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International GT Open: Monza, Race 1 Report

Giorgrio Pantano and Rafael Suzuki led home a perfect overall 1-2 finish on their Bhai Tech McLaren team’s home soil in the first of the weekend’s two GT Open races at Monza. The pair’s win puts them in the lead of the series’ GTS-class championship until Sunday’s race at least. Their team-mates Chris van der Drift and Luis Raiza were second in the other MP4-12C, while Esta Motorsports Ferrari duo Aleksandr Skryabin and Alessandro Pier Guidi delivered on their strong practice and qualifying form by finishing third overall.

The GTS-class cars’ ABS and traction control usually only gives them an advantage over the nominally quicker Super GT machinery in wet conditions, but even though this race played out in the dry, Monza’s big braking zones meant the lower-class cars held the advantage. This was illustrated clearly at the first corner, where third-place starter Pantano was easily able to outbrake second-on-the-grid Andrea Montermini (Villorba Corse Ferrari) into Monza’s notoriously tricky first chicane. “We expected to be slower than the GTS cars here,” said the veteran Italian afterwards. “We’re using a very low downforce set-up so we just can’t match them under braking or through the chicanes. Especially at the start, when the brakes are cold – if I’d braked where Giorgio had braked, I would have gone straight on, no question,” he added.

Polesitter Pier Guidi was more conservative on the first lap, however, dropping to third and having to keep his eye on a fast-starting Joel Camathias (Ombra Ferrari), who’d jumped to fourth from ninth overall on the grid. Pantano’s lightning pace then faded slightly, as first Montermini made a pass down the pit straight into the first chicane, then Pier Guidi got past to take the GTS class lead through Parabolica on lap two.

Dieiderik Sijthoff got his Super GT-class Corvette past Camathias for fourth on lap three, leaving Camathias and his Ombra Racing team-mate Stefano Costantini leading a five-car train from fifth to 10th place overall, chased down by seventh-place man Lorenzo Bontempelli (Kessel Ferrari). Some intra-team fighting saw Costantini overcome Camathias, before the Swiss fell into the clutches of Bontempelli a lap or two later.

Lap six brought a dramatic incident for AF Corse’s Michael Lyons, who was hit hard by a seemingly out-of-control Carlos Viera in the Drivex Porsche at the first chicane. Viera appeared to miss his braking point completely and slammed into the side of Lyons’ Ferrari 458 when he turned to take the corner. “That was the biggest one I’ve had in a while,” said a dejected Lyons afterwards. “I just hope we can get the car repaired in time for tomorrow’s race.”

Elsewhere, Marco Cioci was making his presence felt in his first GT Open race of this season, sharing a distinctive leopard-print Super GT-class Ferrari with Vimal Metha. In quick succession, he passed five cars to move from ninth to fourth overall during his stint. The genial Italian was pleased with his run, even though Metha could only translate that into 14th overall and fifth in class at the flag. “It’s very hard overtaking the GTS cars with their ABS brakes, so I was really on the limit for most of those passes,” he reported.

Just before the pit window opened, Costantini mistakenly pitted a fraction too early to hand the car over to Stefano Gattuso – a lapse that would later hand the duo a one-lap penalty that ruined their race. Another early (but not too early) stopper was Duncan Cameron, who’d started his AF Corse well down the field after an off in qualifying. Unfortunately, his co-driver Matt Griffin was released from the pits just short of their required handicap time, which would earn them a drive-through penalty later on. The duo’s one advantage of finishing off the Super GT class podium in fourth is that they’re now carrying no pit handicap for tomorrow’s race, which Griffin will start from pole.

Pier Guidi left it until the last possible moment to pit from second and hand over to Skryabin. The Russian emerged in third place overall behind the two Bhai Tech McLarens, and after losing the place to a forceful pass by Gattuso at the first Variante chicane, he regained it when the latter was given his one-lap penalty. “We lost a lot of time when changing drivers – about 20 seconds,” Pier Guidi revealed afterwards, “and we were only 12 seconds off first at the end, but I’m still pretty happy. The start was tough, as the McLarens were definitely quicker then, but I was able to build a good gap and Aleksandr pushed hard to bring it home.”

Montermini’s co-driver Davide Rigon snatched second in Super GT from Talkanitsa Jr with just eight minutes of the race remaining. The 14-second gap to Griffin looked insurmountable at that point, and probably would have been had Griffin not had to serve his drive-through penalty in the closing laps. This handed the class lead to Rigon, and the former GP2 ace enjoyed more luck when he narrowly avoided being taken out by Johnny Laursen, who lost control under braking for the first chicane. Rigon eventually took the Super GT win ahead of the Talkanitsas’ Ferrari in second and the V8 Racing Corvette of Ramos/Pastorelli in third. The result is good news for Andrea Montermini’s bid to take both the overall and Super GT-class driver’s titles.

Up front, Suzuki in first place and Razia in second (having taken over from van der Drift at the stops) had a fairly straightforward run to the flag. “Giorgio gave me a good gap to work with, and the car felt very good as soon as I got in,” said a delighted Suzuki. “I could drive fast while taking no risks, and at the end I saw had a nice gap so I could preserve the tyres and bring it home.” Razia was satisfied but not overjoyed with second, commenting, “Chris made a fine start, we had a good stop and we were spot-on with our handicap time. My pace was okay, but it became quite hard to keep the Ferrari behind towards the end. We’re faster than them on the straights, but we really have to be on the limit under braking and in the corners to stay ahead.”

Fourth overall and just ahead of the Super GT winner was the Russian Bears Ferrari of Pol Rosell and Roman Mavlanov, balancing out disappointment for their team-mates Vyacheslav Maleev and Kiril Ladygin, who suffered a puncture just after their stop. Elsewhere, the erstwhile GTS championship leader Lorenzo Bontempellli and his co-driver Marco Frezza could only manage ninth overall and seventh in class in their Kessel Ferrari, keeping the title battle in that class very finely poised heading into Sunday’s race.

Stephen Errity (@83ste)