FIA GT Championship 10 - 12 July 1998 Dijon Round Friday 10 July 1998 - Free Practice Sessions
Weather Friday started out wet, but by the time the GT cars took to the track for the first 90 minute practice session, the weather was improving, although it remained overcast. The second session was interrupted by brief but heavy showers, with the track drying in between. Better weather is forecast for the rest of the weekend.
The circuit Dijon-Prenois, 15 km from the beautiful French city of Dijon, twists and turns through picturesque scenery, surrounded by woods and farmland. It is a new track to many of the drivers, giving perhaps a slight advantage to the French contingent, who have raced here in the junior formulae or the French GT series. The track is 3.8 km long, which will mean a race of 132 laps on Sunday. A busy weekend is on the books, with, as well as the races, autograph sessions and the SuperCar show, a parade through the streets of Dijon.
New faces, old faces There are quite a few driver changes for this fourth round of the FIA GT Championship, bringing some familiar faces back to the track. Gary Ayles, who drove for Parabolica last year, is replacing Goncalo Gomez ("He hasn't paid" - Hugh Chamberlain) in the Chamberlain Engineering Viper. Gary has already driven successfully for Chamberlain at Le Mans this year. "It's good to be back," Gary said. "I just like driving !" Carl Rosenblad, Christophe Bouchut's partner at Kremer in 1997, is back with his Daytona co-driver Patrice Goueslard and Porsche test driver Bob Wollek in the Larbre Competition '97 version Porsche 911 GT1. Frenchman Emmanuel Collard, who drove for JB Racing last year, is replacing Stiphane Ortelli in the n056 Roock Racing Porsche GT2, who is driving in the Porsche Supercup in Great Britain this weekend. Young Frenchman Stiphane Sarraz makes his FIA GT debut in the n066 Konrad Porsche, alongside Franz Konrad. "I hoped to do Le Mans, but couldn't due to budget problems. Stiphane Ortelli introduced me to various teams and it resulted in this drive."
Rundown There are 29 cars taking part in the Dijon round of the FIA GT Championship. 11 GT1 cars are entered, with Team Hezemans absent because of gearbox problems.. Thomas Bscher's McLaren F1 GTR, currently 6th in the overall classification, misses this round due to personal reasons, but will be back next week for the Hungaroring. Larbre Competition returns to the Championship with a '97 version Porsche 911 GT. In GT2, 18 cars are entered, with Chamberlain still reduced to one Viper and Cirtek not entering their Ford Saleen Mustang.
First Free Practice Session A total change of pace after the power-circuit of Hockenheim, the twisty, unfamiliar track of Dijon was expected to make a difference in the names at the top of the timing screens. However, it was the winner of the two previous rounds, Bernd Schneider, who set the fastest lap in the first session, with a best time of 1:11.447. He was followed by the two Porsche AG cars, with Dalmas and McNish ahead of M|ller and Alzen. The cars were incredibly close, with the first five cars within half a second, which promises much for Sunday's race.
It was once again Beretta and Lamy , in the Team Oreca Viper n051, who set the pace in the GT2 category, ahead of Donohue and Wendlinger, in the n052 Viper. Eichmann and Maassen, in the n057 Roock Porsche, were third fastest, with the Marcos LM600 in fourth place.
Second Free Practice Session With showers disrupting the session, results were variable. The first part was dominated by David Brabham in the Panoz , who, with the Porsche AG cars, set the best times early on. The track then dried for a while, and times tumbled, and AMG Mercedes re-established themselves at the top, with Ricardo Zonta setting a time of 1:11.662 and Schneider a second behind. In GT2, Beretta and Lamy continued to dominate the category. With a best lap of 1:17.120, the Viper was over 3 seconds faster than the best of the Porsche 911 GT2 cars, the Roock n056 driven by Claudia H|rtgen and Emmanuel Collard. "I don't know what's happened," Beretta said. "At Silverstone, the Porsches were close to us. At Hockenheim, the Marcos was very fast. Now there's a big gap. I hope it will be closed."
GT1 Quotes : "It's not so easy on this track. We're still developing the car, but we have no chance of challenging the newer Mercedes CLK LM. They have the advantage in tyres, fuel and weight. We need to get rid of the plank to have a chance," Marcel Tiemann, Team Persson Motorsport.
"I was last at the track in 1989. I won here in F3. A good memory - but a distant memory," Jean-Marc Gounon, Team Persson Motorsport.
"It's not too bad. I'm still learning the circuit - it's good, I like it, but it needs to be a mile longer. The Panoz can be competitive here. We've still got some problems with the bumps, and understeer, but there is definitely room for improvement." David Brabham, DAMS Panoz.
"The car is bouncing around too much. We've got to work on the suspension and on mechanical grip. I don't like the track, but it suits us a lot better, as will Hungaroring," Jvrg M|ller, Porsche AG
GT2 Quotes "We're still learning the track," Andri Arhli, Roock Sportsystem Porsche 911 GT2.
"Hockenheim wasn't good for us at all. Hopefully this track will be better. We haven't got enough grip yet, but there's time to try other things. We couldn't get to grips with Hockenheim at all. But we can work with here ! If it doesn't rain. And if the car doesn't catch fire" Martin Stretton, Konrad Porsche 911 GT2
"We'll have the newer, lighter car out tomorrow - it's waiting for the engine. The track is all right, but it's small, and tight. It's difficult to see the GT1 cars. It's all right as long as they have their headlights on, but if they don't, it's very difficult." Christian Vann, Marcos
"Things are going well .Only we couldn't find the final settings due as there was too much understeer. " Karl Wendlinger, Team Oreca Viper This is not the first visit to Dijon for Wendlinger, who tested here 8 years ago, in F3000. "The circuit is tricky- especially in the apexes, and when turning in. You have to find all the details to get the last hundredths of a second." As for the track in general - "The car is good here, but the car doesn't suit the track as well as Hockenheim did !"
Press Conference Quotes "I'm French, and last year we had a majority of French teams and drivers in the FIA GT Championship. It was therefore unfair not to have a race in France for two years. We chose Dijon because it's central, not far from Switzerland and Dijon, with a reputation for good numbers of spectators. Also, it's a beautiful track," Stiphane Ratel, Organiser of the FIA GT series and promoter of this event, on the choice of this circuit for the 4th round of the 1998 FIA GT Championship.
"For sure, the new AMG car is very quick. For Persson, it's a bit different. It's a '97 car, it's reliable and quick, but a bit behind the new cars. But it can be competitive. The season is really open, and I think we could get on the podium." Christophe Bouchut, Team Persson Motorsport
Final Word "Is it a good circuit for us ? I'll tell you on Sunday night," Cor Euser, Marcos Racing International