Michael Lyons - Ferrari 458 ItaliaFerrari 458 Italia racer Michael Lyons got his International GT Open title campaign off to a strong start at Paul Ricard HTTT in France over the weekend, 27th/28th April, with a GTS class podium finish during the opening race of the 2013 season.

Marking the Felsted-based Briton’s first ever appearance at the Le Castellet track, the learning process during the event was made all the more challenging by continual rain and heavy fog which did cause some disruption to the weekend timetable.

Despite contact at the start of race two, which led to major problems with the handling of the AF Corse-run Ferrari shared with Italy’s Matteo Beretta, the duo still ended the weekend equal fourth in the GTS points standings and eighth in the outright championship.

“Considering I haven’t been to Paul Ricard before, and I had to learn how to drive the track in the rain in the races, I’m quite pleased how it all turned out in terms of our performance”, commented the 22-year-old, “Even with the race two troubles we’ve ended the weekend fourth in the GTS points so I’m happy with that, it’s important to score early on – the GT open is all about consistency.”

Fog and rain were prevalent throughout Saturday, making conditions extremely difficult for the round one qualifying session. Beretta had to settle for the 10th fastest time but in the race he and Michael showed their true performance with a fantastic run to fourth overall, third in the GTS class, to start the championship on the podium.

Beretta took the opening stint for the rain-affected 70-minute encounter and made good progress from the outset, climbing into the top six overall by lap eight. Pitting on lap 14 to hand the 458 Italia over to Michael, the British Racing Drivers’ Club (BRDC) Rising Star rejoined around the top 10 and in less than 10 laps he was into the top five – third in GTS.

Although remaining there to the finish on lap 28, post-race the Super GT Chevrolet Corvette of Bert Longin and Diederich Siithoff received a 30 second time penalty which elevated the Lyons-Beretta car into fourth overall.

For Sunday’s second round, which started in damp conditions, Michael began the race from seventh on the grid but was almost immediately collected by one of the rival Ferraris. Holding onto his car impressively, the incident dropped him to 10th overall but the damage caused resulted in horrendous understeer which badly compromised the pace.

After the mandatory driver change on lap 10, Beretta took control of the AF Corse machine but with the continued handling problems they had to settle for an eventual finish of 16th overall and 11th in the GTS class rankings.

“In qualifying I had the speed for P4 for race two but a combination of traffic and a small mistake meant we ended up seventh”, explained Michael, “At the start I got harpooned by, I think, one of the Kessel Racing Ferraris and the damage meant we had big understeer all the way through.

“We struggled the whole race with that and it’s just disappointing we missed out on a good finish as we had the pace to fight for another podium. It’s still been a good weekend though and we’ve taken some good points away from the first race so I’m happy enough with that.”

Next on the International GT Open calendar is a visit to Portimao in Portugal a fortnight from now, 11th/12th May, for rounds three and four of the 2013 season.

Provisional 2013 International GT Open – GTS Class Standings (after Rd2):
=4th Michael Lyons/Matteo Beretta & Nicola De Marco/Lorenzo Bontempelli, 6pts

Provisional 2013 International GT Open Standings (after Rd2):
8th Michael Lyons/Matteo Beretta, 12pts