This weekend the 2011 FIA GT1 World Championship travels to the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve for the second time. The 4.7km circuit has become a firm favorite with the teams and drivers due to the exciting nature of the track that allows plenty of overtaking opportunities.
In 2010 victory in the Championship Race went to eventual World Champions Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini, while the honours in the earlier Qualifying Race went to the Nissan GTR and Michael Krumm and Peter Dumbreck. However the drive of the weekend went to Richard Westbrook, who stormed though the field in the Ford GT to secure a 5th and 2nd place alongside teammate Thomas Mutsch. This year Dumbreck is joined by Westbrook at JR Motorsport, while Krumm is partnered by fellow German Lucas Luhr in the second JRM Nissan.
Five manufacturers are represented on the GT1 grid this season, Aston Martin, Corvette, Ford, Lamborghini and Nissan, with two teams of two cars for each marquee. The performance of the cars is balanced by the FIA to ensure close, action packed racing for each of the 60-minute races.
Aston Martin is represented by French team Hexis AMR and German team Young Driver AMR. The Hexis team travel to Portugal as leaders in Team Championship thanks to Clivio Piccione and Stef Dusseldorp’s victory at Yas Marina and a podium finish by the second car of Christian Hohenadel and Andrea Piccini in Belgium. The Young Driver team scored valuable points in Zolder with Tomas Enge / Alex Müller taking two 3rd places and with Stefan Mucke and Darren Turner also scoring points, Young Driver AMR are currently third in the Team Championship.
The Corvette teams consist of Exim Bank Team China and DKR Engineering. Dutch pairing of Mike Hezemans and Nicky Catsburg had a strong showing in the opening round and followed this up with a second place finish in the Qualifying Race and a fighting 5th in the Championship Race. The DKR Engineering Corvette of Jaime Camara and Michael Rossi haven’t yet scored any points due to accidents in Abu Dhabi and at Zolder, they will be hoping for a change of fortune in Portugal.
Both Ford teams are based in Belgium, with the Marc VDS Racing Team having a very bumpy ride in Abu Dhabi with engine issues causing sleepless nights for the mechanics as they struggled to find the problem. However they had the consolation when their hard work put Maxime Martin and Frederic Makowiecki in a race winning position in the Qualifying Race. They then followed up with two points scoring finishes in Belgium. The Belgian Racing team is new to GT1 World this year and their two cars run in the black, red and yellow national colours.
The Lamborghini Murcielago won three times in 2010 in the hands of the Reiter team. In 2011 All-Inkl.com Münnich Motorsport is joined by Swiss Racing, who switch to the Italian manufacturer from the Nissans they ran last season. All-Inkl’s Marc Basseng and Marcus Winklehock scored a very welcome podium in the Championship Race in Yas Marina and then dominated in Zolder with two race wins.
However the No. 38 Lamborghini will be carry 50kg of success ballast as a result and the team will have to work hard to overcome the extra weight in the Algarve. The Swiss Racing team boasts the services of the highly experienced Karl Wendlinger and Peter Kox had their best ever GT1 World Championship finish by finishing 4th in Belgium and will be aiming to improve this weekend and take their first step onto the podium.
The two Nissan teams have two highly experienced driver line ups. 2010 team Sumo Power GT are joined by JR Motorsports this season running the Nissan GT-R. JR Motorsports had a very successful first weekend in Abu Dhabi with three top 3 finishes but a mixture of bad luck and technical problems saw them flounder in Belgium. British duo Richard Westbrook and Peter Dumbreck have teamed up this year and both tasted success here in the Algarve last season and they will be looking to repeat the experience this weekend.
Germany’s Michael Krumm and Lucas Luhr were a fighting third in the qualifying race in Yas Marina and was the only Nissan to score points in Belgium last time out. Sumo Power’s driver line up has former F1 drivers, a Le Mans 24 Hour winner and two former FIA GT Champions.
2010 race winners Enrique Bernoldi and Ricardo Zonta have been paired in an all Brazilian line up but their race in Zolder was wrecked at the start when they and fellow Sumo Power team mates, Australia’s David Brabham and Britain’s Jamie Campbell-Walter, were caught up in a startline accident that eliminated both cars. Sumo Power will be hoping for a return to form this weekend.