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SPEED EuroSeries, Imola - Race Reports 

At a baking hot Imola, the SPEED EuroSeries cooked-up a treat as a tasty part of the Eurosport-supported FIA European Touring Car Championship meeting.
With six manufacturers in the grid and 9 new drivers entered, the race saw the first foray of the brand new Tatuus PY-012 chassis in the SPEED EuroSeries arena and the excellently presented team dutifully rolled out two cars for the race, the factory machine driven by GP2 ace, Davide Rigon, and a customer car run by the Bi & Bi Racing team with Mariano Bellin and Rinaldo Vito taking the helm.
Also new to the series was the AD Team Tiga outfit, with LMP2 stalwart Mike Newton and former SPEED frontrunner, Dean Stirling, earning the Tiga’s stripes in the cauldron of the Bolognese circuit. The car, built on a steel frame chassis rather than the caron-fibre tubs of the majority of the field, is in development with the team aiming to prove technology and talent to be transferred to a new chassis for 2013.

On Saturday morning, the teams took to the track for free practice. The session times are never an accurate indicator of form with competitors running cars in any configuration they chose but it clearly pointed to the dominant figure of Ivan Bellarosa looking hard to beat in his Wolf GB08.
Come qualifying though and the early pace was set by the cars from the British manufacturer Juno which were setting the pace, with former pole-position man Darren Burke topping the times after 20 minutes in the factory Juno he shares with owner Duncan Williams, until he was unseated by the Sarah Reader and Garry Findlay car prepared by TFL Racing. Findlay, making his first appearance in the series, had just one test prior to the event in the car and was showing promise early on.
Just four minutes later though and the Tatuus showed its class. A time of 1.47.954 by Rigon put the new chassis atop the time screens and he continued to improve on it as Bellarosa joined the fray. It took some ten minutes before the Wolf driver made his move. A 1.46.00 lap meant the winner of all but one of the SPEED 2012 was back where he has so often been at the top of the times.
Latecomers to the session were the two Line Race Wolf GB08s, the second car, driven by French new comer, Yann Zimmer, was quick to impress. After 2 laps he was in fifth, 3: third. After 5 laps, with a 1 minute 46.5 lap time, he was second – and there was still 15 minutes to go.
With the Junos unable to make further inroads until Burke moved up to 4th with 2 minutes to go, it looked like the battle for the top three places was between Rigon, Zimmer and Bellarosa. The lap times kept coming down and with 6 minutes left they were within a second of each other with Bellarosa leading. With one minute left on the clock, he exrtended the gap to Zimmer to 8 tenths of a second and that looked to be it until at the death he popped in a further 1.45.00. Rigon followed that up with 1.45.6 moving ahead of Zimmer into second whilst the Frenchman, baulked on track by slower cars, claimed third.

Race 1
16 cars from the 18 car entry lined-up on the grid for race 1 and the cars got away at the rolling start first time. Bellarosa seemed destined to pull away but Rigon and then Zimmer were on his tail. Through the first few turns, they were nose to tail until Minerale when the Wolf ran a little wide on the exit allowing Rigon to get a run up the inside, the car seeming to have more drive on the run out of the corner. Zimmer quickly followed and it was clear that the race was very much on.

There was high drama soon to follow. In race control screens were showing a car heading towards a marshal post at turn 10 with smoke billowing from the rear end and flames shooting skywards. Through the smoke it was hard to identify the car but as the driver leapt out and the marshals bravely set about the flaming machine with their extinguishers, it soon became apparent that it was the Tiga, with Stirling at the wheel. The fire was out within a few minutes but the car was very much out of the race with, fortunately, no harm to the driver, but much damage to the chassis from a fire caused by a suspected oil fire. Drama indeed.
Back on the track, there was more going on. The #8 Luchini of Ranieri Randacchio had spun at Aqua MInerale on lap 1 and shortly afterwards retired with an overheating problem –understandable given the conditions! Less comprehensible was the retirement after 3 laps of the early season contender, the Juno of Burke and Williams. Plagued by debilitating vibration problems which Burke has miraculously driven around to keep the car in contention to date, he was forced to retire when it returned despite the efforts of the team which set about the car overnight to attempt to fix the problem.
With all that going on, it was easy to forget that there was racing on track, but racing there was. Rigon was pulling out a lead. The Tatuus seemed to have the edge over the Wolfs and by lap 4 was nearly 5 seconds in front of Zimmer who was fighting to hold Bellarosa behind him. Vecchi, Reader and Gandon in the Norma followed up. Reader, in the #24 Juno, was soon out of contention. The car was another to suffer overheating issues and the team decided to retire it from the action rather than risk damaging the engine. A broken water pipe was diagnosed as the cause of the problem afterwards.

With 30 minutes of the 90 gone, the pit lane window was open for single drivers – which included the front 3. Bellarosa was in straight away from 3rd on track but confusion at the pit garage caused the team to wave the car back out onto the track after just 13 seconds of the mandatory 45 stationary. Meanwhile Tatuus made their stop with a move that surprised everyone. A clever interpretation of the rules had indicated to them that whilst refuelling in the pit lane was prohibited under the regulations, they could refuel the car in the garage. The weight advantage had allowed the car to get past the Wolf at the start. It was a shrewd move.
Race control issued an immediate 32 second time penalty to Bellarosa to make up the shortfall of the short stop. The time penalty put Bellarosa back behind Zimmer on track but when the latter pitted, Bellarosa was back in the lead. With 20 minutes remaining, Bellarosa lead Rigon and Zimmer with Gandon, Pittori and Belotti following and that is how it remained until the flag.
Race 1 Result

1 45 Bellarosa Wolf GB08 1:30:49.580 50 162.00 1:45.639
2 12 Rigon Tatuus PY-012 1:31:28.533 50 38.953 160.85 1:46.413
3 28 Zimmer Wolf GB08 1:31:33.332 50 43.752 160.71 1:46.540
4 96 Gandon Norma M20 CF 1:30:19.798 48 2 LAPS 156.36 1:49.480
5 47 Belotti Wolf GB08 1:31:02.482 48 2 LAPS 155.14 1:49.425
6 27 Vecchi/Valori Wolf GB08 1:31:56.128 48 2 LAPS 153.63 1:48.234
7 25 Leutwiler/Briedl Juno CN2011 1:30:53.907 47 3 LAPS 152.15 1:50.824
8 11 Bellin/Vito Tatuus PY-012 1:31:00.516 47 3 LAPS 151.96 1:50.527
9 18 C MacE/Yschard Norma M20F 1:31:54.637 47 3 LAPS 150.47 1:50.909
10 48 Pizzuti Wolf GB08 1:32:03.686 47 3 LAPS 150.22 1:50.909
11 46 Mastroberardino/Bassora Wolf GB08 1:31:08.455 46 4 LAPS 148.51 1:53.815
12 51 Caliceti/Borelli Ligier JS51 1:31:21.191 45 5 LAPS 144.94 1:56.338
13 24 Reader/Findlay Juno CN2011 24:00.471 13 37 LAPS 158.94 1:49.347
14 62 Burke/Williams Juno CN2012 5:35.575 3 47 LAPS 155.65 1:51.340
15 61 Newton Tiga CN 1:59.081 1 49 LAPS 141.81 1:59.081
16 8 Randaccio Luchini CN2 2009 2:33.407 1 49 LAPS 110.08 2:33.407

Race 2
Sunday dawned at the Imola circuit and temperatures once again soared. Overnight withdrawals of the Tatuus factory car and the Luchini as well as the fire-destroyed Tiga saw a reduced grid but the race would see no less fierce a battle for the points.
With regulations amended by the SPEED EuroSeries organisers and event stewards to prohibit refuelling during the race on safety grounds, cars were evenly matched with regards to weight, albeit with the #45 Wolf of Bellarosa carrying 20kg success ballast. As the Honda CRX pace car pulled in at the rolling start, the grid thundered away to turn 1 with young French ace, Zimmer, pressuring Bellarosa and Darren Burke in the Team Excool Juno – sporting the 2011 front splitter in a bid to cure the chronic vibration – close behind.
The Italian lead those three around the first lap, opening up a second advantage. In fourth, Maurizio Pittori in the #27 Line Race car was heading a fierce battle with 6 cars split by just 3 seconds. It was a scrap that would last much of the first half of the race.
Come the mandatory stops for the single drivers, and Bellarosa did not repeat the mistake of the previous day. He rejoined the race 49 seconds behind Darren Burke in the Juno with Zimmer close behind. Burke was yet to hand over to driving partner, Duncan Williams and put his remaining 20 minutes in the car to good use, maintaining the gap to Bellarosa before pitting just as the 60 minute maximum driver stint period ran out. That left Bellarosa out front with Zimmer pushing hard and Gandon putting steady quick laps in fourth in the Norma. The remaining Tatuus of Bi & Bi Racing was in fifth.

Drive through penalties for lead sporting driver Guglielmo Belotti and fellow Wolf racer, Tony Mastroberardino, received for infringements at the pit stop which saw the cars push started, were issued. Belotti retired with an engine problem subsequently whilst Mastroberardino – quickest through the speed trap in the race – raced on. Belotti was joined shortly afterwards in the garages by the Tatuus and the Juno of Niki Leutwiler and Fredi Briedl which was suffering from a failing gearbox. The sister TFL Juno of Reader/Findlay was sadly soon to follow with a broken drive shaft – a first for a Juno chassis.
On track, as the #28 Line Race car chased the leader, Federicho Vecchi had taken over the other from Pittori and was setting about some quick laps. Indeed, he recorded the fastest lap of the race on lap 39 but retired shortly afterwards with brake problems.
There were no such issues for Bellarosa though. As the 90 minutes counted down he was some 10 seconds ahead of Zimmer and with the Line Race car slowing on the last lap, finished 14 seconds in front with Williams a lap down on Zimmer in third. The SPYD Racing Norma of Philippes Mace and Yschard took the Classic Class honours with Duncan Williams collecting the Sporting Driver award.
The result sees Bellarosa extend his lead going into rounds 7 & 8 at Donington on July 14/15 as part of the European Le Mans Series event.

Race 2 Result

1 45 Bellarosa Wolf GB08 1:30:52.108 50 161.92 1:45.689
2 28 Zimmer Wolf GB08 1:31:06.779 50 14.671 161.49 1:46.077
3 62 Burke/Williams Juno CN2012 1:31:06.787 49 1 LAP 158.25 1:47.006
4 96 Gandon Norma M20 CF 1:31:36.239 49 1 LAP 157.41 1:48.842
5 48 Pizzuti Wolf GB08 1:31:10.384 48 2 LAPS 154.92 1:50.208
6 18 C MacE/Yschard Norma M20F 1:30:56.627 47 3 LAPS 152.07 1:51.913
7 46 Mastroberardino/Bassora Wolf GB08 1:31:09.920 46 4 LAPS 148.47 1:53.418
8 27 Vecchi/Pittori Wolf GB08 1:26:32.197 44 6 LAPS 149.60 1:45.595
9 24 Reader/Findlay Juno CN2011 1:13:31.493 39 11 LAPS 156.05 1:47.930
10 51 Caliceti/Borelli Ligier JS51 1:32:11.238 37 13 LAPS 118.07 1:54.167
11 47 Belotti Wolf GB08 1:08:30.602 36 14 LAPS 154.58 1:49.136
12 11 Bellin/Vito Tatuus PY-012 1:01:56.479 32 18 LAPS 151.95 1:50.426
13 25 Leutwiler/Briedl Juno CN2011 59:14.162 24 26 LAPS 119.11 1:50.143