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Italian GT, Imola – Race Reports
Porsche Reigns As The Weather Gods Smile
 
Race 1
 
The much anticipated rain storm had, as  the race began, turned into just a dark cloud, so perhaps the real storm would be on the track as the season approached the final six races - the two Audis, the BMW of Biagi-Colombo and the Porsche of Balzan-Barri fighting to decide who would be the 2012 Champion.

Unfortunately,  we had lost the second Cup class Ferrari 458 of the newcomer Russians because the car didn’t exist anymore - such was the damage done into the Tamburello wall in the first qualifying session.

The time penalties during the mandatory pitstop were likely to be significant, with Balzan and Barri getting 30 seconds extra, 25 for Sonvico-Capello and 15 for Mancini-Lancieri.


The start of the race was a good one, with everyone pretty much in position, but Barri was able to keep the lead into the first corner, followed by the two Audis who both surprised Ruberti; but the Villeneuve chicane was the usual “Italian casino”. Di Benedetto, in order to avoid touching Sonvico, found the dirt and finished his race in the tyre wall, while Mancini tried a “banzai” move which resulted in him cutting  the chicane; but despite a gravely moment was able to continue. Ruberti did nothing wrong but lost some places, and at the end at the next corner - Tosa - Balzan was already some four seconds in front of Van der Drift (!) who had found the right gap at the right moment and was now P2. But it was a very brief moment of glory for the McLaren because Ruberti reclaimed his second spot in the uphill section before the Piratella. Mancini was fourth, but managed also to overtake the McLaren soon afterwards, followed by the two BMWs and the other 458 of Fornaroli. In the Cup class Kruglyk was leading from the two Lamborghinis of Sanna and Piancastelli…and that was only the first lap!


At the front Barri was escaping from the pack at the rate of almost one second per lap, while Ruberti said “see you” to Sonvico and blasted past the Audi in the main straight for it to become a Porsche 1-2. After only four laps Barri was leading by five seconds from Ruberti, who had several seconds over Sonvico, who was a lonely third; then came Ruberti and the McLaren which was very slow in the twisty part of the track - both BMWs trying every trick to overtake the English supercar, only to be “smoked” along the main straight. The situation remained the same for several laps, until Biagi decided to let Liberati go by in order to chase Van der Drift. The second Ferrari of Fornaroli attempted to overtake Biagi at the Tamburello chicane, but the good try become a gravely moment; but no damage had been done and the status quo resumed.

Soon the pit stop window was open, with the McLaren first to stop, letting the BMW begin the chase of the podium spot; but the gap was quite enormous. Barri and Ruberti were the last cars to stop, but there was a rare mistake from the WEC driver who spun into the Acque Minerali, losing all the advantage he’d gained over the Ferrari of Mancini and the Audi of Sonvico.

The cup class soon lost the second Lamborghini, due to a very dirty move by the Porsche of Granzotto, who decided to outbrake the Lambo into the Tosa. The results were some pretty costly repairs for the Lambo and a drive-through penalty for the Porsche.
 
After everyone had made their driver changes, the new leader was - believe or not, despite 30 seconds extra - Balzan-(Barri), from Passuti-(Ruberti), who was still second despite the error made by Ruberti; but he was followed closely by the second Ferrari of Comandini-(Fornaroli) and then the Z4 Cerruti-(Liberati).

The BMW had actually exited from the pitlane in second, but had put two wheels in the gravel of the Villeneuve chicane and lost two spots. Colombo-(Biagi), Lancieri-(Mancini) and Capello-(Sonvico) were next.

The Cup class found a new leader - Stancheris-(Sanna) overtaking the only other 458 of the Russians, just after mid-race.

The last part of the race saw no major dramas, with Balzan able to easily keep the lead for a very dominant win.

Passuti finished second with the best performance of the year for the Antonelli team, but the battle for the lower spot of the podium was much more intense. Comandini was third on track, but had received a one-second penalty (due to an irregular driver change) which would be added to his finish time, so basically he would have to overtake Colombo in order to finish third. He managed to do this on the last lap, but the gap at the line was a little less than one second, so Colombo-Biagi finished third! Fifth was the other BMW of Michela Cerruti, who also overtook the other Ferrari in the final laps, while Capello finished only eighth. The other female-driver, Alessandra Neri, finished ninth for the first race ever done by a McLaren in the Italian GT Championship.

The Cup class saw a “home victory” for the Lamborghini, Sanna-Stancheris winning from the Russian 458 Italia of Kruglyk-Tsyplakov.
 
At the end it was not perhaps the best race of the year, but for the first time this year a car had dominated the entire weekend, since free practice. Certainly Balzan did a great job, as always, but the real star was again the young gun Barri. Ruberti did a marvelous job in a new car - yes, it was a GT3 Porsche, but every ‘lady’ is different – and his unfortunate spin was just a small thing. The BMW seemed still to be a ‘work in progress’, as despite gaining some breaks from the BOP it still seems a little bit ‘soft’.

