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So far the Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha Ferrari 488 GT3 has been unstoppable in Tuscany, as has the TCE-leading MONLAU COMPETICION. That’s far from the only story of the race so far though
 
It’s almost palpably ironic that one of the quietest openings to a 24H SERIES powered by Hankook event we’ve seen in years transcended into one of the craziest as the third hour approached.
 
A one-lap lead for the erstwhile dominant leader was slowly, and methodically, whittled away. TCE cars were involved in two separate collisions almost simultaneously while an SP2 entry spontaneously combusted. More bizarre, however, was the incident in which two contenders for 991-class victory crawled to a stop on-track within moments of each other and with just minutes left before the chequered flag was flown. It was drama that almost resulted in a massive on-track collision between half a dozen cars (we’ll come back to that). A question mark even hangs over the condition of the track, a drainage cover and the surrounding asphalt having been ripped free of its mountings on-track during TCE qualifying, necessitating heavy repairs overnight.
 
Up front meanwhile, the cracks in an otherwise dominant performance by Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha (#11) were beginning to show, and they formed the shape of Barwell Motorsport’s Patrick Kujala.
 
A6 – Ferrari unstoppable in Italy; Raging Bull on a charge
 
Rewind to 16.00 hrs local time at the Autodromo Internazionale del Mugello in Tuscany. Though Matteo Mallucelli felt the, by now, almost traditional “no straight-line speed” problem had hampered the #11 Ferrari 488 GT3 en-route to a second row starting position, the Italian made, what could well become, the start of the year in Tuscany. Already alongside the front row starters as the GT field dove into turn one, Mallucelli was soon down the inside and starting to pull away on the run to turn two. By the end of the first lap, the gap had extended to half a second. By the second, it had doubled, and by the third, it had doubled again. There was no catching the (Czech-based) ‘home town’ team throughout the opening hour.
 
Among the closest competition was Hofor Racing’s Christiann Frankenhout, who had pulled a customarily brilliant job in qualifying to nab 2nd on the grid alongside the pole sitting SPS automotive performance Mercedes-AMG GT3 (#16). Few could approach, let alone equal, the scintillating 1m 46.828s lap time of Tom Onslow-Cole in qualifying. Put simply, eight-tenths of a second covered grid positions 2 through to 8 in the GT division. Seven-tenths separated 1st from 2nd.
 
Sadly, neither Onslow-Cole nor teammates Valentin Pierburg and Tim Müller could reap the benefits of this performance. Müller was mugged at the start, slipping from 1st on the road to 5th, and thereafter to 7th before heavy contact 38 minutes in all but destroyed the AMG’s front right wheel hub. Brutally, the Mercedes was already out of contention after just 19 laps, and had failed to return from the garage before the chequered flag was flown.
 
Ironically, this pit stop would be the first ‘drama’ of the 2019 Hankook 12H MUGELLO, something neither the radiolemans.com commentary team nor a pacing Nick Daman in the pit lane could believe.
 
SPS’s demise meant the mantle was taken up by Italian team, IMPERIALE RACING (#32). Though unable to keep pace with the Ferrari, the 24H SERIES debutants kept themselves well in podium contention for the first 45 minutes – save a bit of over-exuberant panel-rubbing with the #88 Car Collection Motorsport Audi on lap two – only to lose an inordinate amount of time in the refuelling bay when the first Code 60 caution period was thrown. Once 2nd, the #77 Lamborghini now found itself outside the top 10, and, unfortunately, it was mostly downhill from there. A spin on-track and possible contact with the Red Camel-Jordans.nl CUPRA TCR(#101) meant IMPERIALE lost almost 15 minutes repairing the Lamborghini Huracán GT3’s damaged rear bodywork, dropping them to 23rd at the flag.  
 
Another team less than satisfied with the final hour of the afternoon was Wochenspiegel Team Monschau. Entering two of an astonishing six Ferrari 488 GT3s at Mugello this weekend – three of the other four run under the Rinaldi Racing banner, although in truth, all but the Scuderia Praha entry are operated by the German outfit – Wochenspiegel had looked set to challenge for a top two position in the closing stages. Their charge would be undone by Vortex V8 (#301) and Franck Lefèvre. Unaware that the #22 was trying to pass him on the inside of Biondetti, the Frenchman inadvertently swiped the left rear wheel arch of the #22 Ferrari as it moved past, adding insult to injury by forcing the sister #21 488 – who was also trying to pass – onto the grass, allowing Rik Breukers in the #88 Car Collection Motorsport Audi to sneak through. Though riding high from their first 24H SERIES class win in Dubai in January, the Vortex crew probably won’t be getting a scarlet Christmas car this year.
 
