Forty-one GT3 competitors were present for Rounds 5 and 6 of the '08 FIA GT3 championship, held at Oschersleben Motorsport Arena in rural Germany. The three-car Matech Ford GT team had won all four of the previous races, and even with a 140kg (309-pound) weight penalty, it seemed unbeatable. Going into Oschersleben, the No. 20 Ford GT held a slim 2-point lead in the driver's championship over the No. 1 Callaway Z06.R of James Ruffier and Arnaud Peyroles.
Round 5 qualifying offered a surprise when a Lamborghini driven by Christopher Haase and Albert von Thurn und Taxis captured the pole. Peyroles had the fastest Corvette, in seventh, while Martin Matzke was 12th in his No. 38 MM Racing Vette. As the field took the green flag and headed toward the track's 90-degree left-hand corner, the driver of the fifth-place No. 21 Ford GT attempted to capture the lead. The Ford hit the second-place Aston, which in turn collided with the leading Lamborghini. When the dust settled, the Nos. 20 and 21 Fords and the Aston were out of the race. The No. 19 Ford avoided the carnage and took the lead, with Peyroles not far behind in third.
After a round of mandatory pit stops, Ruffier hit the track. He was quickly closing on the leaders when he was forced to pit with a flat right rear tire. The stop dropped him well down in the order, but he drove aggressively to claw his way back to 10th at the checkered flag. For the fifth time in a row, the No. 19 Ford took the win. In addition to Ruffier's 10th Place finish, Corvettes also captured Sixth and Seventh.
Sunday's race saw the No. 20 Ford GT sitting on the pole. Sascha Bert's No. 2 Corvette was third, Ruffier was fourth, and Jiri Skula's No. 38 Vette was ninth. When the green flag fell, Bert flew by the second-place Aston and set his sights on the thundering mid-engine Ford. The two cars were side by side on the first long right-hander when the Ford's left front tire made contact with Bert's right rear wheel. The contact broke Bert's suspension and put him out of the race, while the Ford was forced to pit for a tire replacement.
When things settled down, Ruffier had a 15-second lead over the second-place No. 11 Ferrari. But when several cars came in contact with each other in Turn 1, the safety car was dispatched and the lead evaporated. Seeing the crash, Skula quickly dove into the pits for the mandatory driver change. This allowed co-driver Martin Matzke to return to the race in first place. Ruffier, meanwhile, pitted near the end of the safety-car period because of a radio misunderstanding. This pushed his copilot, Peyroles, back to fourth place.
When the green flag fell, Marc Sourd in the No. 28 Corvette moved to second and began battling Matzke for the lead. A small mistake under braking pushed Sourd off course and back to fifth, while Peyroles passed a Viper to take over third. Shortly after the pass, he came up behind a slower Mustang and the lapped No. 20 Ford GT. Peyroles was blocked by the Mustang, which allowed the Viper to squeeze past and retake third place. When he finally got around the Fords four laps later, he was unable to catch up with the Viper before the checkered flag fell. Peyroles finished in Third, while Matzke took First in the No. 38 Vette. It was the Skula/Matzke team's first FIA GT3 victory, making them the series' youngest winners at only 18 years of age each.
Peyroles/Ruffier gained five valuable championship points over the weekend, putting them three points ahead of the No. 20 Ford GT team. In addition to gaining zero points over the weekend, the Ford drivers received a five-position grid penalty for hitting Bert and for not respecting the blue passing flag while a lap down. The GT3 teams have a long break until the next race at the picturesque Brno circuit in the Czech Republic. We'll keep you posted.