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12 Hours of Italy: Mugello, Race Report

Sebring was not the only 12 hour race taking part last weekend, with the second round of the Creventic 24H Series, the 12H Italy, being held at Mugello. Local restrictions meant that the race could not take place in one go, so the first three hours were run on the Friday, with the cars being held in parc fermé conditions on the grid overnight ahead of the final nine hours on the Saturday. In stark contrast to the American race, however, Mugello would run almost entirely under Green and will be remembered for some close racing and an excellent comeback drive for the eventual winners.

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Qualifying

A lap of 1:50.407 from Adrian Amstutz early in the 90-minute session was enough to ensure that the #20 Stadler Motorsports Porsche 997 GT3 R would start the race from pole, although several other teams came close.

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A big surprise came from the #19 GDL Racing Porsche. Although it was “only” a 997 class car, it was quickly amongst the faster A6 class entries. Marco Mapelli ended up sixth overall in the 37-car starting grid and best in class.

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Almost equally surprising was a great early effort by Jeremy Reymond in the #57 GC Automobile, entry which took the SP2 class pole and was briefly in the overall lead, while SP3 saw a closely-contested session that resulted in Maurizio Copetti’s #67 Nova Race Ginetta (2:00.992) ultimately prevailing over the #63 Speedworks G50 of Christian Dick.

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Two of the A6 cars improved during the middle moments of the session. The #7 AF Corse Ferrari returned after an earlier loss of power and reeled off a 1:53.227, good enough for third overall. The other car that had stopped on course, the #3 Fach Auto Tech Porsche, also moved up the charts. Then as the qualifying session headed towards its later stages the Czech entered Ferrari’s 1:52.354 proved good enough for third overall.

The #44 Besaplast Mini only entered the session in the closing minutes after having to change back to their practice engine (their planned race engine being defective), but almost immediately Fredrik Lestrup was up to speed and took the A2 pole spot away from Racing Team Switzerland. “Not bad for having almost no practice time here,” said the Swedish driver.

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At the end of qualifying, the top overall and class leader standings were:

1st overall and 1st in A6, #20 Stadler Motorsport Porsche, 1:50.407 (Adrian Amstutz)
2nd overall and 2nd in A6, #7 AF Corse Ferrari, 1:50.691
3rd overall and 3rd in A6, #8, Scuderia Praha Ferrari, 1:50.856 (Jiri Pisarik)
6th overall and 1st in 997, #19 GDL Racing Porsche, 1:52.247 (Marco Mapelli)
8th overall and 1st in SP2, #57 GC Automobile GC, 1:53.618 (Jeremy Reymond)
14th overall and 1st in SP3, #67 Nova Racing Ginetta, 2:00.920 (Maurizio Copetti)
17th overall and 1st in A5, #28 RTR Projects BMW, 2:02.313 (Sergei Paulavets)
25th overall and 1st in D1, #8 KPM Volkswagen, 2:09.520 (Tom Onslow-Cole)
27th overall and 1st in A2, #44 Besaplast Mini, 2:09.858 (Fredrik Lestrup)

Only the Blendini Motorsports Mazda failed to set a time during qualifying. They suffered a broken wheel bearing and would unfortunately be unable the start the race after the issue proved insurmountable in the time available.

Full qualifying results – here

Race – First three hours (Friday)

The opening segment of the Dunlop 12 Hours of Italy-Mugello revealed a taut strategic battle between two Porsches and a Mercedes-Benz, with a Renault Megane Trophy acting as a possible spoiler.

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Christiaan Frankenhout in the #1 Hofor Racing Mercedes made a great start from the second row of the grid to take the lead from the pole sitting Stadler Porsche on the opening lap. He gradually built up a lead of about 10 seconds over Amstutz before beginning to hold station, while the #3 Fach Auto Tech Porsche of Marcel Wagner was very close behind the #20 997 GT3 R. The pace of the three leaders was such that within about 45 minutes they were the only ones on the lead lap. It helped that several other favourites hit problems, including two Ferraris. Jiri Pisarik had an off-course excursion with the #9 Scuderia Praha Ferrari F458, while the similar car of AF Corse had electric issues prevent a proper restart after a routine stop. Both Ferraris recovered well, however, with AF Corse up to sixth overall at the intermission and the Czech entry back up to ninth. The latter car even set the race’s fastest lap thus far during the closing minutes of the segment.

