With six hours remaining in the 2017 running of the Gulf 12 Hours, the pole-sitting #11 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 of Michael Broniszweski, Davide Rigon and Miguel Molina holds the lead after 145 laps of racing.
Despite being the most consistent car in terms of pace though, there’s still three GT3 cars and two LMP3 cars on the lead lap for the second part of the race, when the field is reset after a break. We should therefore still have a race on our hands as the sun sets later today in Abu Dhabi.
The Ferrari held the lead from the start, Rigon holding off Alexandre Cougnaud’s #9 GRAFF Ligier and Matthieu Lahaye’s Ultimate Ligier for most of the opening half hour before slipping to third.
Rigon and co would regain the lead though, after a long stop for the ULTIMATE team due to a wheel gun issue and a starter issue for the #9 GRAFF car caused both to slip down the order later in the opening hours.
“We had a problem with a wheel gun, the nut stayed locked on the wheel, so we had to use a spare gun. It was very slow but the team managed it in the end. We lost 40 seconds,” Lahaye said after the longer stop.
As a result, the lead battle morphed into a tussle between the leading Kessel Ferrari and the Oman Racing Aston Martin, Euan Mckay able to catch and pass Bronizewski with four hours to go to give Ahmad Al Harthy’s team the lead.
But the Oman Vantage wouldn’t hold the the top spot for long, as Tom Jackson was overtaken by a hard-charging Miguel Molina 50 minutes later, giving the 2015 and 2016 Gulf 12 winning team the lead once more.
The Kessel car held on from there, all the way to the end of Part 1, through two safety car periods, the second for the final 90 minutes of the half.
Both safety cars were caused by the #1 GRAFF Ligier. The first one came while John Corbett was driving, the Australian stopping out on track briefly at Turn 7 just under three hours into the race.
The safety car was then called into action again due to the circuit needing to make extensive barrier repairs at Turn 11, James Winslow going off hard in the Ligier, heavily damaging the car’s front end.
Winslow was ok, but the car is likely to be the first retirement from the race as a result of the impact. The specific cause of the incident is unknown, though it’s believed to have been a stuck throttle or brake issue.
Under the second safety car there was a further shuffle in the pack up front. Oman Racing would lose its second place to the recovering Rinaldi Racing Ferrari of Norbert Siedler, Marco Seefried and Rinat Salikhov which was forced to make an early unscheduled stop for a puncture.
The Oman Racing Aston Martin though, does still lead its class in third overall – the car is entered in GT Pro/Am, the two ahead in GT Pro.
Also on the lead lap when the checkered flag was shown to the neutralised field was the #17 ULTIMATE and #22 United Autosports Ligiers sitting in fourth and fifth place respectively, the two crews will be aiming to throw a cat amongst the pigeons in the second half.
Just off the lead lap is the GT Pro/Am entered #77 Kessel Racing Ferrari and LMP3 Pro/Am #24 United Autosports Ligier. Both will be hoping to make up for lost time in the second half of the race later today and fight for the lead in their respective classes.
Further down the running order meanwhile, was the #9 GRAFF JS P3 after six hours down in 19th. The car, which led early, managed to get fired again and is now six laps off the leaders.
Elsewhere in the race, there’s plenty of intrigue developing in the GTX classes. (GTX1 features Super Trofeo Huracans, GTX1 is running with Porsche Cup cars and GTX3 is a battle between two GT4 entries)
While the three GTX divisions are running with very different machinery in performance terms, they are set to be balanced at the end of the race.
The race organisers made the decision to balance the three categories after Qualifying, and will do this by using a handicap system. The GTX1 cars will have 27 laps deleted at the end of the race and the GTX2 runners will have 23 laps taken away. This means that all eight GTX-entered cars will effectively be competing for an overall class win despite being so spread out.
As it stands, the #46 Target Racing Lamborghini leads the GTX1 class by eight laps, and has completed 142. The GTX2 field is led by the #14 MRS GT Porsche which has toured the circuit 140 times. And the GTX3 class leader is the Generation AMR Vantage, which has completed 132 laps.
Part 2 of the 2017 Gulf 12 Hours is set to get underway at 17:45 local time in Abu Dhabi. The action can be streamed live on the Gulf 12 Hours Youtube channel, with live video and commentary from Radio Show Limited.