China ! A month after the tenth round in Dubai, which saw some truly exceptional racing at an exciting new facility in the United Arab Emirates, the FIA GT Championship is continuing its overseas tour with a return to the Zhuhai International Circuit.
The Championship last raced there at the end of 1999, with a race won by Chrysler Viper Team Oreca's pairing of Karl Wendlinger and Olivier Beretta. During the five seasons that have passed since that last visit, the Championship has changed almost beyond recognition. The eleventh round should see a fascinating battle between the Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini and Saleen cars - not forgetting the Vipers, the only car remaining from the 1999 grid - while the Porsche and Ferrari cars will battle for N-GT honours, joined for this round by a Nissan 350Z.
Although the 2004 GT titles and the N-GT Teams Championship have already been claimed, with BMS Scuderia Italia retaining their GT title, Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari victorious in the GT Drivers' classification and Freisinger Yukos Motorsport winning the N-GT Teams Championship, the battle still goes on for the N-GT Drivers' title. Stephane Ortelli and Emmanuel Collard have a lead of 4.5 points over Freisinger Motorsport drivers Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr. The three-hour race around the Zhuhai International Circuit should see yet another close, all-out N-GT battle. In the GT category, a number of teams and drivers are still in contention for third place in the Drivers classification and second in the Teams. GPC Giesse and JMB Racing, both entering two Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars, are separated by twelve points, with 18 on offer in Zhuhai. Seven drivers are separated by just six points in the classification : Fabio Babini, Lilian Bryner and Enzo Calderari have 50 points, Karl Wendlinger 46.5, Philipp Peter 46 and the Vitaphone duo, Uwe Alzen and Michael Bartels, 44.
The recent meeting of the World Motor Sport Council announced that following the analysis of its performance in the last three races, the homologation of the Maserati MC 12 has been approved. This means that the two cars, entered by AF Corse, will be eligible to score points during the final round of the season in Zhuhai. In total, 30 cars are due to take part in the final race of the 2004 season, with 19 competing in the GT class and 11 in the N-GT class. This includes cars from seven different manufacturers, with nine different models of car. The varied group of drivers includes at least eight former Formula One drivers, three winners of the 24 Hours of Le Mans and FIA GT Champions from every season from 1999 onwards...
The weekend of racing at the Zhuhai International Circuit includes four support races : the Zhuhai Touring Car Race, the Super Car Challenge, the Lotus Challenge and a Mini Car race.
ZHUHAI ACCORDING TO ...
Sascha Maassen (Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS nr 99): "I raced there in 1999 in a Porsche GT2 car; we did quite well, qualifying on the first row. The circuit is nice : technical, not too fast, but interesting, safe, modern and very good to drive."
Karl Wendlinger (JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello nr 17): "I have some good memories of Zhuhai, because we won the race with Olivier Beretta in the Chrysler Viper. I remember there was a very good atmosphere during the race weekend, with quite a lot of spectators. It was a very interesting race. I have heard that a lot has changed since 1999, so I'm lookign forward to catching a glimpse of the 'new Zhuhai"
Circuit length : 4300 m
Direction : From Zhuhai, take Jiuzhou Road eastbound; turn left onto Lower Road, turn left onto Tiangxiang Road; the track entrance is on the left.
