Sachsenring, Germany-14th May 2011 –The Sumo Power GT team came away from this weekend’s round four of the FIA GT1 World Championship at Sachsening near Chemnitz in Germany extremely satisfied: Enrique Bernoldi and Warren Hughes in car 20 finished fourth in both Saturday’s Qualifying Race and Sunday’s Championship Race and David Brabham and Jamie Campbell-Walter in car 21 finished eighth and fifth in the two one-hour races.
The result was made even more rewarding as, prior to the weekend, there had been much speculation that the 3.7km (2.299-mile) track would not suit the characteristics of the team’s Nissan GT-Rs. However, although the cars were not the quickest through the narrow and twisty sections, their raw power amply made up for it on the straights.
The Sachsenring weekend also saw the return of Warren Hughes to the team, the 2010 Sumo Power GT driver replacing Ricardo Zonta.
The competitive action kicked-off on Saturday morning with the first of three qualifying sessions and, predictably on a track as tight and twisty as Sachsenring is in places, Q1 was red-flagged half-way through due to an accident. However, it didn’t stop both cars 20 and 21 getting through to Q2.
Another stoppage in the second session meant that some drivers didn’t get the clear laps they were looking for to progress to Q3, which included Campbell-Walter in car 21 who was eleventh fastest. However, Bernoldi did get through and, to the delight of the team, Hughes went on to set the fifth-fastest time in Q3. Even better, because a driver ahead of them was penalised, car 20 started P4 on the grid for the first race and car 21 P10.
With the first corner a tightening, off-camber right-hander that narrows at the exit, Bernoldi in car 20 and Campbell-Walter in car 21 kept their distance between themselves and the other competitors. They both made it through unscathed, with Bernoldi holding fourth and Campbell-Walter dropping to fifth with the under-steer that had plagued him in Friday’s practice sessions still apparent in the twisty first sector of the lap.
Others did not make such a cautions start and a first-corner incident between two Ford GTs brought out the Safety car for three laps. Once things got going again, the team was pleased to see Bernoldi maintain his fourth place until the mid-point pit stop to change tyres and driver. An excellent change-over by car 20’s crew was enough to see Hughes leave the pits in third, whilst an even quicker stop – the fastest in the race – for car 21 saw Brabham re-join in eighth.
Hughes found he was unable to make an impression on the leading pair and consolidated his third place. However, as his tyres started to deteriorate, he fell into the clutches of an Aston Martin with just one lap to go. Meanwhile, Brabham was able to maintain track position, even though he was suffering from similar grip issues as the race went on. The team was therefore happy to claim a very respectable fourth with car 20 and eighth with car 21.
All the GT1 teams were pleased to see the track completely dry after the morning’s showers. This time it was Hughes who was first to drive in car 20 and Brabham in car 21. Once again, the policy of staying out of trouble at the first corner paid off, as three other cars never made it past turn three: the outcome of their antics bringing the Safety Car out for four laps.
Whilst the convoy of cars circulated, eyes were raised to the sky as rain started to fall once more. However, just as the safety car returned to the pits, the clouds disappeared. When the racing recommenced, both Hughes and Brabham were able to hold on to the positions from which they had started in fourth and eighth and, although coming under pressure from following cars, appeared to be in charge of their respective situations.
Whilst Hughes pitted for new tyres and a swap with Bernoldi as soon as the pit window was open, Brabham stayed out until just before it closed, the Australian happy with his tyres and the way his GT-R was handling. This, coupled with another blisteringly quick pit stop, was enough to see car 21 jump three places when Campbell-Walter exited the pits in fifth.
Car 20 also benefited from a super-fast stop, which meant Bernoldi held a comfortable fourth place when he rejoined the race. However, it didn’t take long before Campbell-Walter closed the gap and, for the last ten laps of the race, it looked as though he may even get past his team-mate.
Bernoldi however, was having none of it and held on until the chequered flag to give Sumo Power GT its best combined result of the season so far – plus a good haul of points towards the Teams’ Championship.
The team now returns to the UK, where it will prepare for its home event – round five of the FIA GT1 World Championship at Silverstone – which takes place on 4 & 5 June. It was at this race last year that Sumo Power GT scored its first victory and, in doing so, won the coveted Tourist Trophy.
Enrique Bernoldi (Car 20)
“We nearly finished third in the first race and then I thought we might do it again today, but two fourths is a good result at this track. The Nissan GT-R feels like a big car in some places but it comes alive on the straights. I am very pleased to have finally scored some good points. My tyres were getting worn by the end and I had to defend my position, but at least it was my team-mate behind me which is better than if it was someone else.”
Warren Hughes (Car 20)
“The whole weekend has gone really well. Considering we were concerned about the competitiveness of the car at this circuit, I felt it was well balanced – especially today – as the track conditions were different than yesterday. I’m also very pleased that Enrique and I were the highest finishing of the four Nissans in our first race together. It’s been great to get back into the Nissan GT-R and help the team achieve such a good result.”
Jamie Campbell-Walter (Car 21)
“When you consider our concerns before the start of the weekend, for the team to score a fourth and fifth is fantastic. We had the predicted problems in the tight and twisty bits in yesterday’s Qualifying Race, but today the track came back to us and, with a good pit stop too, we were able to improve on our grid position and finish just behind our team-mates, who drove well to claim fourth.”
David Brabham (Car 21)
“We went from eleventh on the grid to finish eighth in the first race, then improved another three places in the second, both results helped by some great pit stops by the team. As I was running on a set of good tyres and the car felt good in today’s cooler conditions, I was able to stay out for longer before making the pit stop and put in some quick laps – which turned out to be a good strategy. So all-in-all, it’s been a positive weekend.”
Hiroke Furuse (Team Manager)
“We certainly did the best we possibly could this weekend. It was an excellent all-round performance by the team, with no mistakes in the races or the pit stops. I was also very happy to see Warren do so well having returned for this event. The cars ran perfectly and there’s no damage to either of them – which is pretty good at this circuit.”
Andy Barnes (Team Principal)
“I’m very pleased with what’s happened here today. Yes, we had some problems with the handling of the cars at this track, but to come away with a fourth and fifth place in the Championship Race is not a bad weekend’s work. It gives us a really solid base to build on for the rest of the season – and it’s Silverstone next. I seem to recall Sumo Power GT did quite well there last year!”