Stage set for the Algarve roller-coaster ride in round five

The battle of the brands resumes in Portugal next weekend when the fifth round of the FIA GT1 World Championship takes place at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve.

The undulating 4.692km (2.915 mile) circuit is known for its roller-coaster layout and provides a stern test for drivers and puts the emphasis on driveability for cars.

Located in Portimao, the Portuguese circuit opened its gates in 2008 and has since become a popular facility with the world of motorsport. A regular feature on the GT1 World Championship calendar, it has provided some thrilling races.

This season, the four events held to date have been dominated by four different brands.

At Nogaro, France for the opening round, the weekend belonged to Audi, represented by Belgian Audi Club Team WRT, as they completed a one-two finish in both races.

At the second round in Zolder, Belgium it was the turn of Exim Bank Team China Porsche to grab the headlines. In Navarra, Spain for round three, Hexis Racing McLaren, which had been plagued by electronic issues in the preceding two rounds, finally laid the gremlins to rest.

In Slovakia for the fourth round, the Vita4One Racing BMW Z4 took victory in the Championship Race.

For Algarve, there will be a revised Balance of Performance so the racing is expected to be highly-competitive once again.

The centre of attention for local fans will be Alvaro Parente in the Hexis Racing McLaren MP4-12C. “It’s great to race at home in front of my own fans,” the Portuguese driver said.

“I will have some family and friends coming along to support me. The team is doing well. It would be good to put on a good performance in Portugal.

“It’s a challenging track for drivers. It’s uphill and downhill and has some tricky corners and it generally provides good racing. This weekend will be no exception.”

The ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport Mercedes team, which has scored consistently this year, leads the teams’ standings heading to Portugal while Vita4One Racing BMW’s Michael Bartels (DEU) and Yelmer Buurman (NLD) lead the drivers’ classification.

Nicky Pastorelli (NLD), who partners Thomas Jäger (DEU) in the No.37 Mercedes, is looking forward to the challenge of Algarve.

“From a driver’s point of view, it’s a really nice track. It’s technical, it has slow corners, fast corners,” he said. “Our problem is the long straights so we need to be quick in the infield sections to compensate for that. If we can find some top speed that will definitely help us.

“We need to keep fighting to protect our lead in the teams’ championship.”

Fellow Dutchman Buurman will draw on past experiences at the circuit this weekend. “My first experience in Algarve was with Superleague in 2010. It’s a really nice track, very exciting. It’s not an easy track if you are racing there for the first time as it takes a while to learn,” he said.

“Having been there before I know it pretty well. Of course I will be in a completely different car this time. I think the BMW will be quite OK there. Hopefully we can go for the podium again and maybe the win.”

Darryl O’Young (CHN) in the Reiter Engineering Lamborghini is a fan of the region. “It’s always nice to visit Portugal – great weather and a nice environment,” he said.

“I was there for the World Touring Cars so I know the track. It’s hard to say how the Lamborghini will perform.

“It seems that different circuit characteristics suit different cars with the way the Balance of Performance is set up and that means everyone can have a chance at a different circuit. Our car has been consistent throughout. We are not always the quickest car but we’re always in the top five or six so that’s a good platform for us to think about the podium and wins.”

Belgian Audi Club Team WRT’s Laurens Vanthoor is on a steep learning curve as a newcomer to the circuit.

“I’ve never been to Algarve before but I’ve heard it’s a really nice track,” he said. “I have some work to do beforehand with videos and simulators. It will be a challenge for the drivers because it will be hot.”

AF Corse’s Francesco Castellacci is looking for an upturn in fortunes for Ferrari. The Italian made a successful visit last year as part of the FIA GT3 European Championship.

“I had a good experience in Algarve last year in the FIA GT3 European Championship with Ferrari. I took pole and finished second so I have good memories,” he said.

“I think the Ferrari will be very good because it’s a fast circuit with lots of ups and downs a bit like Mugello in Italy. We are really looking for a strong finish this weekend.”

In the FIA GT3 European Championship this year at Algarve, Portuguese outfit Team Novadriver Audi is sure to grab the attention. Portugal’s Ni Amorim and Cesar Campanico are paired together in the Audi R8 LMS No.14.

Campanico said: “It’s great to be racing in Portugal in an European championship as we will have the support of our fans and friends.

“At Navarra we had good pace and we achieved our first podium of the season so, hopefully, we will be competitive at Algarve. We know the circuit, which will allow us to focus on improving the car.

“I believe we can fight for a good result on home soil, but the opposition is very strong so it will be hard and we will have to be at our best to deliver the goods.”

His countryman and team-mate Amorim added: “Racing at Portugal gives us even more motivation to give our best, as we will have the support of our friends and fans.

“I never raced with the Audi R8 at the Algarve circuit, but Cesar did some races there, so we will have a good technical baseline for the weekend. We can look at the top step of the podium as our goal for our home event.”

For Algarve, the Russian driver Natalia Freidina will partner Albert von Thurn und Taxis (DEU) in a Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo LP600.

The French Sainteloc team will be reduced to one car for the weekend after one of their Audi R8s was damaged in a collision in the Blancpain Endurance Series race at Paul Ricard last weekend.

After three weekends of GT3, AF Corse Ferrari leads the teams’ standings with 188 points from the Heico Gravity-Charouz Mercedes squad on 172. Sainteloc Racing team is third with 106.

In a hotly-contested drivers’ points battle the Heico Gravity-Charouz duo Dominik Baumann (AUT) and Maximilian Buhk (DEU) have 94 points with the AF Corse pair Gaetano Ardagna Perez (VEN) and Giuseppe Ciro (ITA) on 89 followed by Ferrari stable-mates Michael Lyons (GBR) and Stefano Gai (ITA).

(Image: Gerlach Delissen)