The FIA GT Championship returns to the Donington Park circuit for the first time since 1999, when Chrysler Viper Team Oreca drivers Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger took one of their six victories on their way to the championship title. The circuit, alongside East Midlands airport, was first used by the FIA GT Championship in 1997. The track, however, has a long history dating back to the 1920s; this year, it is celebrating its 25th anniversary since re-opening after the Second World War. This weekend sees the penultimate round of the 2002 Championship. A grand total of 33 cars are due to take part in Sunday's 500 km race, with all four titles still to be decided. Today's weather was bright and sunny.
CHANGES IN DRIVER LINE-UPS
Belgian Vincent Vosse has switched from the nr 2 Larbre Competition Chrysler Viper GTS-R to share the nr 1 car with championship leader Christophe Bouchut. Bouchut's co-driver and co-championship leader David Terrien has moved to partner Carl Rosenblad in the nr 2 car. During the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, Vosse shared the nr 1 Larbre Viper with Bouchut, Terrien and Formula 3000 champion Sebastian Bourdais. That victory, combined with some consistent finishes all season with Rosenblad, means that Vosse lies fifth in the drivers' championship, just 6.5 points off second-placed Lister Storm pairing of Nicolaus Springer and Jamie Campbell-Walter. Portuguese driver Ni Amorim will drive the nr 12 Paul Belmondo Racing Chrysler Viper GTS-R at Donington, sharing with Fabio Babini. Amorim took part in the first two races of the season with Stephane Ortelli in the nr 54 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-R; he previously drove a Chamberlain Motorsport Chrysler Viper GTS-R in the 1999 season. Babini's co-driver Marc Duez has switched to the second car, sharing with Claude-Yves Gosselin in place of team chief Paul Belmondo. Bobby Verdon-Roe will share the nr 15 Lister Storm Racing Lister Storm with British drivers David Warnock and Ian McKellar this weekend. Johnny Mowlem joins Ian Khan in the nr 60 JVG Racing Porsche 996 GT3-R. Mowlem last drove in the Championship in the second round, at Silverstone, when he shared the nr 58 Autorlando Sport Porsche 996 GT3-R with Toto Wolff and finished second in the N-GT category. Stephen Stokoe joins Adam Jones in the nr 62 Cirtek Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-R, while Nicolas Poulain will share the nr 64 Cirtek Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-R with Michele Meredino.
NEW TEAMS JOIN SERIES AT DONINGTON
Force One Racing returns to the championship for the first time since Spa. David Hallyday and Philippe Alliot have abandoned their Ferrari 550 Maranello, which has returned to its private owner, and are instead running a brand new Chrysler Viper GTS-R.
Francois Lafon and Jean-Pierre Jarier are also back with their ART Chrysler Viper GTS-R. Swedish driver and team manager Henrik Roos returns to the championship having made his debut in his home track of Anderstorp. The Chrysler Viper will once again be driven by Roos and rapid Swede Magnus Wallinder. EMKA Racing makes its debut in the championship this season, Steve O'Rourke sharing the nr 56 Porsche 996 GT3-R with Robin Liddell who last drove in the series at Anderstorp, sharing a Cirtek Motorsport Porsche with Dane John Nielsen. O'Rourke contested the championship last year driving with Tim Sugden, who this weekend will share the nr 83 Veloqx Motorsport Ferrari 360 Modena with Andrew Kirkaldy. Veloqx Motorsport won the British GTO Championship this year, and champion driver Jamie Davies shares the nr 82 Ferrari 360 Modena with Italian former Formula One driver Ivan Capelli. Mike Jordan, who won the Nurburgring round last year, sharing a Lister Storm with Jamie Campbell-Walter, has entered two Porsches 996 GT3-R cars. The Briton will share with Mark Sumpter in the nr 88 Porsche 996 GT3-R. The nr 89 Porsche will be driven by brothers David and Godfrey Jones.
The two Larbre Competition Chrysler Viper GTS-Rs will both carry 80kg of success ballast after Christophe Bouchut and David Terrien, who earned 80kg of ballast together, are split for the first time. The weight follows Terrien across to the nr 2 Chrysler Viper GTS-R. The nr 12 Paul Belmondo Racing Chrysler Viper GTS-R, of Fabio Babini and Ni Amorim, will carry 65kg of ballast, as will the nr 11 to which Marc Duez has switched, taking his ballast with him. The nr 14 Lister Storm Racing Lister Storm of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Nicolaus Springer carries 40kg of ballast, though the sister car, nr 15 of Bobby Verdon-Roe, Ian McKellar and David Warnock, lost its ballast after crashing out at the last round in Enna Pergusa.
