I got fed up with the “Sea of Red” article on SCP, but there was nothing else to
challenge the scarlet Prodrive-built Ferrari 550s in the FIA GT Championship.
The whole concept of this website was to write things when we had things to
write, and not to paste up a load of old tosh just to keep things going. The FIA
GT Championship race at Monza was dull, there was very little to inspire
anything other than a good snooze, and few expected that to change much as
we headed to Valencia, Spain.
Thankfully, that all did change and Brooksie’s threat to fire his contributors, who
weren’t contributing anything, faded into several bottles of Amstel beer and a plate
of uneaten squid in the Da Dong Chinese restaurant next door to our hotel. The
NH Abashiri, incidentally, unwittingly provided the weird moment of the weekend
when the frightfully conservative BBC World broadcast a story about the LA porn
industry taking a proverbial knock thanks to one of its main actors catching a
disease of some description. And that story was before breakfast!
Reiter to Rights
Hans Reiter, the man who gambled just about everything on running the
Lamborghini Murcielago, emerged from the weekend absolutely delighted, and
how he deserved it. The car was a disaster at Monza last year, and few were
willing to cut the German any slack. He had promised to run the car before the
end of the year and did so, with Tom Kristensen and Dindo Capello at the wheel.
They scraped through first qualifying before deciding to stop, discretion and valour
forming an equation that saw the black machine switched off for the rest of the
Few, including Reiter himself, expected such a turnaround by the time the black
beast was fired up in Spain. The tuning company had put in a bucket load of work,
including strengthening and lightening the roll cage, taking 20kg off the engine
and exhaust package, and re-designing the suspension to make a simplified
version of the Audi R8 bouncy bits that any customer team could manage.
The electronics were simplified, the car massively improved, and there is plenty
more to be done before the first cars are delivered and raced in the US and in
Japan at the end of June. A lightweight gearbox is ready to be tested, though the
team has stopped short of lowering the engine in the chassis – a costly
experience and a complicated one at a time when speed of build is of the
Prodrive’s star Le Mans driver Peter Kox will race the car for Dick Barbour Racing
in Mid Ohio, against Oliver Gavin, who was caught in limbo thanks to his
relationship with Reiter and his contract with GM. The Briton was forced to keep
his mouth firmly shut, and did not welcome a mis-guided question by yours truly
in the post race press conference about what GM could expect of the competition
in June. “Yeah, like a good team mate, he handed it to me to clean it up,” joked
Some cynics suggested on Friday that the fastest time in the wet session was a
“board room time,” and they were probably right, with Lamborghini’s marketing
manager and Lambo’s head of sport on hand to watch. The Valencia circuit was
deliberately chosen thanks to its characteristics which were believed to have
suited the machine, and the team hired two of the best sports car drivers to help,
but it was still a mightily impressive performance.
We weren’t expecting was to see the rooster tail out of the back of the car, almost
vertical and described as like watching a jet ski out on track. “Downforce,” was the
verdict of one driver. “And lots of it.”
It was almost a dream debut for the car. Gavin led at the end of the first hour, Kox
all through the second, admittedly flattered by the second drivers in the rival cars
but still able to eke out more than 25 seconds and 63 minutes on one tank of fuel.
He could have gone quicker, but wanted to give Gavin time to take on new tyres in
the final stop. As it happened, Gavin accidentally knocked a fuse out with his hand
as he climbed aboard, and the car refused to start.
It cost them the race win, but the performance thus far had encouraged interest.
DAMS boss Jean-Paul Driot was on hand to witness the running of the car and
rumour has it that he, Jean-Denis Deletraz, Andrea Piccini and sponsor Scream
will run the car from Donington Park onwards. Two cars are to be prepared for the
Japanese GT Championship first, then two for Barbour, and finally two for
collectors, one of whom will give the car to DAMS to race.
The team will go away now, test that new gearbox, work on the other “issues”,
and then build more stunning cars. At last, we appear to have something that can
genuinely challenge the Ferraris.
For Mid Ohio, David Brabham, another interested observer in Valencia, will share
with Kox, while Scott Maxwell will drive with Tracy Krohn, the man who is backing
the US project. Gavin’s Corvette team is already the dominant force, and they
must relish the chance to take on something as fast as them for the first time this
season. The Lambo was fast, reliable and efficient on its race debut. A flash in the
pan, aka the Ferrari 575 which has been dismal since it won in Estoril last year, or
a genuine challenger?
What else was going on in Valencia? Well, we finally figured out why N-
Technology were too busy to go testing with their Ferrari 575 teams – they were
developing their Alfa Romeo 156s for the European Touring Car Championship.
The Alfas were miles ahead of the BMWs in Spain, so far that it really wasn’t worth
BMW showing up. “They were like children in the playground on Friday,” lamented
one Bimmer pilot, and they ran like the school bullies during the race.
Touring cars, 20-odd minutes of highly charged action at each race last year,
they were the ideal antidote to the three-hour enduro that preceded it. In Valencia,
the only moments of interest were figuring out how the SEAT press officer would
explain how two of his cars crashed into each other on the first lap and the third
retired with engine failure. You had to feel sorry for him, while the Alfa press guy
had some merciful relief from the usual ear-bashing that is meted out to him as
his drivers make a habit of such antics.
Still, perhaps N-Technology will turn their hand to the 575s now, and build some
spares so that the JMB team can afford to go out on Friday without worrying about
whether or not its drivers will spin off, put a dent in the glorious-looking black
machines, and be unable to take the start on Sunday. Perhaps Laurence Pearce
will find someone to race with Tom Coronel in his much awaited and improved
Lister Storm GT car. Perhaps former Jordan and Jaguar F1 man Gary Anderson,
in as part of RML’s impressive drive to build a high-quality team, will make the
Saleens run as they should. Perhaps Uwe Alzen and Michael Bartels will get to
the first round of pit stops. One thing that is for sure, though, is that we’ll miss the
Lamborghini in Magny Cours in two weeks.