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Venturini Extends Points Lead As Balfe Wins Pro/Am Title

Podium for Balfe and Bell seals the class championship

The #63 Imperiale Lamborghini Huracan of Marco Mapelli and points leader Giovanni Venturini took victory in the first International GT Open race of the weekend at Catalunya. In the process, Venturini extended his lead to 12 points, while Balfe Motorsport took the Pro/Am championship with a podium finish.

Mapelli took the lead before the first corner after a poor start for pole-sitter Albert Costa (#54 Emil Frey Lexus). Victor Bouveng made his way up to second in the #65 Teo Martin BMW, while Costa fell to fourth behind the #23 Imperiale Lamborghini of Christian Engelhart.
The sharp end of the order made it through the first sequence of corners cleanly.

However, Craig Dolby (#39 Wessex Vehicles Lamborghini) and Vitantonio Liuzzi (#555 FFF Racing Lamborghini) made contact on the exit of turn two, and Dolby was fired into the barrier as a result. Fortunately, a safety car wasn’t required, but both drivers’ races came to a premature end.

Costa put in a strong first two laps after his poor start, moving back up to second at the expense of Engelhart, and then Bouveng, though a mistake at the final chicane would put Costa back down to third shortly after.

Mapelli took control of the race out front, but 20 minutes in, the Safety Car was deployed due to Jordan Witt’s #10 Jordan Racing Bentley coming to a halt at turn five.

After just one lap behind the Safety Car, the green flags waved once again. Victor Bouveng snatched the lead from Mapelli as the pack returned to racing. Moments later, as the pit window opened, Bouveng struggled to control the #65 Teo Martin BMW under braking at the final chicane He then elected to pit, but Mapelli was on his inside; Bouveng had to brake to make his way into pit entry. The Teo Martin BMW driver missed the entry cone, and his teammate Fran Rueda received a five second penalty during his stint as a result.

The pitstops were set to be a gift for the Emil Frey Lexus squad, who had no penalty seconds attached to their pitstop. Albert Costa pitted in directly behind race leader Mapelli, whose #63 Imperiale Lamborhgini would have to be in pitlane for 80 seconds rather than the base time of 70. However, when they emerged from the pits, the Lamborghini was still ahead with Giovanni Venturini at the wheel, thanks to fuelling issues for the Lexus.

Fran Rueda (#65 Teo Martin BMW) was directly behind Venturini and Philipp Frommenwiler as they left the pits. Rueda set about trying to find a way past the Lexus, with a dramatic moment at turn 10 where both cars ran wide. This gifted Mikkel Mac (#488 Spirit of Race Ferrari) two positions, and second overall.

While things initially looked to be settling down following this moment, there was more drama to come.

After the pitstop window was complete, and with 22 minutes of the race remaining, the R-CF GT3 of Frommenwiler came to a halt at turn 10.
This brought out the Safety Car once more for another single lap stint at the head of the pack, and left the order with seven Pro class cars in the top seven positions, headed by Venturini in the Lamborghini. Positions eight through 16 would be the domain of Pro/Am.

SF Racing’s Andrea Caldarelli charged through the top five of PRO-AM, and eventually took the victory in the class for he and Fu Songyang – it was their first class win of the year. Côme Ledogar also made his way through his PRO-AM rivals in short order, taking second in class.

With the charging aces out of the way, the gentleman drivers started to battle.

In what proved to be a pivotal moment, Allam Khodair (#16 Drivex Mercedes) was spun at turn five by Piergiuseppe Perazzini in the #8 AF Corse Ferrari. Perazzini continued with no damage to his 488 GT3, passing PRO-AM championship leader Shaun Balfe a few laps later.

However, with less than three minutes of the race to go, the race director added a ten second time penalty to Perazzini’s race time, which dropped the Italian down to fifth in the class – Balfe inherited third in the #22 McLaren, which was enough to secure the PRO-AM championship for he and Rob Bell, over their closest rival Perazzini.

Giovanni Venturini took the overall victory ahead of Mikkel Mac, while Mario Farnbacher (#55 Farnbacher Lexus) was awarded third place due to the five second penalty for Fran Rueda’s #65 Teo Martin BMW.

Nonô Figueiredo took AM honours in the #12 Sports & You Mercedes, ahead of Sergei Borisov in the #333 Rinaldi Ferrari. Antonio Coimbra and Luis Silva, who clinched the AM championship last time out in Monza, finished third in class.

With the Emil Frey Lexus’ retirement, and another handful of points gained over Rueda and Bouveng in the #65, Venturini heads into tomorrow’s final race with a 12 point championship advantage. With just 15 points available tomorrow, Rueda and Bouveng must take victory in order to steal the championship. However, even if the #65 Teo Martin BMW crosses the line first, Venturini and Mapelli will have to finish lower than seventh in order to lose the title.

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Photo courtesy of GT Open