Following the stunning performance last year in Bahrain, where Salih Yoluç and teammate Ayhancan Güven dominated the inaugural FIA Motorsport Games GT Cup, this year’s event was a great deal more challenging as rain and incident dominated the event at the Italian circuit of Vallelunga.
Teaming up with TF Sport to represent Team Turkey, Salih was confident that he would be able to run at the front and challenge for back-to-back victories in the #1 Aston Martin Vantage GT3. A decision by the race stewards in race one however dented that confidence, and this combined with atrocious weather throughout the weekend, made it a difficult event with an eventual finish of 12th.
“Everything that could go wrong did go wrong this weekend,” Salih explained. “To be fair we couldn’t quite get a handle on the car either and make the tyres work in the conditions. In race two I was able to make progress – gained five position in two laps – but then there was a huge drop-off and that’s why I dropped back.
“The final race the car felt better, but we were starting down the order and we had to gamble with the tyres. It just didn’t work out. With the safety car timing as well, we had no chance of getting a good result but there is no one to blame, it was just one of those unlucky race weekends.”
As ever, Salih was right on the pace from the start of practice and heading into his 20-minute qualifying session, all was good at Team Turkey. An impressive lap from Salih saw him claim second position on the grid for the first of the two qualifying races. Teammate Ayhancan meanwhile made a small mistake at turn one on his best run and had to settle for 12th for the start of race two.
The opening qualifying event saw Salih make a great start from the front row of the grid alongside eventual champions Team Japan. Almost immediately, two rivals collided and brought out the first safety car. Racing resumed soon after with Salih yielding to Russia to run third. Solid defence saw him hold back the Spanish Lamborghini GT3.
Race leader Hiroshi Hamaguchi suffered and off and Salih took advantage to retake second position only for heavy rain to bring out the red flags and stop the racing. After a lengthy time in the pits, the action resumed with Ayhancan now in the car and just eight minutes on the clock.
Running wet tyres, the team believed they could retain the position on a drying track. However, once out behind the safety car, the stewards added 21 minutes to the race, leaving Ayhancan in trouble with tyres. He ultimately finished a disappointed 13th.
The second qualifying race took place in torrential rain, with the first half of the 60-minute event ultimately wiped out. Salih took over with a third distance to go and quickly moved from 12th to seventh before his wet tyres started to go off and he finished 14th.
The deciding final race followed the same pattern, with rain dominating proceeding with Salih opting for slicks on the second lap. Ultimately neither he nor his teammate were able to make further progress following the safety car deployment that picked up their battle – rather than the race leaders – and put them a lap adrift. Ultimately 12th position was little reward from an event where factors beyond their control determined the race finish.
Salih now prepares for this weekend’s FIA World Endurance Championship in China. Having taken his first WEC victory last time out at Fuji Speedway, he and teammates Jonny Adam and Charlie Eastwood look forward to the third round of the championship.
“Our pace has been good since the first race at Silverstone and we went on to Fuji and we won that race easily, so that’s the goal again,” he said. “We’re on a good roll in terms of pace and setup with the car, so we’re just looking forward to being back on track in China.”