Hexis AMR: Abu Dhabi Race Report

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The FIA GT1 World Championship became reality on the Abu Dhabi Yas Marina Circuit. An incredibly-intense and spectacular reality, in which the French team HEXIS AMR brought themselves out by putting one of their Aston Martin DB9s front row at the end of the qualifying practice.

Arrived at the beginning of the week, the team started by receiving their equipment boxes on Tuesday, before setting up in the pits and paddock of the splendid complex that hosted its first Formula 1 Grand Prix last fall. HEXIS AMR quickly had to cope with the unexpected absence of Jean Denis Delétraz, hold in Switzerland for a professional case of force majeure. The hypothesis of calling speedy Thomas Accary, who is part of HEXIS AMR in the FIA GT3 European Championship, was first envisaged. But the break of air traffic caused by Eyjafföll volcano's ash cloud led the team to call in ... their team manager, Philippe Dumas. We remember the latter did a nice career in single-seater, with several podium finishes in Formula Renault in the early 2000s. His one-off comebacks at the wheel of a Ferrari 550 Maranello in 2008 dit not go unnoticed either. He put Jean Denis Delétraz' helmet on, and brightly fulfilled his work throughout the weekend.

After a short night for the staff, former F1 driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen calibrated all the cars so as to put the finishing touches to the balance of performance, which is one of the basis of this championship's rules. The two Aston Martin DB9s also took part in free practice sessions, marked by electronic problems which disturbed the layout learning and the shakedown work. Indeed, from this season, the FIA (Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile) imposes an ECU shared by all participants. Heat? Constraints related to transportation? This part, that had not caused any issue during the close season tests, impeded the smooth running of several cars in Abu Dhabi.

Fortunately, as no running was planned on Thursday, the staff could adapt the technical modifications following from the balance of performance, and set everything in order in the view of an overbooked Friday: free practice, pre-qualifying and qualifying. In fact, the session that had to draw the starting grid, according to the Q1/Q2/Q3 system well known in Formula 1, was reduced to a few minutes, further to Ford GT driver Natacha Gachnang's accident, who suffered a broken leg. The mending of safety fences required several hours of work, and the grid was frozen with ... Frédéric Makowiecki's and Philippe Dumas' Aston Martin, credited with the second time!

"The first two sessions of the day enabled us to have the set-up evolve in the right direction", declared Clément Mateu, who, in the light of the driver suit put on by Philippe Dumas, backed up Antoine Penven to coordinate the technical team work. "We found the good gearbox ratio that Mako could validate before setting an extraterrestrial lap time and getting the 2nd place on the grid. Clivio Piccione found out this new set-up directly in qualifying, and he would have needed a few more laps to fully exploit its efficiency, by seven tenths he was getting in the Top 10."

Philippe Dumas was at the wheel of the Aston #9 for the start of the qualifying race. From the first lap, he had to slow down to avoid a Maserati in distress and got hit and spun round by another car. He restarted last, he began a catching up that Fred Mako finished at an excellent 7th place. In the Aston #10, Jonathan Hirschi succeeded in getting in through the chaos of the first hectometres to win nine places. Clivio Piccione extended this ride towards the final 8th rank.

Because of the penalty of the Corvette gone in pole position, HEXIS AMR's two cars were 6th and 7th on the championship race's grid. Mako immediately slipstreamed the leaders to evolve at the 5th place for a long time. He was 6th when the musical chairs of tyres and drivers changes started, as the mid-race approached. It is at this moment that success left the French camp. "We only have 15 minutes to intervene on the cars between the opening of parc fermé following the arrival of the qualifying race and the championship race's grid procedure", explained Clément Mateu. "We detected a faint oil leak which required a flat floor laying and it may have come that, in the rush, we too strongly tightened a wheel. The nut remained soldered on the rim, which caused the withdrawal of the #9".

Car #10 went through a start of race full of emotion. After a good start, Clivio bogged down in a collision. He cleverly slipped through before getting hit at the right rear wheel level by a competitor. The Monegasque started again but the suspension finally let go a few laps after the mandatory pitstop.

"We would have liked to score a few points, but the appraisal of this first leg is positive", underlined Clément Mateu. "The FIA GT1 World Championship offers a great show, the field is splendid and the concept is very professional. In spite of difficulties, we knew how to put right. The staff and engineers strained themselves to find good solutions. For the "Tom Thumb among the elite" that we still are, it was important to show our professionalism and cohesion. The drivers were exact at this meeting too, they notably performed a perfect qualifying race. But be careful, we will soon have to count on the "youngsters" Clivio and Jonathan, who made a very good job. At last, complications related to flight cancellations tightened even more the good relationship between each member of the team".

Philippe Dumas, who lived a weekend like no others, confided his feeling: "I am very proud of this team, of the accomplished work by everyone to build a GT1 structure only within a few months. The championship shapes up with the media potential we were all expecting. We have so many things to learn that we will not cut corners. We will rise to the challenge when we have to, that is to say sportingly because in the end, only results matter, people only remember this, and it is logical... Motorsport, more than any other sports, is not an exact science and leads to never-ending questioning. For a first, our weekend perfectly went on, despite our motor issues and a cruel lack of performance compared with our competitors. Nevertheless, we have been working with the English for three years, and I fully trust them to be the best at Silverstone, and even better afterwards. Each member of our team is essential in this adventure, which could not be true without Michèle and Michel Mateu, and Frédéric and Yves-Emmanuel Dor."

The cars are expected on Friday in Luxembourg, from where they will be directly conveyed to Silverstone, theatre of the FIA GT1 World Championship second round on May 1st and 2nd. They will be joined by the two GT3 Aston Martin DBRS9s, which will start their European season on the same weekend, same circuit!

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