GT1 World: Exim Bank Team China Wins Zolder Thriller

Once again the weather played an important role at Zolder. Just after the start of the Championship Race of the FIA GT1 World Championship it started to rain and the drivers had all kinds of trouble keeping their cars on the track. Only one driver seemed to like racing in the difficult conditions, Maxime Martin. Having started from ninth on the grid the Belgian driver was already up to second position after just three laps.

It took Martin only a handful of laps to close the gap to Münnich Motorsport Mercedes of Thomas Jäger and after seven laps Martin passed Jäger around the outside coming down the ‘Sacramentsheuvel’.

Matt Halliday was the next to launch an attack on the Mercedes. On lap 10 the Exim Bank Team China driver put his car next to the Mercedes of Jäger, but he overshot the braking zone for turn 1 and Jäger managed to get back in front. The two drivers kept fighting and nearly made contact on the next attempt into turn 1. At the end of the lap Halliday’s Porsche was pushed onto the grass and veered into the side of the Mercedes. Fortunately Halliday did not lose control of his car and the battle continued. As Halliday and Jäger fought Maxime Martin pulled away and after 12 laps he was 11 seconds ahead.

Halliday was the first top 3 driver that came in for the mandatory pit stop, after 15 laps. More surprising was the pace of the AF Corse Ferrari of Toni Vilander. The Finn started the race on P13 but before the pitstops he had already managed to get into the top 6. Vilander put in some really fast laps and stayed out when the other cars made their pit stop.

After 18 laps Martin came into the pit to hand over the car to Alexei Vasiliev. The Russian driver returned to the track in front of Mike Parisy, but Parisy was much quicker and passed the Aston Martin driver before the end of the lap.

Vilander and the two Audi R18 LMS ultra’s pitted after 20 laps and thanks to the fast laps of Toni Vilander and quick stop by the AF Corse pitcrew it was Filip Salaquarda who returned to the track leading the Championship Race. The young Czech driver was unable to keep up with the pace of Parisy though and, just like Vasiliev, lost a position on his first lap out of the pit. A quick pitstop by the Vita4One Racing Team meant Yelmer Buurman was able to fight for the podium positions and soon after the pitstops Buurman also passed the Ferrari.

On lap 23 WRT Audi driver Oliver Jarvis ran wide, allowing Nicky Pastorelli and Stef Dusseldorp, fighting with each other for position, to move up into fourth and fifth place. Jarvis’ day would get worse when he was tapped into a spin by his teammate Stephane Ortelli at the far end of the circuit.

Yelmer Buurman meanwhile did his best to catch Mike Parisy. Buurman was quicker and completely closed the gap to Parisy when the Porsche driver got stuck behind Mathias Lauda, in the second of the Vita4One Racing Team BMW’s. On lap 31 Lauda moved over to let Parisy pass, Buurman was briefly held up by his teammate and lost a couple of meters to Parisy.

Into the last lap the gap between the Porsche and the BMW was six tenths of a second, but Parisy wasn’t going to be passed on the final lap. After 36 laps the Exim Bank Team China Porsche crossed the line in first place, Buurman followed him a second later. Filip Salaquarda managed to stay in third place and finished 17 seconds behind Parisy.

(Image: Gerlach Delissen)