In front of a enthusiastic crowd it was one of the three all Brazilian squads who took the checkered flag in the FIA GT1 World Championship race at Interlagos. Meanwhile, as one title challenger bowed out of race for the title, others redoubled their efforts with good results in the penultimate race of the year.
After regular driver Enrique Bernoldi has completed the opening stint of the race in the no.2 Vitaphone Maserati was left to Xandi Negrao to finish the race, taking the lead with a forceful move, then using the car's better speed to pull away.
“I have no words to describe how I'm feeling. It was an amazing weekend. Since the day that Michael [Bartels] called me to do this race. I'm glad that after two years Michael remembered me!” said an emotional Negrao. “Today we had a good strategy saving the new tyres for the end. Towards the end I saw that the Aston was struggling a bit more with the tyres than me so I was waiting for the time to go ahead. Unfortunately we don't have the same engine as them so I had to overtake a bit too aggressively but sometimes you have to go for it. I'm glad we were able to help the team to maybe win the team championship and help Michael and Andrea to win again the championship of drivers.”
Former F1 driver Bernoldi had started from fourth on the grid after copping a drive through penalty in Saturday's Qualifying Race and remained there for much of the first half of the race, part of the lead battle which saw the top six cars closely bunched, Bernoldi swapping places with the no.10 Hexis AMR entry of Clivio Piccione.
The Monegasque too had held onto the same position – third – from the grid after his adventurous attempt to take the lead into turn one on the opening lap, by almost hugging the pit wall, had been seen off by pole sitter and now leader Darren Turner.
Completing the top four was Peter Dumbreck in the Sumo Power Nissan GT-R, but the no.23 car dropped back to fifth after the mandatory pitstops. With four of the top five pitting on the same it was Negrao – this time after a problem and penalty free pitstop for the Vitaphone team who claimed the provisional second place, a position he made sure of after fending off the Hexis car – now with Jonathan Hirschi at the wheel – as the Aston rejoined after its own stop one lap later.
The two ran side-by-side down the back straight, Hirschi maintaining the inside line the pit exit had delivered him into. He looked to have secured the place as Negrao yielded into turn four, only from the Brazilian to cut back inside and take the place.
The pitstops had also left the main championship rivals on the track together, with the no.1 Vitaphone car – Michael Bartels in the car after the pitstop and Thomas Mutsch in the Matech Competition Ford both bottled up behind the second Hexis Aston Martin, Yann Clairay the man at the wheel.
With Alex Muller in the no.33 Hegersport Maserati joining the battle the quartet swapped places – Mutsch and Muller swapping 11th place back and forth over a number of laps, the best of the moves being a brave (and slightly foolish given the championship challenge at stake) move by Mutsch around the outside of T1, placing faith in Muller to give space to allow both cars through the Senna S untroubled.
With it blatantly obvious that Clairay was holding up those behind – the evidence the images of a very tail happy Aston captured from the camera in Bartels' car – when Bartels finally found an opening those behind were eager to follow, Muller being the first car in line at that time, while Mutsch was able to make it three places lost for Clairay within a lap. But while the pair of Maseratis were able to pull away Mutsch ran wide only a handful of corners later, allowing Clairay to repass and frustrate the German for the rest of the race, backing him into another battle – between Stefan Mucke's Young Driver Aston and Christopher Haase's Reiter Lamborghini. Both would get past Mutsch and Clairay by the checkered flag, another non-scoring race ruling Mutsch out of the championship battle.
“Our car wasn't quite quick enough today so we couldn't really fight for the positions where we wanted to be,” said Richard Westbrook, Mutsch's co-driver. “It was just too hot for us today. We struggled with engine and gearbox temperatures. It was the same for all the Fords. It's a disappointing end to a very frustrating weekend.”
There was also a technical problem for the Frank Kechele/Ricardo Zonta Reiter car. Starting from the back after retiring shortly after the incident which took out Mutsch in the Qualifying Race Zonta initially made progress before dropping back, Kechele describing an unexplained lack of speed down the straights once Zonta had pulled the car into the garage.
That left the title challenge in the hands of Tomas Enge in the leading Young Driver AMR. Negrao was in close attention to the rear of the red and white DB9 and when the slightest of opportunities presented itself at turn 10 with 11 minutes the Brazilian wasn't going to settle for second in what looks like his only GT1 outing of the year.
There was contact, but both cars continued with little more than a rubber donut on a door, and once ahead Negrao easily pulled away, justifying Turner's assertion on Saturday that the Maserati had the greater speed.
He took the no.2 car's first win of the season by 2.5 seconds to cheers from the assembled crowd. Second place was enough to keep Turner and Enge in with a chance of the title – 28 points down with 33 available from the final round at San Luis next weekend (December 5).
Marc Hennerici and Alex Margaritis completed the podium in the Phoenix/Carsport Corvette. Hirschi was flagged home fourth ahead of the no.40 Marc VDS Ford and Michael Krumm in the Nissan started so well by Dumbreck.
The no.38 All-inkl.com Lamborghini and no.6 Matech Ford and then the pair of Clairay escaping Maseratis completed the top ten, Bartels beating Muller to the line.