British sensation Middleton Vice-Champion in maiden Italian GT Endurance season

British sensation Middleton Vice-Champion in maiden Italian GT Endurance season

01.11.2021: ... after dramatic Monza finale Outstanding drive from Stuart Middleton helps secure P2 in championship Imperiale Racing just miss deserved title in dramatic, rain-hit Monza finale

... after dramatic Monza finale



 


•    Outstanding drive from Stuart Middleton helps secure P2 in championship

•    Imperiale Racing just miss deserved title in dramatic, rain-hit Monza finale

•    Middleton, Amici and Di Folco cap tremendous season with P2 race finish

•    Lamborghini Huracan team-mates prove pace with pole and fastest lap




Ashington racing driver Stuart Middleton just missed out on bringing the Italian GT Endurance Championship title back home to British shores on Sunday, 31st October, after finishing second in the final three-hour race of the season at a rain-hit Autodromo Nazionale di Monza.



Ending his maiden year at GT3 level as Italian GT Endurance Vice-Champion, along with Imperiale Racing team-mates Andrea Amici and Alberto Di Folco, 22-year-old Middleton couldn’t have done any more after a stunning middle stint of the race – where he built a lead of more than 42 seconds.



Rain during the final hour, when Di Folco was at the wheel of the No.63 Lamborghini Huracan GT3 EVO, worked against the Imperiale drivers when a late pit-stop for wet-weather Pirelli tyres didn’t work in their favour. The title-winning Audi R8 gambled by staying on slicks, and it proved decisive.



Even so, the 2021 season has been nothing short of outstanding for British Racing Drivers’ Club Rising Star Middleton with one race victory at Mugello and two further podiums from the four Endurance races contested – one during the season-opener at Pergusa, the other this weekend.



Going into the Monza season finale with it all to do, third in the championship and five points behind the No.12 Audi squad, Middleton, Amici and Di Folco came painfully close to achieving their dream of winning the crown and certainly gave it their all.



“I’m a bit gutted to be honest, but we gave it absolutely everything and it’s been a fantastic first season for me in GT3”, said the North East Caravans-supported Northumberland sportsman, “The car felt really good, we had to be a bit cautious of a bit of oversteer from the rear but I knew what I had to do and I was really dialled-in with the car in my stint.



“It was a tough call at the end with the pit-stop to change Alberto onto wets, it’s a difficult way to lose the race and the championship but if the Audi had finished second we couldn’t have won the title anyway. In hindsight, if we’d waited for them to pull the trigger with a decision on changing tyres it would have been better, but it makes no difference to the outcome.”



He added: “It is frustrating being so close to winning the championship, but the performance of the car and the team has been absolutely mega. Some very small things haven’t gone our way this year, and they made the difference. There are so many positives though, I have to say a massive, massive thank you to Lamborghini, Imperiale and to Andrea and Alberto too – they’ve done a fantastic job.”  






Sensational performance from Middleton once again on way to Monza P2



Qualifying on Saturday, 30th October, went pretty much perfectly for Imperiale. Middleton ran in the first 15-minute session and lapped an excellent second fastest, just missing the top of the times by only 0.086 seconds, before Amici was third in session two. In session three, Di Folco delivered a superb lap to go fastest and on combined times they secured pole position by almost 0.3 seconds.



Despite earlier rain, Sunday’s three-hour championship finale began on an almost completely dry track with just a few damp patches offline. Amici took the opening stint in the No.63 Lamborghini Huracan and led away perfectly from pole to open a lead of 1.7 seconds over the first lap alone.



Building his advantage initially, from lap four the lead began to be reduced by title rival Daniel Zampieri in the No.27 Ferrari 488 and the championship leading No.12 Audi R8 LMS of Riccardo Agostini. By lap 12 they were all together but Amici soaked up the pressure superbly until the first round of pit-stops, heading into pitlane at the end of lap 31 with a lead of 1.5 seconds.



Middleton climbed aboard for the middle stint of the race and when the order settled he led by an enhanced 3.7 seconds, having pumped in some very quick early laps. Driving faultlessly, the Northumberland driver rocketed into the distance with huge time gains each and every lap.



Leading by 10 seconds into lap 39, by lap 50 his cushion was a huge 20.1 seconds as Middleton did everything possible to give the Imperiale team-mates the opportunity to try and claim the coveted Italian GT Endurance Championship crown.



Relentlessly stamping his authority, Middleton continued to build his advantage and when he headed for the pits at the end of lap 63 to hand over the car to Di Folco for the final hour, the lead was 42.3 seconds – a remarkable drive.



When the order had settled once again, with 54 minutes to go, the Italian was 36.3 seconds clear and with Zampieri in second place and Mattia Drudi further behind in the No.12 Audi, the Imperiale drivers were on course to claim the title.



Light rain started to fall with just over half an hour of racing to go, making the challenge increasingly difficult with grip levels tricky to judge. Di Folco still led, by a reduced half a minute, and although Zampieri and Drudi closed in more the lead was still substantial. After Drudi moved into second, the title picture changed again and at the end of lap 85, with rain continuing, Di Folco pitted for wets.



Drudi gambled by remaining on slicks and led by over 30 seconds with around 15 minutes to go, Di Folco having also been slightly delayed leaving the pit-box. Although the Lamborghini did close, it wasn’t by enough. Charging hard to the finish, at the flag on lap 94 Di Folco was 5.8 seconds adrift but second place was still a great result and a successful way to wrap-up the season for Imperiale.



Final 2021 Italian GT Endurance Championship Standings


2nd Stuart Middleton/Andrea Amici/Alberto Di Folco, 47pts






Marc Orme- photos Italian GT

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01.11.2021 / MaP

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