With grids that range from 40 to 50 cars representing 11 manufacturers, the FIA GT3 series is hugely popular with racing fans across Europe and beyond. Callaway Competition, located in Leingarten, Germany, manufactures the Z06.R Corvettes that compete in the series. Under the direction of Ernst Woehr and Giovanni Ciccone, these production-based cars are modified for racing duty with a 7.0L, 530hp LS3 and lightened to a mere 2,798 pounds. Because of their on-track success, the Vettes carry three "performance adjustments" mandated by the FIA. These include a 75mm inlet restrictor, 176 pounds of penalty weight, and a specified set of hard-compound Michelins.
The slow and unreliable Matech Ford GTs from last season underwent major revisions during the winter and emerged as the cars to beat. Tipping the scales at just 2,552 pounds and producing more than 500 hp from their supercharged DOHC engines, they won five of this season's first 12 races. The most consistent Ford is the No. 20 car driven by Thomas Mutsch and Ian Kahn. This duo is currently in an intense fight for the drivers' title with the No. 1 Corvette pair of James Ruffier and Arnaud Peyrolles.
BRNOOur last GT3 report was from Oschersleben Motorsports Arena in Germany. Ruffier and Peyrolles finished Fourth in that race, giving them a three-point championship lead going into the next race at Brno, Czech Republic. The Automotodrom Brno circuit is located 131 miles southeast of Prague and is 3.35 miles long. The circuit features large elevation changes and 13 demanding corners.
Race 1 saw Peyrolles sixth on the grid, ten cars ahead of the No. 20 Ford. But just as the field headed into the first turn, an Ascari hit Peyrolles from behind and forced him off the course. Fortunately, the quick-thinking Frenchman was able to keep his foot in the throttle and return to the track deep in the field.
Once back in action, Peyrolles moved steadily through the pack until several caution flags allowed him to hand over the car to Ruffier with good track position. Ruffier was closing on the No. 20 Ford when suddenly the GT spun in the last turn, allowing the Corvette to pass. When the checkered flag fell, Ruffier claimed Fourth and picked up five more championship points. The Ford finished 10th and received no points.
Race 2 found the No. 20 GT on the pole and Ruffier fifth. The rolling start for the race meant that 40 cars would arrive at the first corner at full speed, jostling for position. Incidents were inevitable, and this time an Aston Martin hit the right rear wheel of Ruffier's Corvette. When the dust settled, the full ramifications of the incident became clear. The No. 1 Martini Callaway Corvette of was parked just off the track with a broken suspension upright. The Ford went on to win the race and take the championship lead by two points. The Callaway team left Brno disappointed but confident that its drivers would make up ground the next event in Nogaro, France.
NogaroThe Nogaro circuit is located 448 miles southeast of Paris, near the Spanish border. It's 2.26 miles long and very technical. Peyrolles qualified fourth here, with the No. 20 Ford capturing 13th. The No. 1 Z06.R made a good start and quickly moved up to third, but the Ford would fare less well. On Lap 4 it tangled with the No. 38 Corvette of Martin Matzke, spinning the GT into the gravel and out of the race. With the points-leading Ford out of the way, the Callaway team knew it could gain a huge advantage simply by maintaining its position.
Ruffier took over the Corvette and returned to the race in third. He quickly passed the second-place No. 19 Ford GT and set out after the leading Aston Martin. Ruffier was closing quickly when, with nine minutes left to go, the rearend cooler failed and the Corvette began smoking heavily. The wounded Vette was returned to the Callaway pit garage at 1 p.m. and subjected to a teardown. Repairs were finally completed at 6 a.m. the next morning, and the car was declared ready for Race 2.
Although he held the pole, Ruffier made a poor start by spinning the tires on the cold track. This dropped him to third, behind the No. 20 Ford and the No.10 Hexis Racing Aston of Fred Makowiecki and Jean-Claude Lagniez. Ruffier managed to get past the Aston on Lap 6 and settle in just behind the leading GT. After the pit stops, Peyrolles passed the Ford, which soon after fell out of the race with a broken differential. The Callaway car went on to take the checkered flag for the overall win, giving Peyrolles and Ruffier an 8-point lead in the championship race. Next stop Dubai, for the final two races of the season. Team VETTE will be there to bring you the results, so stay tuned.