The N-GT Championship challengers, the nr 54 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-R of Stephane Ortelli and Romain Dumas, the nr 50 and the nr 51 JMB Racing Ferraris, all carry the maximum 50kg ballast. Ortelli has carried the maximum weight for most of the season. Ferrari drivers Christian Pescatori and Andrea Montermini, who shared the nr 50 JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena, were split at Enna Pergusa having accumulated the weight together.
FIRST FREE PRACTICE : LISTER AND VELOQX SHARE THE HONOURS
The Lister Storm of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Nicolaus Springer set the pace in the first of the two 90-minute free practice sessions. Campbell-Walter set a time of 1m30.038s, more than half a second faster than the nr 23 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello of Andrea Piccini and Jean-Denis Deletraz. The Ferrari lost time in the pits with a minor gearbox problem before Piccini set his fastest time late in the session.
Mike Hezemans and Anthony Kumpen were third fastest in the nr 3 Carsport Holland Chrysler Viper GTS-R, the Dutch team trying out a new Pirelli tyre compound and construction that, it is hoped, will increase durability and speed. The nr 4 Carsport Holland Chrysler Viper GTS-R of Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari set the tenth fastest time after suffering a gearbox oil leak.
In N-GT, the Veloqx Motorsport Ferrari 360 Modena of Tim Sugden and Andrew Kirkaldy headed the time sheets, despite a long brake pedal that had to be fixed mid-session. Kirkaldy set a time of 1m34.958s. The second Veloqx Ferrari 360 Modena, of Jamie Davies and Ivan Capelli, did not complete a lap due to a gearbox problem.
Toto Wolff and Philipp Peter were second fastest in the nr 58 Autorlando Sport Porsche 996 GT3-R, three-tenths of a second down on the leading Ferrari, while Johnny Mowlem set third fastest time in the nr 60 JVG Racing Porsche 996 GT3-R that he shares with Ian Khan.
Both of the JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modenas were well down the order. Christian Pescatori reported a set-up problem with the nr 50 Ferrari, while Iradj Alexander brought his Ferrari in with a suspected water leak near the end of the session.
SECOND FREE PRACTICE : LISTER FASTEST AGAIN; FREISINGER SET BEST N-GT TIME
The two Lister Storms headed the time sheets by more than a second in the afternoon session, the nr 15 Lister Storm of Bobby Verdon-Roe, David Warnock and Ian McKellar ahead of the nr 14 Lister Storm of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Nicolaus Springer. The nr 23 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello of Piccini and Deletraz was third fastest, ahead of Philippe Alliot in the nr 5 Force One Chrysler Viper GTS-R that he shares with David Hallyday. Henrik Roos' nr 29 Chrysler Viper GTS-R suffered during the session with set-up problems. The team has fitted a new rear wing and the drivers are trying to eliminate the resulting understeer.
Stephane Ortelli set the fastest time in the nr 54 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-R that he shares with Romain Dumas. Ortelli's time of 1m35.07 was seven-tenths faster than second-placed Robin Liddell in the nr 56 EMKA Racing Porsche 996 GT3-R that he shares with Steve O'Rourke, ahead of Adam Jones and Steven Stokoe in the nr 62 Cirtek Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-R. The nr 83 Veloqx Motorsport Ferrari 360 Modena of Andrew Kirkaldy and Tim Sugden set eighth fastest time in the afternoon session, though the sister car of Jamie Davies and Ivan Capelli had a misfire that prevented it from completing a timed lap.
NOTES AND QUOTES
Jack Leconte, team manager Larbre Competition Chrysler Viper GTS-R: "We want to have our top drivers in both cars, and have better power in both cars, in order to score points for the Championship. Both cars have 80kg penalty weight, which is the only bad point, but I want to have two fast drivers to each drive two hours. The strategy is to score points, and that is it."
David Terrien, nr 1 Larbre Competition Chrysler Viper GTS-R: "It was the decision of the team manager to change the drivers and I must say that I am not happy with the decision at all. It is going to be a lot harder to fight for the title. Under normal race conditions I won't stand a chance. Here, though, I can work on the car and when I can use new tyres and work properly, then I am quite quick. Actually, the nr 1 car used our set-up on their car, otherwise they would have been behind us. We are not so far from the other Vipers, although we have 80kg ballast. On the straight, though, we are the slowest. This is a 2001 car, with a 2001 engine and a 2001 H pattern gearbox, one of the few cars like that!"
