Ferrari||+ 49.997s|
|11.||Yelmer Buurman/ Michael Bartels||Vita4One BMW||+ 57.791s|
|12.||Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof/ Matias Lauda||Vita4One BMW||+ 1m02.466s|
|13.||Andreas Zuber/ Sergey Afanasyev||Valmon Aston||+ 1 lap|
|14.||Benjamin Lariche/ Ren Wei||Exim Porsche||+ 1 lap|
|15.||Milos Pavlovic/ Matteo Cressoni||SUNRED Ford||+ 2 laps|
|16.||Maxime Martin/ Alexey Vasilyev||Valmon Aston||+ 2 laps|