The Marc VDS pair of Fred Makowiecki and Maxime Martin held off baying pack of Nissan GT-R to take the team's first FIA GT1 World Championship in the Qualifying Race at Abu Dhabi.
The result hinged on the compulsory pitstops in the ten minute window in the middle of the hour-long race, Makowiecki had spent his stint at the start of the race in second place, the new recruit at the Belgian Ford GT team holding off new Nissan man Richard Westbrook.
The quartet of Nissan GT-R – two run by Sumo Power and two, including Westbrook's no.22, by JR Motorsport – almost certainly have the strongest driver line-ups on paper but while Makowiecki held second place Darren Turner made his escape in the Young Driver Aston Martin pulling away to a three second lead when the pitstop window was flung open 25 minutes into the race.
Makowiecki's fine show of defensive driving – no doubt helped by the Yas Marina circuit's well known habit of frustrating following drivers – was rewarded in the pit window. He and Turner pitted on the same lap, both encountered problems, the Ford with a door damaged by an lap one accident – of which more later – and the Aston Martin with the tyre change.
It was a problem which got worse when Stefan Mucke took to the track, the car refusing to turn into the sweeping right hander of turn three, arrowing straight on over the tarmac run-off, rejoining the track in the 'corkscrew' shortcut the series was using on the shorter Yas Marina layout. Mucke coaxed the wounded car back round to the pits, where the problem was diagnosed as the wheel lock on the left-front wheel.
Now in the lead Martin only had to deal with Peter Dumbreck, who took over from Westbrook. The momentary delay in the Marc VDS stop almost proved costly, the Nissan swinging up and out of the pitlane perfectly alongside the burgundy-banded Ford.
“I had no idea where Maxime was when I left the pits, and then suddenly he was alongside me and that was the start of the fight really,” Dumbreck said after the race. The Scot put the inside line for turn four to momentarily move ahead, but Martin cut back as the pair leapt down the drop into turns five and six, to emerge in the lead on the straight.
Martin, still with the Nissan monstering the Ford, took the defensive line into turn eight and then eleven. It was enough to hold off the challenge. Dumbreck remained in close attention throughout the race, barely more than half a second for Martin at all times, ready to pounce on any mistake.
But a mistake never came.
“This is really great for us for the start of the championship,” said Makowiecki. “During the start I had a little contact with Tomas – a little bit of damage – but I could continue and I was still able to push. I had a good stint and tried to stay constant, to give Maxime the car in a good condition. The team did a really good job at the pit stop, and we continued to push and Maxime took the win!”
Dumbreck crossed the line 1.4 seconds behind – the gap swelling in the closing laps as he favoured the reward for second over the risks of attempting a late move for victory. The German crewed JR Nissan finished third, Enrique Bernoldi and Ricardo Zonta fourth in their Sumo Power GT-R. The fourth Nissan in the race – of Jamie Campbell–Walter and David Brabham – was a comparatively lowly eighth. With Campbell-Walter at the wheel in the first half of the race the no.21 had run in sixth, but pitstop problems dropped the car to tenth.
Clivio Piccione and Stef Dusseldorp finished fifth for Hexis AMR, Markus Winkelhock and Marc Basseng took the final point from the qualifying race, the points scheme newly expanded to top six for the second season.
After an off-season of worry the 2011 season got off to a familiar start, with a first corner crash. The field had met the green flag with the front row some distance from the pack behind – despite which the race was still started. So Tomas Enge's probe down the inside line – from the second row – looked more hopeful than expectant. As the gap between the apex and Makowiecki's Ford shrunk there was contact, spinning Enge around broadside to the oncoming field.
In the smoke Nicky Pastorelli clipped the front of the Aston, knocking out the Munnich Motorsport Lamborghini which had set the best time in qualifying, only to be bumped back to sixth for an infringement. The DKR Engineering Corvette of one-time Indycar driver Jaime Camara delivered the final blow, t-boning the stranded Aston. All three retired.