Spectacular Dubai debut for Liuzzi Ex-Formula 1 racer Vitantonio Liuzzi won the opening round of the second Speedcar season after a dramatic encounter at the Dubai Autodrome.
Despite his obvious pace throughout the weekend, poleman Liuzzi (UP Team) found himself under attack on both sides at the rolling start. Former grand prix winner Heinz-Harald Frentzen (Phoenix Racing) made it round the outside, while Durango's Christopher Zoechling went down the inside.
Fortunately for Liuzzi, Zoechling ran in too deep, forcing Frentzen wide and allowing the polesitter to sneak back through into the lead. Gianni Morbidelli (Palm Beach-Al Futtaim) then dived past Frentzen into the hairpin at the end of the back straight and while he fought Zoechling for second Liuzzi pulled clear.
The ex-Red Bull F1 driver pulled out a lead of over three seconds during the first two laps, but his efforts came to naught after the safety car was called. Jean Alesi (HPR-Bouygues) tried to pass the experienced Stefan Johansson for fourth, but the pair made contact and Johansson's Palm Beach machine spun. As he tried to recover he moved into Marcel Tiemann's car and Johansson flipped over.
Johansson was out on the spot, while Alesi was later called in to have his damaged car attended to. It meant the ex-Benetton and Ferrari star could only finish ninth.
After five laps behind the safety car to clear up Johansson's mess, Liuzzi led the other thundering 620bhp machines away. Zoechling again helped him by running wide onto the start-finish straight as racing resumed, which resulted in him having to defend from Morbidelli rather than launch an attack on the leader.
On the exit of turn one, Morbidelli got alongside Zoechling and the battle got rough, Zoechling pushing Morbidelli, who hung on and then clashed with his rival at the next corner. Both lost time, allowing reigning Speedcar champion Johnny Herbert into second.
As Liuzzi pulled out a lead of almost four second Frentzen, who had fallen as low as seventh in the early stages, began his charge. He shot by Morbidelli for third and then set off after Herbert. The 1991 Le Mans winner lacked pace and Frentzen passed him easily, quickly followed by Morbidelli|
Frentzen's looked much more competitive than he did last season and several fastest laps helped him close the gap to Liuzzi as the leader suffered with flat-spotted tires. But the early skirmishes had given Liuzzi too much of an advantage and Frentzen eventually fell short by just 0.8 seconds.
"We had a pole and victory in our first race," said Liuzzi. "We're starting eighth tomorrow (due to Speedcar's reverse grid system), but I feel quite good about it."
Frentzen was nevertheless pleased with second. "The race was too short, but it was a fantastic event to start the season," he said.
Morbidelli shadowed Frentzen until the final couple of laps and took the final podium place, despite struggling with various problems, including a steering issue. He was well clear of a fine battle for fourth between Herbert and Damien Pasini.
JMB's Pasini looked quicker than Herbert, but the wily veteran proved tough to pass. Pasini briefly made it by at the hairpin, but went in far too fast and Herbert performed a classic switchback maneuver to take the place back. The battle only ended when Pasini slowed with an engine problem on the final two tours, dropping to eighth. At least that gives him pole for tomorrow's race.
Ex-Formula 1 world champion Jacques Villeneuve (Durango-Laing O'Rourke) went from 13th to 10th in the opening exchanges, but then went off after a clash in the midfield. He headed for the pits to check for damage, but the safety car period allowed him to rejoin at the back of the pack without losing the lap. After everyone else's problems, Villeneuve was able to come home sixth, behind Hasher Al Maktoum, who was highest finisher of the non-F1 drivers.
The Race 1 preliminary classification is as follows:
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