Nine teams met for the first race of the second FIA GT1 World Championship season at the Formula 1 circuit in Abu Dhabi (VAE). Swiss Racing Team, having recently switched over to Lamborghini, was busy preparing both Murcielagos LP 670 R-SV for the race. Aside from a short rollout they had no opportunity to make themselves familiar with the cars.
Karl Wendlinger (AUT) and Max Nilsson (SWE) stayed with the team from last year. New additions are Jiri Janak (CZE) and the very experienced Lamborghini pilot Peter Kox (NED). Wendlinger/Kox share car #5, Nilsson/Janak share car #6.
On Wednesday the pilots were able to complete the first kilometers and to make themselves familiar with the cars under the hot desert sun in Abu Dhabi with air temperatures of up to 37°C (99°F).
Due to a mistake during Friday’s pre-qualifying session the team was lacking one tyre set for car #5 and therefore could not reach qualifying session 3. Start positions 18 (Nilsson/Janak) and 10 (Wendlinger/Kox) for the qualifying race were not a good basis for pushing forward because just like last year it is a very narrow field.
Wendlinger/Kox defended their 10th place in Saturday’s qualifying race. Team Nilsson/Janak gained a few places and reached P13.
Max Nilsson had a great start in the Championship Race on Saturday evening under floodlights and was able to gain a few places by the end of the start / finish straight. However, he was forced to brake hard which resulted in a flat spot. Afterwards he had to struggle with strong vibrations. Nilsson decided to continue until the official pit stop in order to not lose valuable time in an additional pit stop. He handed the car over to Czech pilot Janak in P7. After the competitors had completed their pit stops he placed in P18. In lap 24 Janak was forced to stop the car after driving over some debris and damaging his right rear tyre.
Wendlinger started his LP 670 R-SV in P10, reached excellent lap times and gained P8. In lap 13 the Austrian came in for the driver change. During the changing of the tires one rim caused some delays resulting in the loss of a few valuable seconds. Kox took over the car and was able to make up for the lost time very quickly. The Dutch drove over the finish line in P7, winning the first six World Championship points for the team.
Team principal Othmar Welti:
“Considering that we had an extremely short time for preparation we were able to demonstrate that we are very competitive. The mistake with the tires in the pre-qualifying was definitely a setback. We could have done better but I am very happy with the first weekend. The drivers and the team did some excellent work. Peter Kox was a big help because he is a very experienced and very fast pilot and knows the Lambo. I hope that we can count on him in the next races.”
Team manager Erich Kolb:
“The result is great even though we did not have a lot of time to prepare. At the beginning of the weekend we were not in the position we wanted to be in but he team and the drivers were able to enhance their performances with each kilometer. We gradually improved the cars and took a great leap forward from the free practice session to the race. The cars have a lot of potential and we are looking forward to Zolder.”
Karl Wendlinger (AUT), #5:
“The car drives very well and reacts to changes in the setup as desired. It was a very good start for the team. Place 7 is not sensational but I am pleased because the car was very fast, especially in the championship race. If we manage to start from the first three rows and do quick pit stops we have a very good chance this season.”
Peter Kox (NED), #5:
“The first weekend included a lot of ups and downs. Reiter Engineering had provided two very good cars and we were able to drive them a lot without any problems. The team has to learn a lot about the new cars. And the Michelin tires are new as well. The basis and the engineering are very good. We can still gain time at the pit stops. I am happy with my partner. He has a lot of experience and you could not wish for a better colleague. I have a good feeling with him.”
Max Nilsson (SWE), #6:
“The weekend was very hard because we had had no real opportunity to test the cars in advance. I had a good speed and was able to keep up with the others during the race which I am very happy about. I would want more time for testing in order to get to know the cars better.”
Jiri Janak (CZE), #6:
“Everything was new for me, the car, the team, the track. It has been a year since I have completed a race. The FIA GT1 World Championship is very hard and you have to be perfect to be among the top pilots. I feel very comfortable with the team, they did great work. I hope to continue working with the team and would want to spend more time testing the car. Max is a fast colleague and it is fun to work with him.”