European GT4: Great effort for Gabriela Jilkova after P6 & P7 in charging Imola races
Gabriela Jílková and Robert Haub took the #4 Drago ZVO Mercedes to European GT4 debut with a sixth and seventh place in class in Imola – having charged through the field on Saturday and finishing as the first Mercedes on Sunday.
GT4-class GT Winter Series champions Gabriela Jílková and teammate Robert Haub made their full-time debut in GT4 European Championship in Imola, after a one-off appearance last year at the Nurburgring.
The new Drago Racing Team by ZVO thus started its first international event under its new banner and launched the new striking white-and-green livery that will be appearing in Jílková and Haub's double-campaign in GT4 Europe and ADAC GT4 Germany, where the driver-pairing was fighting at the top-end of the pack in 2021.
Two-time class champions in the Winter Series - a championship that aims to prepare teams and drivers for their full-time commitments - Gabriela and Robert headed to Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Imola with some good mileage in the new #4 Mercedes AMG GT4 but with little knowledge of the Italian racetrack - with the extra variable of the menacing weather conditions looming throughout the entire weekend. In an outstandingly-competitive 50-car field, the duo entered the Pro-Am class.
The weekend started off a bit on the bumpy side, as a suspension damage in FP2 meant that Jílková could not practice her run on new tyres ahead of qualifying.
"In the second free practice I hit a yellow sausage and the rear suspension broke" - explained Gabriela. "That was the lap before we should have put new tyres on, and unfortunately we couldn't finish the session."
"So I started qualifying on a new set of tyres - which I had never driven here on this track, so it was a really difficult situation for me, as everyone else had tested that before. So I knew it would have been hard."
Still, the young Czech racer finished 30th out of 50 cars, 14th in ProAm.
Robert Haub got behind the wheel of the #4 Mercedes in Q2 and was a solid 18th overall, sixth in class. The first race on Saturday evening saw Jílková taking the start, before handing over to Haub mid-way through the session - as the main goal remained navigating through the traffic unscathed in such a crowded field.
"The start was really crazy, the first corner with 50 cars was just as I expected - I was just trying not to be involved in any crash and just go through the first lap, because we knew if we could survive that we could definitely make some more places." - told us Jílková.
Vincent Andronaco (Allied Racing Porsche) led overall in the first stages, followed by the two Akkodis Mercedes of Jim Pla and Simon Gachet. Jílková gained a few positions and advanced to 12th in class, as battles throughout the field saw constant position changes: Koch and Chovet banged wheels for sixth place overall, allowing Ibanez to join the party and getting ahead of both.
The action was halted by a Full Course Yellow for debris - which ignited a bigger incident as some cars slowed down and others didn't: the Hugo Sasse (#24 ProSport Aston Martin) hit the #44 Allied Racing Porsche of Alexander Hartvi, with also Mateo Herrero (#29 Mirage Racing Alpine) and Adam Carroll (#47 Greystone McLaren) involved in the incident.
With wheels and debris scattered around the track, the marshal intervention was a complex one and required the extension of the pit window under the Safety Car phase.
Gabriela Jílková was already up to P24 (12th in ProAm) and opted to pit straight away when the pitlane finally opened.
"During my stint I was really saving the tyres for Robert, I wasn't really pushing" - she told us. "There were also a lot of Full Course Yellows and Safety Cars, so it was really important to save the tyres for Robert. We pitted directly after the Safety Car, which was a really good strategy from the team. We had a good pitstop and didn't lose any time - after which Robert did his stint."
The race resumed with 27 minutes left on the clock and Haub started a great charge through the midfield. When most of the front-runners pitted with 20 minutes to go, he was already up in the class top-ten.
Unfortunately, another FCY stopped Haub's recovery, when Antoine Potty went off at Acque Minerali having mde contact with Verdier with 12 minutes to go. The race did resume - but was back under caution soon after for the incident involving Thijmen Nabuurs and Enzo Joulie. Just one lap before, Robert Haub was among the fastest on track and was looking strong to keep climbing the order. A last lap contact under SC put an end to Race 1, handing the victory to K.Lachenauer/G.Bowers in the #10 Racing Spirit of Leman Aston Martin ahead of V.Andronaco/A.Mayrl (Allied Racing Porsche) after a pit stop pass.
