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Spa Francorchamps, 25-26 July, 2009

The highlight of the FIA GT season is always the 24 Hours of Spa, which is the tenth time the series has visited the daunting circuit in the Belgian Ardennes region, with nine of them being 24 Hour races. This year there was a change to the regulations, in as much as there were no points awarded at the 6 and 12 hour marks, with only the standard points on offer at the finish. There were thirty nine entries, nine in GT1, thirteen in GT2, six in G2 and eleven in G3, covering a broad spectrum of makes, including a Ford GT and Nissan GT-R to 2010 specification. To pilot the entries there were a total of 141 drivers of 20 different nationalities, including the 1997 F1 World Champion, Canadian Jacques Villeneuve, who was driving a G2 Mosler MT900, and five times 24 Hour winner, Belgian Eric van de Poele.

The qualifying sessions were blighted by rain, only the first 15 minutes being on a completely dry track, so those who were out early had the advantage. This meant that Alex Muller in the # 2 Vitaphone entered Maserati MC12 claimed pole position, ahead of the sister # 33 and # 2 cars, with the Bernoldi / Streit / Maassen Corvette filling out the second row of the grid. In the GT2 class it was the # 50 AF Corse Ferrari F430 GTC of Bruni / Vilander / Melo / Companc was quickest, followed by the CRS Racing # 55 example of Mullen / Niarchos / Quaife / Goodwin, and the Trackspeed Porsche 911 GT3 RS Ashburn / Sugden / Ortelli / Bergmeister. Quickest in the G2 class was the Audi R8 LMS of Faessler / Moser / Margaritis / Bassen, and in the G3 group it was the # 121 Matech GT Racing Ford GT of Mutsch / Martin / Wyss / Hennerici that headed the times. However, as noted, because of the changing weather conditions, the grid did not necessarily provide a true indication of race form, and in a 24 hour race pole position is more a psychological advantage than a practical one.

The rolling race start took place at 16.00 on Saturday afternoon in fine weather conditions, although the track was slightly damp in places from a pre-grid shower. It didn’t take long for the gremlins to affect some of the runners, in fact three only completed 3 laps. The # 151 BMW Alpina B6 GT3 had a brief fire and had to be abandoned trackside just after turn 9 at Malmedy, the # 95 Pecom entered Ferrari pitted and retired immediately with gearbox problems, and the # 78 BMS Scuderia Italia example expired with electrical problems in the engine management system. Meanwhile out on the track the overall leader at the end of the first hour was the # 3 SRT Corvette of Gavin / Rouffier / Soulet / Longin, having forced its way past the trio of Vitaphone Maseratis, whilst in the GT2 class the # 70 Matmut Porsche of Pilet/Narac/Long led the # 51 AF Corse Ferrari of Kaffer / Cadei / Russo / Barba Lopez. Towards the end of the hour the rain clouds swept in, and some sections of the track became very wet, giving a number of competitors some scary moments. However, it wasn’t as bad as the sudden monsoon that swept in during the third hour of the race, that saw cars spinning everywhere, one of them being Jacques Villeneuve in the Mosler MT900, who had lifted off as a faster car was passing, hit a large puddle and was then just a passenger as the car aquaplaned off into the barriers, putting it out of the race. Two other cars went off at the same place, but were able to rejoin, but as the stricken Mosler was stranded on the track the safety car was deployed whilst it was recovered. Apart from a further shower later in the evening, the race then ran in dry conditions through to the finish at 16.00 hours on Sunday afternoon.

However, there was quite a high rate of attrition, with the Corvettes and Maseratis fighting fiercely for overall honours, whilst the pair of AF Corse Ferraris had managed to get ahead of the Porsches to lead the GT2 class. The Maserati challenge took a major blow just after midnight when Andrea Bertolini put the # 1 Vitaphone Maserati into the barriers at Fagnes, suffering considerable damage, although he managed to limp back to the pits. The team then set about repairing the car, including the front suspension and steering, but a lot of time was lost and the car dropped way down the order before it was back on track. Due to the extensive damage to the barriers, the safety car was deployed while repairs were effected, thus the whole tenth hour of the race was run behind the safety car, until officials were satisfied that the repairs were complete. At half distance the race leader was the # 3 Corvette of Hezemans / Kumpen / Menten / Mollekens, 3.446secs ahead of the similar car of Gavin / Ruffier / Soulet / Longin, and only 6.597secs ahead of the # 2 Muller / Ramos / Lamy / van de Poele Maserati MC12. That close after 12 hours of racing! In the GT2 class it was still the pair of AF Corse Ferrari F430 GTCs that led the way, the # 51 car ahead of the # 50 example. One of the big surprises was the performance of the G2 class Audi R8 LMS, which was running like clockwork, and was running 5th overall at this point.

