After a well-needed break of over a month, the teams and drivers taking part in the LG Super Racing Weekend series will head for new territory : the 'Enzo e Dino Ferrari' circuit in Imola, Italy, which will host a round of the multi-platform series for the very first time. The circuit, located to the east of Bologna, hosts the San Marino Formula One Grand Prix every year. It is 4930 metres long, with evocative corner names such as Tamburello, Acque Minerali and Rivazza. This will be the second Italian round this year, after the first round of the season was held at Monza, near Milan, back in April.
After the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, the FIA GT Championship will return to the more usual 500 km, three hour format for the eighth round.
However, the field will have a new look for the rest of the season, with two new cars making their debut. French team DAMS will be entering two Lamborghini Murciélago cars, while AF Corse will be running two Maserati MC12 on a non-homologated, non-Championship basis. Imola will be the fourth Italian circuit to be visited by the FIA GT Championship, after Mugello in 1997, Monza since 1999 and Enna Pergusa in 2002 and 2003. In Monza, earlier this year, BMS Scuderia Italia drivers Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari took their first win of the season. Now, on their return to home territory, they are still leading the Championship, adding a further 18 points to their tally thanks to their victory in the 24-hour race. They have a lead of 13.5 points over their BMS team-mates Bobbi and Gardel, with GPC drivers Babini and Peter a further 8.5 points behind. In N-GT, Ortelli and Collard lead the classification. The Freisinger Yukos Motorsport duo, with their Porsche 996 GT3-RS, were also victorious at the first round in Monza. However, with 75 kg penalty weight onboard, they will have a heavy task ahead of them, and their nearest rivals, Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr, are only 8.5 points behind.
Other races this weekend include two rounds of the Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup, the Trofeo Maserati, and the last two rounds of the 2004 European Alfa Challenge.
IMOLA ACCORDING TO MASERATI'S ANDREA BERTOLINI
Andrea Bertolini, 30 years old, has been racing in the Championship since 2001. His rapid progress and the impressive results he scored in a relatively short racing career meant that he received the LG Super Racing Weekend 'Driver Performance of the Year' award last year. With four victories for JMB Racing last season, as well as four pole positions, he finished fourth in the N-GT drivers' classification. He has been a test driver for the Maserati this year, and after competing for GPC Giesse at Spa, will race the MC12 alongside Mika Salo at Imola.
"The Imola track is very technical for the drivers, and Friday's work on the set-up will be crucial to find the best compromise in terms of balancing the car, and also in order to choose the tyres for the race. If it is likely to be hot, as well as the tyres, it will also be necessary to work on saving the brakes. The circuit's most interesting corners are the Piratella and the Acque Minerali, but I think that it will be possible to see a lot of overtaking under braking at the Rivazza and the Variante Bassa. For us, Maserati drivers, it will be a special weekend. Not only because this is our home race track, just a few kilometres away from the Maserati factory, but also because this will the car's maiden race after eight months of testing and developments."
Circuit length : 4930 m
Location : 30 km east of Bologna
After twenty-four hours of close and fascinating racing around the challenging, beautiful and - for once - dry circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, the nr 2 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello was victorious, having fought all the way against the nr 11 GPC Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari 575 M Maranello. Third place overall went to the leading N-GT car : last year's victor, Freisinger Yukos Motorsport, ahead of the German team's two other Porsche 996 GT3-RS cars. The early challenges from the fast-starting Vitaphone Saleen S7 and the Group 2 leading BMW M3 GTR, were not able to prevent this year's seventh round of the FIA GT Championship going to Ferrari.
BMS Scuderia Italia now has more than twice as many points than its nearest rival, GPC Giesse Squadra Corse, with JMB Racing a further seven points behind. In N-GT, Freisinger Yukos Motorsport is in a similar position, having a lead of 44.5 points over their sister team, Freisinger Motorsport, with GPC Giesse Squadra Corse third and Proton Competition fourth.
After racing without weight at Spa, there will be some very heavy cars at Imola. Gollin and Cappellari will be back on 100 kg in their nr 2 Ferrari 550 Maranello, while Bobbi and Gardel will have 45 kg. The nr 11 GPC Ferrari 575 M Maranello will have 85 kg, with the nr 17 JMB Racing car on 70 kg. The nr 5 Saleen S7 goes down to 30 kg.