HANDICAP WEIGHTS FOR ZHUHAI
The nr 2 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello will carry 100 kg, as will the nr 3 Care Racing Ferrari. As for the Dubai-winning nr 1 car, it will have 45 kg. The nr 5 Vitaphone Saleen will have 50 kg, with the nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari on 10 kg. The two Maserati MC 12 cars will carry 60 kg and 70 kg respectively. In N-GT; both the Championship contenders, the nr 50 and 99 Porsches, are on 75 kg, while the nr 62 GPC Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari will carry 45 kg. The nr 88 Gruppe M Porsche will be on 40 kg, the nr 68 and 70 Porsches will both carry 10 kg, while the nr 85 Nissan 350 Z will have 30 kg as a new entrant. (all information provisional)
GARDEL : WE WANT TO FINISH THE SEASON STRONGLY
Matteo Bobbi and Gabriele Gardel had an excellent race in Dubai, winning ahead of the nr 34 Maserati MC 12. "Honestly, I have no idea what it will be like in Zhuhai," Swiss driver Gardel explained. "But Dubai was new to us too, and we had a very good race. I am pleased to be going to China; neither Matteo or I will have any pressure, we will just concentrate on going as fast as we can. It would be good to finish the season with another strong race." Although new Champion Fabrizio Gollin will be present in China to complete various media duties, BMS drivers Luca Cappellari and Fabrizio Gollin will not be behind the wheel of their usual nr 2 Ferrari 550 Maranello in Zhuhai; the car will be shared by experienced endurance racer Luca Drudi, Frederic Dor, who previously competed for Care Racing, and Nicola 'Niki' Cadei, a race-winner in the 2004 Ferrari Challenge. The Care Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello will be driven, as in Dubai, by Lilian Bryner, Thomas Biagi and Enzo Calderari.
VITAPHONE DRIVERS FIGHTING FOR THIRD
The drivers of the nr 5 Vitaphone Racing Saleen S7 are looking forward to the last race of hte season. "It is my first time in China," Uwe Alzen said. "It will be a very long but exciting trip and I am happy to see another race track in a completely different part of the world. I only knew the track in Zhuhai from the map. We need some luck in the race to finish in third position in the drivers classification, but that is our aim. I think it is important to have a good result in the last race of the championship to make the sponsors feel comfortable for next saison. After Dubai, which was the most strenuous race this saison for the drivers, mechanics and everybody involved, it will be again a hard job for all of us. We have had a bit time to relax between these two hard races and therefore we are looking forward to going to Zhuhai."
AF CORSE - ELIGIBLE FOR POINTS
Johnny Herbert and Fabrizio De Simone came close to winning in Dubai, after a fantastic battle with the nr 1 BMS Scuderia Ferrari 550 Maranello. "We just missed the win in Dubai, and we will try to claim it in Zhuhai," De Simone explained. With the Maserati MC 12 completing its homologation progress, the nr 33 and 34 cars will be eligible to score points. "I don't think it will change much in the racing, but it will be important to mark the beginning of the Maserati MC 12's official presence in the Championship with a good result. It is very important that we manage to get a podium, but of course a win would be better ! I am sure we will have a good and balanced fight." Like many of the drivers, this will be Fabrizio's first race at Zhuhai. "I raced in Hong Kong in karting in 1988 and 1990, but never in China, so I am really looking forward to it."
MAASSEN : IT'S OUT OF OUR HANDS
Heading into the final race of the 2004 season, Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr can still claim the N-GT Drivers' title in their nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS. But their success depends on category leaders Ortelli and Collard, in the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Motorsport Porsche, running into problems. "We are still in with a chance," Maassen said. "We will fight until the end. But there are some things we cannot influence. Our goal is to win, nothing else. We can't really expect to win the Championship now; the cars are so reliable, they have never failed at all this season, and I am sure Stephane and Emmanuel will not take any risks. Overall, however, the Championship has been very good for us." Ortelli and Collard have finished second behind Maassen and Luhr in the last three races. Even if the nr 99 wins in Zhuhai, third place for Ortelli and Collard would be sufficient to give them the title. Throughout the 2004 season, the nr 50 drivers have never finished lower than third...
GRUPPE M EUROPE : LOOKING FORWARD TO CHINA
British team Gruppe M Europe has raced strongly on each of its appearances in the FIA GT Championship, finishing on the podium in Donington, racing strongly at Spa and then claiming fourth place in Dubai. For the final race of the season, multiple race-winner Tim Sugden and 2003 N-GT Champion Marc Lieb will team up once more. "I am really looking forward to it," Tim said. "I've never been to China, so it will be a new experience. Dubai, with Marc Lieb, was really good, although we obviously had problems due to our car arriving late. I know the team well, having raced with them all year. There is always a fantastic atmosphere, and we all get on really well. I want to have as good a go as we can, to finish on the podium, and to push Freisinger as hard as possible." Despite only competing in a limited number of races, the team is lying fifth in the classification.
GPC GIESSE SQUADRA CORSE : "A WIN WOULD BE NICE"
Italian team GPC Giesse Squadra Corse is currently lying second in the GT Teams classification, and is determined to hold on to the place. "We would really lilke to claim our first win of the year," team manager Batti Pregliasco commented. "We have come so close, but never actually won. That would be our dream, but our real aim is, like in Dubai, to have four cars at the start and four at the finish line, to show what the team can do in terms of preparation and the management of the cars." As in Dubai, Fabio Babini will race with Gianni Morbidelli in the nr 11 Ferrari 575 M Maranello, while Philipp Peter and Emanuele Naspetti will be in the nr 13 car. "We need to finish well to make sure of second place in the GT Teams classification, whcih was the goal set by Giampaolo Coppi at the start of the year. In the Drivers' Championship, it is more difficult to play, as the points are so close. We split up the drivers to have a better chance at the most points." In N-GT, Pescatori and Melo will once again share the nr 62 GPC Giesse Ferrari 360 Modena; the drivers for the nr 64 will be announced shortly.
JMB RACING LOOKS FOR STRONG SHOWING IN CHINA
Bert Longin After a difficult race in Dubai, when the nr 17 and 18 Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars failed to finish due to the heat and a transmission problem respectively, the team is determined to finish the season on a high note, with another podium. "For me, it's really exciting to go to unknown continents to race, and to see circuits where few European drivers have competed," Bert Longin explained. "I can't wait to get to China and to put in my first laps on the Zhuhai International Circuit. After the last round of the Belgian GT Championship, which Anthony Kumpen and I won, and where I set a new lap record with the Chrysler Viper, I am more motivated than ever for the last 2004 race of the FIA GT Championship, and to put in a good performance with JMB Racing." Bert will be driving with Sergey Zlobin in the nr 18 Ferrari, while Karl Wendlinger and Tarso Marques will share the nr 17 and Peter Kutemann will drive the nr 19 car, his team-mates yet to be announced.
DAMS FOCUSSED FOR ZHUHAI
Although neither Lamborghini Murcielago managed to reach the finish line at Dubai, due to transmission problems, both cars performed well and the team is confident for Zhuhai. "We now have a better understanding of the Murcielago and how to use the tyres. We knew that running a new car like this would not bring top results in the first races, but we had good speed in Dubai and we are confident for Zhuhai," Jean-Paul Driot, the DAMS CEO explained. "Our aim in Zhuhai is to concentrate on reaching the finish line," Jean-Denis Deletraz explained. "The team is very focussed and motivated, and everyone has been working hard since Dubai, trying to get rid of our small reliability problems. We really want to finish the season with a good result, in the points !"
MARGARITIS TO DRIVE WITH KONRAD MOTORSPORT
Greek driver Alexandros Margaritis will be back behind the wheel of the nr 4 Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7 for the final round of the FIA GT Championship. The 20-year old Formula 3 Euroseries driver put in a strong performance in Dubai, on his first-ever sportscar experience. "I got the call from Konrad Motorsport to see if I would like to do the races in Dubai and China. So I took the opportunity to see what it is like to drive a GT car. My times were quite quick, and I was more or less the same level with the other drivers. I can learn a lot from my teammates - they are a lot more experienced than me. I don't really know anything about GT racing except from watching it on TV, but it seems to be a very professional series with lots of very experienced drivers. The car is so much heavier than a single-seater, and you have to handle it in a totally different way - but I am enjoying myself!"
BOUCHUT RETURNS TO ZWAANS FOR ZHUHAI
A Chrysler Viper was victorious the last time the FIA GT Championship raced in Zhuhai. Although times have moved on and the Viper is no longer a front-runner, triple FIA GT Champion Christophe Bouchut has still been able to put in some excellent performances in the car, most notably in Hockenheim. He will be back for the final race of the season, alongside Val Hillebrand and Arjan van der Zwaan. "I am really pleased to have been asked to drive for Zwaan's for the final race of the season," Bouchut said. "It is very nice to be going back to China - I was last there in 1996 - to be present for the last race, and to see everyone again."
