Sumo Power GT takes away a solid result from second of two rounds in China FIA GT1 World Championship - Round Nine Report Goldenport Circuit, Beijing, China 9th & 10th September 2011
It was a case of rain and more rain at Goldenport circuit in Beijing for round nine of the FIA GT1 World Championship this Saturday, where Sumo Power GT scored a tenth and eleventh with cars 20 and 21 respectively in race one and sixth and eighth in race two. Because of the conditions, for any team that completed both races without a problem or incident, they could regard the event as a success - and that's exactly what Sumo Power GT did.
Just one week after round eight at Ordos, Inner Mongolia, the team was in action again. This time at the Goldenport Park Circuit on the outskirts of Beijing, the 2.4km track the shortest visited by the championship this season and, not really designed to accommodate the 600bhp GT1 cars, the track was always going to pose a challenge for teams and drivers.
For Sumo Power GT the challenges started in Friday's Pre-Qualifying session, when Nick Catsburg planted car 20 in a tyre-wall barrier on the outside of turn seven. Thankfully the Dutchman emerged unscathed and, although the same could not be said about the front of his GT-R, the mechanics quickly set about returning it to its original condition. Unfortunately, the extent of the repairs did mean that, because of the meeting's timetable being condensed into two days, Catsburg and team-mate Enrique Bernoldi were to miss the Qualifying session later that afternoon.
There were also issues for car 21 - albeit no so dramatic - when a small fuel leak stopped Jamie Campbell-Walter and David Brabham from participating in Friday morning's Free Practice, although they did get a good run in the afternoon's Pre-Qualifying session. They were also the best of the Nissans in Qualifying, when a blistering lap by Brabham launched car 21 into Q3 and P8 for the first of Saturday's two races.
Qualifying RaceAfter a dry and sunny day on Friday, Saturday could not have been more different, with rain falling for most of it and making the already technically demanding Goldenport circuit even more of a challenge. With the conditions as they were and the GT1 Championship often seeing contact on turn one, it was a surprise to see the first lap pass without incident.
However, it didn't last long and, with a few cars now in the soft and uncompromising gravel traps, the Safety Car was deployed for the first time at the end of lap four. At this point Bernoldi, who was to drive the first stint in car 20, had already made up an impressive seven places and was now 11th, with Brabham in car 21 up one place in seventh.
Racing resumed on lap 11 and, with the weather getting no better, most drivers were glad of the mandatory mid-race pit stop to change tyres and hand-over to their team-mate. 21 was first in and saw Brabham swap with Campbell-Walter, who struggled to get any sort of heat into his tyres as he started his stint and found himself going backwards through the field.
Bernoldi came in six laps later - trying to make up time whist the track was clearer - and swapped with Catsburg, who was mindful of his previous day's indiscretion and had no intention of doing it again. With other cars suffering difficulties, Catsburg was pleased to see the numbers getting lower on his pit board, whereas Campbell-Walter was still unable to find good grip and his signals from the pit wall were getting higher.
When a Corvette spun off in the latter stages of the race, the Safety Car took to the track once again and, with only a handful of laps left, the convoy continued to the end of the race, with the final results seeing Catsburg crossing the line in tenth and Campbell-Walter in eleventh.
Championship RaceThere was no let up in the weather for the Championship Race later in the day and therefore the race got underway behind the Safety Car, which continued to hold the pack in convoy for the first four laps. And, with the starting positions of the second race dictated by the results of the first, both Catsburg in car 20 and Campbell-Walter in car 21 were situated in the middle of the pack and therefore in a vulnerable position for any bad behaviour when the lights turned green.
As it turned out, a cautious approach was to pay off as a Lamborghini and an Aston Martin ended their races after 100 metres, both getting stuck in the gravel on the outside of turn one. Therefore, the Safety Car was back on the track by the end of lap four and, as the field lined up to follow it, car 20 was up to sixth whilst car 21 was one place higher in 10th.
As the rescue crews struggled to remove the stricken cars from the first corner and then clean the track of gravel, it was twenty minutes before racing recommenced and then, two laps later, the pit window opened. Having only driven three laps competitively, Campbell-Walter came in to swap with Braham on lap 16, with Catsburg doing the same two laps later with Bernoldi.
There was still no let up in the weather as the second stint got underway and predictably, more cars had problems or found their way into the circuit's unforgiving run-off areas, which were impossible to get out of once the driving wheels of the car had made contact with the soft gravel. Both Bernoldi and Campbell-Walter found themselves battling for position during the reminder of the race and, when the Safety car emerged for the third time, the two Sumo Power GT GT-Rs were in sixth and eighth respectively.
Surprisingly, when the Safety Car came onto the track, the Aston Martin in the lead through itself off it, which meant that with another incident to deal with and only six minutes of the race to go, there was no likelihood that competitive driving would recommence and the Safety Car went on to lead what was left of the field over the line for the last time four laps later.
It was a challenging race for everyone involved: the nature of the track coupled with the weather and the various incidents made it the toughest round of the Championship so far this year. There is now just one more event left in this season's calendar for Sumo Power GT, which takes place on 5th & 6th November at the unique Potrero de Los Funes circuit near San Luis in Argentina and, situated in the rim of an extinct volcano, it is certainly a stunning location for the season's grand finale.
On Sunday after the race at Goldenport, Sumo Power GT - together with the all other GT1 teams - took part in a spectacular promotional event in the centre of Beijing between the National Stadium (better known as the Birds Nest) and the Water Cube. The event marked the first time a motor race had ever taken place in this area and was designed as a test event in respect of the GT1 cars returning next year for a proposed night-time race around the roads in the Olympic Park.
David Brabham (Car 21)"these two races were all about keeping the car on the track on not making any mistakes - and we did exactly that. But for some reason, although we changed from a dry to wet set up, I could tell that the car had more potential. It's therefore been a day where we've done the best we possibly could in the conditions and I'm delighted that our GT-R is still in one piece!"
Jamie Campbell-Walter (Car 21)"The car felt really good in the dry for Practice and Qualifying, but we could not get seem to get any heat in the tyres in the early part of our stints during the race. It was a bit frustrating, but we did well in the wet conditions and I'm very pleased we made it through both races without any problems and without going off, which is more than can be said for some competitors."
Nick Catsburg (Car 20)"I was really looking forward to racing at somewhere as different as Goldenport, so my accident in Pre-Qualifyig was a real disappointment and I must thank to the team for working so hard to get the car fixed ad working really well. Obviously, with the day as wet as it was, I was eager to keep out of trouble and not make any mistakes and, as they were two difficult races, I was very pleased that we were able to end the day in sixth."
Enrique Bernoldi (Car 20)"With this being a new circuit it was a shame no to be able to do very much driving before the race and to miss qualifying. But I think we did the best we could with the situation and sixth in the Championship race is very good. I would really like to end our season in South America with an even better result and a podium finish to round-off the year."
Hiroki Furuse (Team Manager)I am very pleased that both cars survived the two races in the bad conditions. We didn't have the greatest of starts with car 20 going off in Qualifying, but with the team able to fix the damage in time for the first of the two races, to end the day with sixth place is an excellent comeback. I'm also pleased that in almost every race we seem to have the pace to move up the order. This is helped by the excellent pit stops and a good race strategy, such as we had at Goldenport.
Andy Barnes (Team Principal)"A circuit like Goldenport combined with the treacherous weather conditions made this weekend extremely difficult for everyone and I believe that the team rose to the occasion well. To get two cars home in both races having raced hard is quite an achievement and sets us up well for the prospect of a good result at the final round in Argentina in a few weeks time."