Incident, accident and podiums all part of the opening race of the GT4 European Series for the Aston Martin Racing teams in Imola

Saturday, April 02, 2022

With so much going on today within the opening race weekend of the 2022 GT4 European Series, we had better get on with things after today’s earlier opening race.

With forty-eight GT4’s taking part in the opening race weekend from the historical race circuit of Imola, the entry list also included the sizeable presence of ten Aston Martin Racing Vantage GT4’s from the Racing Spirit of Lemans, Prosport Racing, Racing One and AGS Events Racing teams.

There was however a slight driver line-up change within the #9 Racing One Pro-Am entry going into the race weekend as Christian Gisy shared a team Aston with son Vincent rather than the stated Ralf Kelleners – why, we are not quite sure yet!

Anyway, and after the wet/damp test session at the circuit that Thursday allowed them and Two Free Practice sessions later on Friday, Saturday morning gave us the two Qualifying sessions for each of the weekends two, one-hour races with each driver mandated to run and start the race in one of them.

With both track and air temperature still low, each Qualifying session was a battle to warm up the tyres and brakes and with further incidents on track made for shorter sessions than usual as the 48 cars battled for space around the tight Italian circuit.

By the end, it was the #10 Spirit of Lemans and #5 Racing One Aston Martins of Konstantin Lachenauer and Kenton Kock respectively that secured the highest starting places for the AMR contingent with their P5 and P6 places as the cars thundered around the curved start grid and into the opening chicane for the first time.

Expecting absolute carnage, only a spinning Audi blotted an otherwise clean start in the opening half of the lap – that was before the #7 AGS Events Racing Aston of Noah Andy got heaved off the tarmac, missed his braking point to end up in the gravel on the opening lap! Luckily for his and co-driver Hugo Conde, Andy was able to remove himself from the gravel trap and continue although the GT4 rookie would then be pinged for speeding in the pit lane.

An interesting battle quickly played itself out up front as Koch and Lachenauer battled it out for fourth on track as the three race leading Pro-Am class cars made their escape ahead whilst the #89 AGS Events and #18 Racing One Am class runners of Julien Lambert and Markus Lungstrass did similar in the midfield.

Tom Canning was also battling to defend his P14 overall/P6 Silver Cup position from a whole gaggle of cars behind including the #25 Prosport Racing entry of Nico Verdonck/Rodrigue Gillion as the Belgian duo embarked upon their first full season in the Series together.

With just over twenty minutes gone, the #7 AGS Events Aston Martin of Andy finally came to a halt on track bringing out the first FCY – an event however that caught many, including the #24 Prosport Racing Aston of Hugo Sasse off guard. Rapidly coming up behind a slowing Alpine and Mercedes, the #24 Aston slammed into the rear of both cars, climbed up over the back of them and nearly rolled, losing one wheel in the process.

Fortunately, all drivers were OK although all would be out of the race as marshals worked hard to clear the debris.

By this time Lachenauer was now P3 overall and first in Silver Cup whilst Koch was seventh overall and fourth in class. Verdonck headed the AMR Pro-Am field fifth in class and the #89 and #18 cars maintained the front two positions in the Am class as the race went back to green (with the pit lane opening) with twenty-nine minutes remaining.

By the end of the ten-minute pit stop window, the #10 Spirit of Lemans Aston Martin of now Gus Bowers had assumed the overall race lead with the #5 Racing One car of Thijmen Nabuurs in fourth overall.

Looking for a clean finale to the opening race, a stranded Toyota and a suspension damaged Aston Martin again mandated another FCY – replays showed the #7 AGS Events Aston Martin of Tom Verdier hitting some kerbs hard and breaking his rear quarter suspension in the process putting the car he shares with Ruben Del Sarte out of the race.

Going back to green with just five minutes remaining, a move from Nabuurs into the first chicane caught the rear of the Mercedes ahead, taking them both off track and into the gravel and retirement with just two laps remaining. Words were had by both drivers as they exited the scene on foot with a possible first podium now lost to the Nabuurs/Koch car.

That event was enough to see the season opening race finish under the FCY was Bowers/Lachenauer claiming their first and the team’s first race win together under Aston Martin power. The sister #19 car of Canning and Akhil Rabindra had recovered enough to come home P7 overall and P4 in Silver Cup whilst the #89 AGS Events Am car of Julien Lambert and Wilfried Cazalbon completed their class podium with a P3 finish.

Gillion and Verdonck would finish the race P16 overall and P8 in Pro-Am whilst the Gisy family partnership would end up P29 overall and P16 in Pro-Am. The #18 Racing One Am car on Henrik Lyngbye Pederson and Marcus Lungstrass would complete the remaining Aston Martin runners in P32 overall, P8 in class.

Tomorrow morning, they do it all again with Bowers again heading the field after his pole position Qualifying earlier today.

We get the feeling that tomorrows race will be equally exciting – especially if the expected rain arrives!!

Photo credits – GT4 European / Teams

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