The combination of 24 cars representing six marques and the grandeur of the Yas Marina Circuit certainly made for a spectacle on the inauguration of the new FIA GT1 World Championship. There were exciting battles all the way through the field and the inevitable bangs and bashes that are a part of sprint racing. Yet what was missing was the promised close competition between all six types of car on the grid.
The new World Championship of which series boss Stephane Ratel has dreamt for so long got off to a controversial start in Abu Dhabi. The so-called ‘Balance of Performance’ between the six marques – Ford, Chevrolet, Maserati, Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Nissan – was clearly missing around the 3.45-mile Formula 1 circuit.
The Ford GT, developed to the new GT1 rulebook by the Swiss-funded Matech organisation, and the Chevrolet Corvette C6.R, one of three cars carried over in dumbed-down spec or ‘grandfathered’ from the old GT1 category, both dominated. They enjoyed a clear performance advantage over the rest, and the best two cars from the Ford and Chevrolet camps fought out the two races.
The Phoenix/Carsport Corvette driven by Andreas Zuber and Marc Hennerici claimed honours in the qualifying race from Romain Grosjean and Thomas Mutsch. The order was reversed for the main event, which the Ford won by more than 20 seconds. Such was the pace of the Corvette that Mike Hezemans and Andrea Piccini in the second Phoenix/Carsport entry were able to come through from the back of the grid to claim third place in the main event.
Significant weight adjustments were made to the cars after a Balance of Performance test at Yas Marina before the race, when former Grand Prix driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen got behind the wheel of all the cars.
That resulted in weight penalties for four of the six models. The Nissan GT-R, which had been fastest in testing in the hands of Michael Krumm, was given a 30kg weight penalty, the Maserati MC12 25 kilos. The Corvette was only given 10kg, while the Ford escaped without a penalty after Frentzen completed only two laps after complaining of steering problems.
That led to accusations that some of the teams did not present their cars with the ideal set-up when Frentzen drove. Rivals pointed out that the Ford had been lapping in the 2min 10sec bracket during testing, but that the car was able to lap consistently in 2min 7sec during the races.
Krumm, who is racing for the Sumo Power Nissan team, said: “We presented our car as it was; I think that makes us the stupidest people in the paddock. Others were playing games.”
Ratel said he understood the challenges faced by the FIA GT Committee, the body charged with creating a level playing field.
“There is work to do,” he said, “but I would ask Nissan how long it would take them to be competitive had they decided to do the DTM, and how much money it would cost?”
The teams that felt aggrieved by the committee’s decision are calling for urgent action. Othmar Welti, who runs a pair of Nissans under the Swiss Racing Team banner, suggested that the events of Abu Dhabi were not “a good advertisement to manufacturers looking at this series”.