At Mugello finale skimpy 1.4s gap dooms Luca Magnoni, Aleksander Schjerpen Italian GT4 title bid

In spite of valiant effort Italian-Norwegian Nova Race duo comes up short in Mercedes AMG GT4 debut race

The Italian Gran Turismo Endurance season finale even for a seasoned GT4 mainstay such as Nova Race turned out one of the most nail-biting ever, albeit its outcome proved sobering. The uncertainty of the race on Sunday at Mugello was not due to guessing who would come home first under the checkered flag: the Porsche Cayman of the ranking leaders Riccardo Chiesa and Giuseppe Ghezzi, flanked here by veteran Fabio Babini, started with the best time in class and led from the word go. On top of that the second of the race three safety car periods even gave them the unusual "gift" of a unearned full lap edge over the competition. As it is, in Italy the Gran Turismo encompasses a mixed grid made of GT3s and GT4s, and the safety car was placed in front of the leading GT3, drilling a huge hole between the first GT4 on track and all the other rivals at the time of the intervention.

Despite the easy life for the first place crew, understanding if Chiesa and Ghezzi would have won the GT4 title was quite a different story. The first place in the points standings, which is compiled taking into account three results out of four, hinged on the final result of the Nova Race duo Luca Magnoni and Aleksander Schjerpen. If the Italian-Norwegian pair could manage to finish on any step of the podium they would have in fact graduated as Italian GT4 2019 champion. However, Magnoni and Schjerpen were for the first time behind the wheel of the brand new Mercedes AMG GT4, which had replaced the previous Ginetta G55 barely a week before. The Varese, Italy-based driver, after taking the start, spent the first few laps trying to come to grips with the Stuttgart sportscar in race conditions against very competitive opponents and - unlike the Nova Race duo - accustomed to their respective cars. At the end of the first half hour Magnoni's improving laps indicated that when he could run without looking in the mirror to see if there were quicker GT3s nearby, he was more and more at ease, and a few minutes from the end of his starting stint he shifted from the seventh place that he occupied after ten minutes of competition to sixth, leapfrogging the Porsche Cayman of Piccioli-Costa-Mancinelli.

Climbing on the Mercedes AMG GT4 for the middle stint, the Nova Race Norwegian resumed the race in fifth position. At the beginning of Schjerpen's turn, a short safety-car phase bunched up the field. Before the first pit stop window the three-pointed star sportscar was lying 25s adrift of P3 - which was the goal of the day for Nova Race drivers - but when the green flag was waved the gap for the Norwegian was trimmed to 6 seconds from the third place, then occupied by one of the three Maseratis entered. As the Italian car dropped out of the race Schjerpen, in his first ever race at Mugello, found himself fighting for more than half of his stint for fourth place with Neri-Gnemmi-Riccitelli's Porsche Cayman, following it closely for half of his driving session but unable to move past.

The final stint, which for Magnoni started on the 68th lap, was a real showdown between those who had their eyes set on third place, while first place was quietly in the hands of the Cayman of the leaders and the second easily in the hands of the lone BMW M4, albeit thier crew was no longer dangerous for the Nova Race duo in the championship chase. Thus Magnoni was fighting against the Maserati of the renowned tin-tops pro Fabio Francia and the Cayman of the quick young gun Simone Riccitelli. The latter left the scene after a collision with another opponent and third place became a three-way issue between France, Magnoni and - in a bizarre way - Luca Demarchi. The latter in fact, having lost one lap, had no chance of a podium but was decisive for the result, because he kept the Mercedes behind as far as he could. Magnoni ultimately managed to move past the Cayman of the team mate of the championship leaders, but with a little under ten minutes to go, it was too late to catch up and try that decisive overtaking on the Maserati that would have meant claiming  the drivers' GT4 championship.

LUCA MAGNONI: "This weekend we left no stone unturned to be able to win the GT4 Endurance title. We were the only 100% gentlemen crew and despite this we were able to have our say until the end against opponents who put at the wheel, famous veterans or promising youngsters, for just a second and a half we were not able to get on that podium which was our goal to hit the title, during the decisive round we also saw that being alone on the track can be a handicap, when the second car of the champion team did everything to keep us behind despite being detached from a lap."

ALEKSANDER SCHJERPEN: "For me it was a very interesting journey. I was facing a new car to discover and a track where I had never raced before. We fought to the end and gave our best: closing the season as Endurance GT4 runner-up and with two victories is a positive balance of my season in Italy, so I thank those who have been beside me, team, teammate and those who supported me."

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