Just into the 12th hour of the race the repaired # 1 Vitaphone Maserati rejoined, but having spent nearly 3 hours in the pit garage, and now 65 laps down on the leaders. Meanwhile the sister # 2 car was consolidating a lead ahead of the # 3 and # 4 Corvettes, such that by the 18th hour it was 74secs ahead of the # 3 Corvette, with the # 4 Corvette a lap down. Meanwhile the # 50 AF Corse car had taken over at the head of the GT2 group as the sister # 51 car had suffered gearbox problems and retired, whilst the G2 Audi was up to 4th place overall. Vitaphone Maserati fortunes took another turn for the worse in the 19th hour, when the # 2 car driven by Muller spun with a puncture between Pouhon and Fagnes. He tried to nurse the car back to the pits, but was stopped by race control before Blanchimont and the car went into retirement. However the pair of Corvettes weren’t having it easy, as they were both consuming/leaking oil, with the # 3 example suffering the worst, making lengthy stops to try and rectify the problem, as the leaking oil was burning off and filling the cockpit with fumes and smoke, which dropped it down the order and out of contention. The # 4 Corvette dropped its lap times considerably during the last hour, as it had a comfortable lead over the # 33 Vitaphone Maserati, so that it was able to ease the pressure on the engine to get it to the chequered flag.

So the race ran out with the # 3 PK Carsport Corvette of Hezemans / Kumpen / Menten / Mollekens taking victory, followed by the # 33 Vitaphone Maserati of Guidi / Lemeret / Rosenblad / Vosse, with the final overall podium spot going to the G2 class winning Audi R8 LMS of Faessler / Moser / Margaritis / Bassen. In the GT2 class victory, and 4th overall, went to the AF Corse Ferrari F430 GTC of Bruni / Vilander / Melo / Companc, ahead of the Ragginger / Lucchini / Holzer / Miller Porsche 911 GT3 RS, and the Ferrari F430 GTC of Kirkaldy / Bell / Kox / Garcia. The G3 class win went to the Mutsch / Martin / Wyss / Hennerici Ford GT. Coincidentally, drivers in each of the GT1 and GT2 class winning cars had celebrated birthdays on the Saturday of the race start, Mike Hezemans was 40, and Toni Vilander was 28, so they‘ll be birthdays that they remember well!

David O’Neill

The next race in the FIA GT Championship is at the Hungaroring, near Budapest. This is the sixth visit of the series to the Hungarian circuit; on the last visit, in 2006, victory was taken by a Saleen, Hezemans and Kumpen, together with Longin, finished second while the leading Maserati, driven by Bartels and Bertolini, could do no better than fifth.

Ferraris entered in the 2009 24h Spa race

r #  Model Chassis # Colour Entrant Driver(s)  Overall Result Class Result
50 F430 GTC 2642 Red RWG Stripes AF Corse T.Vilander/ G.Bruni/ J.Melo/ L.Perez Companc  4th   1st
51 F430 GTC 2622 Red RWG Stripes AF Corse A.Barba Lopez/ N.Cadei/ M. Russo/ P.Kaffer  DNF  DNF
55 F430 GT 2418 Red/ White/ Blue CRS C.Niarchos/ T.Mullen/ P.Quiafe/ C.Goodwin  9th   6th
56 F430 GTC 2618 Red/ White/ Blue CRS A.Kirkaldy/ R.Bell/ P.Kox/ A.Garcia  6th   3rd
77 F430 GTC 2616 Red/ White BMS M.Maluchelli/ P. Ruberti/ K. Heyer/ D.Romanini  DNF  DNF
78 F430 GTC 2614 Red/ White BMS F.Babini/ C.Pescatori/ M.Zani  DNF  DNF
95 F430 GTC 2626 Red/ White/ Black Pecom L.Case/ C.Sbirrazzuoli  DNF  DNF
99 F430 GT 2450 Blue Met JMB M.Basso/ P.Kuteman/ J.Hartshorne/ S.Daoudi  DNF  DNF
120 F430 GT3 146402-31 Red/ Gold Rosso Corse  M.Cullen/ P.Shovlin/ M.Patterson/ P.LudwigGT 21st  7th

