The inaugural Gulf 12 Hours laid claim to becoming an instant classic after less than10”separated the first three cars after half a day’s racing!
Taking a dramatic final stint win after setting the pace for much of the race was the AF Corse Ferrari 458 piloted by Matt Griffin, Marco Cioci and Piergiuseppe Perazzini.
Having pitted out of sequence under a Safety Car, the United Autosports Audi R8 LMS of Ryan Dalziel / Alex Popow / Enzo Potolicchio led the race with 40 minutes remaining. It was at that point that the Italian Ferrari set its quickest lap of the race, a second faster than the R8, and started to eat into a9”deficit.
Unfortunately for Dalziel in the Audi, a Safety Car following a problem on the remaining IF Motorsport CN2 car put the leaders back nose-to-tail and brought back into play the Philipp Peter-Michal Broniszewski-Antonio Coimbra-Miguel Ramos Kessel Racing Ferrari, which had been40”behind.
When the Safety Car pulled off we effectively had a 20-minute sprint race to the flag and there was no resisting Cioci, who blasted past the Audi and held off a challenge from Peter in the Swiss Ferrari, which claimed runner-up spot.
Matt Griffin, impressive all race in the AF Corse car, paid tribute to his Italian team mate: “Marco did an amazing job because we had no brakes left at the end of my last stint and he had to really, really push and dig deep”.
“We really had no good luck in that second part of the race. Every time we pitted a Safety Car would happen. At one point we had a real one lap advantage and that just evaporated. I pitted from my last stint with a 30” lead thinking that was perfect and we could coast it home, but then I think the Audi and Kessel cars pitted under the Safety Car and that changed things. From there on Marco did a brilliant job”.
Cioci’s happiness was also hard to contain: “It was a stunning race, the grid wasn’t big, but the quality was amazing. Usually in a 12 hour race you expect somebody to make a mistake, here nobody did any, neither in Race 1 nor in Race 2. I had the honor of driving the last stint, against talented drivers as Dalziel and Peter, and beating them is a really great feeling. I want to say thanks to the team for giving me a perfect car and being so good at the pit-stops, they deserve this win”.
His satisfaction was shared by team-mate Piergiuseppe Perazzini: “Winning a race is always a great feeling, but winning the first edition of a race that I’m sure will become a classic, makes it even more special. It wasn’t an easy race, Safety-Cars changed the strategies a bit, but in the end we got it right. I look forward to next edition, I’m sure it will be even better”.
Second placed Kessel Racing tried to close the tiny gap with the leader until the very end of the race, but in the end settled for P2, something just one hour before didn’t seem possible as Philipp Peter explains: “I’m racing in Endurance from a long time but maybe I’ve never been in such an hard fought race, with three cars in 2” after 12 hours of racing. Predicting the outcome of the race was pretty hard because the top three were always very close and a Safety-Car could change everything. Ourselves, we were out of contention with 50’ to go, but then the Safety-Car came and packed the group again. It was a thrilling fight and I’m happy that the organizers got that in response to their great efforts. I know that they had to overcome a lot of obstacles to make the event come together, so they really deserved such a finale. I know that they are already planning the next edition, and I will be really happy to come again”
United Autosport team principal Richard Dean was gutted to lose it at the death after taking the fight to the Ferraris all race. His final stint driver, Ryan Dalziel, said: “It was a difficult race for us. I think we had a really good car, we were just missing a little bit to the Ferraris in a straight line but I think we had a better car in the infield”.
“When we were out front I thought we seemed to be pretty good but we just didn’t have enough to hold them off. In all honesty I think we had second covered but I don’t think we had the win covered. The No3 Ferrari was really fast. It was the car to beat all day. We went off-strategy, thought it was the right thing to do but the Safety car killed us. But it was a great effort and I’m really happy to be part of the first event here”.
Fourth place fell to the second AF Corse Ferrari, ahead of Autorlando’s Porsche 997 as GT3 cars claimed the top five places.
Sixth overall and winner of the Cup category was the Swedish PFI Racing Porsche 997 driven by Patrik Skoog-Johan Lofqvist-Mikael Bender, which had a lap in hand over the troubled Bonaldi Motorsports Lamborghini Gallardo, afflicted by engine woes.
The Ibanez Racing Norma M20F driven by the French trio Philippe Mace / Jean-Pierre Mothe / Philippe Yschard swept up the honours in the CN2 class after outright pole sitter and early category leaders Avelon Formula suffered a broken gearbox on their Bellarosa / Berlotti / Lian Wolf.
Winner of the GT4 category was the Yas Marina Circuit Aston Martin driven by the Emirati trio of Mohamed Al Mutawaa-Thani Al Thani-Saeed Al Mehari, whose win was never in doubt also thanks to technical glitches that hampered the Malaysian Aleyzo Lotus.
Although the car count for the inaugural Gulf 12 Hours was less than hoped, the event and the venue both proved inspiring.
Abu Dhabi Motorsport Management CEO Richard Cregan said: “I think it is a bit of an eye-opener for people when they come to Yas Marina Circuit and we are trying to make sure that the venue is used as much as possible.
“But, we also have to be selective about events to make sure that they match the professionalism of the circuit, and that’s what The Gulf 12 Hours has done. The most important thing is to give people a platform where they can enter and compete at an international level in the UAE, and that’s what this event does. We are happy to continue to support it and really look forward to having the next race in December.”