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International GT Open: Paul Ricard, Race 1 Report

Belgian duo Enzo Ide and Maxime Soulet drove their GPR Racing Aston Martin to a dominant victory in the first race of the 2013 International GT Open season amidst very tricky wet conditions at Paul Ricard today.

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Heavy fog and rain during qualifying led to a mixed-up grid, with the majority of the GT2-spec S-GT class cars lining up behind the GT3-spec runners in the more numerous GTS class. Starting from sixth, Ide laid the foundation for the win with a series of overtakes during his stint, beginning with a pass on Jan Magnussen’s Kessel Racing Ferrari to take fourth on lap two. There followed a well-judged dive past Giorgio Pantano’s Bhai Tech Racing McLaren to go third on lap three, and a less impressive lunge that spun out Chris van der Drift in the sister Bhai Tech car, but nonetheless saw Ide into second, on lap five.

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Polesitter Renger van der Zande in the Seyffarth Mercedes had gone backwards since the rolling start, losing the lead to Kiril Ladygin’s Russian Bears Ferrari.

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Magnussen held second initially, but then adopted a more circumspect attitude on a very wet track. Pantano’s spin out of third on lap six illustrated why that was probably the wiser approach. Meanwhile, another confident move from Ide took him into the lead past Ladygin on lap seven, and the Belgian V12 Vantage stayed in that position for the rest of the race, thanks to a superbly controlled second stint from Soulet.

With Magnussen in third following the two McLarens’ misfortunes, the focus now turned to the battle between him and Ladygin for second. This was resolved in favour of the Dane by lap nine, with a ballsy move around the outside of the chicane. Ladygin then fell back into the clutches of the squabbling van der Zande and Dimitris Deverikos (Autorlando Sport Porsche) as the pit window approached.

Following the stops, Ladygin’s co-driver Vyacheslav Maleev quickly ceased to be a factor, losing a place to Isaac Tutumlu, who’d taken over the Autorlando Porsche from Deverikos. Tutumulu then set about attacking Miguel Toril in the Seyffarth Mercedes for third, which in turn allowed Magnussen’s co-driver Johnny Laursen to build up a comfortable gap in second.

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It was only after the driver changes that S-GT-class cars, handicapped in the wet due to a lack of ABS brakes, started to look like a threat for the overall win. Veteran Andrea Montermini, having qualified the Villorba Corse Ferrari 15th, made up a number of places during his stint before handing over to GP2 hotshoe Luca Filippi. He then made short work of Tutumlu’s Porsche, before Toril took himself out of contention with some wobbly braking on the straight and a spin (eventually coming home 12th overall and seventh in GTS).

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Filippi’s next target was Laursen’s Ferrari, and he had almost caught up before spinning himself and allowing Bert Longin in the V8 Racing Corvette through to the S-GT lead and third place overall. Filippi did manage to gather it up and hold on to second in class and fourth overall, however.

Fifth overall and third in GTS went to Matteo Beretta and Michael Lyons – a performance that owed more to keeping their noses clean and staying out of trouble than anything else. The importance of doing so was illustrated in the closing laps of the race by some lurid spins under braking from Maleev and Stefano Costantini’s Ferraris.

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This also played into the hands of Matt Griffin in the Mtech Ferrari, who’d driven a strong second stint to take sixth overall as well as the final podium position in the S-GT class for himself and regular British GT driving partner Duncan Cameron. The Talkanitsa father-and-son Ferrari came home seventh, just ahead of Costantini (sharing the Ombra car with former British F3 pilot Jack Clarke) and the Kessel Racing Marco Zanuttini/Stefano Gattusso machine. Maleev recovered from his spin to round out the top 10 at the flag.

Elsewhere, there was more drama for the Bhai Tech McLaren on the final lap, as Pantano’s co-driver Rafael Suzuki hit the barrier hard, damaging the MP4-12C sufficiently to put their appearance in tomorrow’s race in doubt. Tutumulu meanwhile retired from sixth place with suspected alternator trouble, while earlier on in the race, Nicola de Marco had put the Kessel Racing Ferrari he shares with Lorenzo Bontempelli into the wall.

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Stephen Errity (@83ste)

Photographs by Fotospeedy