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Lim Keong Liam was another to go off early, hampering the chances of the #5 GDL Racing Mercedes. Christophe Capelli also collected a boot full of gravel in the #66 Ginetta and some collateral damage left the car in the pits for an extended period. Nova Racing had high hopes for their three Ginettas and the best of the lot (#67) did end the segment in ninth overall and atop the SP3 class. However, the team’s third G50 lost time with a slow lap after encountering drivetrain problems.

The Las Moras Team Renault Megane Trophy was another car to have a great segment, rising as high as second overall during a pit stop exchange.

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They ended fourth overall and first in SP2, but would have five cars breathing down their neck as all six were on the same lap after three hours. They included the formidable #7 AF Corse Ferrari, the #17 997 class-leading Ruffier Racing Porsche, the recovering Scuderia Praha Ferrari, the #2 Car Collection Mercedes and the SP3-leading Ginetta.

Frankenhout led the race until making the Mercedes’ first stop at about the 1:08 elapsed time mark. Earlier, Marcel Wagner had fought his way to second place ahead of the #20 Porsche. When the leader stopped on lap 34, Wagner inherited the overall lead. He kept the spot until Lap 40, at just past the halfway mark of the segment, when the Fach team made its routine stop. This passed the lead to Adrian Amstutz, the pole winning Porsche yet to make a pit call. When Amstutz stopped five laps later, the #1 Mercedes was back in front and Kenneth Heyer, now at the wheel, celebrating by setting the race’s fastest lap up to that time.

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The #19 GDL Porsche continued a good day by having a strong but temporary hold on the 997 class lead, while the #208 Peugeot had quite a moment in the sun; not only leading the A5 class, but rising as high as seventh overall while others stopped. However, the Porsche was passed by the similar car of Ruffier Racing to lose the class lead while the Peugeot had a rough ride and lost much time.

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It was clear that all the leaders would need to make a second stop during the opening act and again there was a cycle of lead changes. Mark Ineichen, now in the Stadler team car, inherited top spot for two laps before the #20 Porsche made its pit call and handed the lead back to the # 1 Mercedes. The segment came to an end in this order.

The morning restart would have these cars starting as class leaders: #1 Hofor Racing Mercedes, overall & A6, the #11 Las Moras Renault Megane Trophy (SP2), #17 Ruffier Racing, 997 class, the #67 Nova Racing Ginetta (SP3), the #28 RTR Projects BMW (A5—and an excellent 18th overall), #52 Recy Racing BMW (D1—excellent after a poor practice and qualifying), and the #44 Besaplast Mini in class A2.

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While parc fermé rules applied overnight it was not absolute. Teams were allowed to work on their cars, but with a hefty penalty of 10 laps.

Race – Hours 4-6 (Saturday)

The #20 Stadler Motorsport Porsche happened to be in the lead as the 2014 Dunlop 12 Hours of Mugello reached its halfway point. The team was only a few seconds clear of the similar Porsche of the #3 Fach Auto Tech team and the #1 Hofor Mercedes. The Gullwing SLS AMG had actually led for the longest period of time during the three morning hours of the race but the margin has been so close that the regular pattern of pit stops continually altered the exact positions.

The unusual format to the new Dunlop 12 Hours of Mugello made for a very interesting atmosphere at the morning restart. The crews began their work, preparing tools and then uncovering the slumbering cars. Drivers could be seen doing stretching exercises. It was a mix of a gradual awakening mixed with the realization that what seemed like a sprint the previous day would turn into a long grind today.

For some, the day began too early. On the formation lap for the restart and with cold tyres on all the cars, Stephan Jäggi slid off into the barriers with the #42 Racing Team Switzerland Renault. The car was towed back to the garage where the rather upset crew set about making major repairs.

