For the third round of the 2006 season, the FIA GT Championship has gone north, to the German circuit of Oschersleben. Well known to most of the teams and drivers, the circuit has hosted the Championship on six previous occasions. As well as Sunday's three-hour, 500 km race, the weekend includes two one-hour races from the FIA GT3 European Championship, the Trofeo Audemars Piguet Maserati Europa, the Toyota Yaris Cup and the Formula Renault 2.0 NEC. After two cold and wet -- but extremely exciting -- weekends in Silverstone and Brno, the Championship is looking forward to a dry and hot weekend.
Hot and sunny weather greeted the participants in the FIA GT Championship in Oschersleben today - with temperatures looking to rise further tomorrow for the three-hour race, which looks like being tough on cars and drivers alike.
MICHAEL BARTELS TAKES POLE FOR HOME RACE - ALL-GERMAN FRONT ROW.
Michael Bartels claimed pole position for his home race, with a lap of 1:21.520 in the Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati MC 12, in today's 20-minute qualifying session for Sunday's 500 km race. He will start alongside Brno winner Sascha Bert, who qualified the Zakspeed Saleen, giving an all-German front row. Hezemans set the third-fastest time, despite a big accident in free practice this morning. Bartels was delighted with his result : " It is very nice to be on pole position for my home race, here in Germany ! We are working hard to bring the car to victory." This is Bartel's fourth pole, and his first of the season.
KIRKALDY ON GT2 POLE
Andrew Kirkaldy took pole in the nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 420 GT2, with a lap of 1:25.930. However, he will be demoted 10 grid places on tomorrow's grid. "I am very happy because the team did a great job, and we're very happy with pole. Unfortunately, I lost 10 places because of a penalty. Of all the places to have a penalty, it's not so good here, as trying to make the ground up won't be so easy because of the nature of the track." His team-mate Tim Mullen will take up the front spot in the nr 63 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari, alongside AF Corse's Mika Salo in the nr 59 Ferrari 430 GT2.
Andrea Piccini, in the nr 5 Phoenix Racing Aston Martin DBR9, was the first to lead GT1, with a lap of 1:23.230. Five minutes into the session, Sascha Bert, in the nr 9 Zakspeed Saleen, set a lap of 1:21.853 to claim provisional pole. At this time, Tim Mullen was on provisional GT2 pole, with a lap of 1:27.286. Mika Salo then took the lead with a time of 1:27.089
Two minutes later, Michael Bartels moved the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati up to second position, with the nr 2 Vitaphone car in third. Piccini improved but remained fourth.
At the half-way point, Bartels was leading from Bert and Biagi, while Kirkaldy set a time of 1:25.930 to take GT2 pole, ahead of Mullen and Salo. Hezemans, whose car had been damaged in the morning practice session, came out quite late, but set a lap of 1:22.222 on just his second timed lap, to go third, demoting the nr 2 Vitaphone to fourth.
Deletraz and Piccini were fifth in the Phoenix Racing Aston Martin, ahead of the nr 24 Aston Martin Racing BMS car of Pescatori and Ramos. Wendlinger was seventh in the Race Alliance DBR9.
In GT2, Brno winners JMB GruppeM were fourth ahead of Bobbi and Melo in the nr 58 AF Corse Ferrari, with Collard and Riccitelli once more the fastest Porsche. The two Ebimotors Porsches were followed by the nr 66 Felbermayr Porsche and the ARC Bratislava car.
After scrutineering, the nr 52 Renauer Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3 RSR lost its qualifying times, as the rear diffuser of the car was not in conformity with the regulations.
FIRST FREE PRACTICE SESSION : VITAPHONE AND SCUDERIA ECOSSE FASTEST
Friday's ninety-minute free practice session saw the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati MC 12 set the best time, with a lap of 1:22.527. The car was just 65 thousandths of a second ahead of the nr 5 Phoenix Racing Aston Martin DBR9, with the nr 9 Zakspeed Saleen S7-R third, three tenths behind the Maserati, making three different makes in the top three. Davies and Biagi were fourth in the second Vitaphone Maserati, ahead of the nr 24 Aston Martin Racing BMS DBR9. The nr 4 Carsport Corvette was sixth after brake problems, ahead of the nr 23 BMS car. The Balfe Saleen was eight, ahead of the nr 33 Race Alliance Aston Martin, which lost some time during the session with starter problems, with the Lamborghini 10th.
The Ferrari 430 GT2 cars dominated the category, with five of them in the top five places. The nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse car of Kinch and Kirkaldy set the best time, with a lap of 1:26.978. The times gave a first taste of the likely battle around the 3.667 km circuit on Sunday, as the five cars were separated by less than a second. The two AF Corse cars were second and third, ahead of Brno winners JMB and the second Scuderia Ecosse car. The nr 75 Ebimotors Porsche was sixth, ahead of the team's second car, the leading Felbermayr-Proton Porsche and the Renauer Porsche. The sole car in G2, the nr 101 Gillet Vertigo, was 11th.
