For the third round of the 2003 season, the LG Super Racing Weekend series is heading to its southernmost point, the Italian track of Pergusa, on the island of Sicily.
The multi-series platform first visited the track last September, when an excellent weekend of racing saw wins for the Lister Storm of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Nicolaus Springer and the Freisinger Porsche 996 GT3-RS of Ortelli and Lieb in the FIA GT Championship, while both rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Championship were won by Fabrizio Giovanardi, then driving an Alfa Romeo 156 Gta.
The spectators flocked to the 4.95 km circuit, set in the natural basin formed by an extinct volcano, and the excellent weather provided a perfect backdrop for the sport. This year, Giovanardi has moved to BMW, but is determined to maintain his excellent record at the circuit.
In the FIA GT Championship, both Lister Storm and Larbre Competition must be hoping to put bad luck behind them, while BMS Scuderia Italia aims for a hat-trick of wins. In the N-GT category, Porsche is still looking for its first win of the season, after victory in Barcelona and Magny-Cours went to the Ferrari 360 Modena cars of JMB Racing and Team Maranello Concessionaires; the German manufacturer's cars were dominant last year in Pergusa.
Although the Renault Sport Clio Trophy and Renault Sport Elf Clio International Cup will be present in Italy as the support races, the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup has opted to cancel the Pergusa round, in order to continue the development of the new cars.
PERGUSA - ACCORDING TO GIOVANARDI
Fabrizio Giovanardi, reigning FIA European Touring Car Champion, has won a Touring Car Championship every year since 1997. After eight years with Alfa Romeo, he has moved to BMW this season, driving for Team BMW Italy-Spain, run by touring car legend Roberto Ravaglia.
"Pergusa is not a technical track, and driving skill doesn't make the difference here. The four chicanes are the crucial places, as they are limited by piles of tyres, and a little mistake in the driving line can result in massive damage to the car. For this reason, drivers are normally scared by them. It is like driving in a rally, when you rarely give 100 per cent, in order not to risk destroying your car.
The way you negotiate the chicanes makes all the difference, which could have a huge effect on the lap times.
The chicanes may also affect the car's reliability. Jumping over the kerbs throughout the race may damage the dampers and springs and also spoil the suspension geometry. We have to make a crucial set-up choice, as you cannot have a car which is good in both cornering and the kerbs. Here we normally go for a softer set-up, in order to absorb the shocks.
As for overtaking, Pergusa is not a difficult track. The usual overtaking points are the first and the last chicanes, where you brake very hard. In particular, your hopes of overtaking at the last chicane are very much influenced by the way you negotiate the previous Schumacher chicane. Doing it the right or the wrong way, may result in a difference of 20 and more kph in your speed when you arrive at the next braking point."
After the first two rounds of 2003, BMS Scuderia Italia has taken a commanding lead in the points tables, with the Italian team's Ferrari 550 Maranello cars finishing in first and second places in both Barcelona and Magny-Cours. Heading for the first Italian round this season, national drivers occupy five out of the top six places in the GT category. In N-GT, Italian-built cars have also dominated the season so far, with the Ferrari 360 Modena cars run by JMB Racing and Team Maranello victorious.
However, the Porsche, Lister Storm and Chrysler Viper cars dominated the race when the Championship last visited the Sicilian track, and the next round should be extremely interesting. With two wins to their credit, Thomas Biagi and Matteo Bobbi will now have 80 kg penalty weight on their nr 23 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello, while Gollin and Cappellari will have carrying 60 kg in the nr 22 car. Piccini and Deletraz will have 20 kg on the nr 15 Lister Storm. In N-GT, the nr 88 Team Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari 360 Modena will be heaviest with 35 kg, while the nr 50 Freisinger Porsche will carry 15 kg, the nr 58 Autopalace Ferrari 360 Modena 10 kg and the JMB Racing Modena reduced to 5 kg.
