First test session at Valencia, Spain
The first two-day test session of the 2001 FIA GT Championship took place at Valencia, Spain on February 20th and 21st . The following teams participated: Team Rafanelli (Ferrari 550 Maranello), Lister Storm Racing with one 2000 Lister Storm and one 2001 model, Paul Belmondo Racing (Chrysler Viper GTS-R), GLPK Racing (Chrysler Viper), Racing Box (Chrysler Viper), Autorlando (Porsche 911 GT3-R), JMB Competition (with two Ferrari 360 Modena), Erich Prinot (Ferrari 360 Modena) and Freisinger Motorsport (Porsche 911 GT3R). 2000 FIA GT Champion Jamie Campbell-Walter set the overall best time, covering the 4.005 km circuit in 1.32.6 on the second test day.
The Ferrari 550 Maranello driven by Emanuele Naspetti showed its potential by setting the second best time in 1.33.6. On the first day, the Ferrari was the fastest of the contenders with a lap time of 1.34.3.
The third best time, of 1:34.2, was set by Vincent Vosse at the wheel of his Dunlop-shod Paul Belmondo Racing Chrysler Viper. Tamas Illes, in the GLPK Viper, set the fourth time in 1.34.8. The young Hungarian driver, who finished third in last year's Budapest round at the wheel of a Chamberlain Chrysler Viper, is currently in negotiation with the Belgian team for the second seat in the car.
In N-GT, the best time was set by Philip Peter in the Autorlando Porsche 911 GT3-R, with a lap of 1.38.7, ahead of the best Ferrari 360 Modena driven by Iradj Alexander-David, who set a time of 1.39.6. JMB Racing was present with two cars, and was getting used to its new Michelin tyres. The cars were not yet carrying the latest developments from Michelotto, so speed should continue to progress throughout the season.
The next test session will be organised at Monza, Italy, on March 7th and 8th.
Larbre Competition : Belloc with Bouchut
Jean-Philippe Belloc, third in the 1999 FIA GT Championship with Chrysler Viper Team Oreca, will return to the FIA GT Championship for 2001. He will partner the reigning N-GT Champion Christophe Bouchut in Larbre Competition's new Chrysler Viper GTS-R.
"I think they will be a very good combination," team manager Jack Leconte said.
"I'm very happy," Belloc commented. "Larbre has brought together all the elements to do a very good job, and I'm very pleased to be able to do the whole season with them. I think Christophe and I will complement each other, and the fact that I know the Viper well and have driven it on many of the European tracks could be useful to the team." Larbre Competition's new Viper will start testing at the Val de Vienne track on February 27th and 28th.
Freisinger Motorsport challenges for N-GT
"In 2001, Freisinger Motorsport should be competing in the FIA GT Championship with two N-GT cars and maybe one GT, rented to a driver combination from Italy," the team's main driver Wolfgang Kaufmann explained. "One of the Porsche 996 GT3-Rs will be driven by Russian drivers Fomenko and Vassiliev, who already drove at the Lausitzring and Magny Cours last year. My co-driver in the other car is not yet known, but he should be quick ." His car will be a new Porsche GT3-RS, shod with Yokohama tyres. "There's a big difference between this N-GT and the GT. It's easier to drive, but there's less horsepower." Kaufmann, who took his first overall FIA GT win at the Lausitzring last year, has mixed feelings about changing class. "I'd prefer to remain in the top class, but there is no real possibility of challenging for the lead in a Porsche 911 GT2. We saw last year that you have to rely too much on other people's problems. In N-GT, we have a good chance, and good motivation, but we'll have very little experience compared to the teams that competed last year."
Neugarten with Perspective Racing
Michel Neugarten, a race-winner last year in the N-GT class with Pennzoil Quaker State G-Force, will be back for a full season with French team Perspective Racing "I had various options, including racing in the GT class," Michel said. "But I eventually decided to drive with Thierry Perrier at Perspective Racing. I raced for them in the 6 Hours of Vallelunga, which we won. The team is extremely professional, yet there is a great atmosphere." The team has bought a new Porsche 996 GT3, which is due to arrive this week. They will be using Dunlop tyres .
Neugarten is very impressed with his new teammate. "He may not be well known in international competition, but he is a very quick driver -- he won the French GT Cup last year -- and he's 100% ready for the FIA GT Championship. I think that he will be within a second and a half of my lap-times. We're out to win the category." The team is also likely to enter a second car -- the older Porsche 996 GT3-R that Neugarten and Perrier drove to fourth place at Magny Cours last year -- for the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa.
EMKA : Sugden and O'Rourke team up again
EMKA/GTC will be entering a similar team to last year's, in the N-GT category. "The car has been rebuilt over the winter and brought up to the latest specifications," said Tim Sugden, who will drive once again with Steve O'Rourke. "It's being put back together now, and should be ready to go to Monza for March 7th and 8th. Our aim is to do better than last year, which was Steve's first in European competition. We managed a few podiums last year, but we'd like to get a win in 2001. We'll have Dunlop tyres rather than Pirelli, which might be a step forward. The structure should still be the same as last year, headed by Michael Cane." Tim is looking forward to the new form of single-lap qualifying. "I always did well in that format in the British Touring Car Championship, and it works well for teams and television alike. The only problem is when the weather changes, which can make it a bit of a lottery. But I'm looking forward to the season -- it's a good little team with a very good atmosphere. Considering how little testing we do, our results are remarkable."