In N-GT, the nr 50 car will be the first to carry the 'bonus' handicap weight for a car which manages to win while carrying the maximum handicap weight. Ortelli and Collard's wins in Donington and Spa put them up to 75 kg for Imola. The nr 99 Porsche will carry 50 kg, with the nr 77 on 35 kg. New cars which are new race-by-race entries, or returning after missing a round, will carry 60 kg in the GT category, or 30 kg in the N-GT, unless their drivers have higher personal penalty amounts, such as AF Corse's Mika Salo, who has 65 kg after second place at Spa.
LUCA CAPPELLARI OPTIMISTIC FOR REST OF SEASON
After driving to victory in Spa, with team-mates Lilian Bryner and Enzo Calderari, Luca Cappellari and Fabrizio Gollin will return to normal for Imola : sharing the nr 2 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello with 100 kg handicap weight. "The next race will be very hard," Cappellari admitted. "We could feel the difference at Spa, when we had no ballast. We will try to do our best and score some points, to keep ahead of the nr 1 and the nr 11 cars in the classification." With a 13.5 point lead, they have a comfortable margin, but there are still four races remaining : Imola, Oschersleben, Dubai and Zhuhai. "We aim to finish every race, although it will be difficult to win. Imola is a difficult track, with lots of ups and downs, lots of braking points, which will make the additional weight more penalising. But still, we prefer to have the weight as it means we have the points ! BMS Scuderia Italia has done a wonderful job, both at Spa and since them, and the cars are now like new again. I am feeling very optimistic for the rest of the season."
DAMS MAKES GT RETURN WITH LAMBORGHINI MURCIELAGO
French team DAMS, a front-runner in the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup, and a former FIA GT competitor in 1997 and 1998, with a Panoz, will make its return with two Lamborghini Murciélago cars, in a stunning orange and black livery. The nr 24 car will be driven by Jean-Denis Deletraz and Andrea Piccini, while the nr 26 will be in the hands of Beppe Gabianni and Felipe Ortiz. Deletraz and Piccini have been racing together since 2002, when they claimed four wins in a BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello. They moved to Lister Racing in 2003, scoring further podium finishes. "It was difficult to get the programme up and running," Jean-Denis explained. "But now, we have both cars, extremely well prepared, and we want to show what we can do. I believe that with DAMS; Lamborghini and Michelin, we should have a very strong combination. Although we do not expect Imola to be a particular favourable circuit for us, we should be good in Oschersleben. We plan to get our bearings this year, and then aim for the title in 2005. " Gabianni and Ortiz will be making their FIA GT debut, but both have experience from the FIA Sportscar Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
'HOME ROUND' FOR GRAHAM NASH MOTORSPORT
Graham Nash Motorsport might be based near Donington, but with three Italians in the nr 28 Saleen S7, Imola will be a second 'home round' for them. The car will be driven by team regular Paolo Ruberti, with Luca Pirri Ardizzone and Gabriele Lancieri both rejoining the team for this occasion. Paolo is looking forward to the race : "It Is great to be back in Imola. It's one of my most favourite circuits along with Mugello. I think the circuit is perfect for our car and I think we can get a good result with my fast team mates." Pirri-Ardizzone also has good memories of the circuit : "I raced in Imola in Formula Europa Boxer twice, once in Opel Lotus and once in Formula Renault Euroseries. I won there in '93 when I was racing against Paolo (Ruberti), (Fabrizio) Gollin, and (Thomas) Biagi. I think the Saleen can do very well in this up and down circuit, that has something in common with Brno!" Affectionately known as 'TAZ' by the team, Gabriele Lancieri is equally excited about rejoining GNM. "Imola is my home circuit, so this race is very important for me. I was born in Imola, I live in Imola, all of my friends and fans are from here and my sponsor too. So that's why I'm looking forward to competing in my home circuit. Obviously, it is my favorite circuit! I hope to make all my fans and sponsors happy. To reach the podium in Imola is a dream that I hope will come true".
