Hexis Racing took an important step forward in Belgium at the second round of the FIA GT1 World Championship. The two McLarens finished both races in the first ten with a double top-five for no. 1 driven by Stef Dusseldorp and Fred Makowiecki. Greg Demoustier and Alvaro Parente were also quick on a changing track surface and fought back from tenth to seventh place. The team is obviously doing things right and moving forward in the right direction.
The weekend, though, did not get off to a great start. Unlike Nogaro, Demoustier-Parante suffered most of the glitches in free practice. While the mechanics were working on the electric harness and the turbo on no.2, Fred Makowiecki and Stef Dusseldorp racked up the laps on the Belgian circuit which pleased the engineers of the team and McLaren GT. Their ninth time in the second session was a poor reflection of the significant progress accomplished on a car that was having its first outing at Zolder!
Fred managed to get into Q2 in no.1, but Dusseldorp failed to make Q3 by 24/100s. The problems that struck the no. 2 McLaren MP4-12C GT3 were not solved till after the qualifying session. On Saturday afternoon the two cars started the first race from tenth and sixteenth places on the grid. A heavy shower soaked the track just before the start so wet weather tyres were the order of the day. After getting to grips with the tricky conditions in the opening laps Dusseldorp and Parente upped the pace and moved up the time sheets. A dry line began to form and soon it was time to shod slicks when the pit stops began. Makowiecki got the better of several of his rivals and saw the chequered flag in fourth, six better than his place on the grid. He also set the second-quickest lap in the race. Demoustier finished tenth despite a minor off-course excursion, a gain of five positions for no. 2.
On Sunday, the teams and drivers again had to cope with unpredictable weather conditions. Finally the seventeen cars started the championship race on wets. Makowiecki was fifth in the opening laps and he soon got the better of former world champion, Michael Bartels’ BMW, to slot into fourth place until it was time for the tyre changes. Demoustier was also flying in the team’s second McLaren and held onto sixth for a long time. Once again making the right tyre choice was a tricky call, but the decision to opt for slicks proved to be the right one. Dusseldorp cheered on by his fan club from Holland fought like a lion to hold off the Audi that had won at Nogaro, and no. 1 took the flag in fifth place. Alvaro also put on a grandstand finish and shot over the line in seventh place under three seconds behind his team-mate.
The stated objective was to see the chequered flag so it was achieved in style despite the many pitfalls the Hexis drivers had to overcome on Saturday and Sunday. Philippe Dumas, the team manager, was a happy man after the finish: “This almost ideal result is exactly what we were hoping for and also what we needed. For us and for McLaren GT it gives a very positive message: namely, our mutual determination to succeed. It should not be forgotten that we’re in a pure development phase at the moment. We’ve greatly improved the car’s setup and adapting it to the Pirelli rubber. Our main problem at Zolder was the grip in the opening laps as the tyres didn’t heat up quickly enough. We now have to consolidate what we’ve learned and continue making the car more reliable before we start moving forward again.”
There was a big crowd at Zolder and they saw two hotly-disputed, spectacular races. It looks like the FIA GT1 World Championship is on its way up so everybody is looking forward to the third round at Navarra on 26-27 May.