Speed Euroseries Race 1
The 90 minute race on Saturday afternoon became a race of two stories – The first took no longer than the first lap of the contest where there were multiple incidents, one car though was out of the running even before then, the TFL Racing Juno of Jamie Constable and Michael Cantillon splitting an oil pipe on the green flag lap and requiring the attention from the fire marshals – That delayed the start somewhat and perhaps the nerves got the better of some of the runners, three cars getting tangled up on the approach to Tamburello the Reader/Burke Juno, Clucas/Bradshaw WFR and the Rashid/Hollings Ligier all ended up in the gravel, drivers complaining that the circuit was still very wet off line despite the scorching conditions. Another incident on lap one left another runner out and still another bound for the pits!
That left just 8 cars to complete the first lap at pace and it was soon clear that the second story of the race was going to be all about Ivan Bellarosa, leader of what had been a 5 car Wolf pack, the Italian marque fielding additional cars for its home round of the Speed Euroseries Championship.
Bellarosa has winning form aboard the 2 litre Honda engined CN class prototypes and has won the Italian Championship for these cars for the past two years.
Imola then is familiar ground and he used his circuit knowledge to very good effect – exploiting a dominant pole position and pulling away from the chasing pack at a steady and impressive rate.
Behind him Warren Hughes chased hard in the #15 Xero Competition WF03 but the Englishman was fending off the close attention of another fast Italian, Alex Caffi in another of the Wolfs, this time the #44 car that he shares with Maurizio Fratti .
Caffi too has race form at Imola having started three San Marino Grand Prix here between 1987 and 1989.
The battle for second place continued for well over 20 minutes but Caffi’s challenge fizzled out as the Wolf slowed to retirement. Hughes though now had gearbox trouble and was unable to press home the attack on the leader.
That allowed Bellarosa to take complete control, he was 26 seconds clear after 30 minutes.
The gap continued to grow as the pit window approached but then a glimmer of light for the remainder of the field appeared as the Safety Car was scrambled to allow recovery of the Wolf of Alex Caffi, the ex F1 ace having tangled with another Wolf and hit the wall, Caffi was taken to hospital for precautionary X-Rays after complaining of back pain.
That brought down the lead gap from almost 30 seconds to less than 3! But the relief for the competition was short lived and as soon as the Honda CRZ was withdrawn after just a couple of laps ahead of the field Bellarosa was back on the charge and pulling away once again.
Hughes pitted after 48 minutes to give Jody Firth an opportunity to try to catch the leader but in truth the Italian was away and gone – he lost the lead briefly to the #3 RLR Msport Ligier of Melroy Heemskirkk as he pitted just before the hour mark but the new leader had to pit too and did so next time around – Bellarosa was never really troubled thereafter and the #3 car dropped back a little under pressure from Le Mans Series and ILMC regulars Jody Firth and the #55 Ligier of Scott Tucker, Tucker profiting too from the late race misfortune of the #47 Wolf of Belotti Gugliemo which faded almost as soon as Tucker had claimed third place from Greg Murphy in the #3 RLR Ligier
At the flag the pace of Bellarosa had put him 46 seconds clear of the Xero WF03 and a full lap up on Tucker in third, a dramatic start and a dominant leader had taken the edge off the spectacle but it certainly didn’t dull the achievement of a fine race victory.
Sunday Morning’s 45 minute race was in many ways a carbon copy of the Saturday Enduro
Several runners were hors de combat from Saturday – Xero’s #15 WF03’s gearbox woes unsolvable here the car was cannibalised to allow #14 to start – That wouldn’t last long though as Jody Firth pitted after 2 laps.
Even before that though there was further attrition, the #46 and #3 cars pitting after lap 1, #3 out of the race and #46 delayed enough to prevent any real kind of recovery drive.
One area where there was no comparison with Saturday’s race though was at the sharp end – Ivan Bellarosa was getting no peace at all, harried for the opening laps by the Juno of Darren Burke until the #24 car’s pilot found himself fending off the attentions of Dean Stirling in the #8 Wolf.
Stirling’s attack forced Burke to defend and that allowed Bellarosa the break he needed to once again impose his authority on the race
Behind the lead battle Scott Tucker was looking to build on his podium finish in the 90 minute race – he was making progress – up to sixth at the expense of Baccarelli’s #43 Wolf in the early stages too.
A slow lap from Belotti Gugliemo’s #47 Wolf allowed Charlie Hollings to take advantage in the #20 Lanan Ligier, the Englishman up to fourth inside 15 minutes.
Sterling too had by now made progress, passing the Juno for second, Burke hanging on though to continue the battle.
Bellarosa though had made good his escape, posting faster and faster lap times to extend his lead to 9 seconds over Sterling by the 15 minute mark and more than doubling that by the 30 minute mark after the leaders had taken their compulsory pit stops.
Thereafter Bellarosa was able to control the pace to bring home a second win of the weekend. Behind him Matthew Draper was now aboard the #8 Wolf and whilst he had no answer to Bellarosa he extended his advantage over the 3rd placed #24 Juno, Sarah Reader now aboard, to the flag.
By Graham Goodwin, www.dailysportscar.com