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FIA GT1 San Luis: Qualifying Race Report

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In a race of 'despites' Yann Clairay and Fred Makowiecki won the Qualifying Race at San Luis despite a first lap scare and the Vitaphone Maserati wrapped up the double of FIA GT1 World Championship drivers' and team's titles even though neither of their turquoise and black MC12s scored a point.

Clairay had started the no.9 Hexis AMR entry from second the grid but had taken the lead by the time he reached the sweeping left hander that is turn one at San Luis. Stefan Mucke, in the Young Driver AMR DB9 had fallen in behind after failing to convert the pole he and teammate Jose Maria Lopez had won into an early lead.

However, as the leading trio entered the braking zone for the sharper right hander at turn two, Mucke clipped the rear of Clairay's car, send the Frenchman wide – fortunately at on the relatively few points on the track where there is run off available. Mucke would fail to make it round a single lap, retiring with damage to the front of the car, but it was Jonathan Hirschi in the sister Hexis car who had the luckiest escape.

Seeing the lead pair tangle just ahead of him he seemed to have avoided the trouble as he clung to the inside of the track on the run towards the corner. But he spun the car, lopping into the middle of the track with near enough the entire field bearing down on him. The run off again came into play as the field scattered safely around him and Hirschi, improbably was able to flick the car back around and into the race.

Clairay kept the lead at the end of the first lap but the chaos behind had shaken up the field.

Nicolas Armindo had leapt up to second after starting eighth and was soon joined by Thomas Mutsch in the other Matech Competition Ford GT, when the German took third at the expense of Dominic Schwager's All-inkl Lamborghini.

Mucke is soon to retire with damage, while Hirschi behind is briefly broadside to oncoming pack

The champions elect had gone the other way, Michael Bartels dropping back from third to seventh at the end of the first lap. His race went from bad to worse on the second lap when an errant Christopher Haase in a Reiter Engineering Lamborghini clouted into the side of the no.1 car around turn 18.

Both cars spun to the outside of the track, making the lightest of contact with the barriers. Bartels was able to rejoin, though at the back of the field – worryingly for the Vitaphone crew – but Haase was left stranded, a combination of damage from the accident and the mechanical failure that led to the contact in the first place.

Now, for all the praise you can have for the San Luis circuit it's provisions for removing cars from the track are not a high point. Sandwiched betwixt lake and mountain leaves no room for the cranes of Monaco or Macau, and precious little opportunity to remove cars off the track via access points.

So the Safety Car to allow recovery of the Lamborghini gobbled up nearly a quarter of the 60-minute race, frustrating the drivers, especially Tomas Enge. The Czech, with co-driver Darren Turner were the only ones who could take the drivers' title from the Vitaphone duo and could only do so by finishing in the top three in the race. However, a disappointing timetrial qualifying had left Enge starting in 17th, a position that had been improved to 13th when the Safety Car was scrambled.

A very strung out restart surely ended any chance the Aston pairing had of taking the championship into the final race, a fact that was made certain when a slow getaway by Darren Turner after the driver change stop lost the team some of positions Enge had gained – the frustration was clear to see on the Young Driver pit crew, a race that began with pole and a title hope, was ending with nothing save for a repair job before the Championship Race.

Makowiecki had inherited the lead car and a near ten second lead over Clivio Piccione in the other Hexis AMR car. Hirschi had stayed out longer than most of the leaders before handing the car over, and their reward was second, helped by a slow stop for the Mutsch/Westbrook Ford which had taken second after a front puncture delayed Armindo's charge.

While Makowiecki was able to stretch his lead at the front Piccione became a rolling roadblock for those behind. Peter Dumbreck in the Sumo Power Nissan, Westbrook, and Maxime Martin in the Marc VDS Ford all formed an orderly queue, each looking for a way around each other.

Dumbreck was the first to crack. When Piccione was slow out the track's second chicane the Scot dived off line in search of route past but only succeeded in letting by Westbrook, Martin and Frank Kechele in the surviving Reiter Murcielago. Both Fords were quickly able to pass Piccione, Westbrook with a brave move on the inside into the narrow turn 19, before comprehensively driving away from the Monegasque, though with only 15 minutes remaining Makowiecki's 15 second lead was never in doubt.

The race ended in some confusion, the checkered flag being displayed to Makowiecki with a handful of seconds left in the hour, but by the time Andrea Bertolini crossed the line the end of the race was final.

Bertolini and Bartels and some more hastily appearing celebratory t-shirts

The drivers' title was Bartels and Bartolini's – their eleventh place immaterial given that Turner fell well short of the top three in tenth. The failure of either Young Driver AMR car to score also handing Vitaphone the team's title.

Makowiecki and Westbrook will share the front row for the Championship, while an earlier engine change will demote Martin and Leinders' Ford five places to eighth. The second row will be the second Hexis car, with Kechele starting the Reiter Lamborghini. Row three will be an all Nissan affair, with the Dumbreck/Krumm Sumo Power car sharing with the no.3 Swiss Racing Team of Karl Wendlinger and Henri Moser alongside, beneficiaries of being the final car to take their mandatory stop.

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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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