A Ferrari 458 GT2 was clearly the car to have in Italy on Sunday, with the podium of the 23rd edition of the Six Hours of Rome at Vallelunga being a clean sweep for the Maranello marque. The win went to the AF Corse trio of Giuseppe Perazzini, Marco Cioci and Andrea Bertolini, with AF’s Duncan Cameron and Matt Griffin second and the Black Team crew of Andrea Palmer, Lorenzo Case and Piero Necchi third.
The Six Hours is an important event in Italy and a big crowd created a vibrant atmosphere in and around the paddock on Sunday morning as the race neared its start. Rain had fallen overnight, resulting in a wet track, but conditions were clear as the grid formed up. The majority of runners opted for wets, but pole-sitter Rui Aguas, in the #14 AF Corse 458 GT3, gambled on a dry line emerging before too long and called for slicks. Alas for Kessel Racing, their #7 GT2 was unable to take the start after qualifying third, while Duncan Cameron would be starting his #3 Ferrari from the back of the grid after an engine change.
As the lights went green, Aguas found himself unable to avoid being swamped by his pursuers and he slipped to tenth by the end of the opening lap. Taking his place was the #11 Kessel Ferrari of Daniel Zampieri, which went from third to first, while Cioci held on to his second in the #2 458. Making the best start, though, was Luca Rangoni, who went from seventh on the grid to third within five laps in the #43 ROAL Racing BMW Z4 GT3, and Cameron, who gained six places in his first two circuits.
Having slipped as low as 11th, Aguas soon found the track conditions to be changing rapidly in his favour, and as the field started to lose grip on the drying surface, his slicks were coming into their own; and by Lap 13 he was once more leading the race, as more and more cars headed to the pits to change rubber.
By the end of the first hour, Ferraris filled six of the top seven places, with the ROAL BMW the sole interloper in sixth. Then came the GDL Racing and JWA-Avila Porsches, with the Imperiale Racing Lamborghini in tenth; the balance of performance meaning that the GT2 and GT3 cars were pretty much on the same pace.
Aguas pitted from the lead to hand over to Bronze driver Lucas Nasrat, which left Cioci leading in the #2 AF 458 and Matt Griffin second in the #3; building on some fine work from Duncan Cameron in the opening stages.
On Lap 42, however, Nasrat clipped a kerb and hit the wall with the front of his Ferrari. It wasn’t a big impact, but strong enough to damage the radiator and leave the car stranded out on track (and to leave Aaron Scott without a drive). The Safety Car was scrambled, but it inadvertently picked up the second placed Griffin – who had by this point closed to within 23 seconds of the leader – allowing Cioci to pull away once more; and when the #3 was given the wave-by, it was then held up by the BMW which had just exited the pits in the hands of Daniele Mulacchiè and was circulating slowly. The net result was that Griffin was effectively a lap down by the time racing resumed.
After two hours, four cars remained on the lead lap. Perazzini led in the #2 Ferrari, from Necchi in the #4 458, Michael Broniszewksi in the #11 Kessel Ferrari and Griffin in the #3. Twenty minutes into the third hour, however, Necchi had a spin and lost a place. Worse was to come for Black Team, however, as a hydraulic issue at their next stop would lead to two more unscheduled stops and the loss of three laps.
And things weren’t any better for Kessel. As the halfway point approached, Stephen Earle – now ensconced in the #11 – had a coming together with the #12 Easy Race GT3 458 of Ferdinando Geri at the hairpin. The incident resulted in retirement for Geri and a lengthy stop for the Kessel car that ended all hopes of a podium finish. Andrea Amici would later have a scare on the approach to Cimini 1, but the Imperiale racer got away with it and the Lamborghini continued on its way.
Into the fourth hour and the battle for the lead had settled down to a duel between Bertolini and Griffin. The Irish racer took a full 45 seconds out of the Italian’s lead during the stint, but the earlier lost time, combined with a starter motor issue for the #3, meant that the #2 still held the upper hand. Rangoni held third in the ROAL BMW, but the Z4’s engine failed with two and a half hours to go and stranded the white car out on track, necessitating the second appearance of the Safety Car.
By the end of the fifth hour, the #2 Ferrari was still resolutely defending a one-lap lead over the #3 and not even a fastest race lap of 1:33.775 – a new GT lap record – from Griffin on Lap 176 could change that. Things were closer for the final podium place, however, with the Black Team Ferrari and the Imperiale Lamborghini trading third with every stop. Ultimately, and despite the hydraulic issue, the 458 would prevail.
The pace continued unabashed to the end, with Griffin and Cameron never relenting in their pursuit of the win, but the #2 hung on and took the flag after 217 laps; Perazzini and Cioci claiming their fourth win together.
Despite missing out on an overall podium, the Imperiale quartet of Giorgio Sanna, Fabio Babini, Davide Stancheris and Andrea Amici took the GT3 title, while the GT Cup trophy went to the Sportec Moto Porsche 997 Cup of Jürgen Krebs, Ilya Melnikov and Rinat Salikhov.
Full results – here
Images – www.gruppoperonirace.it & AF Corse