Round 5 of the FIA GT Championship is no ordinary round of an international championship - this is the Spa 24 Hour race, one of the most famous events in endurance racing. And where there is a classic race there are bound to be Vettes. This time three Vettes have taken the call to arms and are set for a mighty battle against a pair of Aston Martin DBR9's, three Maserati MC12's and a brace of Saleen S7R's.
Running a Z06 in GT1 guise, local squad SRT have regular drivers Christophe Bouchut and Xavier Maasen joined by Maxime Soulet and Christophe Pillon. They are joined by the two-car Phoenix Carsport Competition team with pair of Z06's, the first with Alex Margaritis, Uwe Alzen, Jos Menten and Robert Schluenssen and the second line-up of Mike Hezemans, Marcel Faessler, Jean-Denis Deletraz and Fabrizio Gollin. While the Aston Martins have so far had the best of the season with two wins for the pairing of Karl Wendlinger and Ryan Sharp, the Corvttes have always been hot on their heels and have a win apiece for SRT and Phoenix Carsport, at Monza and Adria respectively. As a result Bouchut, Maasen, Gollin and Hezemans are all tied for second in the championship and looking for the double points a win at Spa would offer.
Right from the start of the weekend all three Vettes were right on the pace. This was a particularly impressive effort from SRT who had a major repair job to complete after huge accident in the French GT Championship race at Spa 10 days earlier. From first practice right through to second qualifying neither car had run outside of the top five. This strong form was only interrupted in Qualifying Two, when in the dark Christophe Bouchut had run off line at Blanchemont at 255km/h passing a slower car. The resulting accident resulted in massive damage to the Z06, and put Bouchut in hospital with a minor concussion, and it was only with the goodwill of their competitors and hugely impressive repair job by the team that the car was completed in time for the race, albeit missing the final qualifying session. Bouchut, meanwhile, had decided that by 3am he had spent enough time in hospital and, still dressed only in his hospital gown, checked himself out and returned to the track in a taxi.
Still, missing the final session was not disastrous as qualifying times are taken from all three sessions and a time quick enough earlier earned the SRT car fourth place on the grid. The final qualifying session eventually boiled down to a final five minute shoot-out between the Larbre Competition Saleen in the hands of ex-Grand Prix driver Pedro Lamy and the Phoenix Carsport No. 6 car of Marcel Faessler. Lamy's last gasp effort proved just too quick for the Vette, though with the sister No. 5 Z06 lining up sixth and the SRT car in fourth the Corvette trio were well placed for the battle ahead.
Pos Driver - Car - Lap 1 - Lap 2 - Lap 3
1. Vosse/Franchi/Lamy/Zacchia - Saleen S7R - 2:15.788 - 16 - 2:21.069 - 2:13.923
2. Hezemans/Fassler/Deletraz/Gollin - Corvette Z06 - 2:15.356 - 20 - 2:18.657 - 2:14.246
3. Wendlinger/Sharp/Muller/Lichtner - Aston DBR9 - 2:14.581 - 30 - 2:18.681 - 2:20.430
4. Bouchut/Maassen/Soulet/Pillon - Corvette Z06 - 2:14.755
5. Ramos/Negrao/Lemeret/Pierguidi - Maserati MC12 - 2:16.066 - 30 - 2:19.090 - 2:14.934
6. Margaritis/Menten/Schlunssen/Alzen - Corvette Z06 - 2:15.784 - 17 - 2:20.534 - 2:15.148
7. Bertolini/Bartels/Sarrazin/Van De Poele - Maserati MC12 - 2:15.209 - 33 - 2:19.233 - 2:17.976
8. Kox/Rusinov/Lammers/Enge - Lamborghini - 2:17.132 - 29 - 2:20.811 - 2:15.218
9. Peter/Simonsen/Turner/Thompson - Aston DBR9 - 2:15.547 - 26 - 2:19.633 - 2:19.966
10. Aucott/Ferte/Daoudi - Maserati MC12 - 2:17.804 - 30 - 2:22.940 - 2:22.366
With little reason to run their cars unnecessarily the Carsport team took no part in the morning warm up while SRT took the opportunity to do some valuable laps and check the car over after the previous days rebuild. Slight amendments to the set-up and radiator change as a precaution was all that was needed and the team was ready to take the grid, with fingers-crossed......
All the drama was reserved for the end of the session though. Steve Zacchia in the pole-winning Saleen S7R, spun off at the high-speed Raidillon corner, after the session had ended. The Saleen was all but destroyed in the accident leaving the team with no choice but to withdraw from the race. A bitter blow for the Labre Competition team, but it did have the effect of lifting the No. 6 Carsport Vette up to first place on the grid.
If the Vette boys felt that there hadn't been enough drama in the practise sessions then they really gave it their full efforts in the race. With drama from the first corner onwards this was a rollercoaster of a race - well, the first half of the race anyway.
