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Italian GT, Mugello – Race Reports
Double Top For Colombo & Biagi
 
It was gloves-off for the penultimate round of the Italian GT Championship 2012, and time to step up for whoever wanted to clinch the title in both the GT3 and Cup classes (GT2 had already been taken by the Coggiola brothers, who once again had made the best out of their “old lady” Porsche - kudos to them, but shame on the other GT2 cars and drivers who didn’t race more than a few rounds.)
 
Both qualifying sessions saw the much anticipated deep crisis of Porsche, with 25kg extras, thanks to the BOP, and a track that the Stuttgart car doesn’t like at all…so this time it was poles for BMW and Audi.

For Race 1, the young gun Stefano Colombo claimed the top spot in the #33 Roal Motorsport Z4 - much to the pleasure of his teammate Thomas Biagi - almost a second clear of Matteo Malucelli in the #37 Antonelli Porsche.

But that wasn’t fooling anybody - Malucelli knew the track inch by inch and his lap was the best that the Porsche GT3 could do here. Third was the first (#32) Audi of Davide Di Benedetto, then the #67 SLS Mercedes of Gianluca De Lorenzi. They were followed by Andrea Sonvico (#31 Audi), Valentino Fornaroli (#39 Ferrari) and Michela Cerruti (#34 BMW). The only Porsche title-contender, the #44 EbiMotors GT3 R of Giacomo Barri was only eighth and two and a half seconds slower than the leading BMW. The #48 McLaren of Chris Van Der Drift was the last in the class in ninth. The Cup class was a must-win for the Lamborghini in order to keep its slim chances of the title alive, but Giorgio Sanna began the job in the best way by claiming pole.
 
Qualifying 2 was a much more closely contended, and in the end Alex Frassineti took the P1 less than one tenth clear of Biagi.

Next came Edoardo Liberati in the second BMW and Dindo Capello, followed by a good gap to Stefano Comandini in the 458 Italia and the two Porsches of Christian Passuti and Alessandro Balzan. The SLS and the McLaren followed. GT Cup saw another Lamborghini pole, this time for Sanna’s teammate Davide Stancheris.
 
RACE 1
 
A cloudy sky – but one with no chance of rain – welcomed the drivers from the Italian GT for the penultimate round of the series. The tension was so high that you could cut it with a knife; nobody wanted to talk and everyone was making secret plans for the race. It looked highly likely that it would be BMW versus Audi for the win, because both the Porsches had to stop 25 and 30 seconds extra at the driver change, while only Di Benedetto-Frassineti had extra seconds (five) of the top cars.

The start saw the McLaren clearly jumping the start, but the first corners saw some passes of the year, perhaps of the century! Malucelli outpowered Colombo to the first corner, but Di Benedetto found some extra grip from his tyres and somehow overtook both the BMW and the Porsche for a fantastic move to P1. Malucelli was second, then Colombo, De Lorenzi, Sonvico, Fornaroli, Van Der Drift, Barri and Cerruti. Would it be status quo for the rest of the lap? Of course not! Colombo took Malucelli for P2, while in the Cup class Sanna kept the lead for the Imperiale Lamborghini.

Colombo was flying and within two laps had wiped out the gap to Di Benedetto and pushing the #32 Audi for the lead. Meanwhile, Barri was struggling badly to keep Cerruti behind, for eighth place.
 
Apparently nobody saw the false start of the McLaren and Van Der Drift kept his position, while De Lorenzi in the heavy SLS kept up with Malucelli for P4. Colombo made the best of his perfectly balanced car and took Di Benedetto for the lead of the race; immediately opening up a big gap. By this point the chasing pack of cars were nose to tail - from the now second Di Benedetto to the Ferrari of Fornaroli you could count no more than five seconds. Meantime, the McLaren lost ground and was now battling with Barri and Cerruti for the last positions in class.
 
Just before the pit-stops window opened Barri and Cerruti overtook the McLaren; technical issues ahead? Indeed, the MP4-12C was in tyre trouble.
 
After the mandatory driver changes had finished, the leader, by a big margin, was still the BMW of Biagi-(Colombo) who had only to keep his concentration up to win a very easy race. Second and third were the Audis of Frassineti-(Di Benedetto) and Capello-(Sonvico); fourth was the lonely 458 Italia of Comandini-(Fornaroli); then Liberati-(Cerruti) in the second BMW; the first Porsche of Passuti-(Malucelli); and the SLS of Necchi-(De Lorenzi), who had lost several precious seconds in the driver change. Balzan-(Barri) was the last car in the class.


The final stages of the races provided us with not much excitement, with only the lower places seeing action. Liberati caught and passed Comandini for fourth and Necchi in the SLS caught Passuti in the final minutes, but was unable to make any move.

