Oschersleben - germany

Müller in fine form; Bertolini/Bartels take advantage

The two Maserati MC12s end up on the podium (second and third place) at Vitaphone Racing Team's "home" circuit upon conclusion of a hard fought race that was affected by rain and by contact at the very first curve.

Dark skies and threatening clouds hovered above Oschersleben but the race got underway on a dry track in weak sunshine. Alex Müller got off to a fine start from pole position while Andrea Bertolini began from fourth. The early stages were tight and exciting with an aggressive Wendlinger, in a Saleen, and Maassen’s Corvette clashing with Müller at turn 1. Though the cars escaped damage, the collision saw the German poleman slip down the field. Bertolini also suffered as he dropped two spots. Now it was the two Corvettes up in front with Hezemans and Longin holding off Dominguez’s Saleen in third. Bertolini was in fifth behind Hines while Müller was 21 seconds off the pace in eighteenth place.

From there, the number 2 MC12 mounted a serious comeback and, by lap nine, was in ninth spot. Even though he had lost fewer places than the Vitaphone driver, Wendlinger was also fighting his way up the field and was tucked in behind Bertolini. Bertolini was in third after overtaking Hines and with Dominguez retiring when he strayed off the track.

Müller was roared on by the fans as he power slid around the corners to set a sequence of quick laps. By the thirteenth lap he was in fifth place, a position he had climbed into just before the rain started coming down. At first just a few drops fell, but then the entire 3,696 metre track was hit. Müller went on driving as if he were on a dry surface and was soon in Wendlinger’s slipstream. Feeling the heat, the Austrian made a mistake and was soon off the track. Bertolini, weighed down by ballast, let his team mate through and now Müller was aiming for second spot with the two leading Corvette’s having upped the pace.

Now it has Longin to see Müller suddenly appear behind him and he too was unable to cope: an error on lap 32 saw Müller inherit second. One lap later, Hezemans came into the pits for a tyre change, leaving Müller and Bertolini out on the track. The rain then came beating down, slowing the times of the Maserati cars considerably as they were still sporting slicks.

The two Vitaphone cars came in on lap 35 with Ramos substituting Müller and Bartels taking the place of Bertolini. The two Maseratis came back onto the track in third and fourth, respectively. They were some 20” down on leader Anthony Kumpen and James Ruffier, placed second.

Ramos was having trouble keeping his car on the track and spun off but without causing the MC12 any harm. This meant that Bartels was able to close in and then, on lap 40, overtake on the main straight. Ryan Sharp, at the wheel of the Saleen earlier driven by Wendlinger, was in fine form and putting the pressure on Vitaphone’s Portuguese man. The two went at it for a couple of laps while Ruffier was spinning into fifth. Bartels, now second, and Ramos were making the most of the action around them. Sharp eventually got the better of Ramos but that was as far as his Saleen’s comeback went.

As the rain continued to come down, the drivers were taking fewer risks. The slippery track made mistakes frequent and easy to make.

On lap 54, Ramos came in to hand over the MC12 to Müller with Bartels pitting three laps later to give way to Bertolini. The two Maseratis tried to close the gap on the leader, Mike Hezemans but there was not enough time before the chequered flag was shown. (Hezemans had replaced Anthony Kumpen on lap 67 after a lengthy stint.) After two hours, Kumpen/Hezemans were first across the line, 9.207 up on Bertolini/Bartels and 35.696 on Müller/Ramos.