Kuppens makes a winning startThe rain was an unexpected and dreary guest as it paid a visit during the first round of the Maserati Trofeo. The wet conditions reduced visibility along the 5.8 kilometre circuit and led the race organisers to cancel the second qualifying session and then have the 24 Maseratis start the race itself behind the safety car.
The race got going on lap two with Kuppens sprinting away from the pack as he tried to make the most of the perfect visibility he enjoyed as the leader. Simoni, second on the grid, seemed to suffer from oversteer when accelerating out of turns. At Virage du Camp he wasn’t in total control of his Trofeo and Cola managed to find a way past. Cadei was another driver hounding Simoni but he had to wait until the end of the lap to get the better of the Frenchman.
Starting behind the safety car meant avoiding first turn pile-ups but some drivers still managed to climb a few places when things got going again. Quick off the mark was Russian journalist Maxim Akhtyamov, who moved into fifth just ahead of Venier and a fast-closing Romagnoli. In the middle of the pack Merjech swept past Silva while Fascicolo was plotting a comeback from way down the field.
Early on, Danish driver Mac was attracting attention with a series of classy overtaking moves, one of them on the outside of Cesari. Still, most eyes were glued to what was going on between Kuppens and Cola up front. The Italian’s series of quick laps saw him close the gap on Kuppens as he tried to turn the screw. The Belgian was feeling a bit ruffled and mistimed his braking at Mistal but was able to hold onto his lead.
The drivers were swapping places in midfield with Mac and Bakker starring. The Dane was up to eighth by lap six, the same lap that saw Zamparini close in on the top ten by outfoxing Columbian Merjech.
Even though the rain was easing off, the surface was a tricky one as Riccardo Romagnoli found out when he spun into fourteenth.
After easing off the gas for a few laps, Cola went back for some more of Kuppens. On lap 8, Kuppens’ lead was down to 1”0 over Cola, 11”3 over Cadei, 20”9 over Simoni, 21”8 over Akhtyamov and 23”7 over Venier. Next came Adrien De Leener, Mac and Bakker.
There were private duels going on all over the circuit: Javier and Zanini were tussling for sixteenth with the Italian getting the better of his Spanish rival as the lap timer read ‘nine’. Ahead of Zanini was a trio of drivers made of Boccellari, Merjech and Romagnoli.
Zamparini was another star as he took De Leener’s eighth spot on lap 10. The last of the excitement came just as the chequered flag was being raised with Daniel Waszczinski getting past Pier Marie de Leener and then going into a spin. Waszczinski was lucky that no-one careered into his car.
So, Race 1 was taken by Renaud Kuppens from Alberto Cola and Niki Cadei. The top two crossed swords frequently while Cadei’s clean and consistent driving style saw him go into just one, harmless, spin. Just off the podium was an Alan Simoni who defended his position from Maxim Akhtyamov towards the end. Akhtyamov is a guest driver at Paul Ricard and so cannot pick up any points. It was a positive workout for the Frenchman, as it was for Fabio Venier, sixth, and Mikkel Mac, making his series debut. The Dane, together with Patrick Zamparini (eighth), Adrian De Leener (ninth), Mathijs Bakker (tenth) and Giuseppe Fascicolo (fourteenth) were among the main players.
The fastest lap time of 2’35”067 was clocked by Renaud Kuppens on lap ten.
Penalties change the podium standings
With the race done and dusted, the race officials decided to hand out 25-second penalties to drivers who had made a flying start. The drivers who overtook their rivals before crossing the start line were: Cola, Zamparini, Romagnoli and Waszczinski. This decision changes the race result with Cadei promoted from third to second, Zamparini slips from eighth to twelfth and Romagnoli from eleventh to fourteenth; Waszczinski maintains his twenty-second spot.
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