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Italian GT, Mugello – Race Report
Cerruti Makes History

Qualifying

The Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello is officially Ferrari’s test track, but on Saturday it appeared to be the new BMW factory track, since Roal Motorsport swept both front rows for the two races of the second round of the Italian GT Championship; and doing it in a very dominant way, since only the Audi of Di Benedetto-Frassineti was able to contain the gap to less than a second for Race 1.

Colombo took pole for Race 1 while his teammate Biagi took it for the second one. The second BMW of Michela Cerruti and ex-formula driver Edoardo Liberati was second for race 1, only two tenths slower than their teammates. What about everybody else? Well it wasn’t good news for Ferrari on their home track, nor for Porsche. For Race 1 the Audi R8s were third and fourth, while Balzan was fifth (and first of the Stuttgart marque) but 1.5 seconds slower than the BMWs. Sixth, first of the GT2 cars, and salvaging some Ferrari pride, were Necchi-Palma, followed by Rocca-Romanini. The other newcomers - the “Vette-boys” - were down the list in tenth overall. The last in GT3, 11th overall, was the second Porsche of Monti-Passuti. The Cup class as we predicted was not only a Porsche affair, but an all-Antonelli Motorsport race.
 
For Race 2 it was more of the same, with Biagi on pole for BMW, almost a second clear of Di Benedetto-Frassineti for Audi. Sonvico was third, then the GT2 Ferrari of Palma, then again two Ferraris from the GT3 class of Mancini-Lancieri and Comandini-Fornaroli. Michela Cerruti in the second BMW was seventh and then Barri for Porsche, followed immediately by the Corvette.


Had the race result already been decided? Perhaps so, but it was important to keep in mind the time penalties - after the good results of the first round, the BMWs would have plenty of time to stop, so maybe after all this would be Audi’s time…unless the weather decided to play a major role, that is; or unless the star driver of the Porsche squadron Balzan decided to unleash the secret weapon (a very heavy right foot…) and spoil the München party.

Race 1
 
What could be better than a Saturday late afternoon GT race deep in the heart of Tuscany? Round 2 of the Italian GT Championship would give us plenty to talk about and a very good (hard but clean) race to reflect on.

The weather was just fine for the start of the first race, with some clouds but no threat of rain, and the drivers were more than ready to race. The start was the usual scene with almost everyone out of position, but the BMW front row was soon a very distant memory after Sonvico outbraked almost five cars to turn into the first corner in a solid first spot; immediately followed by his teammate Frassineti, who also overtook the two BMWs.

“Heavy foot” Balzan took one BMW as well and established himself in fourth overall, leaving the only Munich car to “survive” in the top spot being the one driven by Colombo. Fifth was Mancini in the first of the 458s, then the other BMW of Liberati, Fornaroli, Necchi (GT2 leader), Benedetti, Romanini, Passuti and Coggiola.

Soon it was clear that the Audis were struggling to keep Colombo behind them, but this trio was gaining about a second per lap on the other trio of Balzan, Mancini and Liberati.

In the lower spots, Necchi took position from Benedetti at the end of the main straight; two laps later Colombo made the exactly same move on Frassineti and soon began to chase Sonvico for the first place…and just the lap after that Colombo overtook the second Ingolstadt car to become the new overall leader. But Colombo was not satisfied with that and began to do fast lap after fast lap, almost one second faster than the Audi duo behind.

Balzan, struggling with tyre wear, was shown a black-white flag for “not respecting the track limit”, and this soon became a drive-through penalty following further incidents…so the overall result for the top Porsche was pretty much done for the day.

The race settled down until the pitstop window opened, with Colombo now out on his own and with a lead in excess of ten seconds (but he would have to stop for an extra 25 seconds). The two Audis battled each other until Frassineti outbraked Sonvico (who would have to stop for an extra 20 seconds), then came Liberati and Mancini, followed by a huge gap before finding Necchi, Romanini, Benedetti and Coggiola and Fornaroli altogether. The final drama before the driver changes was a right rear puncture for Sonvico’s Audi, thankfully happening just three corners from the end of the lap and the damage done was not too extensive.

After all the driver changes had taken place, the new leader was the Audi of DiBenedetto-(Frassineti) from the BMW of Cerruti-(Liberati), then for the “Italian pride” the 458 GT3 of Comandini-(Fornaroli) followed by Biagi-(Colombo), Lancieri-(Mancini) and Monti-(Passuti) for the other Porsche in the field.

No sooner had the new standings been digested than a number of time penalties - due to irregular driver changes – appeared on the timing screen. As many as four cars were guilty, and because of that we had the situation where new leader Di Benedetto was ahead of Cerruti on track, but on the computer monitor was behind.

The final part of the race was…a race of calculations, because Di Benedetto had to stay a minimum of four seconds ahead of Cerruti (since his penalty was 3.8 seconds); but lap after lap the leader’s advantage was changing like a yo-yo, even multiple times a lap!

As the final lap began, Di Benedetto was still leading, but by just two-thousands of a second); but a magic final lap from Michela Cerruti was more than enough to secure a first overall victory for a woman in the history of Italian GT (and two out of three wins for BMW).