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Two teams accepted the heavy 10 lap penalty for working on their cars under parc fermé conditions. The #5 GDL Mercedes crew decided that the ABS system needed a complete rebuild in the interests of safety, while the bright green #65 Nova Racing Ginetta had spent the last few minutes of the Friday segment crawling around with a deteriorating gearbox. They decided that they would lose less time incurring the penalty than waiting for the race start. Earlier, Cor Euser had considered doing the same for his #55 D1 class BMW, but decided to take the start and evaluate the car in the early laps. It turned out to be the better option, although starting driver Toto Lassally suffered a puncture in the early going.

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Team Altran, the #208 Peugeot, opted to wait until after the restart before commencing repairs and thus not incurring any penalty. They set about rebuilding the front left wheel assembly and probably enjoyed a net gain of ten minutes taking this route.

There were lots of smiles when the very last car took to the track. It was the #25 Blendini Motorsport Mazda. The car had spent the entire opening three hours up on the jack in the garage for the want of a mere wheel bearing. Realizing that there were no spares, a new unit was flown in overnight. Their chances for suceess may have been eliminated, but they had a reputation to retain – the team held a class record at Zandvoort and planned to defend it at the forthcoming round of the 24 Hour Series at the Dutch track, thus they wanted to keep testing. Moreover, the little Miata was very light on tyres and may have been able to make some headway against the class leading Mini, which, a front wheel drive vehicle, was regularly chewing up rubber.

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At the other end of the field it was business as usual. Christiaan Frankenhout was again the starting driver in the #1 Mercedes and rapidly headed into the distance. The Dutch driver’s pace was such that by 35 minutes in he had nearly a lap in hand over both the of the key Porsches, the #20 Stadler Motorsport car of Marcel Matter and the #3 Fach Auto Tech entry.

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Frankenhout kept the lead for another 10 minutes before making a scheduled stop. Remaining aboard the car, he set race’s fastest lap at 1:52.717, helped by fresh tyres. Matter briefly took the lead before the #20 also made its first stop of the day.

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Further down the field there were problems. The already long delayed #65 Ginetta found the gravel and had to be recovered, while the #26 WEC Motorsport BMW had wheel damage in the rear which either led to an off, or was caused by the excursion. The most damaged of all was the #12 Speed Lover Porsche which appeared to have suffered suspension damage from all the gravel it collected.

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Kenneth Heyer and then Roland Eggimann took turns in the #1 Mercedes while the #20 Porsche was handed over to Adrian Amstutz. Together with the #3 Porsche all three leaders were solidly on the same lap, the gap became closer and the actual lead changed with each pit stop. None of the three had time to blink.

Sadly the forlorn Mazda made two lurid trips into the gravel, ruining their comeback. On the other hand the Clio Cup that had gone off on the formation lap finally completed its first laps of the day.

The Las Moras Renault Megane Trophy was enjoying a trouble-free Saturday, comfortably in the SP2 class lead and in a strong fourth overall, and just three laps behind the fierce battle for the overall lead. After their Friday problems, the AF Corse and Scuderia Praha Ferraris were both running perfectly on the Saturday morning and were waging a fierce fight for fourth in the A6 class.

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The SP3 class saw some of the closest racing, with the #63 Speedworks and #67 Nova Racing Ginettas regularly swapping top spot.

In A5, the Czech entered BMW E46 (#28 RTR Projects) had risen to 13th overall, while the Besaplast Mini held court in A2. The Besaplast team explained that they had to toe a delicate line; capable of going faster than their reference times, but aware that that not only risked penalties but also gave them greater tyre wear. They could have opted for wider tyres and thus less wear, but that might have caused damage to the transmission; so, on balance, they were happy with their current spot.
The last of the class leaders was the #8 Volkswagen, which held one of the larger margins in the field at the head of D1.

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The first drama of the day came at just past the halfway mark, when there was a catastrophic loss of oil and a rise in water pressure for the #3 Porsche. It became the race’s first official retirement and deprived spectators of the incredibly tight three-way contest that had energized the entire first half of the race.

