This weekend saw the last stop for the combined tour of GT1 and GT3, stopping at the Paul Ricard 'High Tech Test Track' in France. Paul Ricard utilizes a number of new safety features. The first of which is a high frequency beeper, set off automatically when a car enters the pit lane, to alert even helmeted crew members and drivers to cars approaching the pits. They also utilize a new alternative to the traditional gravel traps to help prevent rough impacts with the safety barriers. They use two different runoff areas, 'blue' and 'red' zones. The Blue uses a high friction surface to slow cars and help prevent spins, and the reds use an abrasive tungsten compound that drastically slows cars, but will generally rip a tires contact patch apart, requiring a tire change to anyone that stays into the red too long. The markings also make this one of the easiest tracks to recognize in Europe.
Saturday action began with the GT3s. Reiter Engineering's Lamborghini started on pole, and much like the Saturday race at Navarra, they would run away with the lead, opening up a gap as far as 8 seconds before the pit cycle. They stayed out long into the pit window, and retained the lead throughout. They would lead through the end of the race. The Italian run Ferrari 458 came in second, with the Audi R8 of Demay and Lunardi taking the last podium position. It was a bad day to be in a BMW, with the Need for Speed Z4 having an engine failure and a collision between their other two cars as the front one spun while fighting with a Mercedes SLS.
GT1 ran next. Big horsepower front engine cars had the advantage in the premier class, as Nissan GTRs Aston Martins, and Corvettes were laying down the best lap times and top speeds. JRM Motorsports would pull a 1-4 finish, being split by a pair of Astons who passed for position on the last lap. An early incidents from Belgian Racing (Ford GTs) and a second spin into the wall by Hexis team Aston Martin brought out an early safety car, and the teams worked through the night to repair their cars for the Championship race Sunday.
Sunday competition ran the same order, GT3s early followed by the GT1s later in the day. The Mercedes began on pole, but was passed by an Aston on the start. The BMW that had been leading the championship was hit hard on the first lap, and would drive on without his front left fender and headlight, he would duel with the Ferraris until he would have to pit due to tire rub. The Lamborghini lacked Saturday's pace but Melnhof drove defensively, and a pack formed behind him leading to lots of jostling for position. Both of the Ford GTs managed to pass the black Ferrari of Leo in that pack. Just before the pit window opened Melenhof and Gulivert in the #8 Aston's duel for 5th would hit a climax, with the Aston spinning the Lamborghini on the back straight, at nearly 140 mph, which would hit the tire wall damaging the suspension. The car was able to make it back to the pits but Melynhof was furious, ranting in German as he slammed the door of his stricken car. A 10 second stop-go penalty would be assessed to Gulivert for the incident, which his teammate would serve after his pit stop. The Audi that finished 3rd on Saturday was given a drive through penalty for a pit violation, and would later coast to a stop trackside due to an apparent mechanical failure. The lead came down to Martin in the Aston DBRS and Soulet in the Porsche 911. With 15 minutes remaining the Porsche would dive under the Aston through a corner straddling the curbs and taking the position. With dark clouds threatening to rain rolling in, the Porsche wasted no time, gaping up to 9 seconds by the finish. This was a return to form for the Prospeed team, last years champions who had not yet tasted victory this season. Aston would hold their second place over the Audi R8 of Ide and Franchi. The black Ferrari of Castellacci and Leo would take 4th place, and thanks to the bad weekend for BMW, would take the championship lead.
On the Track in GT1 the start was ugly with a Corvette and a Ford GT limping back to the pits. The 38 Lamborghini ran up to 4th place. Jamie Cample-Walter was on a charge in his Sumo Power GTR grabbing two positions just before the pit window. Lucas Luhr would lead out of the pit cycle in his JRM Nissan, with Astons from Hexis and Young Driver in pursuit. With 5 minutes to go, the JRMs sister car driven by Peter Dunbreck slowed down the pit straight with 5 minutes to go, his co-driver saw something he didn't like on the timing monitors and stalked back to the pits in disgust. Luhr would hold on, taking his third win of the season.
We also had some two-wheeled action this weekend. Moto GP ran at the Sachsenring in Germany. The bikes ran the Grand Prix circuit, an unusual 2.3 mile course, running counter-clockwise, with only 4 right hand corners, compared to 10 left handers. The Repsol-Honda team qualified well, with 1,2,and 7 starting positions. Last year's champion Jorge Lorenzo started 3rd. The field would pull away quickly and cleanly, with only one of 17 riders sliding off track but keeping with his bike and returning to the circuit. In fact there was not a single retirement in this race. The front runners would trade positions throughout the 30 lap contest, but Repsol's Dani Pedrosa would take the win. Lorenzo made a last corner dive around Stoner to take 2nd place. Stoner and his 3rd teammate Andrea Dovizioso would come home 4th, making up great ground from his starting position. Ben Spies, Lorenzo's teammate would be the highest finishing American in 5th. This win is especially important to Pedrosa, just raturning to the grid after an early season injury.
It was a great weekend full of thrilling races and last minute passes in Europe, and despite some accidents no one went home with anything more than bruised egos. Keep checking back for a list of next weekend's event in a couple days.