Ah Monza: the park, the trees, the legend, you can feel it and smell it everywhere around you. Since 1923 it has been, and forever will be, the European temple of speed; and despite the dark possibility of losing the F1 Grand Prix in two years, the Italian GT series made the first of two visits in 2014.
Pole for Race 1, went to the #63 Imperiale Racing Lamborghini Galla of Giacomo Barri, by just a tenth of a second from Dindo Capello in the Audi Sport Italia R8 LMS!
Who could say that the R8 was not fast now? The second row was occupied by Ferrari 458 Italias, with Alex Frassineti three tenths slower than Barri in the #23 Team Malucelli car and Giammaria-Casè fourth in the #27 SC. Baldini 27 machine. Row three saw the first of the Porsches, the #58 Autorlando GT3 R driven by Matteo Beretta, and the#8 Easy Race 458 of the ex-Superstars ace Luigi Ferrara. Then came the #16 Autorlando Porsche of Fabio Babini and the second (#6) Audi of Thomas Schoeffler. The debut of the new – for the Italian series – Nissan GT-R was an honest ninth overall, with Lorenzo Bontempelli at the wheel, while completing the top 10 was the #34 RC Motorsport Corvette of Roberto Benedetti.
The second qualifying session wasn’t as close as the first, other than the first three places were covered by less than two-tenths! The young gun Emanuele Zonzini not only did the best lap possible – even faster than the first pole, not bad for Dindo’s teammate – and was in front of the Lamborghini of Andrea Amici by just 42-thousands of a second.
Third was the second Audi of Marco Mapelli, then came a gap of half a second to the two Ferraris of Gabriele Lancieri (#9 MP Corse) and Lorenzo Casè (#27). The #44 EbiMotors 911 of Vincenzo Donaviti was sixth and the Corvette of Kevin D’Amico seventh. The #16 Autorlando Porsche of Riccardo Bianco was only 11th with the Nissan fifteenth in the hands of Beniamino Caccia, a true gentleman driver.
The Cup class was dominated by the Bonaldi Motorsports Gallardos of Simone Iacone and Mirko Zanardini – two poles out of two for the team – but the #116 Ferrari Challenge of Daniel Mancinelli & Steven Goldstein and all the Porsches were not so far behind.
The recent BOP seemed not to have shaken up the balance of power and the weather was in some way very “English” with no more than 20°C and with some clouds, but no chance of rain. The time penalties to be served in the driver changes were 15 seconds for Mapelli-Schoeffler, 10 for Donativi-Gagliardini and 5 for Barri-Sanna.
The start was a good one with mostly everybody in their correct place (for the happiness of Mr. Freitas…) and Barri was able to keep his lead into the first chicane, followed by Frassineti – who outbraked Capello – then Beretta, Giammaria, Bontempelli and Babini in the second Autorlando Porsche; but Bontempelli soon had to succumb to Babini at the end of the main straight.
As expected, all the gentlemen drivers were in the bottom end of the GT3 field – all preceded by the second Audi of Schoeffler and the black Ferrari of Ferrara.
On the third lap the superior top speed of the 458 paid dividends as Giammaria overtook Beretta for the fourth spot.
On Lap 4, Schoeffler outbraked himself in the first chicane, ending up facing the wrong way and losing almost half a minute while trying to restart restart…and getting booed by the Italian fans in the stands! Half a lap ahead Donativi overtook the Corvette, which was languishing down the order and unable to makes any progress. Another car missing was the lonely Mercedes, with Luis Sà Silva mixed with the Cup class cars…
Upfront, Barri, Capello and Frassineti were marching nose to tail, but Giammaria was clear of the Autorlando Porsches and making up ground on the leading trio. Soon though, and unseen by the cameras, Frassineti was second, with Capello seeming to struggling under braking with his Audi. The “missing Mercedes” was now also a DNF, Sà Silva parking his V8 car on the Serraglio straight.
The cameras also missed the move by Babini on the sister car of Beretta, but the pace of the front cars seemed to change with every lap, and now Barri led by a few seconds from a quartet starting with Frassineti and ended with Babini. Giammaria was “on fire” and in the Ascari chicane outbraked Capello, not an easy move on the Le Mans legend. Worse was to follow for the Audi man, however, as a cloud of dust at the Parabolica lifted to reveal his car in the gravel. The race is not over for him, as he was able to extricate himself, but he lost a lap in the process. It was later revealed that the spin was caused by a single tyre which had been over-pressurised.
