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International Open GT - First Round - Paul Ricard

26th - 28th March 2019

Event report and photos by Raymond Bonnello

The long winter recess is over and it’s time to be racing again!

The International GT Open kicks-off from the nice Provence region, as the Circuit Paul Ricard gets the honour to host the 2019 season-opener.

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Free practice

The 2019 International GT Open officially took off Friday 26th at the Paul Ricard with an intense day of free practice, which started on a track still very wet after heavy rain during the night.

In those conditions, only 19 cars ventured into the track for the first session.

Sunshine broke mid-day, with session 2 taking place under the sun.

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At the end of the day, Tom Onslow-Cole/Valentin Pierburg (Mercedes AMG GT3 #20 - SPS Automotive Performance) resulted the fastest (1.59.670) and resulting the only car to break the 2’00” threshold.

Allam Khodair/Marcelo Hahn (McLaren 720 S #16 - Teo Martín Motorsport) were second-fastest, ahead of Fabrizio Crestani/Miguel Ramos (Mercedes AMG GT3 #10 - SPS Automotive Performance) and Nicolas Pohler/Nicola de Marco (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 #27 - Lazarus Racing), with the time with which they topped session 1 when the track got dry.

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Martin Kodrić/Henrique Chaves (McLaren 720 S #59 - Teo Martín Motorsport) could only make 3 laps before having to stop for the day with technical issues, while Najiy Razak (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO #12 - Ombra Racing) prompted a red flag by going out of the track in session 2, with only some body damage for the Ombra Racing Lamborghini.

23 cars took the track, as the Olimp Racing Audis #5 had to withdraw from the event following severe flew hitting one of the drivers.

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Qualifying 1

Allam Khodair conquered the first pole of the season, giving a perfect debut to the new McLaren 720S of Teo Martín Motorsport.

In a sunny morning at Paul Ricard, the fast Brazilian scored a lap time of 1.59.576, beating Daniel Zampieri (Mercedes AMG GT3 #6 Antonelli MotorSport) by only 0s092 and his team mate Martin Kodric by 0s154.

The second McLaren recovered well after the clutch failure that blocked it for the entire day yesterday.

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Fourth-fastest was Fabrizio Crestani, followed by Nicolas Pohler (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 #27 - Lazarus Racing) and Fabio Onidi (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 #26 - Lazarus Racing).

Thomas Jäger (Mercedes AMG GT3 #75 - Rowe Racing / SunEnergy1 Racing) was eighth and fastest in Pro-Am, while Giuseppe Cipriani (Mercedes AMG GT3 #8 - Antonelli MotorSport) took a brilliant pole in Am and 13th overall.

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Qualifying 2

Tom Onslow-Cole stunned again in Qualifying 2, taking the pole with a lap time of 1.59.349, at the wheel of the SPS Automotive Mercedes.

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The Brit beated Alessio Rovera by 0s312, with Henrique Chaves an excellent third and yesterday’s winner Giacomo Altoè in P4.

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Third row will be for Fran Rueda and Matt Griffin (Ferrari 488 GT3 #21 - Spirit of Race).

Martin Konrad (Mercedes AMG GT3 #25 - HTP Motorsport) took pole in the Am class.

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Race 1, Saturday

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From the pole, Khodair took a good start, resisting the attacks of Zampieri, with Kodric third ahead of Crestani, Edward Cheever III (Ferrari 488 GT3 #93 - Spirit of Race / Tempesta Racing), Andrés Saravia (McLaren 720 S #17 - Teo Martín Motorsport),who had a great start, and Jäger.

At the back there was a contact between Petru Razvan Umbrarescu (Bentley Continental GT3 #7 - Petri Corse) and Mikaël Grenier (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO #14 - Emil Frey Racing), with both forced to the pits.

Only the Bentley will be able to continue.

António Coimbra (Mercedes AMG GT3 #99 - Sports and You) also visited the pits after collecting debris.

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The gap between Khodair and Zampieri stabilized around 6.5 seconds after 6 laps, with Costa right behind after passing Kodric, and Crestani, Cheever (who passed the Lamborghini in lap 8), Saravia and Alberto Di Folco (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO #90 - Raton Racing by Target) quite close, while Frederik Schandorff (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 #66 - Vincenzo Sospiri Racing) led the second group, where Cipriani was the top Am.

As the races unfolds, Khodair pulls away with Zampieri losing ground and having trouble to keep Costa and Kodric at bay.

Saravia passed Crestani for 5th with a great move.

Onidi is forced to the pits because of a puncture.

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In lap 15, the pit stop window opened, with Kodric, Saravia and Jiatong Liang (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO #19 - Raton Racing by Target) being the first to stop.

Khodair and Costa both stopped in lap 18, with Crestani and Jäger being the last ones to do so.

It was Ramos still leading when he gets out of the pits, but the Portuguese was attacked with no hesitation by Giacomo Altoè (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO #63 - Emil Frey Racing), Alessio Rovera (Mercedes AMG GT3 #6 - Antonelli MotorSport) and Chaves, as Fran Rueda (McLaren 720 S #17 - Teo Martín Motorsport) was fifth ahead of Hahn, who retained the Pro-Am lead in front of Kenny Habul (Mercedes AMG GT3 #75 - Rowe Racing / SunEnergy1 Racing) and Christoph Lenz (Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO #90 - Raton Racing by Target).

Cipriani was still commanding the Am class, although Konrad was on his heels and will pass him in the dying moments of the race.

Rovera was overtook by the McLarens of Both Chaves and Rueda and shortly after also by Ramos, slipping to fifth.

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The last laps saw a storming Onslow-Cole charged back up to fifth overall and victory in Pro-Am, posting the fastest lap in the process.

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Race 2, Sunday

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At the start, Tom Onslow-Cole, who had signed a great pole, pulls away, but was passed by Rovera at first corner, with many cars running wide on both sides of the track.

As they rejoin, there was contact in the middle of the group, prompting a number of collisions, which leaves two of the Teo Martín McLarens out of the race, as Hahn cannot avoid Rueda spinning in the middle of the group.

The third car damaged, but able to go back to the pits and resume the race, was the … third car of the Spanish squad, with Chaves at the wheel.

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Safety car was out for three laps and at restart, it was Rovera leading ahead of Onslow-Cole, Altoè, Siedler, Griffin, Giammatia, Ellis, Ramos and Konrad, first in Am.

The situation did not change much up to a couple of laps before the driver change window opens, when Onslow-Cole managed to take the lead from Rovera.

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As the pit stops phase was completed, it was Grenier leading ahead of Liang, Zampieri, Crestani, Pierburg, Cameron, Wilkinson, Onidi, Schandorff and Costa, all covered by only 15 seconds.

Grenier managed to build a 5-second gap on Zampieri and Crestani, while the following group put on a fantastic fight, with Wilkinson emerging ahead of Cameron, Costa, Liang, Onidi, Schandorff and Pierburg, but positions far from being cast in stone.

Further aback, Kodrić and Jäger got in contact, with the German spinning.

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Zampieri and Crestani were now in full fight for second, which gave breath to Grenier in the lead.

Eventually, the SPS car will pass, but there was very fierce battle behind the leading trio, as Costa stormed through the field to take fourth and Wilkinson and Liang battled for the Pro-Am win, with the Chinese passing in the closing lap.

Kodric was 7th ahead of Cheever, while Hrachowina won in Am in front of Cipriani and Roda.

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Post-race penalty

The Stewards have imposed a post-race penalty of 3 seconds to the SPS Automotive Mercedes for the contact had by Fabrizio Crestani with Daniel Zampieri in the closing laps.

Following this decision, Zampieri-Rovera climb to 2nd overall, with Crestani-Ramos dropping one position, to 3rd.

(Based on International Open GT Press release)

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