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FIA GT1 Navarra: Qualifying Race Report

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Ricardo Zonta and Frank Kechele took a dominant win in the Qualifying Race for the Navarra round of the FIA GT1 World Championship, adding the success to their Championship Race triumph at Spa-Francochamps.

The duo, driving for the Lamborghini fielding Reiter Engineering concern led the hour long race from lights to flag around the 3.9km track, only hosting a round of the World Championship in place of the planned round on the Durban street track. Though there was a small blip in their pitstop which lost the pair a few second Zonta led home by 4.5 seconds.

“It was really, really good,” Kechele said. “I had a good start; the Lamborghini has good acceleration so it was quite easy for me and the straight is not that long so I could defend until the first corner. I tried to make solid, fast laps in the beginning and then settled down to save the car and not take too many risks. My stint was not that exciting but it is always very difficult when you are at the front and you have to keep your concentration. It all worked pretty well and my thanks go to the team, they did a great job.”

It was Kechele who started the car and took a clear lead into the first turn ahead of Nico Verdonck in the Hegersport Maserati that made up the second part of the front row pairing. The no.34 MC12, which the Belgian shares with Alessandro Pier Guidi took the first corner in second, a place it would keep until the checkered flag with very little drama. While first Kechele then Zonta pulled away only Tomas Enge in the no.7 Young Driver Aston Martin was able to challenge for second.

However, even that challenge only lasted a handful of laps as something in the DB9's gearbox took exception, leaving Enge to be pushed behind the wall by the marshalls and to watch the remained of the race literally (and figuratively probably) steaming in the morning cold in northern Spain.

“Between turn four and five I lost the drive and a big bang in the gearbox,” Enge explained. “I knew that there was no way to continue, so I just found an escape road and stopped it. It’s really unfortunate because we were on the way to scoring some great points this weekend, we would probably have put ourselves into contention again but unfortunately that’s racing and we have to face these problems sometimes.”

The incident summed up a rotten race for the Aston Martin teams. The second Young Driver car had been sidelined for the weekend after Christoffer Nygaard's practice crash, before Clivio Piccione took not one, but two spins before retiring the battle-scared no.10 car. That left Fred Makowieki to pilot the sole surviving Aston to the flag for Hexis AMR, though even he was not to survive completely unscathed, spinning out through the ever tightening succession of turns one, two and three in the closing laps to finish ninth.

That left Makowieki and co-driver Yann Clairay one place ahead of the no.5 Matech Competition Ford. The team, which includes Thomas Mutsch, still hopeful of the title, had suffered early one. With the German at the wheel the car had taken several bumps on a typically physical first lap – one causing the left hand side door to swing open, Mutsch having to pull it back in. A brief delay for one-handed driving, and damage caused to the tyre by some damage to the left-rear had Mutsch falling down the order to 16th by the time he handed over to Richard Westbrook during the ten minute window.

Westbrook, drafted into the team over the summer has been something a star in the Ford GT, and so it was to prove again. He knifed his way up the order, repassing those who had got the better of the car during Mutsch's stint – Karl Wendlinger in the no.3 SRT Nissan, Marc Hennerici in the no.13 Corvette before moving into the top ten when Peter Dumbreck‘s Sumo Power Nissan retired with only a few laps fron the end.

Elsewhere it was a better race for the Fords as examples of the GT came in third and fourth, The Marc VDS duo of Bas Leinders and Maxime Martin picked up the first points for the team in Qualifying Races this year, holding off the no.6 Matech car. Former GP2 driver Neel Jani – taking the Matech machine to the finish was able to stay with Martin to the flag, finishing just a tenth down as they crossed the line – Jani and Nicolas Armindo (in his first race with the Ford) accomplishing a rare feat for the no.5 car by out-gunning their teammates.

The championship leaders –Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini in the no.1 Maserati recovered to seventh from a lowly grid position. Almost miraculously they stayed out of trouble, threading by the spinning Piccione at turn one and by-passing their spinning teammate Miguel Ramos at turn two, the Portuguese tipped into a rotation by Alex Margaritis in the no.13.

Miguel Ramos (2) spins on lap one, teammate Bartels takes to the run-off

The finish leaves them in a promising position to add to their championship lead over Mutsch, with just the Championship Race of the weekend, then a pair of South American races remaining on the inaugural FIA GT1 calendar.

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James is our Diet-Coke fuelled writer and has been with TCF pretty much since day 1, he can be found frequenting twitter at @_JBroomhead
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