The dramatic setting of the Potrero de los Funes circuit near San Luis in central Argentina provided an appropriate backdrop to the dramas that would unfold in the tenth and final round of the 2011 FIA GT1 World Championship. Enrique Bernoldi and Nick Catsburg in car 20 scored a pair of hard-fought fourth-place finishes in each of the weekend’s two one-hour races, whilst car 21 – driven by Jamie Campbell-Walter and David Brabham – scored a seventh and, unfortunately, a DNF in race two when the Australian half of the two-driver combination became caught up in a massive start-line shunt that played out ahead of him.
Following a season of mixed fortunes, the team went to Argentina with the purpose of scoring top results at a circuit that was likely to extol the virtues of the GT-R. Built around a lake that lies in the centre of an extinct volcano, the track is totally unique, with its fast and wide sections, coupled with the undulating topography and – with walls that surround the whole of the 6.22km (3.87-mile) circuit – it is as demanding as it is picturesque.
Because it is a public road for most of the year, the surface of the track is not as clean as a purpose-built race circuit, which means it’s more slippery than the drivers are used to. Even so, the two Sumo Power GT GT-Rs performed well during Friday’s Free Practice and Pre-Qualifying, a theme that continued for Saturday morning’s Qualifying session.
Both cars made it through to Q3 and the shoot-out for the top-eight grid positions, following which car 21 would start the first race from P3 and car 20 from P6. And, with all four drivers saying their cars never felt better, the scene was set for the team’s end of season target to be realised.
With a dusty left-hand side of the track to contend with, Campbell-Walter – who was first to drive car 21 – could not get traction from the rolling start and dropped to fifth, which allowed Catsburg in car 20 to slip past into fourth. The two GT-Rs continued line-astern and were building up for an attack on the Lamborghini ahead of them until lap four, when Catsburg went to make a move for third.
Early braking by the car ahead of him meant that the Sumo Power GT driver locked up his wheels on the approach to the second of the circuit’s two chicanes. This let Campbell-Walter past, whilst Catsburg slotted into fourth.
As the race progressed it was clear that Campbell-Walter’s GT-R was faster than the Lamborghini and he was all over the back of it as the race approached half distance and time for the compulsory mid-point pit stops to change tyres and drivers. Car 21 was first to pit and, whilst trying to gain a place by putting in one of their usual ultra-fast stops, a nut became jammed as the crew tried to replace the right-rear wheel.
Consequently, the time spent in the pits was twice what it should have been and Brabham, who was now at the wheel, emerged from the pits in ninth place. Catsburg came in a lap later and swapped with Bernoldi, with car 20 maintaining position in fourth.
Unfortunately for the Brazilian ace the car felt different than it had done during practice, although he had no problem in consolidating his fourth place. Conversely, Brabham was loving the track and the way his GT-R was performing and went on to set times that equaled – or in some cases bettered – that of the race leaders.
The experienced Australian’s pace was such that he was able to climb two positions during his stint, which meant he crossed the line in seventh, whilst Bernoldi secured fourth and warned that he would be gunning for a podium position in Sunday’s Championship Race.
So this was it: the last chance for Sumo Power GT to claim the victory the team so deserved and, with drivers confirming that both GT-Rs were potential race winners, hopes were high in the UK-team’s camp. But, as the Corvette in pole position approached the lights for the rolling start it slowed, which had the effect of bunching up the charging pack behind it.
Seeing a gap in front of him, Bernoldi stuck the nose of his GT-R between the two front-row sitters, only to be hit from behind by a Lamborghini. The knock-on effect meant that he nudged someone else who nudged someone else and in the next few seconds there were cars spinning and bits of carbon fibre everywhere.
Although the contact with car 20 caused a puncture, Bernoldi was able to avoid the chaos. But not so for Brabham, who found he had nowhere to go and zero choice but to cascade onto the carnage – a move that resulted in the front of his GT-R becoming severely damaged and consequently he was unable to continue.
The incident brought out the Safety Car and it was 25 minutes and six laps at restricted speed before the track became clear and racing could resume. When the green flags eventually appeared, there was only 30-seconds to go before the pit-stop window and, with Bernoldi in 12th place – having pitted to change a wheel – the team kept him on track for as long as possible before calling him in and to swap with Catsburg.
