07/05/2011 BMW Rule the Roost with 1-2-3 in Portugal

It was a BMW podium lockout for the opening race of the 2011 FIA GT3 European Championship at the Autodromo Internacional do Algarve in Portugal with Edward Sandtroem and Abdulaziz Al Faisal taking the chequered flag in the Need for Speed Team Schubert BMW Z4.  While this is Sandstroem's second FIA GT3 victory, adding this to his first winners trophy in round 11 at Zolder last year, it means Abdulaziz Al Faisal becomes the first Saudi Arabian driver to win an FIA GT3 race.  It was double joy for Team Schubert when the nr7 BMW Z4 of Csaba Walter and Caludia Huertgen was promoted into second place when the nr3 Graff Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG of Philippe Giaque and Mike Parisy was penalised after taking the chequered flag for not taking a stop and go penalty for a pitstop infringement.  

On their FIA GT3 debut the nr35 Faster Racing by DB Motorsport BMW Z4 of Jeroen Den Boer and Hoevert Vos found themselves on the third step of the podium and it was smiles all round for the Dutch team.

The nr50 AF Corse Ferrari 458 Italia of Francesco Castellacci, which was supposed to be on pole position, was absent from the grid due to the damage it sustained in the earlier qualifying session and the Italian had to watch the race from the sidelines.  The nr6 Need for Speed Team Schubert BMW Z4 of Edward Sandstroem was promoted to the front of the field but at the start the Swede was swamped by the pack as they swarmed into the first corner.  The nr33 Belgian Audi Club Audi R8 of Enzo Ide was in the lad, closely followed by the nr4 Graff Racing Mercedes of Joakim Lambotte and the nr25 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo of Nikolaus Meyr-Melnhof.

There was a lot of bumping and scrapping of door panels in the first few corners and the nr20 MTECH Ferrari of Paul Rees was hit a few times, as was the Mercedes-Benz SLS of Roger Green, who found himself facing the wrong way after the bonnet of the nr20 Ferrari flew off and his the windcreen of the Mercedes.  THe nr20 Ferrari pulled off the track on the run down to T6 but the stricken car was hit again as the nr44 Heico Motorsport Mercedes was squeezed onto the grass on the run down to T6 and spun across the track into the barriers, their race finished on lap 3.  This brought out the Safety Car to allow the Marshals to recover both cars safely.

At the restart the nr33 Audi was overtaken by the nr4 Mercedes, the recovering nr6 BMW and the nr51 AF Corse Ferrari of Dan Brown.  A lap later Sandstroem got a good run out of the last corner and got alongside Lambotte's Mercedes and swept into the lead at the first corner.  On the same lap the nr25 Lamborghini became the next casualty when teh suspension broke on Meyr-Melnhof's car.

Sandstroem then set about opening up a gap to Lambotte and this had grown to five seconds as the pit window opened.  Sandstroem stayed out as long as he could as the other cars pitted and teh Swede handed the Schubert BMW to Al Faisel and the Saudi driver regained the track just as the nr4 Graff Mercedes, now driven by Gary Hirsch, entered the first turn.  The BMW got ahead of the Mercedes and then kept the lead as Hirsch tried to gain an advantage over his rival.

However everything changed when the nr4 Graff Racing Mercedes was given a drive through penalty for a pitlane violation.  This gave Al Faisel some breathing room to the nr3 Graff Racing Mercedes of Mike Parisy and the nr7 Need for Speed Team Schubert BMW of Claudia Huertgen.  Several other cars were given stop go penalties for pitlane violations, including the second placed nr3 Mercedes.  For lap after lap the gap was maintained with the nr35 Faster Racing by DB MOTORSPORT BMW Z4 of Jeroen den Boer catching the nr7 BMW in third place. However the positions were held as the chequered flag was displayed.

At the end of the race the nr3 Graff Racing Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG was given a 33 second penalty for not taking dropping Parisy and Giaque to 4th.  This promoted Claudia Huertgen and Csaba Walter to second, giving the Need for Speed Team Schubert a 1-2, with the Faster Racing by DB MOTORSPORT  BMW Z4 of Hoevert Vos and Jereon den Boer into 3rd place.

