Welcome to China ! The final round of the 2004 FIA GT Championship has seen teams and drivers head to the Zhuhai International Circuit, in Zhuhai, China. Close to Hong Kong and to Macau, the circuit was built in 1996, and last hosted the Championship in 1999. The weather is warm and humid, and a fine weekend of racing is in prospect to close an excellent season.
30 cars are due to take part in this last 500 km race of the year, 19 in the GT category and 11 in N-GT. Seven different marques are represented : Chrysler Viper, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati, Nissan, Porsche and Saleen, with nine different models of car. Teams of seven nationalities are taking part, with 17 nations represented by the drivers. Over the ten races held so far this year, pole positions are equally shared in GT by the Saleen S7 and the Ferrari 550 Maranello, with Walter Lechner Jr having been on pole most often, with four poles. In N-GT, things are equally balanced, with the Porsche and Ferrari tied on number of poles, and the high-score going to Christian Pescatori with five so far. In terms of wins, Ferrari 550 Maranello leads with 6, four to the nr 2 BMS Scuderia Italia and two to the nr 1, with three to the Vitaphone Saleen S7 and one to JMB Racing's Ferrari 575 M Maranello. In N-GT, six wins have gone to Maassen and Luhr in the nr 99 Porsche 996 GT3-RS, three to Ortelli and Collard in the nr 50 Porsche, and one to GPC Giesse's Ferrari 360 Modena.
The last time the FIA GT Championship raced at the Zhuhai International Circuit, in 1999, the race saw a Chrysler Viper one-two-three; it won by that year's Champions, Olivier Beretta and Karl Wendlinger, in a Chrysler Viper GTS.
The last race of the 2004 season, at the Dubai Autodrome, in the United Arab Emirates, saw a fine win for Matteo Bobbi and Gabriele Gardel, in a BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello. In N-GT, Maassen and Luhr took their fourth consecutive win and their sixth of the season.
For the final round of 2004, both the nr 2 and nr 3 Ferrari 550 Maranello cars are on 100 kg. The nr 33 and 34 AF Corse Maserati MC 12 cars have 60 and 70 kg respectively. The nr 5 Vitaphone Saleen has 50 kg, while the Dubai-winning nr 1 BMS Ferrari has 45 kg. The nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello has just 10 kg
In N-GT, both the title-contenders, the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Motorsport Porsche and the nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche have the super-maximum of 75 kg. Pescatori and Melo have 45 kg in the nr 62 GPC Giesse Squadra Corse. The nr 88 Gruppe M Porsche has 40 kg, with the new entrant nr 85 RJN Nissan on 30 kg. The nr 64 GPC Ferrari has 27.5 kg, while the nr 68 and 70 Porsches have 10 kg.
* The nr 2 BMS Ferrari 550 Maranello will be driven this weekend by Luca Drudi, Frederic Dor and Nicola Cadei
* Christophe Bouchut, who was originally to drive the nr 10 Zwaan's Racing Chrysler Viper, is moving to the nr 3 Care Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello, replacing Thomas Biagi who has injured his hand.
* JMB's driver line-ups have been completed by Iradj Alexander, joining Wendlinger and Marques in the nr 17, Maurizio Mediani alongside Longin and Zlobin in the nr 18 and Mauro Casadei with Daoudi and Kutemann in the nr 19
* Three Chinese drivers, Philip Ma, Mickael Choi and Samson Chan, will drive the nr 24 DAMS Lamborghini Murcielago, while Jean-Denis Deletraz and Andrea Piccini share the nr 26 car.
* The nr 35 Scuderia Veregra Chrysler Viper will be driven by Marco Savoizzi, Jean Yves Mallat and David Terrien. Terrien won the 2001 N-GT Championship with Christian Pescatori, and was the runner up in the GT category in 2002, when he drove for Larbre Competition. This is his first race
* Leading Hong Kong driver Charles Kwan will drive the nr 64 GPC Giesse Squadra Corse with Hong-Kong-based British driver Matthew Marsh.
* RJN Motorsport returns with their Nissan 350 Z, last seen at Spa. Ben Collins and Neil Cunningham share the driving
FIRST FREE PRACTICE : MASERATI AND FREISINGER FASTEST.
The session started well for the Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars, with the nr 11 and 13 GPC cars and the nr 17 JMB cars all taking turns to lead the time sheets during the first thirty minutes. Then the nr 1 BMS Ferrari 550 moved into the lead with a lap of 1:32.498. At that point, the top four cars were within half a second of each other. Twenty minutes before the end, the nr 33 Maserati MC 12 did a lap of 1:31.909, which was not bettered. After the end of the allotted 90 minutes, the Maserati of Salo and Bertolini was followed by the nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello of Bobbi and Gardel, with the nr 11 GPC Giesse Ferrari 575 M Maranello third. The leading Saleen was the nr 4 Konrad Motorsport car of Lechner Jr and Margaritis,in fifth both extremely confident for the weekend ahead. The nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello was sixth. The session was close, with the nr 26 DAMS Lamborghini Murcielago, in 13th place, being 1.846 seconds behind the leading Maserati
In N-GT, the times also steadily improved during the session, but the nr 99 Freisinger Porsche was consistently the fastest car, ahead of the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Porsche and the nr 62 GPC Ferrari. The nr 88 Gruppe M Porsche of Lieb and Sugden was fourth.
SECOND FREE PRACTICE : MASERATI ONE-TWO; COLLARD LEADS N-GT
With temperatures rising, the second free practice session was generally slower than the first; however, it was very close, with the top six within six tenths of a second, and a number of changes of leader. The nr 1 BMS Ferrari was fastest in the early stages, improving gradually until setting a time of 1:32.594 twenty minutes into the session. The nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari then moved up to lead the scoreboards, with a time of 1:32.568. This remained fastest for quite some time. After 55 minutes, the nr 33 Maserati of Salo and Bertolini took the lead, with a time of 1:32.326 which it later improved to 1:32.301. The session was then briefly red-flagged for a car to be recovered, and after the restart, the nr 34 Maserati MC12, with Johnny Herbert at the wheel, set a time of 1:32.165. The nr 33 Maserati was second, with the nr 17 JMB third. Bobbi and Gardel were fourth in the nr 1 Ferrari, followed by the nr 11 GPC Ferrari and the nr 5 Vitaphone Saleen, all separated by less than six tenths of a second. The nr 4 Konrad Saleen did only three laps, stopping with a broken gearbox shaft.
In N-GT, the morning's leader, the nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche, had engine problems after completing five laps. Although they were leading at the time, they dropped back to fourth as first the nr 88 Gruppe M Porsche took the lead, and then Emmanuel Collard, in the nr 50 Freisinger Porsche, went faster, setting a best time of 1:37.752. Just before the chequered flag fell, Jaime Melo put the nr 62 GPC Ferrari into second place in N-GT, just five thousandths behind the Porsche -- the top three cars setting times within one tenth of a second.