Title retention hopes all but washed away in Vallelunga

Monday, November 04, 2019

Last weekend saw the FIA Motorsport Games 2019 take place at the Autodromo de Vallelunga near Rome in Italy as a replacement to last years Nations Cup which Salih Yoluc and Ayhancan Guven won at the first time of asking in their Ram Racing prepared Mercedes AMG GT3. Unfortunately for the spectacle that was the event, track action was marred and dramatically limited by some heavy and persistent rain storms that hung over the city for the entire weekend.

Swapping this year to one of Tom Ferrier's Aston Martin Racing V8 Vantage GT3, the Turkish drivers looked like a safe bet against some of the other teams who had come together specifically for this event with no prior knowledge and experience of either themselves, car nor the team. Joining the AMR family for this event (and who were also one of these 'newbie' teams was that of the Optimum Motorsport entry for Team Kuwait in their AMR Vantage GT3 for Khaled At Mudhaf and Zaid Ashkanani.

A drive through the Rome city centre by some of the race cars involved across the four road car formulae looked spectacular to witness although not always good for the race car as, not designed for this constant starting and topping of urban traffic flow cooked more than one clutch in the GT Cup Class.

Then the rains came......................... albeit at first throughout the Friday night Opening Ceremony where the cars and drivers were introduced to the crowds and waiting TV audience, that was not necessarily a problem - but then it hit the track action of the weekend!!

With the event featuring Qualifying for two one hour feeder races on both Saturday and Sunday which themselves would be used to determine the starting line up for the 'main' one hour race on Sunday afternoon, even they became quick victims to the weather as Race Control limited running as the track quickly became washed out ahead of the first race on Saturday.

With a point per finishing position up for grabs and this time the lowest total from the first two races winning Race 3's pole position, things began very badly for the two AMR runners as the Kuwaiti car of Al Mudhaf was tapped into a spin at turn three of the very first lap that resulted in race ending, heavy frontal damage to the #007 car - the culprit, Team Belgium would loose their podium position at the end as a result.

Whilst that was all being recovered under the Safety Car, the rains returned with torrential downpours  and despite Team Turkey's P2 starting slot, Yoluc began to fall back as the track got wetter with the whole grid on slicks!

Fifteen minutes in and a move from Team Portugal on the #1 car of Yoluc was drifted out wide, just enough for the Portuguese Audi to hit the wet grass of the infield and majestically spin out to hit the barrier on the outside of the circuit - they would retire from the race because of that and Yoluc would be served a post race time penalty for causing a collision.

As the rainfall intensified and the number of track casualties increased Race 1 would be red flagged at the half way stage to (a) allow the debris field to be cleared and (b) wait for better weather. Over twenty minutes would be lost and Race Control would mandate the required driver change in pit lane before the restart but not compel the remaining runners to fit wets as well as a late addition of last track time to the race clock! Wets would have lasted eight minutes but not over twenty minutes!!

Originally restarting on wets from P3, the track quickly began to dry soon making slicks the preferred rubber of choice with the nett result of the #1 car tumbling down as the wets overheated themselves. Team Turkey would eventually finish P13 against Team Kuwaits DNF - not a good start!!

Race 2 on Saturday wasn't much better either - it started behind the Safety Car and had a red flag of its own as once again the heavens opened and the track became another washout.

Thankfully, Optimum had worked their magic (with a little help from TF Sport) to rebuild their damaged Vantage GT3 for Ashkanani to get his first racing laps in of the event (although both cars had started from towards the rear of the grid after weather related issues in Q2) but sadly for all they were all behind the Safety Car before the race was red flagged after ten minutes of following the leader.

Another hour lost waiting for a window of opportunity and it was off racing again with 30 minutes now left on the clock - again Race Control had mandated the driver change whilst the race was under suspension . Despite some early glimmers of hope in the restart when Yoluc moved up to P9 from his P13 position at the break, late contact with the Team China car was see him hobbled before the end where Team Turkey claimed P16 and Team Kuwait P17.

Those results meant that both AMR teams had lowly starting positions for the final race of the Motorsport games with Team Turkey and Team Kuwait starting P16 and P19 respectively for the start of a race the was actually almost dry at the time - although more rain was expected not before too long.

Originally starting on wets, both cars soon decided that that was the wrong choice and soon pitted to swap to slicks which was great for a handful of laps before the rains returned again. Up until then, things were going well for Ashkanani in the #007 car as he drove the stint of his life and elevated his position as high as P5 and within visual range of the race leading Japanese Lamborghini.

Within minutes of the rain starting to fall, cars began to fall off the track again as all slowed hoping that the pit window would open and saving them all a second stop. By the time all (and the all sickly did) stop Race Control put the Safety Car back out on track with still twenty four minutes remaining. The race did go back to Green for about a lap before another stranded car from teh restart forced further Safety Car intervention and effectively the end of the race and the event which finished behind the Safety Car.

Disappointing for all concerned but Mother Nature is someone who not even the FI and SRO can influence. Team Turkey would finish the event in P12 - a massive disappointment for the defending champions who really did nothing wrong except battle the elements to the best of their abilities and do what they thought the Regulations expected of them. For Team Kuwait and their pair of drivers who had never driven an AMR Vantage GT3 until the first Free Practice session of the event, the can hold their heads high with their overall P14 finish and fastest driver of the day for Ashkanani.

Next up for TF Sport is of course in Shanghai and the next round of the World Endurance Championship for Yoluc, driver coach Charlie Eastwood and works driver Jonny Adam!

Photo credits - Motorsport Games / TF Sport / Optimum

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