11/07/2011 PREVIEW: GT3 Heads South for French Contest

2011 marks the sixth year of the FIA GT3 European Championship which has continued to attract teams and drivers from across the world, resulting in large grids and action-packed racing. Once again, the FIA GT3 European Championship visits the Paul Ricard circuit near Le Castellet, the scene of some epic battles for top honours on the fast and flowing 5.8 kilometre circuit.

The races last year were dominated by Corvette with a 1-2 in both encounters. Christian Hohenadel and Daniel Keilwitz, in the Callaway Competition Corvette, notched up two more wins on their way to the 2010 title, finishing ahead of Mike Parisy and Joakim Lambotte in the Graff Racing Corvette. Hohenadel is now racing in GT1 but Graff Racing have switched to Mercedes, with Parisy and Lambotte still with the team but in separate cars an different team-mates. Both will be hoping to score the first FIA GT3 win for Mercedes-Benz on a track they know very well.

The first half of the 2011 season has seen wins for BMW, Audi and Ferrari but the two races in the last event at Navarra produced two nail biting finishes that had the large Spanish crowd on the edge of their seats.

In Round 5 it was a contest between two Princes as Prince Albert von Thurn und Taxis from Germany in the nr24 Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Gallardo managed to hold off the challenge from Prince Abdulaziz Al Faisal (Saudi Arabia) in the nr6 Need for Speed Team Schubert BMW Z4. On lap 30, the gap between the two rivals was 4.7 seconds but by the time the chequered flag was shown at the end of lap 35 this was down to 0.459s as the Lamborghini struggled for grip on worn Michelin rear tyres. However Albert von Thurn und Taxis held onto his lead and the reigning ADAC GT Masters Champion celebrated his first FIA GT3 win with co-driver Nikolaus Mayr-Melnhof on the podium.

Round 6 saw another race win decided on the final lap as Harrie Kolen in the nr36 Faster Racing by DB Motorsport BMW Z4 fought to hold off a late challenge by the nr33 Belgian Audi Club Team WRT Audi R8 of Enzo Ide. Kolen had been handed a 10 second lead by pole position holder Nick Catsburg at the pitstop and looked on course to take the victory. Ide had emerged from the pits in 3rd place and spent a few laps trying to pass the Sainteloc Racing Audi of France’s Jerome Demay. As soon as Ide was clear he caught the leading BMW with two laps of the race remaining. After several attempts he finally moved ahead of Kolen on the last lap to take the chequered flag and claim the second win of the season for himself and Greg Franchi. Former French GT Champion Mike Parisy and Philippe Giauque in the Graff Racing Mercedes SLS AMG were 3rd after starting 9th on the grid, with Giauque overtaking Demay's Audi three laps from home.

Who will be victorious in Rounds 7 & 8 of the 2011 FIA GT3 European Championship and join the winners circle? Who know,s because there are plenty of teams and drivers capable of winning at Paul Ricard : that is the beauty of FIA GT3 - the unpredictability.

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