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Italian GT, Red Bull Ring – Race Reports
Action All The Way In Austria

Qualifying
 
Qualifying for Race 1 almost saw a surprise Porsche pole, but in the final minutes Sonvico (being paired this weekend by Dindo Capello after a last-minute reshuffle) unleashed some secret weapons in the #31 Audi and stole P1 from the much improved – to the delight of Team Principal Enrico Borghi and Alessandro Balzan – the EbiMotors Porsche of Giacomo Barri.

In third place was another surprise - the (fast) gentleman Fornaroli and his Ferrari 458 doing better than Colombo in the first of the BMWs. Then came the 458 Italia of Mancini, and the second Porsche of Passuti.

Seventh to ninth were occupied by three disappointed drivers, we’re sure - DiBenedetto in the second Audi (who has battled all the session with some electrical gremlins); the wild card Cordoni in his Ferrari; and Michela Cerruti in the second BMW. We haven’t mentioned the Reiter Lamborghini, perhaps because Nico Pronk is way off the pace of Peter Kox. The Dutchman would have lots of work to do in the second part of the race, but with no penalty to serve he could perhaps deliver a “special package” for Race 1.
 
The Cup class was a surprise with the first pole, and first ever for the 458 version of the Ferrari, for the very fast Kruglyk at the wheel. Second was Cicognani, then Sanna in a Lambo, perhaps suffering too much for the stop and go track that the Red Bull is now.
 
If Q1 was good, Q2 was a stellar piece of sport! All the star drivers delivered some spectacular times, but in the end Balzan did the magic lap, less than two tenths better than Kox, who was in turn a few hundredths quicker than Dindo Capello. Third, with a good performance for the Ferrari troupe, was Lancieri; then came Frassineti in the second Audi and the Ferrari 458 of Comandini. But the biggest story, and quite a strange one, was the seventh and ninth times of the BMWs with Biagi and Liberati at the wheel Was it is just a tactical move, or were the Munich cars struggling?

Race 1 - Porsche Resurrection
 
A beautiful and pleasant sun welcomed the Italian GT drivers for what could be a very interesting Race 1 at the Austrian circuit. This was also the mid-point of the Championship, which for the first time this year was enjoying a large grid, thanks to the addition of the Ginetta armada.

As mentioned in the preview, the time penalty would strike Sonvico-Capello hard, with 25 seconds extra at their stop. Biagi-Colombo would have 15, Balzan-Barri 10 and 5 for Cerruti-Liberati.

A gearbox failure would prevent the Coggiola brothers’ GT2 Porsche racing, but the important piece was expected to arrive in time for Race 2 on the Sunday.

The start was a very good and clean one, with Barri stealing P1 from Sonvico; but the first corner, as always, claimed a victim - this time it was Passuti, who was tipped into a spin in the middle of the pack. He was able to rejoin stone last, even behind the Ginettas.

Upfront Barri led from Sonvico, Colombo, Mancini, Fornaroli, Di Benedetto, Cordoni, Romanini – the first and only GT2 car running - then a very surprising Kruglyk in the ultrafast (in the straight) 458 Challenge, and Cerruti.

The first laps divided the field into two parts with Barri, Sonvico, Colombo and Mancini scrapping for the leading places, while behind another four-car-train formed with Fornaroli leading Di Benedetto, a very “active” Cordoni and Romanini.

Barri was clearly enjoying being in P1 and was throwing the back of his Porsche round Turn 1 almost rally style.

The BMWs’ struggles continued and a very depressed Michela Cerruti spent almost all the first half of the race behind Kruglyk.

Di Benedetto soon attacked and overtook Fornaroli for P5, and two laps later at the Gosser Curve Cordoni in a very do-or-die move (die this time…), touched the right rear corner of Fornaroli’s 458 hard and tipped both into a spin. Cordoni rejoined the race, while the damage for Fornaroli was too much to continue. Cordoni somehow didn’t get a stop and go, but divine intervention tipped him into a spin, with even more time being lost.

What about the Lambo? Well Pronk was so much off the pace that he struggled to stay with the GT Cup cars and, adding insult to injury, decided to have a spin. When Kox was finally able to jump on board the “bull” the gap was almost a lap; definitely no chance of a Lamborghini winning the GT3 class this time.

The top four now became a five-car-train, with Di Benedetto stuck to the rear bumper of the black 458 of Mancini. But nothing would change until the window for the pit-stops opened.

After all the driver changes were complete, the leader was the same - Balzan-(Barri) leading from Frassineti-(Di Benedetto), Lancieri-(Mancini), Biagi-(Colombo), Capello-(Sonvico) and the fast recovering Monti-(Passuti). The gaps between the cars were small, so fireworks were expected in the final 15 minutes of the race!

The Cup class entertained us until the last corner, because after the pitstop the Russian 458 - now with Tsyplakov at the wheel – was leading, but only by a few tenths from Stancheris’ Lamborghini.

The 458 was much faster in the straight, but the Lambo quickly closed the gap under braking and accelerating out of the corner. The last lap was almost a rerun of the Villeneuve-Arnoux Dijon battle, but the Russian crossed the line first by only a few tenths, for a historic first win for the 458 Italia in the Cup Class.

Back at the front, Balzan was able to maintain the gap from Frassineti and the first win of Porsche this year was more than just a dream…while the third step on the podium was still up for grabs, with Lancieri still third but with Biagi and Capello closing the gap very quickly to the black 458 Italia. In the end it was too little too late and we saluted the first win of the year for Porsche and the EbiMotors guys with perhaps the fastest Italian GT driver (at the moment) Alessandro Balzan partnered perfectly by the young gun Giacomo Barri - a future star, we’d bet!