From third on the grid Xavier Maasen clearly had full confidence in the rebuild SRT car and stormed into the lead. Just behind Jos Menten in the #5 Phoenix Z06 was tipped into a spin and rejoined at the tail of the field, just avoiding the medical car in the process.
But, after just 3 laps at the front the Maasen was into the pits with brake problems. That let Marcel Fassler into the lead in the #6 Phoenix car and he began top set a searing pace ahead of the Jetalliance Aston Martin of Karl Wendlinger. Then on lap 10, if their luck could get any worse, the SRT Z06 was in the barriers at the Bus Stop with brake failure. When the car was eventually retrieved the front end damage proved too serious for a team down on spares to repair, and we had our first retirement after just half an hour.
Still, the Vettes were clearly the quickest cars on the track, lapping in the 2:16's - a good 2 seconds faster than the opposition. Running in first and sixth, the #6 began to ease away from the opposition while the #5 was eating up the advantage of the cars ahead. Eventually in the 4th hour of the race the Vette, now in the hands of Uwe Alzen, was up with the #1 Maserati of Stephane Sarrazin and the #10 Aston Martin of Allan Simonsen. Somehow, the idea that this a 24 hour race seemed to slipped by the three as they went at it with the intensity of sprint race that had the crowd on the feet - and causing several sharp intakes of breath in the Phoenix pit. Yet, the Vette's paced showed through and despite the now challenging conditions, with intermittent rain, by the end of the 5th hour the Phoenix cars were running one and two. That, however, was good as it got. Running at the front with Alex Margaritis at the wheel the lead Vette had a spin. Recovering to the track the clutch exploded and the subsequent eruption of oil onto the gearbox caused a serious fire which took the Vette out of the race.
And so we were down to one with all hopes now pinned on the #6 Z06. Almost immediately they were dashed when just a few laps later the Vette was caught by the spinning Aston Martin of Wendlinger and suffered significant damage to the front right corner. The subsequent repairs took almost 8 laps to complete and all but took the Z06 out of the reckoning. There were still more than 18 hours to go and the disappointment was palpable.
At the front of the field the pair of Vitaphone Maseratis were circulating ahead of the one remaining Aston Martin of Gigawave Motorsport. It was to be the same three cars, in the same order, when the chequered flag went down 17 hours later.
The drama wasn't over yet for the Phoenix team, though. Up to P4 after 17 hours the car began to misfire seriously. Despite their best efforts the misfire continued and shortly after a pitstop, driver Fabrizio Gollin reported smelling fuel and attempted to return the car to the pits. At the entry to the pits the Z06 burst into flames, a leak in a fuel injector seal the suspected culprit. Amazingly, the team were able to retrieve the car and after 55 minutes of repairs the Vette rejoined the track. However, just three laps later with the misfire still present and amidst concerns over the condition of the car, it was retired from the race. It was a sad end to a monumental effort from both the Corvette teams.
There was still a race going on however, and though of less interest to the Corvette fans, the victory ultimately went to Vitaphone Racing and it's a pair of Maserati MC12's, who finished comfortably ahead of the Gigawave Aston Martin DBR9 as the race petered out to an anticlimactic end.
1. GT1 Bertolini/Bartels/Sarrazin/Van De Poele - Maserati MC12 - 577 - 168.07
2. GT1 Negrao/Ramos/Lemeret/Pierguidi - Maserati MC12 - 575 - 2 LAPS
3. GT1 Turner/Simonsen/Peter/Thompson - Aston Martin DB9 - 570 - 7 LAPS
4. GT1 Ferte/Aucott/Daoudi - Maserati MC12 - 561 - 16 LAPS
5. GT2 Malucelli/Ruberti/Camathias/Rigon - Ferrari F430 - 555 - 22 LAPS
6. GT2 Collard/Westbrook/Lieb - Porsche 911 GT3 RS - 552 - 25 LAPS
7. GT2 Bruni/Vilander/Melo/Salo - Ferrari F430 - 550 - 27 LAPS
8. GT1 Kox/Rusinov/Lammers/Enge - Lamborghini Murcielago - 544 - 33 LAPS
9. GT2 Mullen/Niarchos/Piccini/Shedden - Ferrari F430 - 543 - 34 LAPS
10. GT2 Moser/Del Monte/Vannelet/Palma - Ferrari F430 - 541 - 36 LAPS
Z06 Named FIA Safety Car
Prior to the Spa 24-hour race, Corvette was announced as the official car supplier to the FIA GT Championship. At the Silverstone and Monza events, a pair of Z06s had appeared as Safety and Lead cars, while at Spa they were joined by a Cadillac CTS3.6 as Medical Car and a Cadillac Escalade as Course Car. Prepared by HvG Motorsport from the Netherlands, the Safety and Lead cars are standard Z06s fitted with the necessary lighting systems and will appear for the remainder of the season at all FIA GT Championship, FIA GT3 European Championship, and GT4 European Cup races.