For the fourth year in a row, the FIA GT Championship has returned to the Portuguese circuit of Estoril, situated close to the Atlantic coast. This seaside location has a strong influence on the weather, with clouds blowing in off the ocean and the meteorological situation changing rapidly. Although the last two years have seen the final and deciding race held at Estoril, this year it will host the penultimate round, with much still to fight for in both the GT and N-GT titles.
The skies have been overcast today, but the rain has stayed away and conditions have been dry.
Historically speaking --
Over the past three years, the weather has played a significant role in the FIA GT races held at Estoril . 2000 saw torrential rain cut the event short, with the Lister Storm of Julian Bailey and Jamie Campbell-Walter awarded the race win despite the presence of the safety car throughout. In 2001, a rain-hit Superpole session saw Antonio Garcia claim pole position in his N-GT RWS Porsche 996 GT3-R, while the race win went to Mike Hezemans and his team-mate Jeroen Bleekemolen, in a Carsport Holland Chrysler Viper GTS-R; the Perspective Racing Porsche won in N-GT. Rain affected the 2002 race as well, with Andrea Piccini and Jean-Denis Deletraz taking their fourth win of the season in the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello, while Stephane Ortelli put in an excellent performance in the wet conditions in the Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS, with team-mate Sascha Maassen, to win the N-GT Teams title for the German team.
The nr 14 Lister Storm has 80 kg, pending their appeal. The nr 23 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 is the next heaviest, with 50 kg, while the nr 2 Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7-R has 30 kg. The nr 6 Creation Lister has 20 kg, and both the nr 21 and 22 Ferrari cars 15 kg. In N-GT, the nr 50 Freisinger Porsche now has 35 kg, with the nr 88 TMC Ferrari on 25, and the nr 52 JMB Racing on 20 kg. The nr 99 RWS Yukos Porsche has 15 kg, and the nr 61 EMKA Racing has 10 kg. Newcomers Autorlando and Yellow Racing both have 30 kg, with nr 85 JVG Racing on 10 kg.
*The results of Oschersleben remain provisional, pending both fuel tests on the cars 6, 21, 50 and 88, and the appeal lodged by Lister Racing concerning the exclusion of the nr 14 Storm.
*Thirty-two cars are due to take part in Sunday's 9th round of the 2003 FIA GT Championship. 16 are competing in the GT category, and 16 in the N-GT category.
*The Ferrari 575 M Maranello car is making its FIA GT debut this weekend, with the nr 9 and 10 JMB Racing cars.
*However, the debut of the Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT has been delayed until Monza, due to problems with the availability of spare parts.
*Graham Nash Motorsport has been joined by Portuguese driver Antonio Coimbra for this race. He will be replacing Pedro Chaves, who is forced to miss the event due to a rescheduled rally.
*Swiss team Yellow Racing is making its FIA GT debut this weekend. The team's nr 70 Ferrari 360 Modena will be driven by team owner Fabio Vernier and by Portuguese driver Pedro Nevoa
*Italian team Autorlando, a race-winner in 2002 with Philipp Peter and Toto Wolff, and a points-scorer in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, is back with its nr 66 Porsche 996 GT3-RS. The car will be driven by Diego Alessi, Maurizio Mediani and Edi Gay
*Czech driver Jaroslav "Jarek" Janis will be driving alongside Robert Pergl in the nr 57 MENX Ferrari 360 Modena for the final two races of the season. The young Formula 3000 driver already drove in Anderstorp, and at Spa-Francorchamps, when he finished third.
First Free Practice Session : Force One leads the way; TMC set the pace in N-GT
The Portuguese circuit of Estoril, with its two relatively long straights, saw the nr 5 Force One Chrysler Viper GTS-R set the pace in the first 90-minute free practice session. The car, shared by Anthony Kumpen, Mike Hezemans and Philippe Alliot this weekend, due to the absence of the nr 4 car, set a time of 1:37.731, and was the only car to go under the 1:37 barrier for much of the session. However, an hour into the session, the nr 22 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello improved to 1:37.743, just 12 thousandths of a second behind the Viper. They were followed by the two Lister Racing Storms, with the nr 15 car of Andrea Piccini and David Sterckx two tenths ahead of the nr 14 car of Campbell-Walter and Kinch, which is the heaviest car of the weekend, carrying 80 kg. The fastest of the new Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars was the nr 10, driven by Boris Derichebourg and Christian Pescatori, with a time of 1:39.890. The nr 9 was eighth. The leading Saleen was the nr 7 Graham Nash car of Erdos and Newton, in seventh place.
In N-GT, the Ferrari 360 Modena cars were fighting for the lead, with the nr 52 JMB Racing Ferrari and the two TMC Ferrari cars. The nr 52 of Bertolini and De Simone led for much of the session, with a time of 1:42.122. However, eight minutes before the end of the session, the nr 88 of Burt and Davies set a lap of 1:41.651 to go fastest. The nr 89 TMC Ferrari was third, with the leading Porsche the nr 61 EMKA Racing car of Sugden and Collard, four tenths faster than the Championship leaders, Ortelli and Lieb, in the nr 50 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS. 31 cars took part in the session, with the nr 70 Yellow Racing Ferrari missing the session while addressing some scrutineering issues; the car was expected to be ready for the afternoon.
Second Free Practice session : Graham Nash and EMKA fastest in the afternoon
At the start of the 90 minutes, the nr 5 Force One Chrysler Viper GTS-R was still leading the timesheets, with a lap of 1:38.164. However, the new Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars were improving, and the nr 9 JMB Racing car took second place with a time of 1:38.851, before improving to lead the session with a time of 1:37.745, fractionally slower than the fastest time from the morning. In the last third of the session, the nr 7 Saleen S7-R took the lead, with a time of 1:37.371, the fastest time of the day, demoting the nr 9 JMB to second, with the nr 15 Lister Storm third. The afternoon session was closer than the morning, with the top five cars setting times within one minute - including 5 different types of car - a Saleen S7-R, a Ferrari 575 M, a Lister Storm, a Chrysler Viper and a Ferrari 550 Maranello.
