ETCC: 2004 season preview

With less than two months to go before the first round of the 2004 season, plans are well underway for what promises to be the best season yet of the LG Super Racing Weekend series. The original concept, gathering together a number of major ...

With less than two months to go before the first round of the 2004 season, plans are well underway for what promises to be the best season yet of the LG Super Racing Weekend series.

The original concept, gathering together a number of major series, with different types of cars and different formats, has continued to grow, in terms of spectators, viewers, media coverage and TV interest around the world, since its inaugural season in 2001.

This year, the series will consist of the same three headlining series as in 2003, the FIA European Touring Car Championship, the FIA GT Championship and the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup. They will be joined by the Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup, with the European Alfa Challenge at six events, and other support events including the Trofeo Maserati.

2004 Calendar
The 2004 Calendar for the LG Super Racing Weekend includes return visits to many of the circuits visited in previous years, including Monza, Magny-Cours, Brno, Donington, Oschersleben and Spa. However, famous circuits such as Germany's Hockenheim and Italy's Imola are also joining the calendar for 2004, as is the circuit of Valencia in Spain. The season will conclude with the first non-European race for the multi-platform series, at the brand-new Dubai circuit in the United Arab Emirates.

TEST DAY & PRESS PRESENTATION

A combined test and press day will be held for the LG Super Racing Weekend series at the Italian circuit of Monza, on March 4th and 5th. Cars from the FIA ETCC and FIA GT Championships will be testing over the two days, as will participants from the European Alfa Challenge. Cars from the Formula Renault V6 and Renault 2000 Eurocups will be doing demonstration laps. A press conference to launch the 2004 series will take place on March 4th, around midday. Any members of the press wishing to attend should contact jacquie@groom.ch.

ETCC APPEAL GOES TO THE INTERNATIONAL COURT

It will be up to the FIA International Court of Appeal to deliver the final verdict concerning the 2003 FIA European Touring Car Championship. The Court will meet on February 12th, to discuss the appeal lodged by Carly Motors against Alfa Romeo driver Gabriele Tarquini. The Dutch team had lodged a protest after the final round of the season in Monza, on October 19th, because of an accident involving Tarquini and Duncan Huisman. The protest was rejected by the Stewards of the Meeting, and the subsequent first-degree appeal was also rejected by the Italian National Court of Appeal on December 11th.

GIOVANARDI: BACK TO THE FUTURE WITH ALFA

The Italian fans are happy: Fabrizio Giovanardi is returning to Alfa Romeo. "We could say that I'm going back to the future! The point is that I want to restart where I left off. Which means being back in the fight for the European crown. I would not say that last season was completely negative, because I gained new experience. I wanted to change, and I think that it was worth trying, otherwise I would have had that doubt for the rest of my life. I'm back, and eager to win again."

AUGUSTO FARFUS: THE YOUNGEST DRIVER IN THE FIA ETCC

Augusto Farfus jr. is likely to be the youngest driver in the 2004 FIA European Touring Car Championship. He turned 20 last September. "After winning in F3000, there are not many options for a young driver wishing to compete at a professional level. There is Formula 1, and then the ETCC. Formula 1 remains my goal, but for now, I am quite happy with this opportunity to enter the ETCC through the front door with Alfa Romeo." Farfus will be teaming with Tarquini and Giovanardi. "It is like joining Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen in a Formula 1 team. I am a bit in awe of them, but I also know that this will give me the chance to learn from the best men around." Augusto is not a newcomer to the LG Super Racing Weekend, however, having won the Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup in 2001.

BMW PLANS ANOTHER ASSAULT ON THE ETCC TITLE

After claiming the FIA ETCC Manufacturers' title, BMW is planning another major assault on the FIA European Touring Car Championship in 2004. The Bavarian make will be backing five cars, divided into three teams. Jörg and Dirk Müller have been confirmed at the wheel of the two BMW Team Deutschland cars, while Andy Priaulx will be the only driver of BMW Team Great Britain. As for BMW Team Italy-Spain, they have confirmed Antonio García, who will be joined by Alessandro Zanardi, ready to compete in his first full racing season after his accident.

ALEX ZANARDI : WORKING HARD TO BE COMPETITIVE

Alessandro Zanardi's return to racing in the final round of the 2003 FIA ETCC was only the beginning of a new chapter. The Italian driver is now ready for a full season with BMW Team Italy-Spain. "I am taking it very seriously, and I want to be as fit as possible when the season starts, but we still have to set up a couple of important devices : the throttle and brakes. I feel that I am a very good driver. The trouble is, the others are also good. The level of drivers in the FIA ETCC is extremely high; however, I have surprised myself more than once in my racing career, and I would not be too surprised if I manage to be competitive. But I don't think that this has necessarily to be my goal."

