2013/2014 NGK Racing Series. Rd 1, Yas Marina. New strengths?

Porsche GT3s and Ferrai 458s join the NGK Racing Series grid for a strong start to the 2013/2014 season at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

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Given how dramatically grid numbers dropped during last year’s NGK Racing Series, few imagined how significant the turnaround would be for round one of the 2013/2014 season: four Porsche GT3 Cup 991s, a Dragon Racing Ferrari 458 Italia Challenge and McLaren 12C GT Sprint and even a KTM X-Bow joined the 18-strong NGK grid at the Yas Marina Circuit (though Brian McGinley’s Phoenix Motorsport Opel Astra, the Dragon McLaren and Guillaume Simonnet’s eponymously-entered Renault Clio would not start the event). Picking a winner was anybody’s guess.

Particularly in the Class 6/Porker category where the fight between current Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup challenger Michael Ammermüller and reigning Porsche GT3 Challenge Cup Middle East champion Clemens Schmid was underway early in the fight for pole position, Ammermüller narrowly netting the top spot.

The German also led into the opening chicane after a good getaway, Schmid slotting in behind and the pair quickly romping away ahead of fellow-Porsche runners Zaid Ashkanani, Hannes Waimer and Antonio Giancola, the latter of whom bouncing back from a hefty off during free practice. A somewhat processional outing saw the Porsches lead home Leon Price in the Dragon Racing Ferrari 458 Italia, though the prancing horse would prove a much tougher combatant with Jordan Grogor in the hot seat for race two.

A slow start from Schmid meant Ashkanani was already alongside as they barrelled into turn one, a squeeze down the main straight failing to shut the door fully. The Kuwaiti’s second place was temporary though, Schmid having retaken the position come lap two. The brief scuffle behind was all Ammermüller needed to steal a march, his two-second lead extending to four come the chequered flag, Schmid once again following home for second.

An electric start from Grogor meant was busy hassling Ashkanani for third in the early stages, the grunt of the Ferrari reigning the Porsche in down the straights. Through the tight chicanes though the more nimble 991 had a big advantage, and a good run from the Kuwaiti saw him take the final step of the podium for the second time that afternoon. Grogor’s strong race denied Waimer a second consecutive fourth place, but still the German fared better than Giancola, who lost two laps on pitroad and who eventually came home 11th behind the NGK regulars.

Bizarrely, only one reigning NGK Champion began their title defence at Yas. An over-powered Gulf Petrochem/Mourhista Racing SEAT Leon meant reigning Class 1 champion Costas Papantonis competed in the higher Class 5 or risk disqualification, a quiet afternoon netting a sixth, a seventh, and two class victories. The Moutran brothers – including reigning UAE Clio Cup champion Ramzi – were conspicuous by their absence, the Duel Racing outfit focusing instead on their 24H commitments this season. SVDP Racing – assured an always smiley Spencer Vanderpal – would also be in action, the team’s BMW 120d taking on the 24H season and the Honda Civic Type R returning to NGK action as soon as its new K-MOD engine arrives.

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