While others were in the pits, Bernoldi was able to set some blistering lap times and, by the time he came in, he had made up four places. With little more than 35 minutes to go, Catsburg was to become the Flying Dutchman for the remaining 11 laps of the race as he proceeded to hunt down the cars ahead of him.
Very soon he was ticking off the places and, after a executing some excellent overtaking moves, took car 20 across the line in a well-deserved fourth place. It was nearly the podium finish that he and Bernoldi were looking for and, just one more lap may have made all the difference.
Both this weekend’s races were won by Francesco Pastorelli and Yelmer Buurman in the Exim Bank Team China Corvette.
It was an action-packed end to Sumo Power GT’s second season in the FIA GT1 World Championship, which saw Brabham and Campbell-Walter finish 10th, Bernoldi 12th and Catsburg 13th in the Drivers’ standings, whilst Sumo Power GT finished fifth in the Teams’ Championship.
Enrique Bernoldi (Car 20)
“The car was the best its been this weekend and I felt I could push. I was very disappointed that I got stuck in the middle of two cars at the start of the Championship Race and got a puncture, as I think that we could have quite easily been on the podium. It would have been a great way to end what has been a challenging season at times for car 20. I have to thank Sumo Power GT and NISMO for this year as I think everyone in the team deserved some better results and more top-three finishes.”
Nick Catsburg (Car 20)
“This weekend we had a car that was capable of getting on the podium, although I am very pleased to have scored two fourth places – especially at a track like this. For me it’s a great way to end the season. I would like to say a big thank you to the team for bringing me in mid-season to drive car 20 and for giving me such a great opportunity. I must also thank the other Sumo Power GT drivers too. Their experience has helped me a lot. I’ve really enjoyed the past few months and it’s been a pleasure to work with the whole team.”
David Brabham (car 21)
“I really love this circuit. It’s a cross between Le Mans and Bathurst and the GT-R was mega around it. The problem with the wheel nut in the first race cost us 22-seconds and, as it turned out, we crossed the line 22-seconds behind the winner! The boys gave us such a good car this weekend that every lap of my stint I was able to drive flat-out. It was like 12 laps of qualifying! What can you say about the second race, other than it was such a shame, as I think we were in for a top-three. I’ve really enjoyed working with Jamie and the team this season and my thanks go to everyone involved.”
Jamie Campbell-Walter (Car 21)
“The GT-R felt fantastic this weekend and the first race started off very much according to plan. Needless to say, the second race didn’t and it was disappointing not to be able to drive what was a great car at a great circuit. As we have gone through the year the team has really gelled and the second half of the season has been strong for David and I. It’s been great to have a second-season with Sumo Power GT and I’ve really enjoyed working with Brabs, our engineer Keisuke Nagishi-san and the rest of the lads.”
Hiroki Furuse (Team Manager)
“What an event! For a minute I thought we had lost both cars at the start of the Championship Race, so I was delighted to see car 20 get through and go on to score its second fourth place of the weekend. This track is quite unique and therefore, I was very pleased from looking at the number of ‘purple’ (fastest) times that appeared on the screens that we seemed to have found a sweet-spot with the set up on both cars. It’s been a tough year, but the team has always risen to the challenge and I thank everyone for their hard work, dedication and camaraderie.”
Andy Barnes (Team Principal)
“What a weekend! It’s been a roller coaster. We were determined to finish in spectacular style and it’s clear everyone was aiming high. We gave it our all. Even without podiums to reward the team work and the performance of our drivers, we end the season in good spirits after a troublesome but thoroughly enjoyable year. We never gave up and kept pushing until the very end, which is a Sumo Power philosophy.”
“In two short years of GT racing we have shown that Sumo Power can replicate its after-market tuning success on the global stage – an achievement only made possible by our excellent team, the drivers and everyone back at our HQ in Rye. As a passionate tuning company where the Nissan GT-R is king, having it win the Drivers’ Championship in the hands of our sister team JRM Racing delivers the message that the GT-R is capable of taking on and beating the best in the world. And for that I congratulate everyone involved at JRM.”