INTENSIVE TESTING PROGRAMME FOR SEAT SPORT

The SEAT Sport team is working very hard to develop the ETCC Toledo Cupra cars. Looking forward to their second season in the championship, the Spanish Team has planned an intensive testing programme, set out in 15 days on seven different racetracks, and the Spanish Manufacturer is also working to increase the engine power. A first evolution step will be tested next week in Valencia. SEAT 2003 drivers, Jordi Gené and Frank Diefenbacher have been already confirmed.

MICHELIN TYRES TESTED IN VALLELUNGA

Confirmed by the FIA as the official tyre supplier of the FIA European Touring Car Championship for the next two seasons, Michelin organised a test in Vallelunga to define the 17" control tyre for 2004 and 2005. With very cold temperatures, two BMW teams (Schnitzer Motorsport and Ravaglia Motorsport), Alfa Romeo Autodelta and SEAT Sport took part in the test. The fastest time was set by Dirk Müller in a Schnitzer BMW, with a lap of 1:16.86.

CHAMPIONSHIP ENTRY DEADLINE ON FEBRUARY 28th

Championship entries for the eighth season of the FIA GT Championship close on February 28th. Entry forms are available on the official web site, www.fiagt.com, under the Download section. The full season entry list, will be published shortly afterwards.

BMS SCUDERIA ITALIA AND CARE RACING FOR 2004

As in 2003, BMS Scuderia Italia and Care Racing will enter three Ferrari 550 Maranello cars in the FIA GT Championship. Although the full driver line-up has not yet been finalised, 2003 runners-up, Luca Cappellari and Fabrizio Gollin, have already signed up for the new season. "We wanted to maintain all the staff members, to ensure continuity. We work well together, and therefore there is no reason to change. We would also like to reconfirm all the drivers, but negotiations are still on-going," team logistics manager Marco Streparava explained. The cars are currently in Banbury, with Prodrive, undergoing some engine and aerodynamic modifications for the new season. "I think that, on paper, we have the best car in the Championship, but we will have to wait and see what the other teams can do. It could be a hard season. The Saleen is very fast, the Ferrari 575M will undoubtedly be fast after a few races, and then, later in the season, the Maserati will be competing. But I am confident we will be competitive."

LISTER RACING CONFIDENT FOR 2004

Lister Racing, which finished second in the 2003 Teams Championship, is preparing two cars for 2004. "We are building one brand new Ferrari-beating chassis, with the new V12 engine, and the second car will also be completely upgraded to the 2004 specifications," Fiona Pearce explained. "We discovered the problem with the engine we ran in practice at the end of 2003, and it should now be as good as predicted. We will start testing the new engine in February, but we have run it on the dyno and it looks promising." As far as drivers are concerned, Jamie Campbell-Walter will share one car with Paul Knapfield, who drove for Lister Racing in 2002, finishing second in Silverstone in 2002. Last year, he drove for Creation Autosportif in the second half of the season. As for Jamie, he is one of the most successful drivers in the history of the Championship, with 12 wins, 7 pole positions and 20 podiums to his credit. He is currently fourth in the league table of highest points-scorers, behind Stephane Ortelli, Olivier Beretta and Christophe Bouchut. 21-year old Nathan Kinch, a race-winner with Jamie at Anderstorp last year, will be in the second car; his team-mate will be named later.

THREE FERRARI 575M CARS FOR JMB RACING

French team JMB Racing, winner of the Estoril round last year with their new Ferrari Maranello 575 M , plans to run three of the cars in the 2004 Championship. The team has received the cars from Ferrari Corse Clienti, in preparation for the new season. To manage the technical side of this programme, former Ferrari Formula One engineer Ralf Hahn will be joining Hugues Lardy, who already worked on the new cars in 2003. Driver line-ups have not yet been announced. The team won the 2001 FIA N-GT Teams and Drivers Championships, with David Terrien and Christian Pescatori in a Ferrari 360 Modena, and as well as competing in the GT category in 2003, fought until the final round for both N-GT titles.

NEW TEAM GPC SQUADRA CORSE

Brand-new team GPC Squadra Corse will be entering two Ferrari 575M cars in the 2004 season of the FIA GT Championship. The team is owned by Giampaolo Coppi, a familiar face in the FIA GT paddock over the years, with Giesse.

The staff will be announced shortly. "The drivers have not been signed yet, but they are likely to be taken from among our regular drivers,such as Christian Pescatori, Fabio Babini, Phillip Peter, Fabrizio De Simone, who have been some of our drivers since 2001 and Mike Hezemans - we will only have professional drivers, and we will try to make up a good team," Coppi explained.

However, as the cars will only be available shortly before the start of the season, there will not be much time to test or learn the cars before the first race in Monza. "It will be a big challenge," Coppi continued. "We are setting up a totally new structure, with new people, and we hope to make a real team, with a good atmosphere, all pulling together with the same aims, same goals, same passions. We want to build up a real group that will stay together for many seasons. I know that there may be problems to start with, and that 2004 will be a learning year, but I am certain this is the way to go."

