FIA GT Championship 04 - 06 September 1998 Donington Round Friday 4 September 1998 - Free Practice Sessions _________________________________________________________________ After the heat and humidity of Japan, the FIA GT Championship has moved back to the cooler shores of the British Isles for the seventh round of the Championship. Donington Park, near Derby, is a challenging circuit, 4.02 km long. With the impressive Craner Curves and the tight Melbourne hairpin, the 500 km race on Sunday should see some close racing, aided possibly by the weight penalties for the faster cars, which come into effect from this round. I love this track, Michel Neugarten, driving the #60 Haberthur Porsche 911 GT2, enthused. It's great fun, as long as it doesn't rain. So we'll have to take advantage of the good weather to enjoy ourselves out there ! Weather Although the day started out rather grey and overcast, the sun had broke through when the cars took to the circuit for the first 90-minute free practice session. However, the forecast for the weekend is grim, with rain and high winds predicted for Sunday. Rundown Ten cars are competing in the GT1 category. After handing the car over to Lagorce, O'Connell and Tinseau for Suzuka, Eric Bernard and David Brabham are back behind the wheel of the DAMS Panoz GTR. Max Angelelli, a GT regular last season, has joined the Zakspeed team, taking the place of Sandy Grau in the #5 Porsche 911 GT1. AMG Mercedes, who could claim the Team Championship at this round if they achieve another one-two, won the 4-hour race at Donington last year, and must start favourites again this year, as the team has won all six rounds so far.
Nineteen GT2 cars should line up on the grid on Sunday, including two new teams - Freisinger Motorsport and GP Motorsport. Donington also sees the return of Cirtek, now running a Porsche 911 GT2. New Restrictions In order to make the series more competitive, some new restrictions come into force at this round. The AMG Mercedes and Porsche AG GT1 cars have an additional weight of 50kg, as do the Team Oreca Vipers in GT2. AMG Mercedes currently have a 61 point lead in their category, while Oreca lead GT2 by 60 points. Changes to the restrictors were already brought into force at the Hungaroring round for the GT2 Porsche teams, with the Chamberlain Viper benefiting from the new rules at Suzuka. I didn't think it would make much difference, but I've been surprised, Persson's Christophe Bouchut said. I was only three tenths slower than the AMG cars, and I know I can improve. It's a good move. On the other hand, Dalmas was less enthusiastic. It makes a big difference, especially in the braking and under acceleration. It's all right at high speeds, but not so good at lower ones. First Practice Session : Panoz and Viper The first session saw the DAMS Panoz car set the best time, with a lap of 1:25.526, four tenths of a second faster than the best AMG time. I'm not really surprised, David Brabham said. I thought that the car would be good here, by the nature of the circuit. But it's too early to say what will happen - we quite often start off well, but get overtaken by the end of qualifying. The car is not too bad - there are areas to work on, but it is consistently quick. As for the 50 kg penalty given to Mercedes and Porsche - It should close the gap. But Mercedes are still the ones to beat. The Panoz was followed by three Mercedes, with the #11 Persson Mercedes CLK-GTR in fourth behind the AMG cars. The Porsche AG team were fifth and eighth. The car isn't running as we would like, Yannick Dalmas said. We've changed the set-up and hope it will go better this afternoon. There were problems for the Davidoff McLaren, which broke a gear after half an hour of the session. It's unusual, Geoff Lees said. We don't usually have mechanical problems. In spite of the 50 kg penalty, the Championship leading Viper #51 set the best time in the first session, with a lap of 1:32.987. They were closely followed by Claudia Hürtgen and Stéphane Ortelli in the fastest Roock Racing Porsche 911 GT2. Second Practice Session : Mercedes once more The Mercedes CLK LM cars, which had been overshadowed by Panoz in the first session, set the best times in the afternoon, with Bernd Schneider setting a lap of 1:24.305, almost a second faster than Ricardo Zonta the second placed AMG car. The Panoz improved on their time, but were relegated to third. The #7 Porsche improved to fourth, with a best time of 1:26.030. In GT2, in spite of the 50 kg penalty, Championship leaders Beretta and Lamy were fastest in their category, although their lead over the fastest Porsche was only of two tenths. Bell and Wendlinger, in the #52 Viper, were third, with the Marcos LM600 fourth. Proton Travel Problems Slowest of the cars in the first session was the n° 69 Proton Competition Porsche 911 GT2, due to a problem which they initially thought was a broken bearing. However, on further examination, they found that the back wheels were totally out of alignment, most probably due to the strapping holding the car in place on its way back from the previous round in Japan. Now it's fine ! Patrick Vuillaume said. Mini-Interview : Uwe Sick Uwe Sick is an Endurance specialist, who has been racing with Stadler Motorsport since 1996. This is his first visit to Donington Park. How are things so far ? Everything is going OK. There are no problems with the car, and it's a very nice track - I like it. The Craner Curves are perfect for me. How has this season gone ? We are doing well this year, every race we have managed to finish in the top 10, except for Suzuka, when a broken driveshaft forced us into retirement after 85 laps. At the beginning of the season, Axel Rohr and I said that if we managed one point this year, we would be very pleased. So far we have got 5 points, so we are very happy. It has been a nice season for us. What do you think of the 50 kg penalty for the Vipers ? Viper Team Oreca is a factory team, therefore they have so many more possibilities than us. We are a private team, racing a normal car. We aren't really able to compete. Our real rivals are the other privateer teams - Proton, Seikel and so on. Watts moves to GTs Patrick Watts, better known as a touring car driver, has joined the FIA GT Championship at the wheel of new team GP Motorsport's Ford Saleen Mustang. This is only his second GT race. I had one go at Silverstone, in the Privilege Insurance series. But that was in the old version - this is the new dog, a brand new car. As for this kind of racing - It requires experience, consistency, and the ability to look after the car - it's not a touring car race where everything is decided on the first corner. Concerning future plans - I hope it's the first race of many. I'd like to go back to Touring cars, as I believe I have something to prove there, but GTs are great - especially the FIA GT Championship which is more competitive. Cirtek returns Rob Schirle, whose Cirtek team entered a Ford Saleen Mustang in the first part of the season, has brought his brand-new Porsche 911 GT2 to Donington. The car, which has been bought from Roock, did not take part in today's sessions, as there was a minor electrical glitch with the dashboard. Sascha Maassen, who has been driving for Roock this season, will be in the car alongside David Warnock. We've spent two weeks working closely with Fabian Roock, learning how they do things, Schirle said. This has been a transition period between delivery and finally racing the car. But I'm curious to see how the car will work with the Dunlop tyres, compared to Roock's Yokohamas. Final Word We'll know by the end of Sunday, David Brabham, DAMS Panoz, on the weight penalties.