CLICK HERE for the result of Round 1  

CLICK HERE for the Race Facts

Edward Sandstroem
Nr6 Need For Speed Team Schubert BMW Z4 GT3
 “I’m very happy to be a member of team need for speed and to have a great result just as the season started. The car is much more competitive than last year, it’s very easy compared to last year where we struggled a lot, and we had to fight, but have the tyres that helped us a lot last year, now we have a complete package. It makes it easier. Also a big thank you to team Schubert; I’ve been down to their workshop where they’ve been collecting cars for the Netherland car, the French car and also the mechanics have been working flat out for the last month, day and night, and it’s a big effort for them. I think it was a little bit my fault when I got mobbed at the start. I thought I was controlling the field, but as soon as we got quicker and quicker, I was still thinking about the rule of 90km, and didn’t want to break it. When I was breaking, the others were on top of me and it was all gone, so I had to fight back. I like that,  it was no problem for me. If I had to change one thing this race, it would’ve been that my mechanic called me in 2 laps earlier, because I was losing so much time, and they were coming out and blocking me. It’s a very good car, and with the Dunlop tyres that work very well, we had a great package. BMW further developed the car from last year, and we’re now on the same level as the others and can play in the same league.”

Abdulaziz Al Faisal
Nr6 Need For Speed Team Schubert BMW Z4 GT3
 “When I came out, I didn’t know that the car I came out ahead of was the car I was competing against. As soon as I realised that it was, I got on the radio to ask the engineer if that was the car we should be in front of. He said yes, and after that, we picked up the pace. There wasn’t much pressure. The car was easy to drive, Edward did a really good job to save the tyres and I had to push at the beginning. I just really brought the car home. The problem is, you don’t know how fast you’re going. I came on the radio a few times, and asked if I should push it, and they said no, keep it as it is. I had a few issues with cars that I was over-lapping, and they wouldn’t move on the blue flag. I was concerned that they might move. But really, I just brought it home. This win is extremely important to my region, because the sport is growing in the region, and it’s a new sport. It all really started in 2004 when F1 came to Bahrain. I did 2 years in the eastern championship in the Porsche and won last year, and this year came second, so it’s a step up coming here and winning. I didn’t expect that to be honest. We’ve got a good team, a good team mate and a really good car. Thanks to the team and the sport and everything they put into it. Hopefully tomorrow we can do a similar effort.”

Csaba Walter
Nr7 Need For Speed Team Schubert BMW Z4 GT3
 “The qualifying wasn’t so good for me, unfortunately. I couldn’t run a clear lap, so we were in 11th. We had to start the race from there. In the beginning, I was a bit too careful and some cars passed me. It took a while until I could overtake them. It was interesting, but unfortunately cost a lot of time for us. Later when I could pass them, it was very good. I could do some good laps, and then the team called me to the pit to change, because it was time. Last year our car wasn’t as competitive as this year, but I don’t think we’re above the other cars. I think we’re at the same level, so I don’t feel that it’s much faster or better. If you see our overtaking manoeuvres you’ll see that in a straight line, it was very hard for me to overtake. I think now we’re at the same level.  On the other hand, the team is working, professional. We had a brand new car, and the car is working without any problems. I think we’re now in a position to fight.”

Claudia Huertgen
Nr7 Need For Speed Team Schubert BMW Z4 GT3
 “I got the car in the middle of the race, and we were in the first ten. It was a good race for me, because in the end we finished 2nd, which was the most important for me. We are all happy that we are really competitive this year. I think that all the other new cars, Ferrari and Mercedes are also really fast cars on the track, but I think the team and the drivers did a very good job. Today the biggest point is that the team worked really hard the last 3 or 4 weeks, and that’s why we’re here.”

Hoevert Vos
Nr 35 Faster Racing by DB Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3
 “The car was perfect. The team did an exceptionally good job. It was the first time we ever raced with this car. This week we just got the car, so we had a very little possibility of testing, but it went great. This was the first race, this first weekend, this first time on this circuit, and DB Motorsport did an exceptional job. The start was a little messy, and I didn’t want any damage, so I was very careful . I was pretty quick, I followed the leaders. But then the safety car came in. The Lamborghini in front of us, had a big gap in front of me, and the Mercedes overtook me under yellow in the safety car period. I was locked up, there was no escape, that’s why I stopped as quick as possible at the pitstop. Perfect result for the team, can’t imagine a better start.”

Jeroen den Boer
Nr 35 Faster Racing by DB Motorsport BMW Z4 GT3
 “I came out and Hoeveret came in with the Mercedes very close to his rear wing, and when I went out, the Mercedes was way in front of me. I was only one second out of the pitstop window, so it was strange that it was so far away. The Ferrari came out of the pit lane in front of me, and he was 2 or 3 seconds slower per lap, but I couldn’t find a gap to pass him, and the Ferrari is much quicker on the straight, we are quicker in the corner. I was struggling for 4 or 5 laps, and suddenly, Claudia came up, and she got a better exit at the last corner and could pass me on the straight. After 2 laps, the Ferrari made a big mistake, and after that I could just continue. This is a great result. We saw last year, it’s not so easy to be at the front with the different cars and different tyre brands; we have to learn a lot. We’ve had a good start."