Italian pride would be salvaged though, ironically, by British team, Barwell Motorsport (#77). Having qualified a strong 5th on its return to 24H SERIES action, the luminescent Raging Bull kept itself firmly in podium contention, thanks in no small part to the astounding pace of Patrick Kujala. Battles with, and passing manoeuvres on, Herberth Motorsport (#91), IDEC SPORT RACING (#17), Hofor-Racing (#10) and Car Collection Motorsport (numerous) after a slow pit stop brought the Finnish sensation onto the exhaust pipe of Josef Kroll in the lead Ferrari. Scuderia Praha had played all three Code 60 caution periods to perfection to amass a one-lap lead over the rest of the field. It was gone once the Barwell Lamborghini hoved into view though, and while Scuderia Praha has managed to lead all 85 completed laps of the Hankook 12H MUGELLO so far, the Ferrari and the Lamborghini will start line-astern on the front row tomorrow. And on the same lap.
 
Fresh from its commanding victory at this year’s Hankook 24H DUBAI – only the second at the event for Audi – Car Collection Motorsport (#88) will line up 3rd for the rolling start after solid running from Dimitri Parhofer , Markus Pommer, Toni Forné and Rik Breukers, the latter now a two-time Daytona 24 Hours class winner. Hofor-Racing (minus Chantal Prinz) continues its steady progress in 4th, just ahead of CP Racing, the eponymous entry of Charles Putman and fellow 24H GT SERIES European Champions Charles Espenlaub and Joe Foster.
 
The first of two Herberth Motorsport entries this year, now boasting a natty grey matte livery, will line up 8th tomorrow, just behind fellow A6-Pro runner IDEC SPORT RACING (#17). As we’ve seen plenty of times before in the 24H SERIES, the former Champions of the Continents are unlikely to stay outside the overall top five for long, nor do we imagine it will be long before the sister #93 entry – which sees Alfred Renauer pulling double duty this weekend – moves into the overall top 10. A quiet run so far for the second of three Car Collection Motorsport entries this weekend (#34) has thus far netted 9th place and 3rd in A6-Am. But for power issues for the sister #33 Audi, this could easily have been a two-way, inter-team fight for the final rostrum spot.
 
Thoughts should be spared, however, for Speed Lover and MDC Sports. Making its A6-Am category debut this weekend, Speed Lover’s 2018MY Audi R8 LMS had been running a commendable 7th in A6-Am before a broken gearbox left the Quattro stranded on-track at turn three (cue the event’s first Code 60). They’ve yet to return from the garage. That’s further than MDC Sports have managed though, the distinctive white #4 Mercedes-AMG knackering its chassis in a heavy accident during free practice, eliminating the German team from the weekend before qualifying had even begun.
 
Overall GT, and A6-Pro Top 3 (after 3 hours)
 
1. Bohemia Energy racing with Scuderia Praha (#11, Ferrari) – 85 laps
2. Barwell Motorsport (#77, Lamborghini) - +5m 07.361s
3. Car Collection Motorsport (#88, Audi) – 84 laps 

A6-Am Top 3 (after 3 hours)
 
1. Hofor-Racing (#10, Mercedes-AMG) – 84 laps
2. CP Racing (#85, Lamborghini) – 83 laps
3. Car Collection Motorsport (#34, Audi) – 82 laps 

 
991 and SP2 – Trouble at the flag; KTM honours at stake
 

 The one-lap lead Raceunion (#987) holds at the front of the 991-class doesn’t do justice to the category’s tight battle for the win. That’s no disrespect to Raceunion either, by the way, as the German outfit has already been forced to recover from an early puncture during Felipe Fernández Laser’s first stint. Indeed, heading into the second hour, all but one of the seven Porsche 991 Cup cars were on the same lap, and the lead had repeatedly switched between four different teams.  
 
All drama it seemed was reserved for the closing stages of Friday’s ‘part one’, as both MRS-GT Racing (#980) and the first of two entries from 991-class European Champions Porsche Lorient Racing (#911) fell by the wayside just moments before the chequered flag flew. While Peter Terting simply stopped off-track in the Martini-coloured #980, Jean-François Demorge suffered a more bizarre, and potentially disastrous problem as he attempted to limp the #911 Porsche home.
 
