Monday, August 26, 2013

Superstars: Gianni Morbidelli's 2013 Superstars Season At A Crossroads

Audi Sport Italia Press Release

Gianni Morbidelli's 2013 Superstars Season At A Crossroads


Quite soon a host of Italy-registered trucks will head north to United Kingdom, as after a long summer break the 2013 Superstars series resumes on September 1st. At Donington Park AMG Mercedes’ Thomas Biagi will top the points table, but the upcoming weekend is rather likely to focus on Gianni Morbidelli’s fate: after four consecutive wins in twin-race meetings (an accomplishment which equalled his own 2009 record) can he keep his streak alive and grab the series’ lead or possibly the momentum that has sustained him and his Audi so far is on the brink of petering out?

The Leicestershire venue is renowned as a demanding but low-grip track: both features suit well the Audi assets. However, the Audi Sport Italia squad is heading into rougher waters at the British historic circuit. After the Portoguese round the series’ body levied an array of measures to undercut the rolling RS 5 and there is no question that these will add up to leave Morbidelli in a bit of spot. As a matter of fact the latest Balance Of Performance provisions will be pushing the envelope of RS 5's resiliency to its limit. The series’ rulebook had scheduled BOP updates after the Slovakian and British meetings: therefore the post-Zolder and post-Algarve mandates can well be dubbed as kind of extraordinary. It’s quite likely that the new mandatory measures will put a substantial strain on the Audi equipment, something the Italian outfit had struggled with early on.

The hurdles Morbidelli will have to clear at Donington Park can be split in two categories: reliability and performance issues. Audis were already topping the Superstars’ scales when the first technical bulletin was issued in mid-March: the RS 5 then was 30 or 40 kilos heavier than the beefiest competition (respectively AMG Mercedes and Cadillacs). The latest bulletin has increased Audi’s weight 40 kilos, therefore the German car is now 60 kilos heavier than C63s and 80 kilos more than the lone Cadillac—if the latter will show up. Including the sporting ballast the Camozzi-liveried car will be gauged at 1530 kilos, stamping a substantial reliability question mark on the Audi Sport Italia package. (By the way, this huge bulk isn’t even going to set a glum record: back in 2008 Superstars, Morbidelli’s RS 4 was forced to take on Monza at 1610 kilos. He wound up second, though, but he’d rather forget the car driveability throughout the weekend…)

As far as performance is concerned, the lone RS 5 is also headed to UK as the tallest car in the field, as it happened until the Slovakian outing: its ride height has been increased to 90 mm, i.e. 15 mm more than any competitor. This measure may not hurt excessively through Donington Park hairpins, but Craner and other tricky spots will be another story altogether. Last but not least, Audi’s V8 engine, whose 4.2 litre capacity is among the leanest in the series, has now to fit a 79mm air-restrictor which will replace the previous 85mm device. The choken down powerplant is expected to affect massively the car performance, further worsening the gap in horsepower with the BHP-happy competition, but at least it seems unlikely to have significant consequences on reliability.

However, the points standings are still bunched up enough to propel the title hopes of four drivers–besides Morbidelli and Biagi, Tonio Liuzzi and Giovanni Berton. Therefore there is a fair chance that Morbidelli’s staunch competition will feel compelled to rack up as many points as possibile --and take the risks that come along with such a gameplan -- before the Audi Sport Italia package come to grips with the latest overhaul. At Donington Park the Audi will be unloaded from the team truck without having undergone any major tweak. This means that it’s going to be easy to overlap the latest BOP provisions with the mid-Summer performance. Our hunch here is that, provided that weight and ride height measures will not chip away excessively on the car reliability, the upcoming meeting is not set to sap Morbidelli's confidence that he's well positioned to make a deep championship run. We’d not urge any fan to bet the farm on Morbidelli easily keeping the winning streak alive, but write him off as a Top3 finisher at your peril.

Drivers' Points Standings:
1. T. Biagi (AMG Mercedes) 143 points;
2. G. MORBIDELLI (AUDI RS 5) 140 pts;
3. V. Liuzzi (AMG Mercedes) 122 pts;
4. G. Berton (BMW) 109 pts;
5. G. Ferrara (AMG Mercedes) 90 pts.

Photo credit: Audi Sport Italia