SECOND FREE PRACTICE SESSION : GLPK-CARSPORT AND AF CORSE FASTEST
Mike Hezemans set the fastest time in the second free practice session at Oschersleben, with a lap of 1:22.020 around the 3.667 km circuit. However, he went off at the end of the session, damaging the nr 4 GLPK Carsport Corvette. It was not certain whether if the car would be ready for Qualifying later in the afternoon. The nr 9 Saleen was second fastest, ahead of the nr 1 Vitaphone Maserati of Bartels and Bertolini. The Phoenix Racing Aston Martin was fourth, ahead of the second Vitaphone Maserati and the nr 33 Race Alliance DBR9. In GT2, the nr 59 AF Corse Ferrari of Aguas and Salo set the best time, with a lap of 1:26.216, ahead of Mullen and Niarchos in the nr 63 Scuderia Ecosse car. The leading GT2 Porsche was the nr 75 Ebimotors car in 6th.
QUALIFYING PRESS CONFERENCE QUOTES
Michael Bartels - Pole Position - nr 1 Vitaphone Racing Maserati MC 12 "It is very nice to be on pole position for my home race, here in Germany, on the only race in my country this year ! Last year I was also on pole, but the race was not so good for me, even if our other car of Babini and Biagi won ! I've had so many fights here, such as in 2004, when I had a strong battle with Mika Salo with the Maserati, and we couldn't finish the race. So I think that's now the time to bring it to the end and finish the race. I am very happy for the whole team. We are well prepared, and have worked hard over the weekend on the race strategy and performance. I was quite nervous in qualifying, as on the first two laps I found a lot of traffic and actually my third lap was the fastest one was the fastest one, which I didn't expect. But it shows our package is a strong one. We are working hard to bring the car to victory."
Sascha Bert - 2nd in GT1 - nr 9 Zakspeed Racing Saleen S7 R
"It's a pleasure for me to qualify the car. Zakspeed as usual did a brilliant job. We got new damper systems from KW for this race, which was a step forward as the car was very heavy today, and with the shorter wing we need to find the balance again with the car, as this changed. I'm happy we were able to do great work together. I'm happy for the team, and also for me, as qualifying the car was a weight on my shoulders. But everything is OK now and I'm happy."
Mike Hezemans - 3rd in GT1 - nr 4 GLPK Carsport Corvette C6R
"I had a problem at the end of the second free practice session this morning - I tried to fly, but it didn't work - I just took off ! I outbraked myself, and broke too late and took off. Then I bent the floor so it wasn't great, but except that, the car was good. I just didn't push so hard in the first corner now ! I could have done a 1:21.8 but that wouldn't have made much of a difference.
Andrew Kirkaldy - 1st in GT2 - nr 62 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2
"The session was very good. It was the first time I'd used new tyres here so I was not so sure about the circuit but it went very well. I was quite lucky because when I went out, I didn't have any traffic. That's quite important here as it's difficult to pass. I am very happy because the team did a great job, and we're very happy with pole. Unfortunately, I lost 10 places because of a penalty. Of all the places to have a penalty, it's not so good here, as trying to make the ground up won't be so easy because of the nature of the track."
Tim Mullen - 2nd in GT2 - nr 63 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2
"I am happy for the team because they really did a great job. I knew that Andrew would be going back on the grid, so I just had to stay ahead of Mika. I had a lot of traffic and didn't get a clean run at qualifying, but the car feels good. I think it's going to be a very close race tomorrow, the track is quite physical and you don't get much time to rest. It's going to be hot too !"
Mika Salo - 3rd in GT2 - nr 59 AF Corse Ferrari 430 GT2
"It's quite a small circuit and fun to drive. Like everyone else, I knew traffic would be a problem. Also, there is a lot of dirt on the track, and when people go off, they bring a lot of sand back onto the track. Qualifying was OK, the car was a lot quicker in the morning - for some reason, the balance changed. We played a bit with the tyre pressures which may have been a mistake. But Pirelli has done a really good job - they have been doing tyre testing over the last few weeks, and the tyres have improved a lot. They will be very consistent for the race. I don't think Andrew's penalty was enough - he should have started two laps behind the rest of us - for the next five races!"
Bas Leinders - 1st in G2 - Gillet Vertigo
"We had some problems at the beginning of the season with our engine and our transmission. We have solved all that, which is very positive, and have now a new engine, which is quite a lot stronger than the one we had before. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to work on the car to find a good set-up, so it was rather hard to drive. We hope we can improve it a bit for tomorrow. We hope to finish the race, as this is sort of like a preparation for our home race, the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. It will be nice to have more competition in the G2 class there - that will be good motivation !"