What about the Audi? Well Di Benedetto made a crucial error, perhaps throwing out of the window a real chance of being the fourth pair battling for the crown, but nothing is yet decided and with the two must-drop-scores a zero is not a bad thing to drop. Sonvico and Capello did the best they could with a car desperately slow on the straight but perfectly balanced in the twisty stuff.

Race two would be much harder for the Stuttgart guys, with 30 and 25 seconds extra to stop for both the cars; would this be the time for the BMWs’ revenge? Could the Ferraris score well in their backyard? Or would the Audis spoil the party?
 
Race 2
 
It seemed as though the Weather Gods in the sky had opened their eyes and brought some good weather for Race 2, and despite the fact that most of Northern Italy was plagued by rain storms, Imola was a good place to be for this weekend!

After the Stuttgart domination in Race 1, all the other drivers were wondering if the second race would be another walkover for Balzan & Co; but the facts wrote another story in the end - the time penalties at the driver changes would be 30 seconds extra for Balzan-Barri, 10 for Ruberti-Passuti, Sonvico-Capello and 5 for Mancini-Lancieri and Biagi-Colombo.


The start was another good one and once again Balzan and Passuti locked out the top two places into the Tamburello chicane. The two Audis were third and fourth, with Sonvico in front of Frassineti, then came the two Ferraris of Lancieri and Comandini and the two BMWs. Balzan and Passuti tried to escape from the pack, but this time it was a much harder job and only a few tenths were gained by the duo on each lap, while yesterday it was well over a second per lap. The situation stayed this way for some time, with only Colombo seemingly able to keep Comandini under pressure - and the job done was a good one, as Comandini exited too wide at the Villeneuve chicane, losing the spot to the top BMW.

Upfront we learned that Balzan was losing some top speed due to some electrical gremlins, but ‘Batman’ seemed not to be paying too much attention to this and still led the race from Passuti. Another possible problem was developing in the BMW of Colombo, with puffs of white smokes intermittently exiting from the right side of the BMW…problems ahead?

Another move into the top spots was made by Lancieri, who overtook Frassineti for fourth overall just before the pitstop window opened.

The smoke from the Colombo BMW developed into an engine problem, which very quickly became a retirement for the top BMW.

After everyone had completed their stop, the standings had been turned upside down. The new leader was Ruberti-(Passuti) from the very ‘agitated’ trio of Di Benedetto-(Frassineti), Barri-(Balzan) and Liberati-(Cerruti). The live TV pictures captured a right-rear problem for Barri, with a tyre rubbing - clearly some contact had been made, but where? A replay clarified everything; Sonvico had tried to resist an overtaking move by Fornaroli, but both had exited wide. Barri got caught up in this and touched the Ferrari at the next corner. The tyre rubber soon became a right rear puncture for the young Porsche star.

After all this exciting action Ruberti was still leading, with a safe cushion of 11 seconds from Mancini, who managed somehow to be second. Di Benedetto was third, and then came Sonvico, Liberati and Fornaroli all very close together. Barri managed to make the pitlane, change the tyre and rejoin the race a lap down.

The final part of the race saw pretty much the status quo retained, with Ruberti clearly enjoying himself and the car and being able to extend his lead up to 25 seconds before the chequered flag.

"It has been great to be back to the Italian GT Championship with a victory,” said a delighted Paulo Ruberti. “After Race 1 I was sorry for the mistake at the Acque Minerali, but luckily we quickly counter-charged in Race 2. The technicians of Team Antonelli and I accomplished a useful setup work, while I have been in sync with Christian since the beginning. This has been just a one-off for me on the side of my commitment in FIA WEC but I want to send my best wishes for a great season finale to the whole team".

Mancini, despite hard pressure from Di Benedetto, finished second. The battle for the fourth spot was much more intense, but Sonvico managed to contain every attack mounted by Liberati. Fornaroli finished sixth in the other Ferrari, while Barri finished eighth, a lap down. The McLaren also encountered some technical problems, but managed to finish the race.

The Cup class saw another Lamborghini win, but not by the 2011 Champions. In fact, Babini-Piancastelli won from the Porsche of Granzotto-Cicognani and the 458 of the Russians Kruglyk-Tsyplakov. Sanna-Stancheris, with a huge time penalty to serve, finished only fourth in class.
 
In the end it was another dominant performance by the Porsche, despite the time penalties, with both cars able to close the gap and keep the lead; and only bad luck prevented another 1-2. But the Championship battle became more interesting, with now four cars in the mix. We have to see also the next BOP ‘lottery’ - we suspect the Porsche won’t be so strong next time at Mugello.

The standings show Sonvico still leading with 112 points, from Balzan-Barri with 108, Frassineti-Di Benedetto with 103 and Biagi-Colombo with 99. Mugello saw an Audi domination last time out, with the Porsche in deep trouble; but that was before Avon changed the compound of the tyres, so it’s likely to be a different story next time.

Imola had seen a clean battle with no dirty moves or controversies to discuss outside the track, and we hope it will be the same two weeks from now. Oh, by the way, next time the other German supercar will debut in the series - the Mercedes SLS fielded by GDL Racing. Expect more fireworks in the hills of Tuscany.

Gabriele Tosi