The Matech Competition Ford GT of Thomas Mutsch and Romain Grosjean will start the 'Championship Race' of the FIA GT1 World Championship despite finishing second behind the Phoenix/Carsport Corvette in a qualifying race that whetted the appetite for the new championship.
The result will come as some consolation to the Swiss based squad, which endured a massive setback yesterday when Natacha Gachnang broke her leg in high speed crash, reducing their car count to one for the opening round of the new series at Abu Dhabi's Yas Marina circuit.
Their remaining car started the hour long race from 11th but in the hands of Grosjean had made its way up to fifth by the end of the first lap, mostly thanks to the over eagerness of some of the cars that started ahead of it.
The field had barely got to the first corner before the no.2 Vitaphone Maserati driven by Miguel Ramos was charging up the inside toward the left-handed turn one looking for the lead after starting third. The car, which was qualified by Enrique Bernoldi slid across the track, mercifully missing the other top qualifiers, halting on the outside of the track.
While much of the 23 cars field was able to avoid the stricken black and turquoise car the Young Driver AMR machine of Tomas Enger was not so lucky, catching the back of the Maserati, the Aston Martin coming away with a shredded right-rear tyre and a significant gash in the bodywork ahead of the wheel.
The over exuberant chaos continued on the following corners, the Hexis AMR car that started the race second spinning out at the all-Finnish Mika Salo/Pertti Kuismanen Mad-Croc Corvette pulling off the track after contact, somewhere had broken the rear suspension.
The trail of debris saw the safety car scrambled as the field thundered down the back straight, with the pole sitting Corvette of Marc Hennerici retaining its lead in an early 1-2 for the American brand with the remaining Mad Croc example driven by Alex Muller in second. A fellow survivor, the no.1 Vitaphone Maserati was fourth, Christopher Hasse's Rieter Lamborghini ahead of Grosjean.
When the safety car pulled in that top five was quickly able to pull away from another Ford GT, the Marc VDS entry with Belgian Bas Lienders at the wheel. But while Lienders was holding up the field behind him Grosjean, one of few drivers to have previously raced at the track thanks to his F1 experience, was heading for the front.
On the first lap after the safety car he looked to have passed Haase into turn eight – the same corner where Gachnang had her accident the day before – before completing the pass at the same corner a lap later, outbraking the German around the outside before quickly making passes for third and second at the same corner despite the best efforts of Alex Muller in the Mad Croc car all but forcing the Ford GT into the wall down the kilometre long straight.
Behind them Stefan Mucke had made it past Lienders, but didn't have the pace to bridge the gap to the leading quintet, while the four Nissans were running together experiencing a disappointing debut, battling with the pair of All-Inkl.com backed Lamborghinis at the back of the pack.
Twenty-five minutes in the opening of the ten-minute pit window for the mandatory driver and tyre change saw instant action, Haase the first of the leaders to pit, along with a pair of the Nissans, trying to free themselves from their intra-brand battle.
The leader and the now fourth place Maserati were next to bit, Martin Bartek's team smartly keeping the charging Grosjean out as long as they dare with the control Michelin tyres he started the race on, calling him in shortly after the half way mark.
It was just after he handed control of the car over to Thomas Mutsch that any chance of a win disappeared as he stalled the car trying to leave the pitlane. The error, by the time the car had navigated the (in)famous Abu Dhabi pitlane tunnel their deficit to the Phoenix/Carsport car, now in the hands of Andy Zuber had ballooned from just a few seconds to nine.
The second half of the race, the field now stretched out around the 3.45mile circuit, was far quieter. The only drama at the head of the field kept to Bartels momentarily gaining on Mutsch for second and the late demise of the Mad Croc car from fourth, handing the position to the remaining Young Driver AMR with the Triple H run Maserati of Altfrid Heger and Alex Margaritis a quiet fifth place by the time the checkered fell on the first race of the season.
The top three collect points, three for the winning Corvette, two for the Matech entry which finished only 2.3 seconds down after Zuber eased off considerably in the closing laps, and a single point for the Vitaphone MC12.
However, all four Corvettes are due to receive a ten place grid penalty, which should see one of the new design cars start from pole in the headline race of the new series' debut weekend.
Photo Credit: (c) DPPI