Despite the disrupted effort, Gabriela Jílková and Robert Haub finished P13 overall and seventh in the ProAm class, recovering 17 places over the course of the first race.
"Very positive result, we're pretty happy with how we performed in the first race in the European series" - commented Haub. "We gained 17 places through a very good strategy at the pit stop. Sadly there were a lot of FCY where we couldn't gain any more places from when I came out of the pits." "I tried to attack, it's not very easy to overtake here and with all the Full Course Yellows there wasn't much time either to try something. I had really good tyres, my teammate did extra tyre management and I could really push all the time. I could see the cars in front of me that had no more tyres and were really struggling - and I think if it wasn't for the last FCY I could definitely have made some places." "He really had good tyres to push" - stressed Jílková. "Nevertheless, we finished overall P13, P7 in class - which was really important to collect good points for this season." "From P30 to P13 is something I didn't expect to be honest, but we survived the first two laps and we will definitely come towards the front", said an hopeful Gabriela. "Tomorrow we will start from P18, so if we gain 17 places again it will be fun!" And the second race was indeed even more promising for the fast duo, who could count on a higher starting position. Robert Haub had a good start and got into fifth place in class, making up also a few positions in the overall standings. The first Safety car, though, was quickly deployed when Vincent Beltoise was off in the gravel after contact with Erward Bastard - respectively in second and third place overall. The latter was handed a 10 second penalty for the incident. The restart was relatively cleaner and Haub kept his position in the middle of the hectice battles - before a second interruption for the stricken W&S Motorsport Porsche of Andrey Solukovtsev. A great fight for third overall marked the restart, as Akhil Rabindra claimed the spot after a full lap of position changes. When the pit window opened, Haub stayed out and went on to lead in class during the pit stages. He would hand over to Gabriela Jílková on lap 15 and she rejoined 12th overall, 5th in class. After a long battle with the Chevy Camaro of Dante Rappange, Jílková was back to sixth - but she lost the chance to fight back when again a Full Course Yellow procedure ended up in two separate pile ups. The race ended behind the Safety Car, with K.Lachenauer/G.Bowers winning back to back, ahead of the Centro Ticino Porsche of A.Fontana/I.Jacoma, who also won the ProAm category.
A very promising weekend for Gabriela Jílková and Robert Haub came to a close with a seventh and a sixth place in class that mean important points in one of the most competitive GT4 series worldwide. "It was a really good one" - said Gabriela after the race. "Robert had a good start and already overtook a lot of cars. After the pitstop, I was fighting with some other cars, but the BOP for the Mercedes was quite hard for this weekend, because on the straight they overtook me quite easily and it was quite hard to fight with them. But we managed it very well and we were the first Mercedes overall - which shows that there was not much else we could do." We finished sixth in class and overall we are very happy with the result; the car is in one piece and we collect very important points for the championship", she continued. "It was a completely new track for us, we had not tested and to finish as the first Mercedes is really good." Robert Haub was just as happy about the result: "Being the first Mercedes in the race is really something - close to 50 cars, it's quite an achievement that we can be proud of. We gained a couple of positions in the race as well and we had luck for the weather, as all weekend we always thought it was going to be a wet race but it wasn't. The car performed well, the team also did a great job, and now it's off to Oschersleben." Jílková and Haub will be back in the European GT4 championship in June for the French round of Le Castellet - but will have a busy next few weeks for the start of the German championship which starts on 22-24 April at Oschersleben. "The next race will be in Paul Ricard - where we already tested, so we know a little bit more the track and I think we can collect some good points again, maybe a bit more", said Jílková. "We really want to be on the podium this year in the European Championship, but I think our time will come. For us it's something completely new, with 50 cars - it's really different from what we are used to." "Now we're directly going to Oschersleben where we have pre-season testing [of the ADAC GT4 Germany championship], then we have one day off before the GTC race which we do for preparation." "It will be busy, but I'm really looking forward to it, as it's really good that we are racing so much now."