FIA GT Series finale in Baku, Azerbaijan


Cleanliness, they say, is next to Godliness. Everywhere you look in the city of Baku someone is cleaning or sweeping something. Naturally, the Azeris had been working day and night to present their capital city at its best, the finale of the FIA GT Series being broadcast to 80 countries around the world.

Sadly, however, no good came of all the washing at dawn on Sunday. On a dry, sunny morning race officials arrived to find a wet track, forcing them to declare a wet race which would start behind the safety car. To cap it all, power to the circuit was lost when a generator failed. A new street circuit has its problems.

On a more positive note, the qualifying race was exciting once it got underway under sunny skies. Overtaking proved to be something of a challenge despite the expansive boulevards that run along the city waterfront. Going off line was risky due to damp patches, the only real chance of gaining a place being in the braking areas at the end of the long straights.

Qualifying race

Out front René Rast in the Audi R8 led easily from pole, but behind him the contest was fiercely fought. Laps behind the safety car, and the mandatory pit stops, reduced Rast’s lead to just one second. After a red flag, with ten minutes left, it was down to team-mate Niki Mayr-Melnhof to win a sprint to the line, putting them on pole for the finale, with Stéphane Ortelli and Laurens Vanthoor alongside in an all-Audi front row.

“The car was fantastic, going through the corners like a knife through butter,” said Rast, “it was difficult at the start, with wet patches in some places, but then I had nobody in front of me and nobody in my rear-view mirror, and that’s how I like it. Also, I must congratulate Niki on a great drive today. He was under pressure at the end, but it was perfect team work.”

Main race

It never sits well when results are changed from what the crowd sees on track and that’s sadly what happened in the main race. Although we saw the Audi of Ortelli and Vanthoor cross the line first, followed by the McLaren of Rob Bell/Kevin Estre and the Mercedes of Maximilian Buhk/Alon Day it wouldn’t stay that way. The three driver pairings celebrated on the podium, but not long after 8pm the stewards gave both the second- and third-place cars 10-second penalties due to an avoidable collision at Turn 2 just three laps from the end.

This – while thankfully having no effect on Ortelli and Vanthoor being crowned FIA GT Series champions – promoted the Sébastien Loeb/Álvaro Parente McLaren to second and the Rob Bell/Kevin Estre McLaren to third.

Things didn’t go so smoothly for the qualifying race winners Mayr-Melnhof/Rast either – the former was taken out of contention at the start and beaten away by Ortelli, Frédéric Vervisch, Markus Winkelhock and Alexander Sims in that order. Yet another safety car after just ten minutes and Ortelli was down to third behind Vervisch and Winkelhock.

The Audi of Mayr-Melnhof/Rast was in the pits after just three laps, damaged after contact at the start. Bell, who had started just behind him, got a puncture and fell right down the field. Mayr-Melnhof/Rast, the car fixed, returned two laps down. Game over, or was it? Repairs to chicane kerbing brought out the safety car with 20 minutes gone, the hour-long race ebbing away. Just after halfway Winkelhock led with Loeb up to fifth, keeping out of trouble.

More sports car content
Allan McNish, World Endurance Champion
Audio podcast with Allan McNish
Reader event with Stirling Moss

Up to second, behind the Buhk/Day Mercedes, was the Audi R8 pairing of Ortelli and Vanthoor who were closing in on a victory with 15 minutes to go. In the end the winning margin was just 1.3 seconds.

Despite the late call by the stewards it was a thrilling finish to a most dramatic event both off and on this new street track. There’ll be a full story from the Baku World Challenge in next month’s Motor Sport.

The results after the stewards’ decision

1. Ortelli/Vanthoor WRT Audi (1h00m39.010s)
2. Loeb/Parente Loeb McLaren (+5.755s)
3. Bell/Estre Hexis McLaren (+11.313s)
4. Buhk/Day Gravity Charouz Mercedes (+15.312s)
5. Baumann/Proczyk Grasser Lamborghini (+31.029s)
6. Sladecka/Rosina Grasser Lamborghini (+39.168s)
7. Campanico/Ammermuller Novadriver Audi (+39.464s)
8. Sims/Dusseldorp Boutsen McLaren (+39.884s)
9. Soucek/Turvey MRS McLaren (+41.553s)
10. Hassid/Beltoise TDS BMW (+46.205s)
11. Stippler/Sandstrom WRT Audi (+1m03.310s)
12. Winkelhock/Ide Phoenix Audi (+1m10.829s)
13. Sdanewitsch/Leo AF Ferrari (+1m23.156s)
14. Cunha/Stumpf Rodrive Lamborghini (+2 laps)
15. Mayr-Melnhof/Rast WRT Audi (+2 laps)
16. Thomas/Melnikov MRS McLaren +2 laps


Zonta/Jimenez Brasil BMW (15 laps)
Tandy/Holzer Trackspeed Porsche (14 laps)
Vervisch/Vandoorne Boutsen McLaren (11 laps)
Charouz/Janis Gravity Charouz Mercedes (7 laps)
Zuber/Parisy Loeb McLaren (3 laps)
Webb/Hetherington Fortec Mercedes (2 laps)
Khodair/Bueno Brasil BMW (1 lap)
Catsburg/Martin Marc VDS BMW (0 laps)
Afanasiev/Simonsen Gravity Charouz Mercedes (0 laps)
Demoustier/Albuquerque WRT Audi (0 laps)

Read more from Rob Widdows

nascar  Jimmie Johnson at the top of his game

You may also like