To start the summer, the FIA GT and FIA GT3 European Championships are heading north, to the German circuit of Oschersleben, in the hope of finding some good weather after two thrilling - but damp and chilly - race meetings. For the FIA GT Championship, round three will take place after a month-long break. German teams have been victorious in GT1 in both races to date, after Vitaphone conquered the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy, and Zakspeed dominated Brno.
Although both will be keen to claim a coveted home win, so will one of the other German teams competing ! Phoenix Racing's Aston Martin, second in Brno, or the B-Racing Lamborghini, showing great improvement, could both keep up the run of different makes on the top step of the podium.
In GT2, the Ferrari 430 GT2 claimed the honours in the first two races, for AF Corse and JMB Racing, while Scuderia Ecosse has claimed both pole positions. But Italian team Ebimotors, with its Porsche 996 GT3 RSR, is not far behind, with two second places and joint lead in the Drivers classification.
The FIA GT3 European Championship, after a glittering maiden event in Silverstone, will hold its second-ever meeting. The shorter Oschersleben circuit should prove challenging for the grid of over 40 cars, all racing in the same GT3 category, fighting for both overall honours and to be the leading car among their own brand. Ferrari and Dodge were victorious in Silverstone - so how about Aston Martin, Ascari, Corvette, Lamborghini, Maserati or Porsche for Oschersleben?
The Oschersleben Supercar 500 meeting will include rounds of the Trofeo Audemars Piguet Maserati Europe, the FIA Historic Racing Championships, the Northern European Formula Renault 2.0 Championship and the Toyota Yaris Cup.
WHAT THE DRIVERS THINK...
"I've had very good results in Oschersleben, and I've always been quick there, so I like it quite a lot. There are some nice corners in the last parts, especially the fast right-left-and right again after the back straight. It's a circuit where you need a very good rhythm, otherwise you're lost ! " Andrea Piccini, Phoenix Racing
"Oschersleben is narrow and quite slow compared to most of the other circuits on the calendar. It's difficult to overtake, and there are frequent collisions while going past slower cars. Quite often, cars which are less competitive elsewhere can shine at Oschersleben." Christophe Bouchut, B-Racing Lamborghini Murciélago
"The track is quite slow, but very, very technical. it is not easy to find a good balance there, and it is always a challenge to find a good set-up. It will be my birthday on the race day, so I hope to receive a nice present !" Matteo Bobbi, AF Corse Ferrari 430 GT2.
THE FIA GT GOES GERMAN
With the eyes of the world on Germany due to the World Cup, there has also been a definite German flavour to the 2006 FIA GT Championship so far. Not only have German-speaking drivers taken the ascendant amongst this year's field, but German teams are in three of the top four positions in the GT1 Teams classifications. A perfect situation when heading for Germany, and the tight, technical Motorsport Arena Oschersleben. This will be the seventh visit of the Championship to the circuit, which has raced here since 1998, when it was the first international series to compete at the track. After one win for the Vitaphone Maserati and one for Zakspeed's Saleen S7-R, Vitaphone currently leads Zakspeed by three points in the Teams classification. Both teams will be keen to continue their good performance for their home round.
However, both have additional elements to contend with in Oschersleben. The nr 2 Maserati, driven by Thomas Biagi, victorious here in 2005, will lose 10 grid places further to a Stewards' Decision in the last round. The team has withdrawn the appeal it had initially lodged. This decision should be confirmed by the International Court of Appeal in the coming weeks.
As for Zakspeed, the dominant performance in Brno added to good results in Silverstone has resulted in GT Bureau removing the larger rear wing which had been given to the car further to poor performances in 2005. Furthermore, the car now has 70kg penalty weight. "Oschersleben should be nice," Brno winner Sascha Bert said of his home round. "We don't know how the balance of the car will change with the smaller wing, and we have a lot of penalty weight, but it is a good Saleen circuit. It's also nice for the spectators, who can see nearly the whole track, so we hope to have a good race!"
There are plenty of other contenders waiting in the wings and looking for their first win of the season. With four Aston Martin DBR9 cars on the grid, which have taken three podiums so far, the first DBR9 victory of 2006 cannot be far away. Aston Martin Racing BMS has finished third on both occasions, while Phoenix Racing claimed a fine second place in Brno. As for Race Alliance, their luck must surely change soon...
The GLPK Carsport Corvette has also had more than its share of problems, but the speed of the new C6 is undeniable, as proved by Hezemans' pole in Silverstone, and Oschersleben will hopefully see the beautiful yellow car back at the front. As for the B-Racing Lamborghini Murciélago, the car scored three points in Brno.
Oschersleben was a track which suited the car in 2005, so another good result should be possible. While German teams lead GT1, it is the Italians who are the dominant force in GT2 at the moment. AF Corse, entering two Ferrari 430 GT2 cars, currently heads the Teams classification, two points ahead of Ebimotors, with its two Porsche 996 GT3 RSR cars. The traditional Porsche - Ferrari battle is well underway ! The Drivers classifications are even closer, with AF Corse's Bobbi and Melo tied on 16 points with Ebimotors' Collard and Riccitelli. With success ballast added to the GT-bureau weight for two 'well-known' drivers, the cars are getting steadily heavier, which may allow their rivals to close the gap.
JMB Racing claimed its first victory with the Ferrari 430 GT2 in Brno, Tim Sugden and Iradj Alexander surviving a turbulent final ten minutes to take the top step of the podium.
As for Scuderia Ecosse, the reigning British GT Champions have just had a successful third.place finish at Le Mans, and will be keen to claim their first podium of 2006, after two poles. However, the nr 62 car of Kinch and Kirkaldy will lose 10 grid positions further to a collision with AF Corse's Salo and Aguas in Brno.
A LAP OF OSCHERSLEBEN CIRCUIT WITH KAUFMANN
Although Oschersleben is not Wolfgang Kaufmann's home circuit, it is one he has a special feeling for : "I like the circuit, I like the people working there," he explained. "The first time the circuit opened, I did some show laps there in a Kremer Porsche." "The first corner, by the hotel, is a good place for overtaking. Then you head into the Hasseröder corner, which is a 180° left-hander, where it is quite important to have no understeer in order to go into the next quick left-handed corner. This is one of the key corners of the circuit, as you can really lose time there if the car is not perfect.
The next corner is quite slow, 180" to the right. Again, you need a good front and no understeer. This leads into the chicane. It's hard on the car, but you need to go over the kerbs if you want a good time. The next quick right-hander is where you need to get as much speed as possible for the long straight.
You have to be careful in the following 'S' combination of right and left corners or you can brake too hard, lock the tyres and land in big problems ! Then there are just two more corners before the start/finish line. They are both right-handers, with the first really quick and the second slower. You need a lot of mechanical grip there in order to prepare for the start-finish straight."