Race – Hours 7-12

The #20 Porsche was progressing with Swiss efficiency and soon moved into a solid lead, but perhaps the biggest gainer was AF Corse, with the recovering #7 Ferrari rising to third overall. The 997 class leading Megane — yes, you read that correctly, a Renault in the Porsche category – was next in the general classification, followed by the Czech Ferrari; the team’s young hotshoe, Dennis Waszek, resetting the race’s fastest lap several times.

Another Porsche with problems was the #12 Speed Lover, which came to love the gravel more than the speed and had sustained some prominent love bites to its body. Jim Briody was another to take to the gravel and was pushed behind the wall before his BMW could return to the fray.

The first time that the leaders felt able take a breath came at around nine and a half hours, by which point the Stadler Motorsport Porsche had opened up about a one lap lead and was able to maintain it.

Interestingly, the second place car was now the #7 AF 458, which had edged past the erstwhile leading #1 Mercedes. Along with the #9 Scuderia Praha Ferrari, all four were very much in contention as the race moved into the home stretch.

At least one important runner had fallen out of class contention, however, after the #63 Speedworks Ginetta took to the gravel and left the very strong #67 Nova Racing Ginetta nearly alone in the class.

More than nine hours had elapsed before the race had its first neutralisation. The Cor Euser Racing BMW was beached at the edge of the circuit and Code 60 was called for. Somewhat oddly, a safety car was also dispatched, making for an odd sight. The interruption lasted for 10 minutes.

The Stadler Porsche ran with metronomic efficiency but inexorably the Ferrari caught back up to them as the race entered its final stages, and the pivotal moment came during each team’s final pit stop. The Stadler team was the first to make the final call and elected to take on fresh tires. This handed the lead to the Ferrari, which managed to retain it thanks to taking on fuel only when it stopped with only 13 minutes left in the race.

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Talkanitsa, Sr. started the last stint some 18 seconds in the lead but was now on worn tires. Amstutz in the Porsche was able to chop about one second per lap off the margin but then the AF Corse crew urged their driver on with arms waving and a sign that read “push”. The encouragement worked and the gap grew ever so slightly in the closing minutes.

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The #1 Hofor Racing Mercedes suffered a puncture early into a lap, requiring a long slow journey back to the pits and much time lost.

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The SLS finished third and was followed by the Scuderia Praha F458, which had worked its way back up to fourth overall after its earlier issues.

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Another Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG finished fifth. The #2 Car Collection entry had a roller coaster of a race—running well at times, interspersed with long bouts in the pits. The best of the 997 class runners was next. The Ruffier Racing team of Gabriel Abergel, Paul Lafargue, and Patrice Lafargue were just able to hold off a late race charge by the similar Porsche of GDL Racing.

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The class was led for much of the race by the #11 Las Moras Team Renault Megane Trophy, until its radiator was holed by a stone kicked up while avoiding another car.

In SP3, the Italian based Nova Racing team pleased their local followers by winning the class with Luis Scarpaccio, Maurizio Copetti, and Luca Magnoni in the winning #67 entry.

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The #63 Speedworks Motorsport Ginetta was further delayed with a broken driveshaft and was classified fifth in class at the end.

An almost perfect run by the BMW E46 M3 GTR of RTR Projects handed the A5 class victory to drivers Michal Vitek, Tomas Miniberger, and Sirgei Paulavets.

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The Volkswagen Golf of KPM Racing, meanwhile, not only won the D1 class but Tom Onslow-Cole, Javier Morcillo, James Walker and Paul White managed to bring the little diesel powered car all the way up to 12th overall.

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Fredrik Lestrup, Franjo Kovac, and Martin Tschornia also had a flawless day and drove the Besaplast Racing Team Mini Cooper S to victory in A2.

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The Las Moras and Fach Auto Tech teams were rare in having to retire. While numerous cars had minor problems, there was remarkably little attrition. There was only a short 10-minute Code 60 neutralization required to retrieve a car stranded in a bad location. There was near unanimous praise by teams and drivers for the challenges of the race, the excellent organisation, and the interesting, scenic, and technical circuit. All will be looking for more exciting inter-marque battles in the forthcoming 24 Hour series races and the expectation that in 2015 we will see the second Dunlop 12 hours of Mugello.

Full race result – here

All images © Creventic