The No.11 Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3 driven by Alessandro Pier Guidi, Davide Rigon and Michael Broniszewski pipped rivals Audi and McLaren in a three-way battle as it pounced in the final two hours to retain its Gulf 12 Hours crown and clinch a famous, yet unexpected fourth successive victory at Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
It had looked set to be a dream world competitive debut for the McLaren 720S GT3 car which led from lap two of the second part of the race, when Shane Van Gisbergen passed Christopher Haase in the No.88 Car Collection Audi R8 LMS GT3 which took the checkered flag first after the opening six hours of the race.
The McLaren led thereafter, with no issues until Van Gisbergen returned to the cockpit with just under two hours remaining. The Kiwi driver picked up suspension damage to the right front wheel, leaving him to bring the car back to the pits for repairs.
Haase suffered once more 45 minutes after the race restart, dropping to third place and losing vital seconds after an incident with the pole position No.4 Graff Racing Norma M30 of Jake Parsons, conceding the position to the No.11 Kessel in the hands of Alessandro Pier Guidi.
The No.11 Ferrari was not immune to its own problems, however, suffering a left rear puncture halfway through the six hours after Davide Rigon made contact with the No.80 GDL Racing Lamborghini Super Trofeo Evo of Jim Michaelian, which dropped the Ferrari off the leading lap.
“It was only in the last hour that we thought we could win the race,” Rigon said. “We were very lucky that the McLaren had trouble otherwise they were too fast for us. But congratulations to both Alessandro and Michael who did a fantastic job today. I didn’t believe in the victory until the final 10 minutes.
“When I was hit by the Lamborghini, I had to make sure that I came back at slowly because I’ve experience that it could destroy the car.
“I love this track. I’ve had good teammates for the past three years with a competitive car.”
The Attempto Racing and Car Collection Audis continued to be in contention inside the top five, until the halfways mark when the second-place No.99 Attempto R8 LMS GT3 suffered a severe puncture under braking. Klaus Bachler limped the car back to the pits, but with the front left wheel fully locked and the brake disc shattered, the team were unable to remove the wheel and were forced to retire the car.
With the front-running cars beginning to dwindle, the door was left open for the 11 Kessel Ferrari when the McLaren slowed and Pier Guidi passed the No.44 Attempto Audi of Giorgio Roda on the same lap.
The Audis attempted to respond, with the No.88 Car Collection of Haase also getting by the No.44 car for second place before pitting for Markus Winkelhock to attempt to cut the margin to the No.11 Ferrari now in the hands of Rigon for the final stint.
The McLaren returned to the track with Barnicoat at the wheel, but having dropped to 10th overall, it was already five laps down on the No.11 Ferrari and out of contention.
“Today we were not the quickest but we made sure that we were consistent,” Pier Guidi said. “We had some issues, but so did everyone else. Until two hours to go, it was impossible to believe we could win. Davide did an amazing job in the final stint. The team made no mistakes.”
The GT3 Pro-Am class was impressively led throughout the race by the No. 27 Daiko Lazarus Lamborghini Huracan GT3 which finished the race in fifth place overall. It was followed by the No. 83 all-female driver line-up of Manuela Gostner, Rahel Frey and Michelle Gatting in the Kessel Racing Ferrari 488 GT3, and the No. 98 Beechdean Aston Martin Vantage GT3 of Chris Dyson, Andrew Howard, Humaid al Masaood and Ross Gunn.
The No.4 Graff Racing Norma M30 of James Winslow, Neale Muston and Jake Parsons continued its lead of the Prototype class to the finish, finishing 10th overall, ahead of the No.7 Scuderia Vittoria Corse in 12th overall, a single place in front of the No.70 Graff Ligier JS P3.
The GT Cup class was filled by the GDL Racing squad. The battle for the class win was hard fought between the No. 87 Lamborghini Supertrofeo and No. 89 Porsche 991, with the former ultimately prevailing. The No. 80 GDL Racing Lamborghini Supertrofeo Evo took third place despite its earlier contact and repairs in the garage.
The GT4 class was led by the No. 3 Bullitt Racing Mercedes AMG crew, which included 16-year-old British driver Olli Caldwell, the youngest driver in the race on his GT racing debut, alongside Ian Loggie and Oleg Kharuk. The car remained ahead of the No.50 and No.90 Scuderia Villorba Corse machines throughout the second part of the race.
It was fitting for Rigon to take the checkered flag and continue his spectacular record as the most successful driver in the history of the Gulf 12 Hours, as he clinched his fifth successive race victory and the seventh win for Ferrari. It also completed the fourth successive victory for Broniszewski.