San Luis: Phoenix Corvette Takes Pole in Thrilling Session

The Maserati MC12s of Vitaphone Racing are on the second row

For the season finale, the FIA GT Championship is visiting South America for the very first time, racing at the brand new Potrero de los Funes circuit in the province of San Luis , Argentina .

This impressive semi-permanent track, circumnavigating a volcanic lake and surrounded by hills, is truly spectacular and should be both fast and challenging for the drivers. 6.27 km long, it is the second-longest track of the season after Spa, with uphill and downhill sections, fast corners and challenging chicanes.

The circuit was built by the province of San Luis in just nine months – an incredible achievement, and one which will surely provide an exceptional weekend of racing to close the 2008 season. It definitely started off well, after what was certainly one of the most exciting qualifying sessions of the year, with the fight for pole position in both categories continuing until the very end, with the final decision remaining uncertain until after the last car had taken the chequered flag, to the delight of the crowds gathered around the circuit.


Marcel Fässler, driving the nr 5 Phoenix Carsport Corvette C6R, has definitely been the star of qualifying this year, and the last round of the season proved to be no exception. However, the Swiss driver had a close fight in Argentina , facing a strong challenge from Frédéric Makowiecki, in the Larbre Competition Saleen S7R, which has proved to be one of the fastest cars on the track since returning from its rebuild after Spa.

Early on in the 15-minute session, first Bert Longin in the PK Carsport Saleen, and then Alexandre Negrao in the Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati MC 12, claimed provisional pole. A good lap from Fässler was followed by a spin. Ten minutes into the session, Makowiecki set provisional pole in the Saleen with a lap of 2:13.766. Fässler responded with a time of 2:13.514. As the chequered flag fell, Makowiecki crossed the line having set a lap of 2:13.379, regaining pole. But Fässler had the final word, when on his very last lap, he retook the pole definitively with the best time of the weekend so far, 2:13.236.

This fifth pole, after Silverstone, Adria, Bucharest and Nogaro, places him on equal peggings with his former DTM team-mate Bernd Schneider, who set five overall poles in 1997, a record which had never been equaled. “It wasn’t easy to get pole position at all,” Marcel commented afterwards. “It’s a difficult track and I made a few little mistakes in each lap in the first half of the session. Than I made one big mistake and spun at the second chicane, but finally I managed to do one more very fast lap and that was enough for pole position. I’m very happy. I’m very proud of equalling Schneider’s record for poles in a season, as I know how fast Bernd is.”

Makowiecki was second in the Larbre Saleen, having just missed out on preserving his 100% record for fastest qualifying laps, having previously set the best time in Dubai in a Ferrari 550 Maranello, despite competing in the G2 category at the time. Negrao was third in the Vitaphone Maserati MC 12, making three different makes in the top three, separated by just 0.7 seconds, and promising much for tomorrow’s race.

Andrea Bertolini placed the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati fourth, two places ahead of their title rivals Hezemans and Gollin in the nr 6 Phoenix Carsport Corvette. Bert Longin was an excellent fifth in the PK Saleen, with Martin Basso qualifying the nr 38 ACA Argentina Ferrari 550 Maranello in seventh.

There were a number of problems. The nr 10 Gigawave Aston Martin DBR9 was forced to withdraw from the event after suffering serious damage in the pre-qualifying session, when it touched the wall. SRT’s Corvette had qualified sixth, but saw its times cancelled due to qualifying on the wrong tyres; it will start from the back of the grid tomorrow. The nr 37 ACA Ferrari stopped on the track after only two laps.

The Gillet Vertigo has shown well on the South American track, qualifying 17tj


With nine drivers from Argentina taking part in this inaugural round at the magnificent Potrero de los Funes circuit, it was apt that a local driver claimed pole position. 23-year-old Matias Russo, in the nr 95 Advanced Engineering Pecom Racing Team Ferrari 430 GT2, set his first-ever FIA GT pole position after a thrilling battle with Richard Westbrook, Tim Mullen and Markus Palttala around the 6.27 km circuit. Russo, who has been steadily improving during this rookie season, was for the first time on equal footing with his more experienced GT2 rivals, with no drivers having prior experience on this circuit.

As in GT1, the battle carried on to the chequered flag and beyond, with the Ferrari and the Prospeed Porsche swapping fastest times. “I did the fastest lap, then heard on the radio that Russo was quicker,” Richard Westbrook commented. “I went fastest again, and again Russo went faster. But he did a super job and I think I was not able to go any quicker.”

Russo was understandably delighted with his first pole. “I’m proud to be on pole in my own country, my first pole ever in GT2,” he said. “We have learned a lot this season and this is such a great result for the team.”

With Westbrook classified second, Tim Mullen was third in the nr 55 CR Scuderia Ferrari, ahead of the second Prospeed Porsche, in the hands of Markus Palttala, the Finn’s best qualifying of the season. Andrew Kirkaldy was fifth, ahead of Niki Cadei in the Kessel Ferrari. There should be an interesting battle for the second place in the GT2 Teams title tomorrow, with Prospeed and CR Scuderia both aiming to overtake BMS Scuderia Italia, who have a good lead.

The GT2 category had already been reduced by one due to the Trackspeed Porsche’s crash in practice; during qualifying it was the turn of the nr 50 AF Corse Ferrari to clip the wall on its first lap out, failing to qualify. However, it will be allowed to start from the back of tomorrow’s grid.

The sole G2 competitor this weekend, the Belgian Racing Gillet Vertigo, qualified 17th overall. “We worked hard to find the right set-up and the car is great now. I adore the track,” Renaud Kuppens commented.

The final race of the 2008 season will start at 13:15 on Sunday, local time, which is four hours behind Europe and three behind London .