Finishing second, and scoring heavy points, was Frassineti-Di Benedetto for Audi, while third was Lancieri-Mancini in the Ferrari 458. Fourth was Biagi and fifth Capello, followed by Monti in the other Porsche and Liberati in the second BMW.

Perhaps being much closer to Weissach had brought better fortune onto the Porsche side, or perhaps it was just the reward for all the hard work done by the EbiMotors, in order to extract the best out of the Avon tyres. Or maybe it was just luck, but we salute another winning pair in the Italian series - well done Porsche, well done EbiMotors, well done Alessandro Balzan and Giacomo Barri.

Audi still scored strong points with both cars, and now Sonvico was the new points-leader. But BMW was still in striking distance, and with no time penalty for race two maybe the German flag would switch from Weissach to Munich?

Race 2 – Last Lap Thriller

The second race looked to be even more interesting than the first – in fact this time the penalty would Balzan and Barri the hardest, with 25 seconds, while the two Audis would have 10 seconds. There would be no penalty for the BMWs, so could it be the return, with a vengeance, of Munich?
 
We had gained the Coggiola Porsche - the new gearbox being driven overnight from Turin, where the team has its base; arriving just in time to be put into the car - but before the formation lap we had lost the 458 of Cordoni-Camathias, which was leaking fluid.


The start was again a good one, but the first corner claimed two more victims. In the middle of the pack both Biagi and Monti took a very wide exit, only to touch each other and have quite a solid impact with the inside barrier. The replay showed Biagi to have the biggest impact on the right-front, launching the BMW almost a metre into the air - definitely not the start Ravaglia & Co needed. Monti somehow continued, only to finish his race a lap later after another contact with a Ginetta.

Upfront, Balzan was able to keep the lead until the Remus corner, where Kox outbraked the Porsche for P1. Lancieri was third, then Capello, Frassineti, Comandini and Liberati; and followed by the GT2 “field” of Rocca and Coggiola. The Cup class was in the solid hands of Stancheris and his Lamborghini.

A lap later Capello showed the world how to attack and overtake people without causing a crash. At the first corner he tried to get Lancieri, but when he realized that there wasn’t enough space stamped on the brakes; a little contact was inevitable but both continued. Two corners later Lancieri outbraked himself and Capello was now third.
 
Kox, Balzan and Capello made the best of their new Avon tyres and formed a close trio, some three seconds clear of Lancieri, who was now pressed hard by Frassineti. The BMW nightmare continued, with Liberati unable to keep in touch with the top cars.

The situation stayed that way until the driver-changes began, and despite some close moments with the Ginettas everyone did their part and no contact was registered.
 
After everyone had exchanged driver, the new order (almost upside down!) saw Mancini-(Lancieri) as the new leader in the black 458 Italia; second was Pronk-(Kox), then Fornaroli-(Comandini) pressed hard by Sonvico-(Capello), Di Benedetto-(Frassineti), Cerruti-(Liberati) and Barri-(Balzan). The gloves were now off!
 
The first moves were made by Barri – a man inspired this weekend - on Cerruti, and Sonvico on Fornaroli; but Sonvico was clearly on a charge and on the same lap, despite the huge top speed of the Lamborghini, overtook Pronk, who was immediately passed by Fornaroli too. A lap later Barri took no prisoners and “smoked” Di Benedetto after the Remus curve, making the best of the superior acceleration of the Porsche. Was it enough? Absolutely not! In the crazy final minutes everything happened!

At first everyone was very close to each other, with the top six covered by less than ten seconds! Mancini was still leading but Sonvico was eating tenths out of his advantage with every lap and the margin was soon less than two seconds. Third was still Fornaroli, but Barri and Di Benedetto were making one long Italian-German car of almost 14 metres!
 
The Cup class was dominated this time, with no dramas, by the Lamborghini of Sanna-Stancheris, while GT2 saw another Rocca-Romanini win; and despite two rounds missed they are now very close on points to the Coggiola brothers.
 
The final five minutes opened with the retirement of the Fornaroli 458 with technical dramas. This left Barri in third and Di Benedetto fourth. Pronk was still fifth, with Cerruti unable to gain any time on the Austrian. With two laps to go, Mancini was trying every trick in the book to keep Sonvico behind. The Ferrari was quicker on the straight but Sonvico could smell blood like a Great White, while Barri, seemingly on the “push-to-pass button”,  was closing the gap rapidly to the top duo.

The last lap would be another exciting one, but this time Sonvico exited the first corner with one or two kmh of speed more than Mancini, and at the Remus curve Mancini couldn’t keep the Audi behind anymore and P1 changed hands just half a lap from the end. Mancini lost momentum and Barri almost had the Ferrari in the last two corners; but Mancini dug in and finished the race second.

In the end this was perhaps the best race of the year - full of dramas from the first lap to the very last corner. Sonvico’s win made him the new points-leader, but the Porsche, and especially Barri, is the new “hot-wheels” to watch for the final part of the season. The second Audi of Di Benedetto finished fourth, ahead of Pronk and Michela Cerruti. The BMW had the worst weekend of the year (perhaps it was just the BOP striking bad this time) but the “magic” of the first races is now clearly gone. Roberto Ravaglia’s team has plenty of work to do in August to close the gap.
 
Three rounds of the Italian GT Championship - at Imola, Mugello and the big finale in Monza. Hopefully there’ll be another thrilling finish for one of the best series in Europe.

Gabriele Tosi