For the first time since 1999, the FIA GT Championship has left Europe, with the tenth round of the Championship being held at the brand-new Dubai Autodrome, in the United Arab Emirates. The penultimate round of the 2004 season will therefore...
For the first time since 1999, the FIA GT Championship has left Europe, with the tenth round of the Championship being held at the brand-new Dubai Autodrome, in the United Arab Emirates. The penultimate round of the 2004 season will therefore take place around the magnificent 5.39 km circuit, which is hosting a major motorsports event for the very first time. Today's free practice sessions have seen times improve over the day, with the best times set in the afternoon, and fastest overall times of 1:58.152 from the nr 34 Maserati MC12 and 2:04.744 in N-GT from the GPC Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari 360 Modena.
It is extremely hot in Dubai, with the sun blazing down after a misty start to the morning. Temperatures were over 35C with the asphalt over 40 C, but humidity made the conditions seem worse. Night falls relatively quickly, with the circuit plunged into darkness shortly after 18:00.
The last overseas event for the FIA GT Championship was in Zhuhai, in late 1999. On that occasion, the Chrysler Viper Team Oreca Viper of Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger was victorious, ahead of the Chamberlain Viper of Christian Glasel and Christian Vann. After Dubai, the 2004 Championship will be heading back to Zhuhai for the final round of the season.
The previous round of the 2004 FIA GT Championship took place at Oschersleben, in Germany. The non-Championship Maserati MC 12 of Mika Salo and Andrea Bertolini crossed the chequered line in first place, although the GT win and full points went to Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari, in the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello. This secured the 2004 GT Drivers ' Championship for the two Italians, to add to the GT Teams title won by BMS in the previous round. The nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS of Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr was victorious in N-GT, ahead of the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Motorsport Porsche of Ortelli and Lieb. With Vasiliev and Fomenko finishing fourth, Freisinger Yukos Motorsport claiming the N-GT Teams title. The only title battle still open is that for the N-GT Drivers' Championship, where Ortelli/Collard leads Maassen/Luhr by 6.5 points.
Oschersleben made quite a few differences to the handicap weights. The nr 2 BMS Ferrari has gone up to 150 kg, following its win in Oschersleben. The nr 1 BMS car of Bobbi and Gardel now only has 5 kg, while the nr 3 car has 70 kg. The nr 5 Saleen is down to 30 kg, the same as the nr 8 RML Saleen, carrying weight for the first time. The nr 17 JMB Ferrari has 50 kg, while both the nr 11 and 13 GPC cars have 15 kg. The nr 33 and 34 Maserati MC 12 cars have 100 kg and 40 kg respectively.
In N-GT, both the leading Porsches are on the super-maximum of 75 kg, while the nr 77 car has just 15 kg. The nr 62 Ferrari 360 has 35 kg, with the team's second car, the nr 64 Ferrari, on 42.5 kg, due to the presence of Vincent Vosse. New cars entering at this race have 60 kg in GT and 30 kg in N-GT, to which is added any weight from previous rounds.
30 cars are due to line up for Friday's 10th round of the FIA GT Championship, with the 500 km race exceptionally starting at 15:00 in the afternoon, running almost into dusk. 19 cars are running in the GT category, with 11 in the N-GT category.
- 2003 GT Champion Thomas Biagi has returned to the FIA GT Championship for the first time this year. He will share the nr 3 Care Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello with Lilian Bryner and Enzo Calderari
- Greek Formula 3 driver Alex Margaritis will share the nr 4 Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7 with team regulars Walter Lechner Jr and Toni Seiler.
- Jose Pedro Fontes, second in GT at Oschersleben with the nr 8 RML Saleen, is back alongside Chris Goodwin for the second consecutive race.
- GPC has changed its drivers around, with Morbidelli sharing the nr 11 Ferrari 575 M Maranello with Fabio Babini, while Philipp Peter and Emanuele Naspetti will drive the nr 13 car
- The nr 19 JMB Ferrari will be driven by Andrea Garbagnati, Peter Kutemann and Stephane Daoudi in Dubai
- DAMS has drafted its Formula Renault V6 stars into its GT line-up for this round, with Neel Jani listed alongside Deletraz and Piccini, while Jose Maria Lopez of Argentina joins Gabbiani and Ortiz
- Rocky Agusta has returned to the Championship in the Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen; he last competed in 1997 with a Callaway Corvette. He shares the car with regulars Paolo Ruberti and Gabriele Lancieri.
