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A1 Ring Free Practice

FIA GT Championship 18 - 20 September 1998 A1 Ring Austria Round Friday 18 September 1998 - Free Practice Sessions For the last European round of the 1998 season, the FIA GT cars have moved to the A1Ring, set in the spectacular Austrian ...

FIA GT Championship 18 - 20 September 1998 A1 Ring Austria Round Friday 18 September 1998 - Free Practice Sessions

For the last European round of the 1998 season, the FIA GT cars have moved to the A1Ring, set in the spectacular Austrian countryside. The track, which was brand new when the GT cars raced here last year, has since hosted two Formula One Grand Prix races. Although the FIA GT teams titles were decided two weeks ago at Donington, there is still a fierce internal battle for the GT1 driver's Championship, with Schneider and Webber leading Ludwig and Zonta by seven points.

Bright, cold and extremely wet weather greeted the cars as they took to the track for the first 90-minute free practice session today. The weather remained changeable throughout the day. The forecast, however, predicts an improvement over the weekend, with windy but dry weather on Sunday.

30 cars should take part in Sunday's 500 km race. Ten cars are entered in GT1, with the only driver change being in the DAMS Panoz. Frenchmen Franck Lagorce and Christophe Tinseau, who finished fifth in Suzuka, will once again be driving the Panoz GTR, as regular drivers Bernard and Brabham are retained in the USA. Twenty GT2 cars are expected. The Hungarian Bovi Motorsport team make their second appearance in the Championship. Remus Racing enters a Porsche 911 GT2 for German drivers Roessler, who drove in the winning Konrad GT2 car at the Daytona 24 hours earlier this year, and German GT specialist Herbert Drexler. Freisinger Motorsport, fresh from their debut fifth GT2 place at Donington, are back with Ligonnet and Kaufmann at the wheel of their Porsche 911 GT2. RWS, regulars in the FIA GT Championship last year, have also entered a Porsche for Raffaele Sanguiolo, Gnther Blieniger and Hans-Jrg Hfer.

For the first time this season, the elderly McLaren - the only GT1 car with Goodyear tyres - was the fastest car on the track. "We have a good rain tyre - a new cut, although not a new compound - it's probably made most of the difference. But the car is good here on this circuit - it's fine for us," Bscher said, after setting the best time of 1:42.290. "It was very slippery, and difficult to see with the spray and standing water," Geoff Lees added. "It's nice to be up there - we've just got to continue."

The driving conditions were extremely difficult. "Cars were going off all over the place," Christian Vann, driving the Marcos LM600, said.

Times gradually improved over the 90 minutes. Initially the AMG Mercedes CLK-LM and Porsche AG cars led the field, before Bartels, in the #6 Zakspeed Porsche, improved to 1:44.867. However, with ten minutes remaining, Geoff Lees, in the Davidoff McLaren F1 GTR, leapt to the top of the times with a lap of 1:43.220. His times were eclipsed, but Thomas Bscher, taking the car out again, further improved to 1:42.290 - a time that was not improved on.

The weather once more played a leading role in the second practice session. Although the track was drying by the time the cars ventured onto the track, the rain started again mid-session. The Zakspeed cars were once again at the front, as was the Panoz, until the final moments of the session, when Schneider and Zonta regained their habitual position at the top of the timing screens. Hahne and Scheld's #5 Zakspeed Porsche was third, with the Bouchut/Maylnder Persson Mercedes CLK-GTR fourth and the Panoz fifth - with all five cars within half a second of each other.

The Oreca Viper were fastest in both practice sessions, with Beretta and Lamy setting the 10th best time overall in the morning, and Wendlinger and Bell two seconds behind. In the afternoon, the two Vipers were once again fastest in GT2. "The car seemed OK, but we have to change some things for tomorrow," said Austrian driver Wendlinger, who is racing here for the first time. "It's a good new track, safe with lots of run off areas, and not too easy to drive." His team-mate, Justin Bell, was equally happy. "I'm very pleased, especially in these difficult conditions. All four drivers are running fast. I like the track, and I loved it in the rain."

Christophe Bouchut, charged once more with setting up and qualifying the #11 Persson Mercedes CLK-GTR, was third fastest in the first session. "I could have gone faster on my last lap, but I was talking on the radio, and made a slight mistake," Bouchut said. "But it's nice - it shows that we are competitive, especially in difficult conditions. At this stage of the year, we can't realistically win, but we could still manage the podium, and show what we are able to achieve." As for the weather this morning - "It was incredible - no grip whatsoever. You couldn't brake or accelerate. During the first 15 minutes, most of the cars went off - we didn't, which meant we didn't lose any time. We did some good work." Last year, Christophe drove the Repsol Kremer Porsche 911 GT2 at this track. "It was my only point of the year ! So perhaps that's a good omen for Sunday's race. This is a track I like a lot, even if I don't know it very well."

Konrad and Heger, who had their first podium finish at Donington, continued their good form with the third best time in both sessions. "One car is fine, but the other two are very bad," team-owner Franz Konrad said. "Martin Stretton crashed the front of the #65, and the engine of the #67 blew, and couldn't take part in the second session." But the progress of the Porsche 911 GT2 #66 is good. "We worked hard on the set-up and found a good solution for both wet and dry. We have been working a lot with Dunlop recently, and they have done a really good job. The tyres are good, and we have tested a lot. I'd be really happy to see all three cars finish the race," There were also problems for some other GT2 cars. The #69 Proton Porsche had a problem with their new gearbox, while the Stadler car, driven by Axel Rohr and Uwe Sick, was damaged after a clash with the #7 Porsche 911 GT1 98. Stphane Ortelli's Roock Porsche 911 GT2 had gearbox problems, and are waiting for a replacement to arrive.

The Marcos had an oil leak, and only managed 18 laps in the morning. "It cost us time, but it's all sorted now," said Christian Vann, driving alongside Cor Euser and Harald Becker. However, the problem reoccurred in the afternoon. "They think it's a blockage, and they are taking it all apart. So we did no real running, so we'll be playing catch-up."

The Marcos has been performing exceptionally well recently, with four consecutive pole positions, a third place at Suzuka and second at Donington Park. "I've never raced here before," Vann said, "But I like it - it's one of the best tracks, and it suits our car." As for their chances on Sunday - "The Vipers are in a clan of their own. But we will give it absolutely everything we've got. It will need something special to beat them. But you never know..."

The miserable weather conditions suited the privately-entered Zakspeed Porsche 911 GT1 cars, which were fastest in the wettest part of the morning, and led the field in the afternoon, finally finishing in 3rd and 6th places. "The Pirelli wet tyres are very good, and are performing well", Angelelli said. "The team is hoping for rain - they are a little nervous right now. But I have a feeling we could have a good result." This is the Italian driver's first time on the new A1 Ring, although he raced on the old circuit in Austrian F3. "I was third here, after a stop-and-go, and I won the Championship."

"It should be better tomorrow," Stphane Ortelli, Roock Racing

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