BMS SCUDERIA ITALIA TAKES COMMANDING LEAD (1st in GT, 36 points)
Thomas Biagi and Matteo Bobbi proved that their Barcelona win was no fluke when they took a second consecutive victory at Magny-Cours, while Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari finished in second place, increasing the team's point score to 36, giving the Italian team a 22-point lead over Lister Racing. Pergusa is likely to be more difficult for the team, however, as the Ferrari 550 Maranello cars struggled over the chicanes in 2002. "We are realistic about Pergusa. Our car does not appreciate the kerbs," team logistics manager Marco Streparava explained. "Therefore, we will run a defensive race, trying to obtain as many points as we can, but it will be hard. However, we are very pleased with our results in the first two races, for which we have to thank the team, drivers and Michelin. We know we are quite lucky to have such a good lead at this stage of the season." Thomas Biagi is looking forward to the race. "I know Pergusa really well; I did my first race there, in 1993, in Formula Europa Boxer. I like racing in Sicily, the fans are very passionate about racing, so the atmosphere is great. I am really looking forward to the race, as I am enjoying the FIA GT Championship very much. I know the Ferrari cars had problems there last year, but I am confident we can do a good job. The team is working hard, even during the public holiday yesterday, and we are all pushing hard to win, working on our dreams. I know that 80 kg penalty weight will be difficult, especially over the kerbs and under braking, which is important at Pergusa, but I am still positive - I'm aiming for 100 kg !"
LISTER ON COURSE FOR FIRST WIN ? (2nd in GT, 14 points)
Lister Racing has led both rounds of the Championship so far, but has, as yet, been unable to capitalise on the Storm's undoubted speed, after the nr 14 car lost its roof in an unusual incident in Barcelona, and a broken throttle cable and a slow puncture delayed the nr 14 and 15 respectively in Magny-Cours. However, the points taken so far mean that the British team is in second place in the Championship, and the new drivers are settling in well, with Piccini close to Jamie Campbell-Walter in practice, and Nathan Kinch putting in an impressive stint at Magny-Cours, leading the race. "I'm feeling quite confident," Andrea Piccini explained. "I know the Lister was good in Pergusa last year, and, despite poor starting positions, we would have managed a one-two in Magny-Cours but for some very small problems on both cars. I was in a Ferrari last year, so I know what it is like. But I also know the car has improved a lot, and the team has more experience now. Although I'm not keen on the straight - chicane - straight combination at Pergusa, I like going to Sicily, as the people are so interested in motorsport, and there are so many fans. The Italian drivers are doing very well in the Championship this year, but I hope that it will soon be Piccini at the front ..."
CONSISTENCY PAYS FOR OPTIMA-ROOS (3rd in GT, 8 points)
The first Swedish team to enter the FIA GT Championship on a full season basis, the Optima-Roos Racing Team is currently lying third in the Championship. Sixth in Barcelona, fourth in Magny-Cours, the most northerly-based team is now heading for the southernmost circuit, a distance of 3200 km.
"We are very satisfied with our results so far," Henrik Roos explained. "It's fantastic to be lying third in the Teams Championship, especially with just one car. We are rookies this year, and we are very much aware that this is the world's toughest GT championship, so our goal is to finish in the points; Our strategy in the races is to keep out of trouble, and try to set consistent lap times, and so far this has worked. We are waiting for new updates for the Viper, and then hopefully the car will be closer in qualifying. Neither Magnus nor I have been to Pergusa before, but we've heard the track is good for the Vipers, so we are hoping for a good result. Our ultimate goal is to get at least one podium finish this year. It was not so far away in Magny-Cours, so who knows ?"
