Optimum Motorsport looked on course for victory in the Tuscan sunshine until bad luck – in the form of a hefty whack from the no. 56 Porsche – hit in the final 90 minutes, allowing V8 Racing to take the RS01 FGT3’s first competition victory. Here’s what we learned from a race that was nothing if not straightforward…
1. It’s never over until it’s over
Any journalists caught trying to pre-write their race reports at the Mugello 12 Hours will have been taught a sharp lesson as the Mugello 12 Hours delivered a sharp sting in the tail.
With the clock running down, the race looked to be heading to Optimum Motorsport after a perfectly executed race. Joe Osborne, Flick Haigh and Ryan Ratcliffe kept their noses clean in the opening four hours of the race and took third place – with a full tank of fuel – into the overnight halt, within striking distance of the V8 Racing Renault and no. 702 Scuderia Cameron Glickenhaus ahead.
Once both cars had peeled into the pits soon after the restart and Osborne had resisted the challenge of Nicolai Sylvest’s Massive Motorsport Aston Martin – which later fell away after suffering a right-rear puncture – Haigh and Ratcliffe settled into a “boring and Germanic” rhythm, ticking off the laps and making sure to avoid taking unnecessary risks in traffic.
— Racing GT (@RacingGT) March 19, 2016
Optimum’s biggest drama had occurred when Osborne’s chair collapsed during Haigh’s live TV interview, but that all changed in an instant, when gear selection problems struck with 90 minutes to go. After some frantic repairs were carried out, Ratcliffe was sent out in pursuit of the Renault, but a possible recurrence of the problem caused him to bring the car to a stop and attempt a full system reset.
Although no Code 60 was called, the Audi was covered by waved yellow flags when the Welshman was hit, hard, by the unsighted Porsche of Giovanni Berton, causing significant damage to both cars. Thankfully, Ratcliffe and Berton were able to walk away unaided – if a little winded – but it was little consolation for the team after 11 hours of faultless running.
2. Kubica endures a tough GT baptism
In his first circuit racing outing since his Formula One career was cut short by injuries sustained in a rallying accident in 2011, Robert Kubica endured a difficult first outing in GT racing.
The 2008 Canadian Grand Prix winner, who has competed in the World Rally Championship for the last three seasons, reminded everybody of his latent talent by qualifying his MP Motorsport Mercedes SLS third on the grid behind Christian Engelhart’s Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan and the MJC-Furlonger Racing Ferrari 458 GTE of Rory Butcher. However, his race wouldn’t be quite so straightforward.
Participating in his first ever rolling start, the Pole made minor contact with Butcher on the opening lap, which was enough to result in a broken wishbone and require a lengthy stay in the pits.
Kubica and WRC regular Martin Prokop would eventually be classified in a lowly 44th position after briefly returning to the track on Saturday, although Kubica’s 1:50.236 would stand as the second quickest time of the day. For reference, Butcher’s 1:49.896 from Friday afternoon would stand as the race’s fastest lap.
3. Onslow-Cole and White trip over a black cat
After teething troubles with the new Mercedes-AMG GT3 reduced the Dubai 24 Hours to a glorified test session, the last thing Tom Onslow-Cole needed for his 24H Series A6 title defence was a non-score at Mugello, but it all started to go wrong when an engine failure in qualifying meant the RAM Racing Mercedes he was due to share with Paul White and Stuart Hall would not take the start.
Undeterred, an eleventh hour deal was agreed for Onslow-Cole and White to join up with Kubica and Prokop in the older SLS model, but suspension failure meant neither would get to drive after all.
We can’t catch a break here. Plan B is parked up and out of the running! Plan C – To the pizzeria… #Mugello12H
— Tom Onslow-Cole (@tomonslowcole) March 18, 2016
If Onslow-Cole had slipped on a discarded banana skin exiting the circuit, nobody would have been overly surprised. It was just that kind of weekend.
4. RS01 comes good
Originally built exclusively for the one-make Renault Sport Trophy, it was clear from the start that the RS01 was a very good piece of kit, which looked – and sounded – good on the eye in the recent Blancpain GT Series test at Paul Ricard, despite being heavily handicapped by the Balance of Performance. Stephane Ratel was even moved to confirm that the car would be ineligible for competition in the Spa 24 Hours at his official press conference.
Granted, V8 Racing’s Nicky Pastorelli, Miguel Ramos, Max Braams and Luc Braams had to rely on misfortune for Optimum to take victory at Mugello, but it is to the Dutch team’s considerable credit that it was they who were there to pick up the pieces when so many others – including the Herberth Motorsport Porsche 911 GT3-R, Grasser Racing Lamborghini Huracan and Massive Motorsport Aston Martin – were not.
5. Braams’ battle isn’t over
After finishing the 12 Hours of Mugello, the majority of drivers will go away and evaluate every inch of their weekend to work out what they can improve on for next time. Such a triviality isn’t something brave Liesette Braams can afford however, as she prepares for a potentially life-changing surgery. One of the most popular figures in the 24H Series paddock, Braams has been battling an aggressive cancer for the best part of a year now and raced through the pain barrier at Mugello to add another CUP1 podium finish to her extensive collection. Liesette, all our best wishes are with you.