20 September, 2009
The CRS Racing team saw a victory slip through their fingers today in the FIA GT race at Portimao in Portugal. After a very busy race the No.56 CRS Ferrari of Andrew Kirkaldy and Rob Bell took the chequered flag in fifth position, with the No.55 car of Chris Niarchos and Tim Mullen in eighth place.
The start of the race was fantastic. Starting from seventh on the grid, Kirkaldy drove around the outside of everyone and had the GT2 lead by the first corner. Mullen too had a good start, moving up from ninth to seventh by turn one, and then improving all the way up to fifth in the opening laps. Kirkaldy had a spin on lap six as he was pushing hard but he didn’t lose too much ground and soon got stuck back in again.
Kirkaldy was the first of the GT2 runners to pit, changing just the rear tyres and adding fuel before Rob Bell went on his way. As this was happening Mullen was spun around by Holzer’s Porsch! e, which dropped him the sixth. Chris Niarchos then jumped into No.55 in Mullen’s place and joined the race.
Just after the one-hour mark Bell was running in fifth and Niarchos was eighth, when the leading Porsche dropped oil all over the circuit. This brought out the safety car and, because they had got in an early pit stop, No.56 was called in for a driver change, making the most of the safety car period. Bell had completed his minimum stint of 35 minutes so could come in whilst the rest of the field hadn’t so they couldn’t take advantage of the safety car.
With just 25 minutes of the two-hour race left to go, Niarchos pitted to hand over to Mullen who would take No.55 to the chequered flag. Niarchos had a tough race on his hands today, having to battle with a filthy windscreen that had been sprayed with the oil from the Porsche earlier on.
By this stage Kirkaldy was running in second place and set for an assured victory when he was handed a 13 second stop/go penalty. CRS Ferrari No.56 was judged to have onl! y completed 34 minutes and 47 seconds during its middle stint, which meant that Bell’s time was 13 seconds short of the minimum. It was a heartbreaking moment for the team as Kirkaldy took the penalty and was pushed down to fifth place.
“I had an awesome start,” said Kirkaldy. “The balance of the car wasn’t great at the beginning. I had a spin but we were still very much in the hunt. Our aggressive strategy was working well but a miscalculation put paid to a win today.”