Giuseppe Cirò and Gaetano Ardagna Perez won the first FIA GT3 European Championship race at Zolder this afternoon. Despite some bad luck at the start a switch to slicks meant the AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia was unbeatable in the second half of the race.
Team Novadriver was given a 2-place grid penalty as expected, which resulted in AF Corse’s Stefano Gai starting the first race from pole position. Gai retained the lead as the cars round the first corners, while his teammate Ardagna Perez spun his Ferrari and dropped to the back of the field. Cescar Campanico passed Dominik Baumann into turn 1 to take second place.
The top three remained the same for the first twelve laps, but when Gai made a small mistake into the Jacky Ickx chicane Campanico and Baumann were quick to react. Campanico tried to pass Gai, but the Audi got stuck behind the Ferrari and Baumann managed to pass Campanico for second.
On lap 17 – as the pit window opened – Baumann and Gai touched into turn 1, clearly showing both wanted to win. Baumann came into the pit for his mandatory stop at the end of the same lap, with the leaders pitting two laps later.
The Heico Gravity-Charouz Team Mercedes lost some positions in the pit as it had fifteen seconds added to the minimum mandatory pit stop duration of seventy seconds, a result of its results in Nogaro. As a result Gai’s teammate Michael Lyons returned to the track in first place, followed by Ni Amorim (Novadriver-Audi) and David Mengesdorf (Leipert-Lamborghini). Unlike Lyons his AF Corse teammate Giuseppe Cirò decided to change to slicks during his pit stops and on the drying track that would soon turn out to be the best possible decision.
Mengesdorf passed Ni Amron almost immediately after the pit stops and on lap 24 the Lamborghini driver passed the AF Corse Ferrari of Michael Lyons. Behind them Heico Gravity-Charouz Team’s Mika Vähämäki passed Amorim to take third.
On his slicks Cirò was six seconds a lap quicker than his rivals and within six laps from entering the top six he was already in the lead. After taking the lead he pulled away would not be seen again by any of the cars behind him.
On the penultimate lap Mengesdorf clashed with his (slow) teammate Natalia Freidina. Out of turn 2 Mengesdorf passed the Russian but the two cars collided and Michael Lyons, who was right behind Mengesdorf, have to move to the left to avoid an incident. Lyons did whatever he could to pass Mengesdorf for second place but struggled with his tyres and eventually finished in third place, behind Cirò and Mengesdorf.
(Image: Gerlach Delissen)