Di Benedetto finished second, with much to be angry about to his box crew. Biagi finished third, again scoring valuable points for the championship. Fourth was Comandini, first of the Ferraris, then Lancieri, Passuti (first of the Porsches) and Montanari in the second Audi, who recovered most of the ground lost due to the puncture of his teammate Sonvico. Barri finished eighth in the other Porsche.

GT2 went to the Coggiola brothers’ Porsche, thanks to a very good and clean race in front of the 458 of Rocca-Romanini. Necchi-Palma finished their race just before the 20 minute mark thanks to an alternator fault on their “old” 430.
 
Race 2
 
Could the Sunday race be more exciting than the history-making Saturday one? Well, perhaps, but first the usual paddock rumors were already suggesting that the EbiMotors Porsche of Balzan-Barri could withdraw from the Championship from the next round at Misano unless something changed in the tyre sector. Enrico Borghi, team chief of the EbiMotors had plenty to talk about, and referred to the fastest lap in Race 1 as an example - both of the BMWs were almost 1.5 seconds faster than the Ferraris (all of them) and more than two seconds clear of the Porsches. Something would have to be done before losing more precious cars from the grid next time at Misano.

The weather was still clear and sunny for the start of Race 2, a race that would be much different from the first one, only because the time penalties would now begin to strike hard with 30 seconds for Biagi-Colombo, 15 for Cerruti-Liberati, 10 for Di Benedetto-Frassineti and 5 for Sonvico-Montanari. So no penalties for the Porsches - could this be their day?

The start this time was “almost” a good one, with Biagi able to keep the lead from an inspiring Palma in the “old” 430 GT2 Ferrari, who surprised all the other GT3 cars. Third was Lancieri, then Di Benedetto, Montanari, Comandini, Barri, Cerruti, Monti, Del Castello, Coggiola and Rocca.

Two laps in, and Biagi already three seconds on the pack, which saw all of the cars very close to each other. As Biagi disappeared, the first of the “humans” was still Palma (and GT2 leader) but he was now pressed hard by Lancieri. The two Audis were enjoying battling each other, until Montanari had yet another right-rear puncture; was something wrong in the #31 Audi setup? Some places down, Barri had his hands full of the previous day’s winner Cerruti, who tried every trick in the book to get the Porsche, but for the moment with no success.

Palma was as happy as could be in second place and decided to entertain the crowd with a very “oversteery” moment at the fastest corner of the track; good for the spectators, but not so good for the tyres!

The driver change window was soon open and despite 30 seconds extra, Biagi looked able to give his car to Colombo and still keep the lead; such was the gap Thomas was able to amass. The it wasn’t to be, with Mancini-(Lancieri) leading overall as the driver changes ended, by a mere second from Colombo-(Biagi). Sonvico-(Montanari) was third…but just a lap after the pitstop Sonvico had yet another right rear puncture, this time ending for good a very bad weekend for the runner-up car of the 2011 Championship. Third was now Fornaroli-(Comandini) in a 458 GT3, then Frassineti-(DiBenedetto), Necchi-(Palma) - GT2 leader - and Balzan-(Barri), first of the Porsches. Liberati-(Cerruti) was only seventh after the Saturday win.

On the next lap Colombo got Mancini and regained the lead - not a bad job after serving an extra 30 seconds at the pitstop - but the man on fire was a very motivated Balzan, who got Necchi and a lap after, in a Richard Lietz-type move, overtook not one but two cars into the first corner! And both for positions! Fornaroli and Frassineti were the victims of the move.

The final part of the race saw Colombo keeping a safe gap of five seconds from Mancini, who now had his hands full of Balzan; but the “penalty for irregular stops” struck again This time it was Mancini’s turn and, like in Race 1, he was second and in front of Balzan on track, but with the penalty was about one second down in third.

The race ended with another  BMW win (three out of four) with Biagi-Colombo crossing the line first from…Balzan who got Mancini by a mere one-thousand-of-a-second!

Fourth was Frassineti, who overtook Fornaroli after a little mistake in the closing stages of the race. Sixth and first in GT2 finished the wildcard Palma-Necchi, from Race 1 winners Cerruti-Colombo and the Vette of Del Castello-Benedetti; not a very good weekend for the “American boys”.

We forgot to mention the GT Cup class, but with only three cars, and all from Antonelli Motorsport, it seemed quite an ethereal thing to do. Anyway Donaviti-Macori won Race 1 and finished second in the Sunday race, while Race 2 was won by Cicognani-Granzotto, who retired from Race 1 after a spin by Cicognani.

The Mugello round showed that the current Balance of Performance doesn’t appear to be working. There still appears to be a problem with the tyres - the Avons seem to be working very well for BMW, but poorly for Ferrari and especially the Porsches. Okay, maybe EbiMotors is not as good as Autorlando, but two seconds per lap slower from BMW seems quite strange. Right now no-one seems able to stop the Munich domination. Maybe after Le Mans at Ingolstadt they will invent something, but right now there no substitute for BMW!

The next round takes place at Misano at the start of July, and we’re predicting a very hot race.

Gabriele Tosi