AFTER HUGE FIRST LAP INCIDENT
JRM unable to make it a GT1 World Championship double after taking Driver's title on Saturday
It was ultimately a frustrating end to the 2011 FIA GT1 World Championship for Nissan, as an opening lap incident and its resulting fallout cost JRM Racing the Teams' title in the season finale Championship Race in San Luis, Argentina.
Having wrapped up the GT1 Drivers' Championship in yesterday's Qualifying Race, the no.23 JRM Racing Nissan GT-R lined up second on the grid targeting victory to round off an amazing season, but instead starting driver Lucas Luhr's race lasted mere seconds. In the usual jostling for on-track position on the long opening straight, a slight touching of wheels between two of the front-running competitors was catalyst enough for a chain of events that took out five cars, including the no.23 JRM and its Nissan sister car, the no.21 Sumo Power GT.
The huge carnage at the side of the track immediately bought yellow flag safety conditions into effect, during which the no.7 Young Driver Aston Martin - the only starting car from the team that began the race leading the Teams' Championship - jumped into the lead from near the back of the grid after overtaking seven cars in one go. However, this manoeuvre was adjudged by race stewards to be illegal, with a drive through penalty notice subsequently issued.
Meanwhile, the two remaining GT-Rs - Richard Westbrook's no.22 JRM that started in 15th and Enrique Bernoldi's no.20 Sumo Power than started in fourth - emerged from the chaos sitting in fourth (no.22 JRM) and 12th (no.20 Sumo Power GT), the positions in which they remained as, simultaneously, the safety car withdrew and the pit window opened. There were good stops for both cars, with the no.22 JRM re-emerging on track in second place and the no.20 Sumo Power GT in seventh, and both made up a further place when the no.7 Young Driver came in to serve its drive through penalty.
With a first place from the no.22 more than enough to guarantee Teams' Championship glory for JRM, things were looking good. However, with 15 minutes remaining, the race stewards, having re-analysed the opening lap drama, issued the JRM a drive through penalty notice of its own: the car, like the no.7 Young Driver, was deemed to have gained track position whilst under safety conditions.
The no.22, with Peter Dumbreck now behind the wheel, came out of the pits after serving its penalty just behind the Aston Martin. Dumbreck pushed the GT-R hard and was able to overtake the no.7 as well as the no.40 Ford GT in the closing stages for an eventual eighth place finish. The points gained for the finish saw JRM finish the season just ahead of Young Driver, but this was not taking into account the results and permutations of what happened at the front of the race.
The two Hexis Aston Martin cars finished the race third and fifth, separated by the no.20 Sumo Power GT after an excellent drive from Nick Catsburg saw the car make up two places during the second half of the race. However, with the cars finishing first and second (the no.11 Corvette and the no.47 Lamborghini respectively) not eligible for Teams' points due FIA technicalities, Hexis instead received the points awarded for finishing first and second- enough to catapult them from third in the Championship standings prior to the race to first.
Speaking after the race, no.23 JRM driver, Lucas Luhr was disappointed about missing out on the Teams' Championship, but with more time to reflect on yesterday's events chose to talk about winning the GT1 Drivers' Championship: "What a fantastic 2011 it's been for us with four race wins. Some of the tracks this year suited the GT-R perfectly and we managed to capitalise with some great results. Even when the tracks weren't so favourable, we were still able to put in solid performances, so thanks to Nissan for giving us such an amazing car! Huge thanks also to Michael and the JRM boys - I'm extremely happy and proud of what we've achieved."
Luhr's team-mate, Michael Krumm, added: "It's been an incredible roller-coaster year of emotions for us. The Championship Race at Silverstone was the most important race to me due to just how significant winning the Tourist Trophy is, whilst the sweetest moment was our double victory at Paul Ricard when we took over the lead in the Championship, and after which we never looked back. Thanks to Lucas, JRM and Nissan for everything."
There was also a congratulatory message to the World Champions from Shoichi Miyatani, President of Nissan Motorsport, who said: "Although I could not make it to San Luis, I was delighted to hear the excellent news about JRM Racing winning the FIA GT1 World Championship Drivers' title with the Nissan GT-R. I would like to extend my congratulation to James Rumsey, Nigel Stepney, Michael, Lucas and all the members of the JRM team, as well as our supporting staff from NISMO. This is truly a team effort, and I am so happy to see our partnership with JRM achieving its ultimate goal of a World Championship within just two years.
"This is first World Championship title Nissan has ever won, and the Nissan GT-R is the first Japanese car to win World Championship title for circuit racing if I am not mistaken, which puts this amazing achievement into perspective.
"I would also like to thank Nissan fans around the world for their enthusiastic support in an incredible year that has also seen us win the SUPER GT (GT500), ILMC (LMP2), LMS (LMP2) and Blancpain Endurance Series (GT4), together with an LMP2 class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans."