15 April, 2012
The opening round of the 2012 Blancpain Endurance Series took place today at the famous Autodromo di Monza in Italy – in simply dreadful weather conditions. Heavy rain fell from early morning until about two-thirds of the way through the race, when it eased very slightly, and few of the 55 starting GT3 cars were unaffected by standing water, poor visibility and lack of traction on the extremely slippery track.
Gulf Racing UK's two McLaren MP4-12C GT3 cars, wearing the iconic racing livery of Gulf Oil International, enjoyed mixed fortunes and ultimately neither car took the chequered flag. The No. 9 entry of Mike Wainwright and Rob Bell looked set to finish the race, but Mike was unfortunately forced to pull off the track with less than five minutes of the race to run as the car wouldn't start.
An understandably disappointed Mike overcame some early race contact, which twice nudged him into a spin, and a deteriorating brake issue towards the end of the race. He was nurturing the No. 9 car through to the finish when he went off track and was unable to re-start the car. "It's obviously extremely disappointing to have been so close to finishing," he said. "The second chicane was disastrous for braking as far as we were concerned and that was the hardest problem to deal with, coupled with an erratic gearbox downshift. Apart from the start, the traffic wasn't too bad and I don't think there was too much crazy driving going on. With conditions as they were, no one could afford to do anything less than sensible!"
Rob Bell suffered from a malfunctioning wiper blade and the same gearshift problems during his 30-minute stint, but was keen to seek a positive from the weekend. "We are here in Monza and it didn't quite go how we wanted it to. However, the team have gelled together really well and we got some serious miles on the car which is all part of the learning curve. We've now got to regroup and move forward to a better result at Silverstone."
Benefitting from the long opening period behind the Safety Car, race-starter Mike Wainwright did not have to come in to pit for fuel until 92 minutes into the race. He handed over to McLaren GT factory driver and double Le Mans Series GT Champion, Rob Bell, who completed 30 minutes behind the wheel. With a two-driver entry instead of three, the regulations state that the Pro-category driver may only complete a maximum of 70 minutes out of the three hours of racing, and two pit stops must take place. Rob's stint was shortened due to the long safety car period.
Roald started the race in the No. 69 car and spent a careful 32 minutes behind the safety car until the race started in earnest. Unfortunately he spun on some of the standing water at the Ascari corner and damaged the rear of the Gulf Racing UK McLaren MP4-12C GT3. He was making his way slowly back to the pits so the team could attempt repairs, but officials pulled him to the side of the track and, after just 35 minutes, his race was done.
He said afterwards, "It's like racing in a steamy shower – you can't see anything! I was beginning to enjoy it, although it was a bit intimidating on the straights, and I'm asking myself why I lost control of the rear of the car. I was being very gentle on the power but it snapped violently and I just couldn't save it. It's very unfortunate and very annoying."
Stuart Hall did not get the opportunity to drive in today's race.
Gulf Racing is an evolution of the Gulf AMR Middle East team which ran in the ILMC, is wholly owned by Mike Wainwright and Roald Goethe and, as previously stated, will be managed by David Price in the UK. Gulf Racing Middle East is a separate team based out of Dubai, and there is no cross-over between the two.