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FIA GT1 Navarra: Championship Race Report

4 Mins read

The Reiter Engineering duo of Ricardo Zonta and Frank Kechele completed a weekend of domination at Navarra, adding victory in the Championship Race to their previous win in the Qualifying Race and pole position from qualifying for the eighth round of the FIA GT1 World Championship.

Just like in the Qualifying Race it was a dominant win for the pair, Zonta coverting pole position into a first corner lead – only sacrificing top spot during the pit stop window as different strategies played out. A slightly faster pitstop saw Yann Clairay in the no.9 Hexis AMR car briefly got ahead of the Lamborghini, assuming what would have been the lead after the stops were completed.

Very briefly.

While the Monegasque was still getting up to speed around the first corner, Kechele made a decisive move to scythe down the inside of the Aston Martin between turns one and two. It was a tough a challenge as they'd faced in either race, and even that lasted mere seconds. Kechele quickly pulled out a lead which only grew for the rest of the race, ending in a winning margin of nearly 12 seconds.

“We were sure of our pace” said Kechele. “So we were focused on making sure we didn’t make any mistakes. The whole team didn’t make any mistakes the whole weekend and that’s why I think we deserve this trophy. It is one thing to be fast but to win you need to make no mistakes and we were 100 percent this weekend and that makes me really, really happy.”

“It’s a shame I missed the first two races because we could be further up in the driver’s championship and we are also trying to win the team championship,” added the German who moved up to fifth in the drivers' championship – the 25 pints also move Reiter to 18 points adrift of Vitaphone Racing.

The race for the rest of the field, however, was far less straight forward.

As Zonta was beginning the demonstration up front through the opening corners the first of a series of opening lap incidents was claiming its victims.

Hampered by an ignition loop that had come off in the Qualifying Race Peter Kox was trying to make up positions in the second Reiter car but found himself trying to go three abreast around turn three with the no.41 Marc VDS Ford and no.3 Swiss Racing Team Nissan. The Nissan, with Karl Wendlinger at the wheel and Kox pinched the Ford, Kox being pitched across its nose into the Nissan resulting in damage that would see neither Kox nor Wendlinger complete the opening lap.

A few corners later there was more damage. The other SRT Nissan, no.33 Hegersport Maserati and Madcoc Corvette all span at the same corner, sending those behind scattering for a route between, or around the trio. Seiji Ara would continue in the Nissan, but only for one more lap while Bert Longin and Duncan Huisman (Maserati and Corvette respectively) would join the list of those who failed to complete even one lap.

The first lap had one more incident to give. Trying to outbrake Maxime Martin in the Marc VDS Ford, Alessandro Pier Guidi locked the brakes of his Hegersport car that had started from second. The out of control MC12 speared into the right-rear of Neel Jani in the Matech Competition Ford, spinning the Swiss around while Richard Westbrook in the other Matech Ford helped Christophe Bouchut into a spin as the field tried to thread its way by Jani.

The first lap chaos was exactly what drivers like Westbrook needed. Avoiding most of the action he ended the first lap in fifth, shadowed by the no.13 Phoenix/Carsport Corvette of Marc Hennerici. Crucially, as both cars carried the dwindling title hopes of drivers they had found a way by the championship leading no.1 Maserati.

That good fortune was not to continue though. Westbrook spun of fifth on just the second lap, the Briton caught out by the conditions as light rain fell frustratingly briefly on the track. Hennerici would drop back though his stint, his struggles only confirmed when the yellow Corvette made its mandatory stop only second after the pit window was cracked open.

Westbrook on the other hand was among the last to pit, together with Enrique Bernoldi in the no.2 Vitaphone Maserati. With Thomas Mutsch and Miguel Ramos strapped in the pair set off down the pitlane, Ramos almost forcing Mutsch into the pitwall as he slid out of his pitbox. The pair, looking to continue their pitlane battle on the track emerged infront of Alex Margaritis – Hennerici's co-driver.

The Greek driver surely saw an opportunity to take some easy positions while the pair squabbled. He took up position on the outside of the Maserati, posturing for a run at Ramos down the straight. Mutsch, however, simply ran into the rear of the Corvette, the Ford climbing onto the back of rear of the car, which miraculously continued with very little ill effect.

The same could not be said for the Ford. The impact had severely deranged the front bodywork, leaving the front-left wing hanging off, blocking much of the driver's view in the left-hand-drive car. Mutsch tried to continue, the car shedding broken parts all the while before pulling into the pits and retirement, a severe blow to any title aspirations as he now sits 35 points down on the no.1 Maserati pairing with two rounds to go.

Enge/Turner Aston came from the back of the grid to fourth

Bertolini and Bartels would finish the race seventh to extend the championship lead.

Behind The race winning Lamborghini car the Clairay and Fred Makowiecki's Aston Martin, with the Sumo Power Nissan of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Warren Hughes in third. Hughes had made the best of the rolling start, fanning out towards the pitwall after the green light before cutting back to the outside to sweep into second place around the opening series of corners. The Young Driver AMR entry of Tomas Enge and Darren Turner finished fourth after a fantastc drive from the rear of the gird after a gearbox enforced retirement earlier in the day.

The no.38 All.Inkl Lamborghini crossed the line fifth, but only after Nicky Pastorelli had spun Bas Leinders out of the way on the final lap.

The contact was always likely to draw the wrath of the stewards who gave the car a 30 second penalty, dropping it to ninth. The no.2 Maserati was given the same punishment, presumably for Ramos' aggressive exit from the pitlane.

The penalties, as well as promoting the no.1 car to sixth also lifted the no.6 Matech car of Jani and Nicolas Armindo to seventh to score the first points of the season for the car.

The no.13 Corvette finished eighth, with Matteo Bobbi and Markus Palttala scoring the final point for Marc VDS

Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini have a comfortable lead with two rounds to go

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