On the run out of Palgio, two TCR machines, off-sighted by the ever-increasing gloom as night began to fall, bizarrely chose not to pass the ailing Porsche on-track despite the race still being under green flag conditions. Their confusion caused several other TCE machines following suit behind, leading to a train of cars driving on the racing line at almost half the speed of the approaching GT front-runners. Quite how there wasn’t contact is anybody’s guess, and Demorge, aware of the potential chaos forming behind him, quickly chose to abandon the Porsche instead.
 
The on-track strife has consequently allowed series debutants Teichmann Racing (#903) to slip into the final podium position behind the other Porsche Loroent Racing 991 (#912). Delays for the NKPP Racing by Bas Koeten Racing entry meanwhile (in only the car’s second 24H SERIES entry, in fairness) have dropped the one-time class leader to 4th.
 
Further back in SP2, RTR Projects (#224) continues to uphold KTM honours, although the first of two JR Motorsport BMWs (#203) lies just under 90s further adrift. The Austrian team could be forgiven for keeping their fingers crossed: we all remember what happened the last time an RTR Projects KTM went into a mid-race intervention with seemingly insurmountable pace…
 
The returning True Racing (#117) rounds out the category’s top three after a steady run so far, and this in spite of Klaus Angerhofer having also competed in this weekend’s ‘X-BOW Battle’ support series at Mugello too. Matters have already taken a turn for the worst for Reiter Engineering (#246), however, the KTM igniting itself on pit road shortly before its second pit stop. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but the conflagration caused significant damage to the X-BOW’s rear bodywork.
 
991 Top 3 (after 3 hours)
 
1. Raceunion (#987, Porsche) – 81 laps
2. Porsche Lorient Racing (#912, Porsche) – 80 laps
3. Teichmann Racing (#903, Porsche) – +2m 12.801s
 
SP2 Top 3 (after 3 hours)
 
1. RTR Projects (#246, KTM) – 79 laps
2. JR Motorsport (#203, BMW) - +1m 22.259s
3. True Racing (#217, KTM) - +3m 19.006s

 
GT4 – Champion vs. Champion. At first, anyway…
 
Can you remember the last time the TCE European Championship winning team lined up alongside the GT European Championship-winning team in the same category for a 24H SERIES race? Nope, us neither, but that’s exactly what’s happened this weekend in Mugello. Even more fittingly, both reigning 24H TCE SERIES European Champion Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport (now running a BMW M4) and the reigning 24H GT SERIES European Champion – PROsport Performance – even started the race on the same row of the grid.
 
Unfortunately, the fight for victory between our titleholders already seems to be at an end. While the metronomic Hofor-Racing by Bonk Motorsport operation has seen the Swiss-German outfit lead GT4 for much of the opening three hours, PROsport Performance’s debut race with the brand new Aston Martin Vantage GT4 hit trouble when a drive-less Akhil Rabindra pulled off-track while running 2nd, barely 30 minutes before the chequered flag was flown. Further time would be lost as the Aston was recovered to the pitlane, dropping the team nine laps adrift of the lead.
 
The PROsport Vantage was far from the only GT4 outfit to hit trouble though. Ironically, the beneficiary of the Aston’s issues, MRS GT-Racing (#426), had already suffered its own incident earlier in the race as the left rear tyre exploded on-track. Swift work by the German team though meant the M4 GT4, somehow, still lies only 90s behind the leading Hofor / Bonk machine and almost a full lap ahead of series debutants, Scuderia Villorba Corse (#406).
 
GT4 Top 3 (after 3 hours)
 
1. Hofor Racing by Bonk Motorsport (#50, BMW) – 78 laps
2. MRS GT-Racing (#426, BMW) - +1m 45.726s
3. Scuderia Villorba Corse (#406, Mercedes-AMG) – 77 laps

 
TCR – Calm before the storm(s)
 
It seemed only fitting that one of the strongest categories in the field also produced, arguably, the most dramatic moment of the race thus far as two of the TCR runners were involved in incidents within moments of each other.
 
The first involved reigning TCR-class European Champions Red Camel (#101). While running 7th overall in TCE, the bright orange CUPRA was next seen semi-crabbing its way back to the pits with a completely destroyed front left tyre. At almost the same time, the Barwell Motorsport Lamborghini was caught recovering from a spin, damage to the rear bodywork now apparent. Before 2 + 2 could make 5 though, Reiter Engineering stole most people’s attention by igniting itself in the pitlane. “Who’s writing the script?” radiolemans.com’s Joe Bradley understandably mused?
 
