After a year of racing the FIA GT1 World Championship begins its final race of 2010 with two driver pairings still able to take the title and three teams still mathematically capable of taking that honour.
The venue for the finale is the 3.9mile San Luis circuit in Argentina, a stunning, flowing track draped around a lake – Embalse Portrero de los Funes. With corners the drivers almost uniformally describe as “very fast” and walls rather than the run-off areas of other tracks as Chevrolet driver Marc Hennerici says it's a track “where you can destroy the car at every corner”.
The undulating ribbon of tarmac that briefly teeters above the lake is perhaps the closest the real world gets to the kind of experience you'd readily find on a computer game.
“There is no room for error, as the track is lined with walls, so focus and staying mistake-free will be very important,” explains Sumo Power's Peter Dumbreck. “It is also a very long lap, so will take a lot more learning than the shorter tracks we have visited this year. Although there are some very fast stretches, I think a high amount of down-force would be good to stop the car becoming nervous in the heavy braking areas and through the medium and high-speed corners.”
Leading both championships are Vitaphone Maserati, with Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini piloting the no.1 car to the top of the points table. After a slightly stuttering start for the team – multiple champions in the FIA GT Championship that the GT1 World Championship effectively replaced – a pair of wins – first in France, then Portugal have given them a commanding advantage heading into the closing round of the season.
The previous round at Interlagos Bartels and Bertolini lost ground to the Young Driver AMR pairing of Tomas Enge and Darren Turner. The Aston Martin pilots won the Qualifying Race at the Brazilian track before finishing second to Xandi Negrao and Enrique Bernoldi in the second Vitaphone Maserati. Still while Turner and Enge claimed 26 points from the weekend, Bartels and Bertolini could only bank two, the gap falling to 28 points with 33 available from the final weekend – 8 for winning the Qualifying Race, 25 for top spot in the Championship Race.
Turner and Enge's run also helped keep the Young Driver squad just in the fight for the teams title. With 58 points available for the perfect weekend the German based team lay 52 points adrift of the Vitaphone squad. Between the two are the Reiter Engineering Lamborghini outfit. A disappointing event in Brazil – especially after beginning the South American swing as the form team, let their deficit to the leaders grow and they begin the racing at San Luis 47 points in arrears.
The track is one familiar to veteran FIA GT runners, having also played host to the finale in that series in 2008, when, with a fifth place finish a certain Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini clinched the drivers title for Vitaphone Maserati.
The Maserati crew's extra experience may well come into play, with none of their Lamborghini of Aston Martin rivals among the seven other drivers on this weekend's entry list who also started the 2008 race.
Darren Turner's only experience of the track comes from working in a simulator but he maintains the Aston Martin DB9 should perform well, despite the 40kg of success ballast it earned in Interlagos. However, he still believes he and Enge will be facing a serious struggle to depose the Maserati.
“Unless the Maserati container gets lost en route to South America I don't think anyone can touch them for the lead,” he jokes.
One of those that does have experience at the track is Jose Maria Lopez – another in the long line of local drivers who have stepped in for rounds of the championship. Lopez. who began the year with F1 hopes aspart of the flawed USF1 team, has joined the Young Driver AMR squad alongside Stefan Mucke in the no.8 car, replacing Christoffer Nygaard.
Like the rest of the season you can watch the racing from the championship live on www.gt1world.com, though in a change to the series' regular timetable both the Qualifying and Championship Races are on Sunday, with just three hours between the end of the first and beginning of the second race. Such a constraint that could mean an accident in the Qualifying Race could rule a car out of the all-important Championship Race.