Christian Hohenadel and Daniel Keilwitz secured the 2010 FIA GT3 European Championship this afternoon after winning the tenth round of the season at the Portimao circuit. In a race that only came to life with just 20 minutes left on the clock the Callaway Competition Corvette drivers drove a strong race to take it all.
Maxime Martin in the number 99 Marc VDS Racing Team Ford GT had the best start and took the lead as the cars went down into the first corner for the first time. Guilvert and Holzer followed in second and third. At the end of the first lap Holzer made an attempt to pass Guilvert, but then ran wide and dropped back behind the Audi R8 LMS.
Championship contenders Christian Hohenadel and Mike Parisy were down in ninth and seventeenth respectively after twenty minutes of racing – positions that would secure the title for Callaway Competition. At the front Maxime Martin was just over a second ahead of Guilvert, with Holzer a further two seconds behind.
Diego Alessi meanwhile lost his car on the last corner but rather than returning to the track the Italian put his car in reverse and parked the Ferrari 430 Scuderia in the gravel trap. He then ran across the track to the pit lane and left the marshals to pull the car out of the gravel. A local yellow was waved for a couple of laps.
As the pit window openend Niki Lanik was the first driver to come in. Guilvert came a few laps later to hand over his Audi R8 LMS to Hirshi, while Martin and Holzer made their mandatory stops on the last possible lap. Lesoudier got his Ford GT back out in the lead, just ahead of Paul van Splunteren, while Pierre Hirschi was now in third. The Swiss driver then spun his Sainteloc Phoenix Racing car into turn 1 and lost a few more places.
United Autosports owner/driver Zak Brown, under pressure from Patrick Söderlund’s Need for Speed by Schubert Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3, spun his Audi R8 LMS at turn 1 as well – giving up his sixth position.
With twenty minutes left on the clock the race came to life as Paul van Splunteren started to close the gap to Gael Lesoudier. At the last corner Lesoudier ran wide and Van Splunteren was within a second of the Ford GT. The Dutch driver looked for an opportunity and was on the inside as the two cars approached the hairpin.
Coming out of the hairpin the Porsche tapped the left rear of the Ford and both cars spun. Van Splunteren was the first driver to get back on the throttle and rejoined the race ahead of the Ford GT, but Pierre Hirschi had already gone through to take the lead.
Van Splunteren however did not give up and a lap later he was already back on the bumper of the Audi. On the straight he slipstreamed by and even before the cars had reached turn 1 Van Splunteren had put the ProSpeed Competition Porsche back in the lead. At the hairpin Hirschi spun his Audi R8 LMS on his own.
The championship was officially decided when Lambotte’s Graff Racing Corvette ended up deep in the gravel trap with a shredded right rear tyre. As the number 16 needed at least one point to keep the championship battle alive a DNF meant Keilwitz/Hohenadel had effectively claimed the title.
At the front Paul van Splunteren could see the BMW Z4 GT3 of Patrick Söderlund as well as the Callaway Competition Corvette of Daniel Keilwitz closing in on his rear view mirror – the Corvette driver on a strong run. Soon the top three was within a few seconds of each other.
Keilwitz was handed second place when Söderlund suffered a puncture on the last corner and moved into the pit with just under ten minutes left. The Corvette driver then went after Van Splunteren and at the hairpin Keilwitz made his move and took the lead in the race.
His team mate Marius Ritskes, fourth up until a few minutes before the end, lost several positions in the last minutes. Zak Brown and Manu Rodrigues passed him and moved into fourth and fifth.
Zak Brown was not satisfied with fourth and the United Autosports driver kept pushing to catch Gael Lesoudier. With just over three minutes remaining he passed the Ford GT and got the number 23 United Autosports Audi R8 LMS into third place. A great recovery drive from the American.
Hirschi and Eskelinen made contact at the final corner a few seconds later, which allowed Csaba Walter to gain a few more places in the BMW Z4 GT3. The Hungarian then passed Lappalainen, Ritskes and Vannelet on the last two laps to finish in sixth place.
But the absolute winner of the race was Daniel Keilwitz. The German crossed the line five seconds before the one-hour mark but did not get into trouble on the final lap, in fact he gained another nine tenths of a second on Van Splunteren, who finished in second place. Zak Brown finished another two seconds behind Van Splunteren.
As Keilwitz crossed the finish line he, his team mate Christian Hohenadel and the Callaway Competition team reacted with a lot of joy as the team took the win and the title.
The next – and final – round of the 2010 FIA GT3 European Championship will take place at the Zolder circuit next month. Let’s hope the race will be as interesting as today’s race.