More impactful though, quite literally, was the newly re-liveried Team Hyundai Denmark i30 N, which made a hard exit from the race against the turn 13 wall. Again, track cameras picked up another car in trouble at the same time – the MRS GT-Racing BMW M4 GT4 this time – but it was later confirmed that the Hyundai had actually made contact with the Synchro Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R, though the latter managed to escape relatively unscathed.
 
The Hyundai, less so. As it was towed out of the gravel trap, the front bumper hung mournfully by a thread, as did the left front wheel from its completely destroyed suspension mounting. The Danish entry is unlikely to recover in time for the restart.
 
At the front, MONLAU COMPETICION’s fortunes could scarcely have been different. Having already taken the TCE pole position after a storming lap by Kantadhee Kusiri, the 2017 TCR-class European Champions have hardly put a wheel wrong, only pit sequences under Code 60 dropping the Spanish team and its all-Thai driver line-up, briefly, out of the top spot. There’s still a long way to go, but few would bet against last year’s Hankook 24H BARCELONA TCE winners once again taking the garlands.
 
Few, but perhaps not everyone. Starting alongside the Spanish CUPRA tomorrow, after all, will be the reigning TCE winners of the Hankook 24H DUBAI, Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112). Following a steady if slightly underwhelming qualifying session, the Volkswagen Golf GTi has worked its way up to 2nd in TCE/TCR, and pulled back all but 44s of its deficit to MONLAU COMPETICION. Also in the mix is the AC Motorsport Audi (#188), which will start 3rd, also on the TCE lead lap. 
 
Kudos should also be given to Lestrup Racing Team (#110). The all-Swedish entry, and 24H SERIES stalwarts, have worked their way into 4th in TCE, one lap ahead of the second MONLAU COMPETICION entry (#107). Less satisfied with the afternoon’s work will be Holmgaard Motorsport (#102), which qualified a very strong 2nd on the TCE grid, but was unable to take that pace into the first corner. Swamped immediately, the VW fell back quickly, and has struggled to recover since then.
 
TCR Top 3 (after 3 hours)
 
1. MONLAU COMPETICION (#109, CUPRA) – 77 laps
2. Autorama Motorsport by Wolf-Power Racing (#112, Volkswagen) – +43.159s
3. AC Motorsport (#188, Audi) – +3m 06.586s

 
SP3 and A3 – Salvation?
 
Though the Swiss team has slipped back from the SP3-class lead it had been holding comfortably throughout the first two hours, we doubt Amag First Centri Porsche Ticino (#312) will be too disappointed with this afternoon’s work. The team’s first 24H SERIES race in Dubai for instance failed to start at all after terminal gearbox issues struck the Porsche Cayman GT4 CS before qualifying had even started. Two months later in Mugello, Matteo Arrigosi took the formally recalcitrant Porsche to SP3-class pole position in only its second series start, and the fight for class victory is far from over.
 
Current leaders Munckhof Racing (#310), after all, have already hit trouble in Tuscany. Having received a slap on the wrist earlier in the race for passing under waved yellows, the BMW M4 GTR also brought out the event’s third Code 60 – just moments after the second, in fact – when Marco Poland beached himself at turn six, the front end of the BMW coming perilously close to grenading itself against the barriers.
 
Vortex V8 meanwhile have had a less than smooth run. After Franck Lefèvre’s earlier brush with the Wochenspiegel Ferrari, the slightly crumpled Vortex Scirocco GC 10 quickly disappeared into the garage, and has yet to materialise. 
 
Another to suffer on-track contact but survive was Synchro Motorsport (#676), which now leads the category it won back in 2017. The closest competition so far has come from the Dan Agro Racing Peugeot RCZ  (#685), which, despite suffering a Code 60-causing spin during qualifying, has run smoothly throughout the opening gambit. Unusually for Hofor-Racing and Bonk Motorsport, the Swiss-German team’s fourth event entry – the #869 BMW M240i Racing Cup
– has struggled to replicate its class winning form of last year, and is struggling to  overhaul the WEC Motorsport BMW E46 M3 (#639) for the final A3-class rostrum spot.
 
Still, we’re not even at quarter-distance yet…
 
SP3 Top 3 (after 3 hours)
 
1. Munckhof Racing (#310, BMW) – 74 laps
2. Amag First Centri Porsche Ticino (#312, Porsche) – 73 laps
3. Vortex V8 (#301, Vortex) – 68 laps
 
A3 Top 3 (after 3 hours)
 
1. Synchro Motorsport (#676, Honda) – 74 laps
2. Dan Agro Racing (#685, Peugeot) – +1m 47.952s
3. WEC Motorsport (#639, BMW) – 72 laps

 

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