Thursday
Dec082011

Rouge et Bleu

 

There can be no finer combination than GT racing and the South of France in July, so it was onward to the Circuit Paul Ricard at Le Castellet, near Marseille, for a weekend of FIA GT1 World Championship and FIA GT3 European championship action.

 

The Circuit Paul Ricard was built in the late 1960s by French drinks baron Paul Ricard and for many years held the French Grand Prix and other top-level events. In the 1990s, it fell out of favour somewhat until it was bought by one of Bernie Eccelstone’s many companies, rebuilt as a test track, and renamed to Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track, or HTTT. During the rebuild, the track’s distinctive black, red and blue runoff areas were added. These take the place of gravel traps and are lined with asphalt and tungsten, which is designed to ‘catch’ a car and slow it down if it leaves the circuit. The red runoff is much grippier and will usually ruin a set of tyres, unlike a trip through the black or blue runoff. The circuit’s flat layout and long straights combined with good weather conditions almost all year round make it ideal for testing, especially for Le Mans.

 

The FIA GT1 and GT3 championships provided the main action for the weekend. The GT1 cars were having their final outing in Europe before being shipped off to China and Brazil, so for most it was the last chance to see the large and loud machines that have provided stellar entertainment for almost a decade. Rule changes for 2012 mean they’re no longer eligible for competition. Their replacements, the GT3 cars, are a little quieter, but almost as fast, and they provided a much bigger grid at Paul Ricard.

 

In the GT1 races, after the Lamborghini domination at Navarra, the success ballast was dished out – a massive disadvantage on Paul Ricard’s long straights and fast corners. This handed the initiative back to the JRM Racing Nissan GT-R pairing of Germans Michael Krumm and Lucas Luhr, who won both the qualifying and championship races over the weekend. The Young Driver Aston Martin DBR9s of Stefan Mucke/Darren Turner and Tomas Enge/Alex Muller were the only cars to come close to the Nissan over the weekend, completing the podium for both races, but slick pitwork from these teams was also necessary to ensure their positions.

 

In GT3, the flamboyant German prince, Albert Von Thurn und Taxis and his team-mate Nikolaus Mayr-Meinhof once again won a busy first race, but ended their second race in the tyre wall after falling victim to frantic traffic. This allowed the 2010 GT3 champions, Paul Van Spluntern and Maxime Soulet in their Prospeed Porsche 997, to take a well-deserved win, cheered on by a healthy crowd Like any GT or sportscar event in France, this race was well attended, even when everyone had to make a run for it when a freak and heavy thunderstorm descended on the area not long after the end of Sunday’s racing.

 

The weekend was the last outing for FIA GT1 racing in Europe, after just over a decade of the large, wide and loud grand tourers, a lack of manufacturer interest, coupled with exclusion from ACO-rules racing, has sadly resulted in their demise. In the end, Nissan was the only manufacturer to produce an all-new GT1 racer in the last three years. The future is now GT3-based and it will certainly be interesting.
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