Babini, after two or three laps of doing his homework, attacked and overtook Giammaria at the Roggia chicane, another spot gained by the ex-FIA GT ace. The pit-window was now open, and Barri had grown his lead to five seconds.
After the driver-changes Andrea Amici-(Barri) was still leading…for about half a lap, as the TV pictures caught the black Lambo slowing with a left front puncture, probably caused by debris. This puncture and the consequent losing of parts of the Lamborghini’s front bumper would cause lots of tyre trouble and the most thrilling phase of a race for a long time.
The new leader was the 458 of Piero Necchi-(Frassineti) from Bianco-(Babini) and Casè-(Giammaria), but at the exit of the Roggia chicane the gentlemen Bianco wasn’t as fast on the gas as Casè and the result was the most classical tip-into-spin for the Autorlando Porsche. The marshals would soon penalise the guilty Ferrari with a drive-through, which left Marco Magli-(Ferrari) second ahead of Gianluca Carboni-(Beretta) in the second Autorlando Porsche. Then came Caccia-(Bontempelli) in the Nissan, Bianco-(Babini) and the fast-charging Lancieri-(Benucci). Lancieri was the only real pro-driver in the top six, Andrea Gagliardini-(Donaviti) too distant to cause any real trouble.
The final minutes saw some big moves. Magli was the first to crack under pressure, cutting the first chicane and giving away second place to Carboni. Would the Porsche be able to chase Necchi for the victory? Soon Lancieri attacked and overtook both Bianco and Caccia before beginning a hard chase for a podium place. Meanwhile, Casè – after serving his drive-through – was now fourth, while Gagliardini soon caught up to the cars ahead, causing some headaches for Caccia and Bianco. The first to crack was Bianco, who outbraked himself into the first chicane, damaging the radiator on his Porsche in the process and retiring a few corners later.
Another retirement was the Lamborghini of Amici, whose puncture was clearly not only tyre trouble.
Necchi was able to keep Carboni behind for the final five minutes and won a very strange race, with the favourites self-destructing. Casè finished third, despite his drive-through, and Lancieri fourth, but a certain fifth place for Gagliardini became ninth after a right rear puncture.
Fifth instead was Magli in the black 458, while Mapelli – who had also had to recover from Schoeffler’s first stint spin – finished sixth in front of Caccia’s Nissan and the Corvette of D’Amico. The final point went to the second Audi, a lap down and 17th overall.
The Cup class provided a great spectacle, with the Pro drivers Christian Passuti, Mimmo Schiattarella, Simone Iacone and Daniel Mancinelli doing wonderful stuff. The #116 458, making its debut, won the class following a very good job by Goldstein in the second stint.
Both Lamborghinis made mistakes: one terminal by ‘El Pato’ in the first half of the race, but the second car of Iacone-Tempesta finished second. The third step spot of the podium went to the Porsche of Bodega-Maestri, the only top one with no time penalty to serve.
On Sunday afternoon the Temple of Speed was quite full of fans (courtesy of free entry), and the 25 cars of the Italian GT Championship were more than ready to entertain the people, both at the track and on TV. The weather was just fine for the beginning of June, with 25°C and a clear sky, and there was a good atmosphere; but drama struck even before the grid formed, with the entertaining duo of Casè-Giammaria unable even to take the formation laps in their Ferrari 458. Meanwhile, the bad start to the season for the “big V8 engine” wasn’t getting any better, as the Corvette of D’Amico was also missing from his spot on the grid; so we were down to 22 cars, since we had also lost a Cup class Porsche.
The front row was a very young one and we could expect fireworks between Zonzini and Amici, while Mapelli and Lancieri behind could play a waiting game. Gagliardini was the only other Pro driver starting the race. The time penalties would strike only Beretta-Carboni and Necchi-Frassineti for 15 seconds.
The green flag was the usual “Italian casino” with the SLS Mercedes of Mora clearly jumping the start, but upfront things were quite good with a “three-German-engine-wide” dive for the first chicane. Somehow, no major contact happened and Mapelli got the best line and grabbed the lead from Amici, Lancieri and Zonzini, who was soon has overtaken by Gagliardini at the Roggia chicane. Than came Carboni in the leading Autorlando Porsche, followed by Magli, Necchi, Mora, Bianco and Caccia in the Nissan.
Amici was faster than the R8 of Mapelli and tried a move at every corner, but the Audi was wide enough to keep the lead and the duo gradually pulled away from their pursuers. Amici, though, had had enough of seeing the back of the Audi and tried a move at the first chicane, only to run out of space and be forced to cut the chicane.
As the TV pictures showed the Corvette starting its race from the pitlane, some 10 laps behind the leader, Carboni took fourth from Zonzini.
