x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

GT1 season kicks off at Yas tomorrow

Former F1 driver Karl Wendlinger expects fellow competitors to push the limits at the 'long straights and challenging corners' of the Yas Marina Circuit.

Eighteen cars will take part in the opening race of the second year of the GT1 Championship at the Yas Marina Circuit.
Eighteen cars will take part in the opening race of the second year of the GT1 Championship at the Yas Marina Circuit.

ABU DHABI // When Fernando Alonso watched his title dreams disappear as he followed Vitaly Petrov's Renault for more than 30 laps during the Abu Dhabi Formula One Grand Prix in November, many pundits claimed the reason the much faster Ferrari had been unable to pass had been because overtaking at the Yas Marina Circuit was too difficult.

But that is not a sentiment you will find many of the FIA GT1 Championship drivers agreeing with.

The sports car series, which was created last year and had its opening race at Yas Marina, proved a success with plenty of overtaking and brave driving from the grid.

This year's championship is being staged in Abu Dhabi again, with qualifying at Yas Marina today and the race taking place tomorrow evening.

Karl Wendlinger, the Austrian former F1 driver who competed last year and is again driving for Swiss Racing this year, is relishing racing at Yas Marina, saying he is a big fan of the circuit.

"I do like the track a lot," the 42-year-old former GT champion said. "It has long straights and challenging corners so it is a track that does test the drivers and the cars and as we saw in the race last year there was lots of overtaking and people pushing to the limit so there is a lot to like about the place."

The GT1 Championship was a massive step in a new direction for GT racing, which is more commonly known for endurance races lasting up to four hours.

The new series sees the race compacted down to just one hour, with a mandatory driver change ensuring the multiple driver aspect of the series is maintained.

Wendlinger, who is partnered with Peter Kox, the Dutch driver, for this weekend's race, said he enjoyed last year's championship and does not feel it has moved too far away from the sport's origins.

"Last year was good and I think the racing was good," he said.

"You still have two drivers in a car, but with only an hour to race the pressure is on to get on with it and it makes race position more important.

"It has led to a few more bumps on the track which while not ideal does make it more exciting and a good spectacle for people watching.

"I think it will be similar racing again this season and I think it will be good entertainment for the people who watch in the stands and on television."

Wendlinger did not have the best of times in the series last year, scoring just two points compared to the 138 points scored by Michael Bartels and Andrea Bertolini, the 2010 champions, but he is optimistic a change from a Nissan to a Lamborghini this season will move him up the field.

"Last season we were not competitive enough, there is no doubt," he said. "We are hoping to be quicker this season and hopefully using the Lambo will work well."

Wendlinger's hopes do not seem to be misplaced as he and Kox were a promising seventh quickest in Wednesday's test session at Yas Marina, albeit two seconds off the pace of the pacesetting Marcus Winkelhock and Marc Basseng in their All-Inkl.com Motorsport Lamborghini.

Eighteen cars are due to compete this weekend, representing 10 teams and five manufacturers.

There are 10 rounds in the championship with the final round in December in San Luis, Argentina.

 

gcaygill@thenational.ae