Race Result
      Pos Car Class Drivers Car Gap
1 4 GT1 Hezemans / Kumpen / Menten / Mollekens Corvette Z06 2 33 GT1 Guidi / Lemeret / Rosenblad / Vosse Maserati MC 12 11 LAPS
3 111 G2 Fassler / Moser / Margaritis / Basseng Audi R8 LMS 15 LAPS
4 50 GT2 Bruni / Vilander / Melo / Companc Ferrari F430 19 LAPS
5 97 GT2 Ragginger / Lucchini / Holzer / Miller Porsche 911 GT3 RS (997) 24 LAPS
6 56 GT2 Kirkaldy / Bell / Kox / Garcia Ferrari F430 31 LAPS
7 61 GT2 Van Splunteren / Coronel / Hommerson / MacHiels Porsche 911 GT3 RS (997) 32 LAPS
8 60 GT2 Collard / Westbrook / O'Young / Edwards Porsche 911 GT3 RS (997) 33 LAPS
9 55 GT2 Mullen / Niarchos / Quaife / Goodwin Ferrari F430 34 LAPS
10 121 G3 Mutsch / Martin / Wyss / Hennerici Ford GT 40 LAPS 11 123 G3 Lefort / Verbist / Forbes Porsche 911 GT3 Cup S 41 LAPS
12 161 G3 Lanik / Loix / Palttala / Slingerland Porsche 911 GT3 Cup S 42 LAPS
13 35 GT1 Krumm / Turner / Davidson Nissan GT-R 46 LAPS
14 172 G3 Renard / Wauters / Van Hooydonck / Schroyen Aston Martin DBRS9 56 LAPS
15 145 G3 Kelders / Greisch / Desbrueres / Helary Porsche 911 GT3 Cup S 62 LAPS
16 1 GT1 Bertolini / Bartels / Sarrazin / Negrao Maserati MC 12 70 LAPS
17 116 G2 Lichtner-Hoyer / Eckert / Rich / Sharp Porsche 997 GT3 Cup 72 LAPS
18 59 GT2 Ashburn / Sugden / Ortelli / Bergmeister Porsche 911 GT3 RS (997) 73 LAPS
19 3 GT1 Gavin / Ruffier / Soulet / Longin Corvette Z06 74 LAPS 20 160 G3 Kerkhove / Havette / Noziere / Brouard Porsche 911 GT3 Cup S 75 LAPS
21 120 G3 Cullen / Shovlin / Patterson / Ludwig Ferrari 430 GT3 83 LAPS
22 70 GT2 Pilet / Narac / Long Porsche 911 GT3 RS (997) 134 LAPS
23 2 GT1 Muller / Ramos / Lamy / Van De Poele Maserati MC 12 140 LAPS
24 99 GT2 Kuteman / Basso / Hartshorne / Daoudi Ferrari F430 153 LAPS
25 110 G2 Schuybroeck / Kenis / Smets / Dekeersmaecker Mosler MT900 156 LAPS
26 77 GT2 Malucelli / Ruberti / Heyer / Romanini Ferrari F430 230 LAPS
27 40 GT1 Leinders / Kuppens / Doncker Ford GT (001 PT GT1) 241 LAPS
28 51 GT2 Kaffer / Cadei / Russo / Barba Lopez Ferrari F430 243 LAPS
29 174 G3 Lesoudier / Prignaud / Brandela / Corbel BMW Alpina B6 GT3 271 LAPS
30 122 G3 Oliveira Jr / Negrao / Mattheis / Lunardi Ford GT 287 LAPS
31 124 G3 Haring / Konstantinou / Durr / Bourdeaux Porsche 911 GT3 Cup S 325 LAPS
32 117 G2 Kaufmann / Ullmann / Vannelet / Hirschi Porsche 996 Bi-Turbo (GT2-R) 400 LAPS
33 11 GT1 Van Dam / Dierick / Van Der Zwaan / Van Der Zwaan Saleen S7 Twin Turbo 431 LAPS
34 118 G2 Radermeker / Ho-Pin / De Sordi / Villeneuve Mosler MT900 494 LAPS
35 8 GT1 Bernoldi / Streit / Maassen Corvette Z06 504 LAPS
36 115 G2 Lapierre / Nury / Tremblay / Perrin Porsche 996 Bi- Turbo (GT2-R) 533 LAPS
37 175 G3 Hummel / Petit / Paillard / Fumal BMW Alpina B6 GT3 556 LAPS
38 78 GT2 Pescatori / Babini / Zani Ferrari F430 556 LAPS
39 95 GT2 Case / Sbirrazuoli Ferrari F430 556 LAPS