In the end it was a very easy win for Biagi-Colombo and the BMW, ending a string of bad results from previous races. Di Benedetto-Frassineti kept their championship lead in the Audi with second, while Sonvico finished third by a very small margin over Liberati. Fifth was the 458 of Comandini, followed by Passuti, Necchi and Balzan. The Cup Class saw a win for the Gallardo, but second for Cicognani meant he and Niccolo Granzotto were only a few points away from clinching the class title.
 
RACE 2
 
The weather for Race 2 was similar to that of Race 1 - a cloudy sky but no chance of rain - for what could be a title decider in the Cup Class and an important one for the main class, GT3. As the race started, Sonvico was the new leader in the points-standings, from Biagi-Colombo and Frassineti-Di Benedetto, while Balzan-Barri dropped from second to fourth.
 
The time penalties this time were more balanced, with 15 seconds for Balzan-Barri, Biagi-Colombo and Frassineti-Di Benedetto, but only five for Capello-Sonvico and Malucelli-Passuti.

Biagi grabbed the lead at the start from Frassineti into the first corner, while Liberati established himself third in front of Comandini and Capello; the Audi veteran being the main loser in the first part of the lap. Balzan showed some muscles and overtook Passuti for P6, with Necchi and Alessandra Neri following. The Cup class had see some fireworks since the first corner, with Stancheris and Cicognani exchanging robust moves with each other.
 
The top five cars were, as predicted, gradually easing away from the Porsches of Balzan and Passuti, the SLS and the McLaren; now driven by the slower drivers. Biagi was now quite lonely out in front, while the second BMW of Liberati was trying to overtake the Audi of Frassineti without success…for now. Capello was still fifth and seemed unable to make any move on the Ferrari of Comandini.
 
EbiMotors’ weekend seemed as dark as the night, with Balzan losing sixth spot to Passuti. In the meantime the BMW 1-2 was now a reality because Liberati had overtaken Frassineti; race over for the top spots? Maybe.
 
The first half of the race provided no more dramas or overtaking moves, with the gap between each car widening more and more. As everyone handed their car to their respective teammates, the situation saw Cerruti-(Liberati) as the new leader, by a few seconds from their teammate Colombo-(Biagi). Then came the two Audis, while third was Di Benedetto-(Frassineti) and fourth Sonvico-(Capello). Fifth was Malucelli in the first of the Porsches, then De Lorenzi in the SLS Mercedes, Fornaroli in the 458 and Barri.
 
The race was pretty much decided and in the end it was an easy 1-2 for BMW, with the new points leaders Biagi-Colombo winning thanks to an overtaking manoeuvre on Cerruti on the last lap.

Third was Di Benedetto-Frassineti, still scoring valuable points for the championship, while fourth for Sonvico meant he too was still in contention. Fifth was Passuti, then Necchi, Comandini and Barri, who ended the worst possible weekend ever for EbiMotors.
 
The Cup class saw a very close battle, but in the end the Lamborghini hung on a title-saving win. The title will be decided in Monza in the big finale, as is the case for the GT3 class.


The penultimate round of the Championship saw two quite uneventful races, with BMW and Audi dominating the top spots. Even before the latest BOP everyone knew the Mugello track favoured the most balanced car, which was the BMW first and the Audi second…but instead of leaving the things as they were, the BOP added 25 kilos to the Porsche and took away 20 from BMW and Audi, pretty much preventing any chance not only of victory but, as the facts clearly show, also some possible lower podium spots for the EbiMotors Porsche.

The time-penalties aren’t ideal, but we have learnt to deal with them; but changing the balance of performance at every round is farcical. What’s in store for the last round in Monza? As the Porsche could be favourite, thanks to his top speed, perhaps they’ll next limit the power of the Stuttgart car? Balzan and Barri are a long way down in the standings, and basically have to win both races and hope for some catastrophic results for the three other contenders.

As it is, Biagi-Colombo are now leading with 139 points (with zero to drop, anyway), from Sonvico on 132 (with now 8 to drop), Frassineti-Di Benedetto on 130 (also 8 to drop), and Balzan-Barri on 114 (6 to drop). The Cup class is pretty much a done deal for Porsche, with Granzotto-Cicognani 39 points ahead of Sanna-Stancheris; but the Porsche has to drop 12, while Lamborghini has none to drop.
 
Predictions for Monza? It will be anybody’s race, because the Ginetta pack will race alongside the main classes for what will probably be two races with safety cars, so the time penalty shouldn’t be too much a problem. We’ll wait and see what the bureau has in store for Monza, in a month from now.

Gabriele Tosi