Amici finally became the new leader, using good exit-speed from the Parabolica to get alongside the Audi and outbrake the “other” German engine, while behind the fireworks began with Carboni almost making the same move on Gagliardini, but without success. Zonzini also tried an ultimately unsuccessful move on Carboni, with the R8 and the 911 covering the straight before the Roggia chicane side by side.
Just seconds before the driver-change window opened, the incidents that would decide the race happened. A stationary Porsche from the Cup class, driven by Emanuele Romani, had a big off at the exit of the Ascari chicane and the Race Director deployed the Safety Car. Amici and Mapelli, despite being “in the window”, decided to stay out while almost all of the remaining field decided to pit; A crucial mistake by both of the teams on the pit wall.
After quite a brief neutralisation, the new leader was Nicola Benucci-(Lancieri), from Vincenzo Donativi-(Gagliardini), Dindo Capello-(Zonzini), Luigi Ferrara-(Magli), Matteo Beretta-(Carboni), Fabio Babini-(Bianco), Lorenzo Bontempelli-(Caccia) and Alex Frassineti-(Necchi), with Giacomo Barri-(Amici) and Thomas Schoeffler-(Mapelli) languishing almost half a lap back. At the effective restart, the Pro drivers were Capello, Ferrara and Babini – could this trio decide the podium?
The first chicane immediately saw two passes: Beretta on Ferrara and Babini on Caccia. Beretta was flying and outbraked Capello at the Roggia chicane. Meanwhile, Benucci was still leading and Donativi was second. The two Autorlando Porsches also seemed very fast and Babini almost overtook Ferrara at the entry to Ascari, but everyone was nose to tail, forming a long and very expensive snake.
Benucci, pressing hard, made a tiny mistake, exiting too wide at the second Lesmo was smoked by Donativi and Beretta along the Serraglio straight; and, just before the Ascari, Capello also got the better of the Ferrari. Barri, meanwhile, somehow managed to close the gap catch Caccia, but then at the Parabolica he made another huge mistake, trying to pass two cars at the same time. The result was a dangerous spin into in the middle of the track, causing in the process the retirement of poor Benucci’s Ferrari – unable to exit from the deep sand in the runoff area…definitely not a good weekend for the Imperiale racing team. Barri was able to restart, but would soon be handed a drive-through penalty for his trouble.
The final 15 minutes began with Donativi still leading, Beretta second, then Capello, Ferrara and Babini, all very close to each other.
No one seemed able to catch a break, with the cars very evenly matched, and no one seemed to be risking too much to overtake the car in front…until Babini found the tiniest spot and passed Ferrara for fourth place.
The clock is ticking, now with only five minutes left, and now Bontempelli joined the party upfront, just before Babini made another magic move on Capello and formed a 1-2-3 for Porsche. Could the two Autorlando cars work together to catch and pass the EbiMotors 997 of Donativi? Well…not quite; instead they began a furious battle as the last lap was about to begin.
Babini overtook Beretta before Lesmo 1, but Beretta returned the favour in the Ascari. Ferrara, meanwhile, pushed Capello wide at Lesmo 2 for fourth overall; the Audi feeling the push and losing two more places to Bontempelli and Frassineti. A Cup Class Lamborghini then had a monster blow-out of its right-front tyre along the main straight, just seconds before the leading battle approached; everyone thankfully avoiding the debris.
Beretta tried a desperate move on Donativi at the Roggia, but the EbiMotors driver covered it well. Beretta then decided to go “agricultural”, not only managing to stay on the track, but also becoming the new leader…with a very big question mark hanging over him. The order wouldn’t change before the chequered flag, but, as expected, the on-track winner was penalised a second, so Donativi took the win.
Beretta was thus classified second and Babini third for an all-Porsche podium. Ferrara finished fourth – first of the 458 Ferraris – with a very good fifth-overall for the newcomer Nova Race Nissan.
Capello finished a disappointing sixth, with Frassineti, Schoeffler, Barri and the Mercedes finishing up the top 10.
The Cup class was again as entertaining as the big boys, with a possible 1-2 for Lamborghini ending with that late blow-out for the #133 car. But the victory went anyway to Iacone-Tempesta, from Passuti-Galbiati and Baccani-Venerosi in Porsches.
The Ferrari of Mancinelli-Goldstein finished fourth.
Now the series goes into a summer break before the next round at Mugello, in mid-July. The overall standing is very close, with Donativi-Gagliardini leading with only 37 points, but with even the tenth pairing of Ferrara-Magli having 23.