Vitaphone take unlikely second in season opener

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    drew935's Avatar
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    Default Vitaphone take unlikely second in season opener




    Maserati powers onto podium from 15th on grid

    So near, yet so far... the Vitaphone Racing team came within four seconds of winning the opening race of the FIA GT Championship season for the third year in succession, finishing second at Silverstone. Racing the superlative Maserati MC12 supercar, Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini had to settle for second place – and missed out on securing the prestigious Tourist Trophy.

    The MC12 has long been the class of the field, securing seven out of ten titles in the three years it has been competing; this is despite the performance of the car being limited by a narrower rear wing and extra weight than its competitors. But the 2008 season did not get off to an ideal start; a wet track, heavy traffic and an unexpected red flag saw Bartels and Bertolini qualify down in fifteenth place, with team mates Miguel Ramos and Alexander Negrão managing to avoid traffic, but could do no better than eighth as they struggled to keep their tires at optimum temperature.

    When the race got under way, a heavy mist lay on the circuit – TV long shots showed no cars, only headlights piercing the gray blanket. Bertolini wasn’t going to let the conditions slow him down – he made a charging start, overtaking six cars on the opening lap alone. Making the most of the powerful Maserati V12 engine and the MC12’s great handling, he continued to make progress. Meanwhile Ramos, in the sister car, had held on to eighth until the team brought him in on lap 19. With the track conditions improving the decision was made to fit intermediate tires – and when Ramos immediately went 2s a lap faster, the team knew it was time to bring Bertolini in.

    The combination of intermediates and their rivals heading for the pits saw the two Vitaphone Maserati cars climbing up the order; circulating in close company, they were up to 2 seconds a lap faster than the leaders. By lap 39, both cars had made it into the top five; on the next lap it was time for the second pit-stops, with Negrão taking over from Ramos, Bartels from Bertolini.

    They each lost only one place during the pit-stops; it was immediately clear that Bartels was on a charge, getting past Negrão on lap 42 to get back into the top five. By lap 46 the two Maseratis had closed on the pack in front of them; Bartels was still fifth, but only 3.2s away from second place! On lap 48 he found a way past the Corvette in front of him to take fourth – and then, on lap 50, the safety car was called into action, to allow a wheel which had become detached from another car to be retrieved. The result was that Bartels found himself less than six seconds away from the lead, a remarkable feat from the eighth row of the grid.

    The safety car set up a grandstand finish: five cars within seven seconds of each other, and only 15 minutes of the two-hour race remaining. On lap 54 Bartels made it into the top three; unfortunately Negrão had slipped down the order after making contact with a Corvette going into Copse corner. The battle at the front raged on, with Bartels setting the race’s fastest lap, a 1:47.231, on lap 55. Next time around, he was up to second, going side-by-side with an Aston Martin through Luffield and powering by down the straight.

    Only three laps remained, which proved insufficient to allow Bartels to mount an attack on the leader. The Vitaphone team had to settle for second – and Bartels and Bertolini looked delighted with the achievement on the podium. Eight points is a good start to the long, ten-race season, and with Ramos and Negrão picking up two more points for seventh, the team has also begun its title defense with a solid score.

    Bertolini were understandably upbeat. “Coming back to score eight points, after our poor qualifying session, was a result we didn’t expect,” Michael said. “It’s a good start to the season. Of course, there are always things to improve, and we’ll be working on them.” Andrea was similarly pleased. “The beginning of the race was quite hard, starting so far back, but we managed to improve, and we scored some important points at the start of the championship. It’s good for the team, because they have been working really hard.”

    The next outing for Vitaphone Racing will be on 18th May, at Monza – the ‘cathedral of speed’. The race is on home turf for the Maserati MC12 supercar, so the Italian fans will be out in force, cheering on Vitaphone and Maserati.

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