In N-GT, the nr 61 EMKA Racing Porsche dominated the session, with a best time of 1:41.970. The nr 52 JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena was second, with the nr 50 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche third and the nr 57 MENX Ferrari fourth.
Notes and Quotes
Franz Konrad - nr 2 Saleen S7-R : "We have started on pole so many times, but we have not won yet, so this time we want to turn things around. We are struggling a bit with the set-up. The team has been to the USA since Oschersleben, so we have not had any time to work on it. But we will get there - no worries."
Mike Hezemans - nr 5 Force One Festina Chrysler Viper GTS-R :"It is going very well - we amazed ourselves with the speed this morning. We used two sets of tyres this morning, and then went out on old tyres in the afternoon and worked for the race. I was able to set three consecutive laps around 1:38, so it's going quite well. We have different shock absorbers and different tyres, and it all seems to be working. It would be nice to get on the front row tomorrow - and to finish the race on Sunday."
Gordon Davies - Team Manager, Graham Nash Motorsport : "The testing and development we have done is paying off. You have to work hard in this Championship just to keep going; you can't stand still, or you go backwards. We are now beginning to reap the rewards, which is a lift for the whole team. We are getting there - but we are still looking for our first pole, after 2nd and 3rd. The nr 8 car is developing too; their improvement is not just due to local knowledge from the drivers."
Philipp Peter - nr 9 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello : "We had opportunities to be at the front with the 550, but we have been waiting for the new car all season. Originally we had hoped to run it for the last four races, but we wanted to be sure it would be a real step forward. It is a brand new car - you can test as much as you want, but race conditions are different. I think we showed in the two free practice sessions that the car has potential. We tried a new Pirelli compound, but we have to see if it will be good for the race distance. The car is completely different, not one bolt is the same as in the old car. Aerodynamically it is more efficient, and there is more downforce at the front. We had big understeer problems with the 550, but now for the first time we have some oversteer. The torque is better too. The only problem we have is the heat in the car; when we tested in Rome, it was 86. The drivers need to be comfortable, so we have made some alterations."
Jamie Campbell-Walter - nr 14 Lister Storm : "We used the new engine again this morning, which was going well. However, we will be changing back for tomorrow. We have 80 kg of weight, which is not making things easy, especially over the bumps and the braking. But I am sure the car will be OK for the race."
Andrea Piccini - nr 15 Lister Storm : "We have concentrated on the set-up, as the circuit is quite bumpy; we went softer on the springs between the session, trying to make it easier. The car was good on old tyres, and we could set good times. I think the car will be good for qualifying. David set a very good time, around 1:40.9, only about 2 seconds slower than me, much closer than Oschersleben, with the same tyres, which considering that he has never been here before and the circuit is longer. He is really improving. We really need to be in front in qualifying, as we have lost a lot of time in the previous races at the start, trying to get past other people. The car is really reliable, we have just had problems with small things you cannot control, like a stone hitting the radiator in Oschersleben--"
Florian Hebel - team manager Wieth Racing : "We have had a problem with understeer, which means that in three or four corners we lose a lot of time. But the rest is OK. It will be another long night for the team."
Klaus Abbelen - nr 18 Zwaan's Racing Chrysler Viper : "We had a set-up problem that we are trying to fix in time for qualifying. We went out on old tyres in both sessions, and hope that with the new tyres we should gain over a second, which will put us up to 8th or 9th in qualifying. The circuit is OK and should be good for the Viper."
Matteo Bobbi - nr 23 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello : "We are trying to find a good solution for the race set-up. The first was not so good, so we changed between the free practice sessions. I have raced at this circuit in Formula Renault in 2000, and then also came here once in Formula Nissan. I really like it - it's quite similar to Barcelona, but it was very slippery at the start of the day. It is important that we do well in the race, for the Championship - we have led all the way from the start, which means we have had a lot of pressure. All the others have been pushing us."
Gabriele Gardel - nr 51 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS :"Things are OK; we did a long run and the car seems good and consistent. I have been learning the track, which seems really nice. I hope the weather stays good. It is very important that we have a good result here to win the Championship for the team at this round."
Andrea Bertolini - nr 52 JMB Racing 360 Modena: "We have been working for the race, and everything is OK. We have a good balance, and the Pirelli tyres are very quick and very consistent. I hope it does not rain tomorrow, as we have done good work today, and rain would change everything. I think this will be a hard race for set-up; the circuit has very low grip, so tyres will be important too. Our car now seems to be quick on every kind of circuit."
Jarek Janis - nr 57 MENX Ferrari 360 Modena : "The second free practice always seems to work well for us. Robert is learning the track, and I like the circuit; I was here in F3000 testing. It really suits us - with fast corners, slow corners, the possibility of rain. The car is well set up, and we will have to see what happens."
Jamie Davies - nr 88 TMC Ferrari 360 Modena : "We were fastest in the morning, and the time was not set with the best from the tyres, so I think that there could be more in it. We concentrated on the race set-up in the afternoon. We have raced here last year, and tested too, so we have some data, which enabled us to be good straight away."
Tim Mullen - nr 89 TMC Ferrari 360 Modena : "The morning was OK, until we stopped with a gearbox leak. Then in the afternoon, the car went from being good to having vicious oversteer. The second session was a complete waste of time - it was totally undriveable."