MALLOCK REJOINS RML FOR ZHUHAI
Michael Mallock will be lining up alongside Chris Goodwin for the final round of the 2004 season, in the nr 8 Saleen S7. The 22-year-old, who has raced in the FIA Sportscar Championship and British GT Championship, previously drove in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. Michael Mallock commented "I am very happy to be back in the car and am grateful to the team for giving me this opportunity. I enjoyed driving the Saleen at Spa and am looking forward to partnering Chris and to us achieving a good result for the team." Phil Barker, RML's Team Manager commented : "Michael drove really well at Spa for his first outing in the car and he works well with the team. His performance ensured we wanted to see him back in the Saleen and we feel alongside Chris they will make a strong pairing for the final race". The nr 7 car will, as usual, be shared by Thomas Erdos and Mike Newton.
PIRRI ARDIZZONE COMPLETES ALL-ITALIAN GNM SALEEN
Sicilian driver Luca Pirri Ardizzone confirmed that he would be driving the nr 28 Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen S7 in the final round of the 2004 FIA GT Championship in Zhuhai, China. He previously drove in Magny-Cours, Brno and Imola. "It is a great opportunity to drive alongside Paolo Ruberti and Rocky Agusta," he said. "Since Imola I have followed the team's progress and they have been quick, consistent and reliable, all important factors in GT racing. My aim will be to drive at my best and be a team player."
RJN ENTERS NISSAN 350Z IN ZHUHAI
British team RJN will enter its Nissan 350 Z in the final 2004 round of the FIA GT Championship. The car will be driven by Neil Cunningham and former FIA Sports Car winner Ben Collins. Neil Cunningham, Ben Collins and Alistair McRae have recently completed 500km of testing. Team Boss Bob Neville commented "Although the car is still very new we would like to end the 2004 season with a solid performance at Zhuhai". RJN competed in the FIA European Touring Car Championship in 2001 and 2002. The Nissan 350 Z competed for the first time in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, when it was driven by Cunningham, Chris Buncombe, Vincent Radermeker and Carl Rosenblad.
NEWS IN BRIEF
PROTON LOOKS FORWARD TO CHINA : Proton Competition, which has had an excellent season, scoring points in every race, is currently lying fourth in the N-GT Teams Championship. The German team will once again enter two cars, one for the father-and-son line-up of Horst Felbermayr and Horst Felbermayr Jr. "We raced at Zhuhai in 1999; it was a good race for us, and we finished 8th. This year, our aim is to finish once again without problems so that we will have a perfect season, with 11 races and 11 points finishes !" Christian said.
THREE NEW DRIVERS FOR THE GRAHAM NASH MOTORSPORT PORSCHE : US driver Robert Orcutt will drive with Graham Nash Motorsport in the finale of the 2004 FIA GT Championship in Zhuhai, China. He will join British driver Stephen Stokoe in the nr 70 Porsche 996 GT3-RS, with the third driver being announced as Ken MacAlpine, a Toronto-based Scot who is a front-runner in the Grand-Am Cup. Speaking about the deal, Team Principal Graham Nash commented "I believe its a very strong line up in the Porsche. Perhaps the strongest overall we have had this year with all 3 drivers being quick. This will only be the 4th race this year for the Porsche, having raced (and led the race) at the Daytona 24 hours and then at Spa for the 24 Hours, and most recently in the FIA Dubai race a few weeks ago"
VONKA RACING CONTINUES SUCCESSFUL SEASON : Czech team Vonka Racing will be back in action in Zhuhai, with the team's nr 57 Porsche 996 GT3 being shared by Jan Vonka and Miro Konopka. Currently lying sixth in the N-GT Teams classification, the Czech team's best result to date was 5th in Magny-Cours.
SCUDERIA VEREGRA ANNOUNCES LINE-UP : the nr 35 Chrysler Viper entered by Italian team Scuderia Veregra will be driven by 2001 N-GT Champion David Terrien, Marco Savoizzi, who has previously driven for JMB Racing and a third French driver, Jean Yves Mallat, for the final round of the 2004 Championship in Zhuhai.