The sixth round of the 2006 season is a special one in the history of the FIA GT Championship, as it will be the one-hundredth race. From JJ Lehto and Steve Soper in their BMW Motorsport McLaren F1 GTR -- on display in the paddock this weekend - to Mike Hezemans, Anthony Kumpen and Bert Longin in their GLPK Carsport Corvette C6, the Championship has seen some amazing races over the years. For the 100th race, the teams and drivers have assembled in the Burgundy region of France, at the circuit of Dijon-Prenois. Renowned for the part it has played in motorsport -- including the first-ever wins for the Renault engine and Alain Prost, and a historic battle for second place between Rene Arnoux and Gilles Villeneuve in the 1979 Grand Prix -- its tricky corners, uphill and down, will make a challenging backdrop for this weekend's races.
An extremely close and exciting qualifying session saw Jarek Janis claim pole position for the 100th race in the history of the FIA GT Championship. The young Czech driver set a time of 1:14.623 in the nr 9 Zakspeed Saleen S7, to secure his second pole position of the season. In GT2, Scuderia Ecosse maintained its monopoly on pole position, as Andrew Kirkaldy set his fifth pole of the season. With four different makes in the top four, and the cars between second and fifth separated by just a tenth of a second, the session could hardly have been closer.
ZAKSPEED ON POLE FOR RACE 100
Jarek Janis has dominated the time sheets this weekend in the nr 9 Zakspeed Saleen, setting the fastest time in both free practice sessions. Despite coming out late in the 20-minute session, he immediately went up to the top of the screens, setting a time seven tenths ahead of the rest of the field. "It was really strange!" he said. "I was sat in the car for about 12 minutes, my team told me to stay cool as we were waiting for a clear lap. When I went out, I had a perfectly clear lap until the last corner. I did my best, and when the team saw my time they called me to come in, in order to preserve my tyres for the race."
Behind him, however, the next four cars were within one tenth of a second of each other. The nr 2 Vitaphone Maserati MC 12 was second-fastest, three hundredths of a second ahead of the nr 33 Race Alliance Aston Martin DBR9 -- its best result to date ! "I'm delighted to be back at a press conference ! "Philipp Peter explained. "We have been working very hard since the beginning of the season, we had some trouble at the beginning, but now it is going better and better." As for Jamie Davies, he was pleased with his front-row start position : "Everything is going to plan this time ! The car was really good for qualifying, the tyres worked very well and it is great to drive a Maserati here, when everything is coming together."
A further two hundredths of a second separated the third-placed Aston Martin from the GLPK Carsport Corvette, with Anthony Kumpen setting a good time despite 80 kg penalty weight. Fifth, but only a tenth behind the second placed car, was Jean-Denis Deletraz, in the nr 5 Phoenix Racing Aston Martin DBR9.
The Championship-leading Vitaphone Maserati of Bartels and Bertolini was sixth, the car carrying a total of 85 kg, with the nr 38 All-Inkl.com Racing Lamborghini Murcielago seventh. The two Aston Martin Racing BMS DBR9 cars were eighth and ninth, just ahead of the Balfe Motorsport Saleen.
SCUDERIA ECOSSE CONTINUES TO DOMINATE GT2
Andrew Kirkaldy set his fifth pole position of the season, leading a Ferrari quintet in the GT2 category. The Scottish driver set a lap of 1:18.757 relatively late in the session, to overtake the two AF Corse cars, which had held provisional pole until then. "Things didn't go quite according to plan this time, "Kirkaldy said. "Although we are on pole, it was more difficult. I didn't get a clear lap initially, so we had to leave it until the last lap. I'd done eight laps on the tyres by then, which wasn't ideal. Being at the front is what we needed, especially on this track."
Kirkaldy will start alongside the Championship leaders Bobbi and Melo, in the nr 58 AF Corse Ferrari, with the team's second car, the nr 59, close behind. "We have got quite a good set-up, the tyres are working well," Melo explained. "For sure the race will be very tough, so we need to get very consistent tyres and try to do our best. I think Scuderia Ecosse is perhaps one step ahead, but we need to score as many points as possible, to keep our lead in the Teams and Drivers classifications."
Tim Sudgen was a close fourth in the nr 55 JMB GruppeM Ferrari, ahead of the second Scuderia Ecosse car. The leading Porsche was sixth, the nr 75 Ebimotors Porsche of Collard and Riccitelli, ahead of the team's second car, the nr 74 of Moccia and Busnelli.
GOOD SESSION FOR BELGIAN RACING IN G2
After problems in Paul Ricard, the nr 101 Belgian Racing Gillet Vertigo has run well this weekend, and qualified 18th, just behind the two Ebimotors Porsches. "Things are going better this weekend," Bas Leinders explained. "We're getting better with the car set-up wise. Dunlop is supplying good tyres. We've made a big step forward performance-wise. We still have a small problem with the gear selection, for which we'll have the solution in Mugello, so I wasn't able to go full speed this afternoon, but we might find a temporary solution for tomorrow. We're not so far from the two Ebimotors Porsches of Collard and Moccia, and I plan to overtake them tomorrow !"
Philipp Peter was the first driver on provisional pole, with the nr 33 Race Alliance Aston Martin, with a time of 1:16.186. He further improved to 1:15.377, closely followed by Jamie Davies in the nr 2 Vitaphone Maserati and Christophe Bouchut in the nr 38 All-Inkl.com Racing Lamborghini Murcielago.
Seven minutes into the session, Jamie Davies improved to 1:15.347, and claimed provisional pole ahead of Peter and Bartels. Bartels improved but stayed third. The nr 5 Phoenix Aston Martin moved up to third, Deletraz at the wheel. At this stage, neither the nr 4 Corvette nor the nr 9 Saleen, which had been at the top of the free practice sessions, had made an appearance. Five minutes from the end, the nr 4 GLPK moved into seventh place. Then, four minutes from the end, Jarek Janis moved into the lead with a lap of 1:14.623, on his first flying lap in the nr 9 Zakspeed Saleen. The GLPK Carsport Corvette moved up into fourth, just ahead of the nr 5 Phoenix Racing Aston Martin. With four different cars in the top four places, and the cars between second and fifth positions separated by just a tenth of a second, tomorrow's race looks it's going to be extremely interesting !
In GT2,, the nr 66 Felbermayr Porsche was on provisional pole at the start of the session. It was replaced after six minutes by Jaime Melo in the nr 58 AF Corse Ferrari 430 GT2, ahead of the nr 55 JMB-GruppeM Ferrari. Ten minutes into the session, the nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari moved up to second place, but it lost it again to the nr 59 AF Corse car of Mika Salo. Four minutes before the end, Kirkaldy set a lap of 1:18.757 to take his fifth pole of the season, ahead of the two AF Corse Ferrari cars. At the very end, the nr 55 JMB GruppeM Ferrari moved up into fourth, ahead of the nr 63 Scuderia Ecosse car.