RED BULL RING (AUSTRIA): Al-Faisal Al-Zubair and Andy Soucek continued their partnership in the International GT Open Championship and finished in fourth place under a yellow and then a red flag in the opening 70-minute race at the Austria’s Red Bull Ring on Saturday afternoon.
The Lechner Racing Team’s Porsche 911 GT3 R crew began the competitive race from second on the grid but left it relatively late to make the mid-race pit stop and were never able to recover sufficiently from restarting in fourth. They earned vital championship points for fourth place, despite Al-Zubair being forced to pit and retire the GT3 under the red flag after a tyre issue.
Al-Zubair said: “The race was very tricky. It was crazy to say the least. Andy started in P2 and dropped back to P3. He came into the pits and we had a 10-second time penalty. So we dropped back even further.
“I got back to around fourth position and, coming into the pits, we had an issue with a tyre but, luckily, the race got red-flagged and they counted the lap before. In a way that was unfortunate but we were lucky to finish in fourth position in a race like this with all the strategy. Overall, it was not so bad and we take the positives and push in the second race, 100%”.
The Vincenzo Sospiri Racing Lamborghini of Michele Beretta and Frederick Schandorff sealed a 10.609-second victory over Inception Racing’s Eastwood and Sam de Haan when the race was yellow and then red flagged in the dying minutes.
Al-Zubair and Soucek narrowly missed out on pole position for the first race to Inception Racing’s Nick Moss and Joe Osborne in their McLaren 720 S GT3. The British duo clocked a time of 1min 28.036sec and that was just 0.059 seconds faster than the Lechner Racing duo.
Beretta and Schandorff were third and Baptise Moulin and Yuki Nemoto came home fourth in the second of the VSR Lamborghinis.
Soucek took the wheel for the first stint of the first race in the Lechner Racing Porsche. He slipped from second to third on the opening lap behind Osborne and Beretta but the start was under investigation by race officials.
No further action was taken and the leading trio held station through the opening nine laps and 14 minutes of a race on a dry circuit in hot and sunny conditions. Soucek maintained third through 19 laps, as several of the field pitted for driver changes early, with Beretta replaced by Schandorff and Charlie Eastwood replacing Sam de Haan.
Osborne and Soucek stayed out on the circuit in first and second positions until Soucek pitted after 24 laps with 32 minutes of the race to run. Al-Zubair took up the reins but the Porsche GT3 rejoined the race down in fifth place, a mere 1.06 seconds behind rival Schandorff with half an hour remaining.
Leader Osborne pitted to be replaced by Moss after 27 laps and the second and third-placed cars also entered the pits. With all driver changes in place, action resumed with Al-Zubair holding fourth, 21.48 seconds adrift of leader Moss.
Moss continued to lead through lap 29 with 23 minutes remaining, but Schandorff displaced Baptiste Moulin to snatch second and extend his cushion over fourth-placed Al-Zubair.
Eastwood found a way to overtake Al-Zubair and demoted the Omani to fifth, as Schandorff continued to close in on Moss and reduced the lead to 2.46 seconds with 18 minutes to run. Schandorff continued to pressurise the leader and snatched the lead on lap 34 with 16 minutes to the chequered flag. Eastwood also passed Moulin to gain third place.
Al-Zubair reclaimed fourth at the expense of a struggling Moulin on lap 38 but was forced to pit soon afterwards and retire from the race in the closing minutes. Schandorff duly crossed the finish line ahead of Eastwood with Moss in third place after the safety car had been deployed and the race was red flagged.
The classification was decided according to Article 41.12 of the Sporting Regulations and Al-Zubair was duly deemed to have finished in fourth place.
TF Sport’s de Haan and Eastwood set the pace in the first of Friday’s two practice sessions. Their Aston Martin GT3 topped the times with a lap of 1min 29.149sec. Al-Zubair and Soucek were classified in second place, a mere 0.377 seconds adrift, with title rivals Beretta and Schandorff in fourth of the 13 cars that took to the circuit.
Al-Zubair and Soucek went one better in the second practice session and a lap of 1min 29.099sec was sufficient to win the stint. The German duo of Mario Hirsch and Dominik Schrami were second quickest but the Lechner Racing team’s closest title rivals were sixth in the Vincenzo Sospiri Racing Lamborghini.
Second qualifying was scheduled for Sunday morning with a second one-hour race set to take place on the Red Bull Ring Circuit on Sunday afternoon.
2021 International GT Open - overall standings after 9 races:
1. Frederick Schandorff (SUI)/Michele Beretta (ITA) 106pts
2. Andy Soucek (ESP) 94pts
3. Al-Faisal Al-Zubair (OMN) 76pts
4. Baptiste Moulin (BEL/Yuki Nemoto (JPN) 66pts
5. Ollie Millroy (GBR)/Brendan Iribe (USA) 60pts
6. Loris Spinelli (ITA) 53pts