- Scuderia Veregra is entering its Chrysler Viper GTS-R for the second race following Imola. The car is shared by His Highness Sheikh Maktoum, founder of the A1 Grand Prix series, along with World Nissan star Narain Karthikeyan, from India, and French driver Anthony Beltoise.
- Czech team Vonka Racing's Porsche 996 GT3 will be driven by Jan Vonka and Miro Konopka
- Jaime Melo is driving with Christian Pescatori in the nr 62 GPC Ferrari 360 Modena. The team has also entered a second car for Marco Lambertini, Luca Drudi and Vincent Vosse
- JMB Racing has also entered a car in the N-GT category, for French drivers Jean-Pierre Malcher and Jean Yves Mallat.
- Proton Competition has two cars competing this weekend, both with father-and-son teams : Gerold and Christian Ried, and Horst Felbermayr Sr and Jr.
- Alongside its Saleen, Graham Nash Motorsport is entering a Porsche 996 GT3, to be driven by Rob Croydon, Del Bennett and David Ovey.
DE SIMONE FASTEST IN FIA PRACTICE
As the Dubai Autodrome is a brand-new facility, an extra 30-minute test session was organised on the Tuesday afternoon. Fabrizio De Simone was fastest, in the nr 34 AF Corse Maserati MC 12, with a lap of 2:05.809, followed by the team's second car, 0.127 behind. The nr 4 Konrad Motorsport Saleen was third fastest, Walter Lechner Jr at the wheel, with the nr 28 Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen fourth, despite losing a wheel which caused the session to be red-flagged briefly. The fastest N-GT car was the nr 62 GPC Ferrari, driven by Christian Pescatori, with a lap of 2:10.461. The drivers generally liked the circuit a lot, although all said that it was very slippery, and that the grip would certainly improve during the weekend.
FIRST FREE PRACTICE : BOBBI IN THE LEAD
Outgoing Champion Matteo Bobbi was the fastest in the first free practice session around the new Dubai Autodrome. His nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello set a time of 2:00.509, seven tenths faster than the nr 8 RML Saleen. The nr 33 AF Corse Maserati MC 12 was third, ahead of the nr 7 RML Saleen.
The nr 11 GPC Giesse Ferrari was fastest at the start of the session, followed by the nr 28 Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen. However, Bobbi's time, set half-way through the session, was not to be beaten, and improvements from the Maserati and later the RML cars saw the GPC and GNM cars slip down to sixth and eighth by the end of the session.
In N-GT, the best time was set by the nr 62 GPC Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari 360 Modena of Christian Pescatori and Jaime Melo, ahead of the nr 99 and 50 Freisinger Porsches. The fastest time was of 2:06.271, significantly faster than the times set yesterday in the test session.
There were problems for the Vitaphone Saleen, which caught fire after an engine problem, meaning that the car also missed the afternoon session. The team will endeavour to get the car ready for tomorrow's qualifying. 29 cars took part in the session, with only the nr 88 Gruppe M Europe Porsche missing. The British team, victorious at Brands Hatch in the British GT Championship on Sunday, has not yet received its car, which is on its way to Dubai. They have received special permission to go through scrutineering tomorrow, due to force majeure.
FREE PRACTICE 2 : AF CORSE AND GPC IN THE LEAD
The second free practice session took part in the early afternoon, and despite the heat, the times continued to come down around the impressive Dubai racetrack.
The nr 11 GPC Giesse Ferrari was fastest early on; fifteen minutes into the session, the nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari set the best time, with a lap of 2:00.050. Twenty minutes later, the two-minute barrier was broken, with the nr 34 AF Corse car setting a time of 1:58.961, while the nr 1 car improved to 1:59.418. Both the AF Corse cars further improved their times, the nr 33 moving up to second place. But these remained the only three cars to go under the 2:00 barrier.
In N-GT, the nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche of Maassen and Luhr was fastest for much of the session, until the nr 62 GPC Ferrari improved shortly before the end, setting a time of 2:04.744, which remained the best time of the session in this category.