HERBERT, SALO, BERTOLINI AND DE SIMONE FOR THE AF CORSE MASERATI MC12
After the FIA , with the unanimous support of the participating teams, gave the Maserati MC12 permission to race in the next three rounds of the FIA GT Championship, without scoring points, in order to gauge the performance of the car compared to the regular competitors, it has been announced that AF Corse will run the two cars, nr 33 and 34. One car will be shared by Andrea Bertolini, a four-times race winner in the JMB Ferrari 360 last year, and former Formula One driver Mika Salo, from Finland, who finished second in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa with GPC Giesse Squadra Corse. The second car will be driven by another former Formula One star, Johnny Herbert, who has been racing for Audi Sport UK Team Veloqx in the LMES this season. He will share the MC12 with Fabrizio De Simone, third in the N-GT Championship in 2003, who has until now driven the nr 62 GPC Giesse Ferrari 360 Modena with Christian Pescatori. Bertolini has been the test and development driver for the programme, and is looking forward to Imola. "This will the car's maiden race after eight months of testing and development. The whole team is happy to have the opportunity to meet the other competitors and to start to get ready for next season. After all, there's no test like the race itself!" All four drivers took part in a preparatory test at Mugello on September 5th, when Herbert and De Simone drove the car for the first time.
FIA GT NEWS IN BRIEF
ALEXANDER TO REPLACE DE SIMONE AT GPC Giesse Squadra Corse's team manager, Batti Pregliasco, has announced that as Fabrizio De Simone will be racing for AF Corse, they will have, in his place in the nr 62 car, the Maserati test driver Iradj Alexander. Alexander, from Switzerland, previously drove for JMB Racing on a number of occasions, finishing on the podium at Enna Pergusa in 2002.
BARTELS LOOKS FORWARD TO IMOLA After the disappointment of retiring from the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, Bartels is looking forward to Imola. "I have not driven in Imola for along time but I am very happy to be there again, with these new cars like the Maserati and the Lamborghini. I would like to fight for a result with the Saleen after not finishing the last race. We have prepared the car very well in the last three weeks. Our first aim is to see the chequered flag and then to see if we will be on the podium or maybe on top of the podium."
MELO RETURNS TO JMB RACING After winning the Donington race with Karl Wendlinger in the nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello, Brazil's Jaime Melo missed the Spa round, but will return for Imola. The car finished in a fine fourth place in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, and Wendlinger is lying seventh in the drivers' classification, with Melo 13th. The car will have 70 kg penalty weight, being Melo's score after Spa. Bert Longin will share the nr 18 Ferrari 575 M Maranello with Russian driver Sergey Zlobin and Britain's Chris Buncombe. Matteo Malucelli, a race-winner for JMB in the Italian GT Championship, will race alongside Antoine Gosse and Peter Kutemann in the nr 19 car.
AB, PETERSEN AND VONKA RETURN A number of the N-GT cars will be returning to the Championship for Imola. AB Motorsport competed earlier this season, finishing fourth in Monza and fifth in Hockenheim. The Porsche 996 GT3 will be driven by the usual trio of Antonio De Castro, Renato Premoli and Bruno Barbaro. Vonka Racing will also be back on the grid, the Czech car to be driven by Jan Vonka and Italian Massimiliano Degiovanni. Jens Petersen's nr 59 Porsche 996 GT3 last competed in Donington, finishing seventh in N-GT. The car will be in the hands of Jans Petersen, Oliver Mathai and Jan-Dirk Lueders.
TWO MORE FERRARI 360 MODENA CARS Two additional Ferrari 360 Modena cars should be competing in the N-GT category at Imola. One will be entered by Swiss team Yellow Racing, last seen at Monza 2003, when engine problems prevented it competing. Team owner Fabio Venier will be accompanied by Roberto Papini and Salvatore Insigne, both of Italy. The other is entered by Italian team Mik Corse, for Alex Piccolo and Vittorio Zoboli, who previously drove the Wieth Racing Ferrari.
LONGIN VICTORIOUS IN ZOLDER 24 HOURS JMB Racing's Belgian driver, Bert Longin, won the 24 Hours of Zolder last weekend, in a GLPK Chrysler Viper he shared with Mike Hezemans, Anthony Kumpen and Pedro Lamy. This was his third consecutive win at Zolder, and the fourth win for Kumpen. Longin now has a comfortable lead in the Belcar championship.