David Hallyday, nr 5 Force One Racing Chrysler Viper GTS-R: "We are driving. We are actually going to spend money on fuel, which is amazing. We have done two days testing, so I am still trying to get used to the car and the track. It is a very technical track and I am getting a slower start because everything is new. I am improving my times, and we are having fun. This is a brand new car from ORECA, with a Caldwell engine. The Ferrari is going back to its owner; basically , we had borrowed it. The factory helped us with the engine, and that helped us a lot, but I think we would like to see more involvement from them. It is very expensive. We thought if put the budget behind it, we could make it run, but the car wasn't right from the start. The DART car is running, it is a better car, but unless Ferrari spends some time on it, then apart from the Prodrive, other competitors will have problems with it."
Jean-Pierre Jarier, nr 9 Team ART, Chrysler Viper GTS-R: "It is nice to be back, I have to drive regularly or I will just get too old! The car is last year's car, with nothing special in terms of engine, the gearbox or chassis. However, it is extremely consistent so it will be better during the race than in practice. I was quick this morning but we have not had one day testing since Anderstorp. I arrive and I drive!"
Henrik Roos, nr 29 Henrik Roos Team, Chrysler Viper GTS-R: "We just cannot seem to find the set-up for the shocks; we last raced at this track in the spring with the Euro GT, and I had problems with the car then, too!"
Iradj Alexander, nr 51 JMB Racing, Ferrari 360 Modena: "This morning, I had a power steering leak, and I only did four laps in the afternoon before two cars went off so I don't know the circuit. But I love the track; it is really great. The Craner Curves are easily flat in sixth gear for us, but in a bigger car, I think you would need to be very brave to take that flat!"
Stephane Ortelli, nr 54 Freisinger Motorsport, Porsche 996 GT3-R: "The car is much better this afternoon. This morning we had a problem with a leaking water pipe, but the car is very good now. For the race, all I have to do is to finish in front of the Ferraris and then I am the champion. But I think that the British Veloqx Motorsport Ferraris are going to be very good, they are a surprise."
Robin Liddell, nr 56 EMKA Racing, Porsche 996 GT3-R: "Mechanically the car is very good. The balance is not very good at the moment because the aero package is different. Here we are running a different rear wing and we have got to raise the rear ride height. We are about six tenths off, and I feel there is more than that. I am excited by what Laurence Pearce and Jamie Campbell-Walter have achieved with Springer. I hope we can do the same thing in the N-GT category and get Steve O'Rourke onto the podium. I will be very disappointed if we can't get into the Super Pole. We should be in the top three in qualifying if we get the car set-up correct. Steve is OK, he will be quick enough, but it has been several years since he has been here."
Antonio Garcia, nr 76 RWS Motorsport, Porsche 996 GT3-R: "There is something wrong with the engine. At the end of the first session I realised something was wrong, and it didn't go away for the second session. We changed everything but the problem is still there and I think all we can do is to change the engine. I thought that it was an electrical misfire but it must be mechanical if we haven't fixed it by now. We have not had time to run with new tyres, so we will be going into qualifying blind tomorrow!"
Jamie Davies, nr 82 Veloqx Motorsport, Ferrari 360 Modena: "I joined Veloqx Motorsport earlier this year. It was quite small to start with, but we built the team up and it is now full FIA spec. We did the British championship and finished on the podium at every race that we finished and took the championship with four wins in the last five races. It is very nice to drive these cars. To be honest, these are a bit like a single-seater, the weight distribution is very good. We have done a lot of work over the year, moving the car in the direction that suits it. However we are on another learning curve this weekend as the regulations are slightly different for the FIA GT Championship, especially concerning the aerodynamics -- we have a wider rear wing in the British, a different front diffuser. We are here to enjoy ourselves and to do a good job with a view to doing the full series next year."
Mike Jordan, nr 88 Mike Jordan, Porsche 996 GT3-R: "I have driven the car a little bit before, but it was still a bit of a shock. I have been driving the Lister all year in the British series with all of its downforce and all of its power, but in this my first flying lap I came down the Craner Curves and suddenly found out that this car brakes nothing like a Lister does! I am almost one with the Lister, but going back to this is just a different world. We can't do Estoril so we thought the best thing was to come here, so that the FIA GT Championship can see that we are a smart two-car team. I think we would like to do this Championship next year."