RED BULL RING: A second pit stop for a flat tyre in the last 15 minutes cost Al-Faisal Al-Zubair and Andy Soucek a potential second-placed finish in the second one-hour race of the International GT Open Championship meeting at Austria’s Red Bull Ring on Sunday afternoon.
The Lechner Racing Team’s Porsche 911 GT3 R had qualified in second, dropped down to fourth on the opening lap but both drivers then pushed the 911 back into victory contention.
Soucek was holding second place and closing in on eventual winner Sam de Haan when he was forced to pit again with a flat tyre. After slipping to ninth, he fought back to cross the finish line in seventh position.
Al-Zubair said: “Today was a very tough day for us. It was my best ever qualifying in endurance. We qualified P2 in front of some very established drivers and I was well happy with that. I dropped down at the start, maintained it and then got a good gap from the back behind.
“From there on I pitted for Andy and he came out in second place and was really catching the leaders with 15 minutes to go. The time difference went down to six seconds but, unfortunately, we got a left rear puncture and that took us out of contention. The whole weekend is one to forget.”
Inception Racing’s Sam de Haan and Charlie Eastwood eventually secured victory by the margin of 9.72 seconds from Baptiste Moulin’s and Yuki Nemoto’s Lamborghini.
Driving the AKM Motorsport Mercedes, third-placed Nick Bastian and Florian Scholze overhauled the Vincenzo Sospiri Racing Lamborghini of Michele Beretta and Frederick Schandorff in the dying seconds of the race.
Eastwood started in front of Al-Zubair in what looked set to be a damp and overcast race. Al-Zubair didn’t make the best of starts, however, and he slipped to fourth place on the opening tour behind Eastwood, Basz and Schandorff. For the second day in a row, race officials decided to take a look at the start to see if anything untoward had occurred.
The leaders held station through the opening six laps and the first 10 minutes of the race. Eastwood maintained a 5.167-second advantage over Basz after 20 minutes, as Al-Zubair continued to run close behind Schandorff in fourth.
Schandorff was the first of the leading quartet to pit for a driver change after 17 laps with 33 minutes of the race to run and Al-Zubair duly climbed to third with Michele Beretta rejoining the race in ninth.
Al-Zubair pitted to be replaced by Soucek just after the half-hour mark and 20 laps but both Eastwood and Basz stayed out on the circuit, as Soucek rejoined in seventh and ahead of Nemoto and Beretta.
Eastwood eventually pitted with 25 minutes of the race to run and Basz temporarily gained the lead before being replaced by Marcin Jedlinski.
With driver changes completed and all cars back on the track, Soucek climbed to third and trailed the leading De Haan by just 8.752 seconds heading into the closing 22 minutes, with rivals Nemoto and Beretta in fourth and fifth.
Soucek found a way passed Jedlinski to snatch second place on lap 24 and began to hunt down De Haan in the leading Aston Martin. He reduced the deficit to 6.753 seconds with 19 minutes to run but then pitted again with a puncture heading into the final 15 minutes and slipped out of podium contention.
De Haan continued to lead from Nemoto, Jedlinski and Beretta but Soucek had to try and make up ground again from a lowly ninth place. The Lechner Racing driver moved back up to eighth on lap 29, as title rival Beretta snatched third from Jedlinski.
Soucek then overtook Brendan Iribe to gain another place but ran out of time to hunt down sixth-placed Jens Reno Moller and was forced to settle for seventh. De Haan held off Nemoto, Nick Bastian and Beretta to confirm the winner’s laurels.
TF Sport’s Charlie Eastwood claimed pole position in qualifying for the second of the weekend’s races on Sunday morning. The Aston Martin stopped the clocks in 1min 28.072sec to pip Al-Zubair to the top spot by 0.519 seconds.
The Olimp Racing Mercedes AMG of Poland’s Karol Basz claimed third and Schandorff had to settle for fourth.
The Lechner Racing Team now returns to action in the International GT Open at Monza in two weeks’ time.