TEAM MARANELLO LEAD DESPITE EXCLUSION (1st in N-GT, 24 points)
After Team Maranello Concessionaires' two Ferrari 360 Modena cars led the N-GT class at Magny-Cours, the nr 89 car of Burt and Turner was later excluded from the results, due to the capacity of the fuel tank. The team has appealed the decision, and a hearing will be held shortly. With their team-mates Davies and Mullen inheriting the win, the British team provisionally has a lead of 11 points over second placed JMB Racing and Freisinger Motorsport. "In our maiden year, TMC are clearly delighted to be leading both the drivers' and team Championships at this early stage of the season," TMC Commercial Director John Newman explained. " Although our victory with car 89 remains provisional at this stage as our exclusion is under appeal, we are confident that Kelvin Burt, Darren Turner, and the team will have the points they worked so hard to achieve in Magny-Cours restored shortly. We now look forward to competing in Sicily and, knowing that Enna is a particularly punishing circuit, the team are working tirelessly to prepare both cars for the challenge that awaits us. Given the dedication and skill inherent in the team, from drivers, engineers and mechanics, we are confident of further success in a week's time."
BERTOLINI CONFIDENT FOR JMB RACING IN PERGUSA (Joint 2nd in N-GT, 13
Andrea Bertolini and Fabrizio De Simone crossed the line in 7th place in Magny-Cours, provisionally inheriting sixth place. Added to the points for their Barcelona victory, JMB Racing is currently joint second in N-GT. "We had engine problems in Magny-Cours," Bertolini explained. "The car was good for the first six laps, and then we lost power. As for Pergusa, the important thing there is to be fast through the chicanes. I'm not keen on the circuit, I prefer tracks like Spa-Francorchamps, Brno or Mugello. However, I am optimistic for the race, and hope the car will be better this year than it was in 2002."
The French team also has two Ferrari 550 Maranello cars running in the GT category. Neither car was able to finish the Magny-Cours race, although the drivers seemed optimistic concerning the progress made. "The car had a good set-up at Magny-Cours, and Philipp Peter managed some good times, but we are still lacking reliability," Fabio Babini explained. "Pergusa is a very fast circuit, and to do three hours with the accelerator pedal on the floor will not be easy for us, but the project is still very new, and the whole team is working very hard. Last year, I was on the podium, but this year I will be happy if we get to the end."
FREISINGER MOTORSPORT HOPES FOR REPEAT WIN (Joint 2nd in N-Gt, 13 points)
2002 Champion Stephane Ortelli won the Pergusa round of the FIA GT Championship last September, along with his team-mate Marc Lieb, with the team's second car close behind. Currently joint second in the Championship, the German team is hoping for a repeat performance at the Sicilian track. The nr 50 Porsche 996 GT3-RS finished provisionally in second place at Magny-Cours, with the second car of Longin and Gardel fourth. This is Italian-born Swiss driver Gardel's first year in the Championship, and he is settling in well. "The team did a wonderful job in Magny-Cours, and is currently second in Championship, so I am very happy," he explained. "I know Pergusa quite well, as I've raced for many years in Italian Championships, both in Formula 3 and Formula 3000. The circuit is not easy for the car, with all the kerbs. But I know the team had a good race there in 2002, and I hope we can do as well this year. My job is to be a good second car driver, to help Lieb and Ortelli to work towards winning the Championship. In the end, despite problems, they were second in Magny-Cours, which is not bad. There is still a long way to go this year, and the way to win titles is to score points all the way -- we'll see at the end !"
NEW CAR FOR AUTOPALACE FOR PERGUSA (4th in N-GT, 11 points)
French team Autopalace has made an excellent start to its first season in the FIA GT Championship, finishing fourth at Barcelona. Despite losing a door, the team crossed the line in fourth place at Magny-Cours, inheriting third afterwards. With 11 points, Gomez and Hiesse are currently joint fifth in the Drivers Classification. However, the team is expecting to take delivery of a new car today, and will be testing on Friday and Monday to prepare for Pergusa. "It is a new Michelotto chassis, which has been in the hands of an Italian tuner. It has a mechanical gearbox, while waiting for a sequential one. The car has been prepared as an endurance car, and will be perfect for Spa," press officer Sophie Bassaler explained. "We need this new car, especially the gear-box, in order to be able to fight with JMB and TMC. We're very pleased with our progress so far; compared to the leading teams, we are a very small outfit, but we will do all we can to be competitive. With only one car, we can't aim for the Team title, but we hope our drivers can aim for the podium"