Friday
Nov182011

Raging Bulls

In this day and age, motorsport would almost appear to be an illegal activity for many, with circuits closing down, being remodelled to make them safer, or being restricted due to noise issues. It was therefore refreshing to visit a circuit that was celebrating its first anniversary – Circuito de Navarra in the Navarre region of Northwestern Spain, an area well known for its winemaking and bull running. The circuit is situated in a very picturesque valley, surrounded by vineyards and solar farms.

 

The FIA GT1 world championship visited Navarra in 2010 as a replacement for the cancelled street circuit round in Durban, South Africa. Clearly, this outing was judged a success, as the series returned in 2011 for its sixth round, along with the GT3 European Series’ third round. A very healthy and passionate crowd were present over the two days. Fernando Alonso’s success in Formula 1 has revitalised Spanish interest in circuit racing, along with their strong interest in rallying and fanatical interest in all forms of two-wheeled motorsport.

 

After an epic, three-country, trans-European roadtrip, an airy and well air-conditioned media centre welcomed us, which contrasted sharply with very hot and humid conditions outside, peaking at 41 degrees Celsius (106 Fahrenheit). Combined with a sweltering 75 percent humidity, this made being outdoors a chore rather than a pleasure, although the compact nature of the circuit meant that almost every part of the track was easily accessible by foot, and the media shuttle drivers were happy to hand out cold water as well. Nevertheless, it’s very rare for me to be able to smell the hot magnesium of my camera and lenses! Ironically, a light shower proceeded the racing prior to the second day, followed by heavy thunderstorms in the area later that evening.

 

So, enough of the conditions, what about the racing? Well, for the first time in the GT1 World Championship, one team completed a clean sweep of a 1-2 finish in both the qualifying and championship races. Quite aptly, it was the pair of Lamborghini Murcielagos of All-Inkl/Munnich Motorsport – the Murcielago being named after a famous fighting bull from the 19th century. A lack of success ballast and general suitability for the track greatly aided the V12-powered, flame-belching beasts. Also, there were some stern threats issued during the drivers’ briefing, which saw the level of contact that the championship has become sadly renowned for thankfully reduced.

 

GT3, too, enjoyed a more refined breed of racing not inspired by NASCAR – at least most of the time. Race one was a royal bull fight between the Lamborghini Gallardo of German Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis and Saudi Arabian Prince Abdulaziz Al Faisal’s BMW Z4. It was a nail-biting battle to the end, as the Gallardo’s tyres were rapidly deteriorating, allowing the Z4 to close in to within half a second at the chequered flag. The second race saw an equally close battle, with the Belgian Audi Club’s R8 snatching victory from the Faster Racing BMW Z4 on the final lap. The racing was close and exciting, although it paled in comparison to the Friday evening media kart race on the circuit’s own kart track. Judging by the bruises I had on the Saturday after competing, I’ll leave the racing to those in slightly better physical condition in future!
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