By all rights, the Ferrari 550 Maranello fleet built by Prodrive and owned by
Frederic Dor should be obsolete by now. Or it would be, perhaps, if the message
hadn’t got through to Pedro Lamy. Three seasons at the top, now matched by the
Maserati MC12 and the Aston Martin DBR9, not to mention the Ferrari factory
blessed 575, the 550 is no longer au point in terms of downforce, and a
superficial look at Round 10 of the FIA GT Championship in Dubai indicated that
the Russian Age Aston Martin driven by Christophe Bouchut and Stephane Ortelli
was the class of the field.
Or was it? Who came from the back of the grid to third within the first hour? Lamy
in the Larbre Competition Ferrari 550. Who was delayed half a minute by running
out of fuel on his ‘in’ lap? Lamy. Who moved up from eighth place, 60 seconds
down, to sixth and 38 seconds down at the two-hour mark? Co-driver Gabriele
And who went from sixth to the overall lead in the last hour, setting a string of
fastest laps on the way? Lamy, of course, his best lap 0.358 sec faster than
Bouchut’s. That is a significant margin, in a car that has been superceded, if that
is the right word, by the Aston Martin also built by Prodrive under the direction of
Old Dogs, Old Tricks, New Dogs, New Tricks
Lamy was the best driver in the best car at Dubai, praise freely given by Anthony
Kumpen who yielded second place a few laps from home, Michael Bartels whose
co-driver Timo Scheider was overtaken for the lead literally six kilometres from the
end, and by the highly experienced team manager Dave ‘Beaky’ Sims who went
around the track during the afternoon and came back super impressed with
Lamy’s speed, and the balance and grip demonstrated by the Ferrari. “Class of
the field, without doubt” he reckoned.
Lamy and Gardel have won three FIA GT Championship rounds in 2005, each
time beating four supposedly unbeatable Maseratis, at Monza, at Brno and in
Dubai, also collecting second places at Imola and Zhuhai. By contrast,
championship leaders Andrea Bertolini and Karl Wendlinger won only once, at
Magny Cours, but had four second places, while in joint second place Michael
Bartels and Timo Scheider had two victories – including the vital success in the
Spa 24-Hours, collecting double points -- and three second places.
Both Bertolini and Bartels were adamant that the 50 kg carried by the Maseratis
all season, separate from success ballast, was unfair and handicapped them
unduly. Bartels and Scheider, in fact, carried a total of 150 kg at Dubai, Babini and
Biagi 130 kg, while the Larbre Ferrari 550 carried 30 kg, the Aston Martin nothing
In other words, on account of their extra width and resultant downforce, and
results, the Maserati drivers effectively carried two passengers. “You can feel it”
says Bertolini, carrying a mere 110 kg in the JMB Maserati. “The car rolls into the
corner, we feel the lack of performance out of it. It may be good for the
championship but for us, it is too much.” Bartels asserted that the Maseratis were
handicapped too much for success, though echoing that “it is good for the
Close, Competitive Racing
There is next to no chance that the handicapping system will be changed in the
near future. “With two races to go and seven drivers still fighting for the title, the FIA
has proven that its innovative concept of balancing the performances of the cars,
despite their very different shapes and architecture, succeeds extremely well”
wrote series promoter Stephane Ratel in his “perspective” document prior to the
“This has not been achieved without some misunderstandings and the
occasional controversy, but with one Aston Martin, two Ferrari, two Corvette and
four Maserati victories, the concept has been proven where it counts: on the race
track [make that three Ferrari victories now]. It has provided the chance of victory to
most of the leading teams and has made the races exciting to watch and hotly
contested right down to the chequered flag.”
True before the Dubai race, more so afterwards. We saw the top four cars take
the chequered flag with no more than 10.22 seconds between them, after three
hours of racing, and six were on the lead lap at the finish. I have rarely reported a
closer or more exciting endurance race in the past 38 years (heaven help me, is it
that long since I covered the 1967 Reims 12-hours for Motoring News?), and I
gently differ with my esteemed colleague Jean-Marc Teissèdre (Auto Hebdo) who
argues that ‘handicap racing’ is impure and insupportable.
Personally, I got tired of predictable and processional racing many years ago.
The Porsche 917s dominated the 1970-71 era, Ferrari in 72, Matra in 73-74,
Porsche again in 76-78, and Porsche yet again in the early years of Group C, 82-
Yes, we knew that a Rothmans Porsche 956 would win, all we waited for was the
result in favour of Jacky Ickx, or Derek Bell in the other team car (they drove
together at Le Mans, on Jacky’s insistence, but in the FIA races Jochen Mass was
For the Fan(s),
Accepting that racing is “for the public” (something drummed home by Don
Panoz, but long forgotten by Max Mosley), the closer and more varied the racing,
the better. The current form of the FIA GT Championship perhaps lacks the wider
appeal that it had in 1997-98 with the prescence of the factory teams from
Mercedes, BMW and Porsche but the competition and more imprtantly, the racing,
is often more exciting.
If only it was better promoted, and we had more spectators in the grandstands!
Was it Bart Mampaey who said recently: “The FIA GT and World Touring Car
Championships were too big to stay together, but not big enough to go separate
What of Dubai, then? A strange place, a nice modern track in the middle of an
Arabian desert. Was that a heat haze? No, it was a curtain of dust whipped up by a
constant breeze which stiffened on Friday morning, three hours before the race,
and coated the track nicely for the opening laps.
There were superb hotels in town, one nearer the circuit, but the teams had little
contact except at the track, and in the five-star catering hall provided by the
organisation. Hamish Brown, by the way, is alive and performing very well as
general manager of the Dubai Autodrome, which is about as far from Silverstone
as you can get.
There is little of the ambience that surrounds the Francorchamps and
Nurburgring circuits, none of those nice little hotels with cosy restaurants that dot
the countryside, just sand and more bloody sand, in which track and hotels were
A very urbane German, Thomas Kastgen, was resident in the Russian Age
(Cirtek) garage and took title sponsorship of the Aston Martin DBR9, in the name
of the Dubai GT Racing Team. We had heard of this team before, it was
supposed to be up and running in time for the two Arabian races, but there has
been a slight delay, as Mr Kastgen, CEO of the Middle East Aston Martin
distributorship, was happy to explain.
The team will be formed during the off-season and will run two Aston Martins in
the full FIA GT Championship in 2006. Good news, with two more Aston Martins to
be run by BMS Scuderia Italia, and by Cirtek. That makes six Astons, off the cuff.
The Dubai GT Racing Team will be based at the Autodrome, says Mr Kastgen,
and will have at least one local driver on strength.
There will be a base in Europe, and drivers have yet to be selected. “I am talking
to a number of teams” he says, and the list got longer as word got out.
The Future is Bright, The Future is.................
I share M. Ratel’s always optimistic view of next season. The forecast of 18 to 20
GT1 cars sounds realistic, GT2 will grow, he says, with the scaling-down of
Porsche factory support and the addition of five new Ferrari 430 machines, while
GT3 as a support series has had an overwhelming response, with the probability
of 40 cars on next year’s European grids.
Ratel took a huge risk in splitting with the WTCC and losing the support of
Eurosport, but he has never shirked a risk and this one looks as though it will pay
off. There will be television coverage, the SRO finding an encouraging response
at the recent Sportel tv rights convention.
The opening round of the 2006 season, at Bucharest if the contract is finalised,
will be eagerly anticipated.