With both driver’s championships still undecided the FIA GT Championship arrived at the Belgian Zolder Circuit for the final race of the 2007 season. It was the first time since the FIA GT’s inaugural season, 1997 that both the GT1 and GT2 championships went to the wire. Since then a lot has changed, especially when comparing grids; the ‘old’ GT1 cars have been replaced many years ago by what were GT2 cars in 1997 and the GT3 became GT2. At Zolder, FIA GT supremo Stephane Ratel announced a new drastic rule change, which will again see the current GT1 cars disappear. The goal is to cut costs and attract more mainstream manufacturers. Although the exact details have not been released, it sounds like the classic GT endurance racing is abandoned and replaced by sprints for touring cars. It is another reason to treasure and enjoy the two-hour Zolder showdown, which we have captured in a full report and exclusive 140-shot slideshow
, packed with flying, sliding and fire spitting GT machines.
Nine with a shot at GT1 and six for GT2
After nine rounds of intense racing, an unprecedented nine drivers were still in contention for the driver’s title with Thomas Biagi in the #1 Vitaphone Maserati heading the tables. Five points down, the second place was shared by six drivers, split over three different cars. Wendlinger and Sharp in the #33 Jetalliance Aston in third position still had a mathematical change, being eight points behind Biagi. In the GT2 class it was a little less complicated with the two AF Corse teams being a point apart and the Spa 24 Hours winning BMS Scuderia Italia drivers a further two points down. It is amazing to note that despite having won eight of the nine races between them, that neither of the AF Corse teams had clinched the title before the weekend. Although the deficit was just three points, few believed that the BMS team had a serious chance at clinching the title as the Ferraris had been so much faster than their Porsche. So much so in fact that one of the Porsche teams decided to forfeit the final rounds of the season. Both in GT1 and GT2 there were some of the regular teams missing, but most of their places were filled by additional cars, entered to take points away from the competition
New for the 2007 FIA GT Championship has been the ‘Citation Cup’ for gentleman drivers. The Cup was run for GT1 cars and the champion, Ben Aucott, driving a Maserati, had already been crowned at the previous round.
Practice and qualifying
The FIA GT Championship had not visited Zolder since the 2001 season, so the track was new for almost all teams and cars, but certainly not for most of the drivers. On the Saturday there were two 80-minute practice session to find good qualifying and race setups and a fifteen minute qualifying session for each class. Under bright blue skies, much of the opening 80 minutes was spent adjusting the cars to the Belgian track. It proved to be a busy day for some of the mechanics as several cars returned to the pits early with problems. The biggest casualty was the All-Inkl.com Murcielago, which lost an engine. That was the fourth time this season and one time too many, so the team received a two-minute stop-go penalty to be taken in the first three laps of Sunday’s race. The charts in were topped in the first session by two Astons in GT1 and the two AF Corse Ferraris in GT2. Obviously better adjusted to the circuit, one of the Maseratis finished the second session on top. It was followed by local favourites Anthony Kumpen and Bert Longin in their old, but obviously still very quick Corvette C5-R. GT2 was again an all Ferrari affair, with the fastest Porsche down in fourth.
Under a setting sun, the GT2 cars went out first to set their qualifying time. It looked like a Ferrari 1-2-3-4, but the second placed Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari was stripped of its time after a ride-height violation. The pole was for championship leader Toni Vilander and Dirk Muller ahead of their team mates. The other title contenders were way down in sixth. In GT1, the Jetalliance took control by placing their DBR9s first and third with Karl Wendlinger and Ryan Sharp grabbing pole. Biagi placed his Maserati within striking distance in fifth.
At exactly 13:15 on Sunday afternoon the 27 cars took off for the two hour race. The Jetalliance cars had a stellar start, going into the first corner as first and second. Behind them, the Belgian Corvette C5-R had an even better first lap, jumping from fifth to third and eventually second as the second placed DBR9 spun off in the first corner after a few laps. In GT2, the Vilander/Muller Ferreri F430 quickly built up a gap and led the race from start to finish except for brief periods during the two mandatory pit stops. Scoring their sixth win of the year, they were finally crowned champion. At the head of the field, the race was also remarkably trouble free, but that could not be said for the entire GT1 class. After a poor start from the front row, the #12 Maserati had fought back to second overall when it hit one of the BMS Astons, which suffered from gear selection problems. Both cars could continue after the heavy contact, but no further than to the pits when the cars retired with front suspension and rear end damage respectively. Biagi and his team mate Michael Bartels had quietly fought their way up to third, which was sufficient to clinch the title no matter where his competitors finished. Wendlinger and Sharp made no mistakes and took the win, well ahead of the Belgians in the #4 Corvette. In the Citation Cup, Ben Aucott and his team-mate for the weekend Stephane Daoudi finished first, nine seconds ahead of the closest competition. Simply by finishing the Belgian Gillet Vertigo secured a class win in G2.
Around 16,000 spectators showed up on the very cold race day to witness the season’s finale in the flesh. They were treated to a good show by some of the best GT-drivers in the finest machines. Hopefully the upcoming regulations, more dictated by TV-slots than ever before, will still leave room for these exciting races and cars.