Ferraris to the fore as British ace Bird and Rigon strike first in GT Pro fight
Such was the dominance of AF Corse and the Ferrari F488 Italia in GTE that it was always going to boil down to a battle between its two cars in the Pro class. Unfortunately, that fight was decided in favour of the #71 car driven by Sam Bird and Davide Rigon the moment a warning alarm sounded in the sister #51 machine with Gianmaria Bruni at the wheel during qualifying.
Not only did that condemn the Ferrari to the back of the grid because Bruni was unable to complete the required lap to go with the rapid one James Calado had already posted, but it also signalled an engine problem that forced an overnight change and, as a consequence, a three-minute stop/ go penalty to be served early in the race.
So while Bird assumed the lead early from pole, building up a comfortable advantage over the Dempsey-proton Porsche of Richard Lietz, Bruni was already playing catch-up following the enforced and lengthy stop. Bird built up his lead during his double stint and when Lietz slowed with broken frontright suspension shortly before the second round of stops it was effectively all over. The winning Ferrari ended up leading every single lap of the race.
“Yes and no,” said Bird of whether the race situation made the victory easier. “We weren’t hanging around and were still doing the best job we could possibly do. It’s my first race back with Ferrari and everybody executed everything brilliantly.
“We were a bit fortunate that the Porsche DNF’D otherwise they would have been more of a threat. They were within half-a-minute early in the race and if you are within that you are in the game.”
Team-mate Rigon closed out the race with a marathon stint to take the finish over a lap clear of the car Bruni shared with Calado. The #51 Ferrari took until the final hour to climb to second ahead of the Aston Martin of Darren Turner, Nicki Thiim and Marco Sorensen and the two Ford GTS.
To underline the team’s dominance, Emmanuel Collard, Francois Perrodo and Rui Aguas claimed GTE Am victory for AF Corse. That wasn’t the only thing that echoed the Pro class, for its nearest challenger was also a Proton-run Porsche that suffered a suspension problem, although it wasn’t until the final hour that Wolf Henzler slowed with the failure.
Briton Bird helped Ferrari to GT victory