TWO VIPERS FOR ZWAAN'S RACING

Zwaan's Racing, from the Netherlands, plans to enter two Chrysler Viper GTS-R cars in the 2004 season of the FIA GT Championship. "We have been busy during the winter," Arjan van der Zwaan explained. "We have been working on getting more grip, and concentrating on the cornering speed and braking points. We were quick on the straights in 2003, but we lost a lot of time in and out of the corners." The team will be testing in Zandvoort next week. "The car looks promising, and we have plenty of data about Zandvoort, which is our home track, so we can see if it works well in practice. Then we will be at the Monza test days, and will be able to compare the data with the last race in 2003. I am really looking forward to the season, and hope we will be more competitive than last year." The full driver line-up will be announced later.

BUSY WINTER FOR WIETH RACING

Wieth Racing has had a busy winter, making several modifications to their Ferrari 550 Maranello. The suspension system and front aerodynamics have been massively changed. A 12.5 inch ATS rim will allow the use of bigger front wheels. "These changes should eliminate the permanent problem with understeering that the team struggled with last season," team manager Florian Hebel explained. "Right now, Wieth Racing is preparing two cars for the 2004 season; the chassis that ran in the FIA GT last year, and a new chassis. Both cars will have the latest technical specifications." The German team has also signed up engineer Steve Ridgers, previously with TMC and Veloqx. "Now, not least with the support of our new engineer, the car should be competitive and we are aiming for some podiums !" Niko Wieth said. "Wolfgang Kaufmann has signed for the FIA GT, and we are looking to find one or two drivers who can match his pace. Vittorio Zoboli, who drove some rounds in 2003, might do some races, but that is not signed yet. We would also like to have the second car in the FIA GT for some rounds, but we have not yet found the drivers." The team hopes to be testing the new car by the end of February.

YELLOW LABEL

The 2004 vintage of the Formula Renault V6 car, in its Renault Sport livery, looks decidedly beautiful. The FR V6 shown opposite is the Renault Sport development car, which will be presented, as will the FR 2000 car, during the official press day for the 2004 LG Super Racing Weekend series, at Monza on March 4th.

TESTING TIMES

Teams, drivers and cars will soon all be heading back to the tracks. A first two-day official test session will be held at the French circuit of Le Castellet from March 3rd, before heading further south, for another test session at Valencia, on March 13th and 14th.

BRAND NEW AND BEAUTIFUL

The FR V6 has undergone plenty of changes over the winter, and the 2004 version will represent a significant evolution compared to last year's car. Although the power (370 hp) remains the same, there are changes in the connections, with elements borrowed from the aeronautical industry reinforcing the car's electrics. The torsional rigidity of the steering column will be increased, with a new drive chain cover, which is also more rigid.

As far as performances are concerned, these will be improved by new tyres developed by Michelin, carbon brakes from Carbone Industrie, and new callipers from Brembo.

Last but not least, always concerned by matters of driver safety, Renault Sport has made the use of the HANS system obligatory. This carbon-fibre collar protects the neck and spine of the drivers. The inside of the cockpit has therefore been slightly changed, in order to increase driver comfort, when wearing the HANS unit.

A TOUCH OF YELLOW

The 2004 evolution of the Formula Renault 2000 car was officially unveiled in December, and is shown here in a new yellow Renault Sport livery. This new look has been adapted for the whole range of Renault Sport cars, both for the track and for rallying. The Formula Renault 2000 car has been testing throughout the winter, despite some difficult weather conditions, but is now ready to get going !

LONG LIVE THE FR 200(0)4

The car had not undergone any major modifications since its lauch, and so the 2004 evolution not only gives the car a new look, but also improvements in performance. This is a brand new car, even if it has kept 90% of the original parts. The Evolution 2004 kit will be used on all the Eurocup 2004 cars, as well as those competing in the various National championships, throughout Europe. All the new items will be available from mid-February. With an added 6 bhp, and the aerodynamic changes, the gain in performance is close to three tenths of a second per kilometre.

ALREADY A SUCCESS

There are no definite figures at this moment, but the 2004 Eurocup for the FR2000 cars is proving to be exceedingly popular. Drivers from 13 different nationalities are already on the provisional entry list, not only from all over Europe, but also from North and South America.

CAR ACADEMY

A real-life school for drivers, the FR 2000 has always been a training ground for the stars of tomorrow. Moving back onto the European stage, the famous single-seater is taking advantage of the opportunity to play a starring role. Three rounds of the Eurocup 2004 will be shown live on Eurosport - an unmissable opportunity for the young participants in the 'Car Academy'

-fia-

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Fabrizio Giovanardi , Mika Hakkinen , Antonio Garcia , Fabrizio Gollin , Dirk Müller , Christian Pescatori , Stéphane Ortelli , Phillip Peter , Mike Hezemans , David Terrien , Wolfgang Kaufmann , Frank Diefenbacher , Niko Wieth , Augusto Farfus , Fabio Babini , Olivier Beretta , Nathan Kinch , Duncan Huisman , Luca Cappellari , Paul Knapfield , Arjan van der Zwaan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene