A two-day test session took place at the Italian circuit of Monza on March 4th and 5th, in preparation for the 2004 season of the LG Super Racing Weekend. Cars from the FIA GT Championship and the FIA European Touring Car Championship took part, as well as those from the European Alfa Challenge, a support race at six events this year. The first event of the season will take place at Monza between March 26th and 28th.
ALZEN FASTEST DURING TWO DAYS OF TESTING
Uwe Alzen, in the Vitaphone Racing Team Saleen S7-R, set the fastest time during the two days of testing at Monza, which will also host the first race of the 2004 FIA GT season. The German driver set a best time of 1:43.988, six hundredths of a second faster than Tommy Erdos in the RML Saleen. The BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello of Gollin and Cappellari was third, with Tom Coronel fourth fastest in the Lister Storm, less than two tenths of a second slower than Alzen.The top six cars were all within one second - a promising result for the coming season, which is expected to be very close. The best N-GT time was a lap of 1:50.340 from the Yukos Freisinger Motorsport Porsche, followed by the Autorlando Sport Porsche.
BMS SCUDERIA ITALIA AND CARE RACING CONFIRM 2004 LINE-UP
The 2004 line-up for the BMS Scuderia Italia and Care Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello cars have now been confirmed, with six of last year's drivers remaining with the two teams. Lilian Bryner, Enzo Calderari and Stefano Livio will share the Care Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello : "We hope to do as well as in 2003," Enzo said. "Our main strengths are the good reliability, and the stability of the whole team." Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari also return, and they set some of the fastest session times during the test days. Reigning Champion Matteo Bobbi will defend his title, but this year he will share the car with Gabriele Gardel. "This is my first time in the Ferrari 550 Maranello, and I have been getting used to it," the Swiss driver explained. "I am feeling more and more at home with the team, and I am very proud to drive for them."
ALL CHANGE AT LISTER RACING
Big changes have been announced at Lister Racing this week, since Jamie Campbell-Walter has left the team. Jamie had raced with Lister in the FIA GT Championship since 1999, setting seven pole positions and claiming 12 victories, as well as winning the 2000 Championship. He has been replaced in the nr 14 car by Tom Coronel, his team-mate at Lister in 2001. There are also changes in the second car, which will now be driven by Toto Wolff and young British driver Patrick Pearce. Coronel quickly proved to be at home in the Lister, and at the point when the team stopped testing, had set the fastest lap of the second day. His time of 1:44.159 was faster than the best time set by a Storm in last year's qualifying at Monza. Coronel also plans to continue to compete in the FIA European Touring Car Championship, meaning a busy year ahead for the Dutch driver.
PETER AND BABINI TEST FOR GPC SQUADRA CORSE
The Monza test days saw the first outing for new team GPC Squadra Corse. Fabio Babini and Philipp Peter have been announced as one pairing for the Italian team, which plans to enter two Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars in the 2004 season. The duo were victorious for JMB Racing last year in Estoril, on the first appearance of the Ferrari 575 M in the Championship. "This test session is a first opportunity for the team to learn to work together," Philipp Peter explained. "Our car will be ready for March 10th, and we hope to have one or two days testing before the race. We have a good programme of testing and development planned for the season, and N.Technology will be working hard for all the 575 customers. I think the season is going to be awesome, with so many good teams, good drivers and good cars taking part. I hope we'll be up there - that's our goal !"
GOOD PROGRESS FOR RML IN MONZA
"We started late during the test session, but we seem to have caught up," Tommy Erdos said during the second day of testing at Monza. The nr 7 Saleen S7-R entered by RML set the second-fastest time over the two days, with a lap of 1:44.048 during the final 90-minute practice session. "We are currently going through a test programme with Dunlop, and working closely with Ferodo on the brakes. I think we will be better and more competitive in 2004; Mike Newton is going really well, he is more confident. I think the season is looking very good, and I can't wait to get going !"
YUKOS FREISINGER MOTORSPORT STRONG FOR 2004
With new title sponsor Yukos, Freisinger Motorsport, winner of the N-GT Teams Championship during the past two seasons, has a strong line-up for the new year. Double Champion Stéphane Ortelli will share one car with Emmanuel Collard, while Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr will be in the second car. A third car will be driven by the two Russian drivers, Alexei Vasiliev and Nicolaj Fomenko. "These were my first laps since last year, so I am quite happy with the job I did today," Stephane explained. "We will have two strong cars this season, and I am really looking forward to getting back to racing again and defending my title."
BARTELS AND ALZEN RETURN TO THE CHAMPIONSHIP
For the first time since 1998, German drivers Michael Bartels and Uwe Alzen will be racing in the FIA GT Championship. Both drove Porsche 911 GT1 cars back then - Alzen sharing the Porsche AG car with Jörg Müller, and Bartels racing for Zakspeed - but will now be sharing the Vitaphone Racing Saleen S7-R. "These cars are great to drive - there is a lot of power, and it is great fun," Alzen explained. "I really like the Championship too - the atmosphere is very nice. Michael and I are working really hard with the team to get this car ready for the first race. The car is not yet at the top level, but we have three weeks to work before the first race. We have a long list of things to do, and we'll be working 12 hours a day to improve the car. As for the season, our aim is to win races and possibly the Championship, but we know we will need some luck - that's motor racing ! But we'll be doing our best !"
KONRAD MOTORSPORT WITH LECHNER JR
Konrad Motorsport, which also runs the Vitaphone car, is entering its yellow-liveried Saleen S7-R for young Austrian driver Walter Lechner Jr, who is due to share the car with Swiss driver Toni Seiler. Walter set pole on two occasions last season, with a best result of second at Anderstorp. "I am really happy to be here again, and I hope we have a good season," he said. "We are still working on the car, testing new tyres and dampers, and we hope to make the Saleen as competitive in the race as it undoubtedly was during qualifying last season." Seiler agreed. "The car is getting better and better, and with Walter, we have a good team. We are working well with Pirelli, and I have a good feeling with the car. I think it will be a very interesting season." Konrad has a new team manager for this season : Achim Stroth, last seen in the FIA GT Championship paddock back in 1997, when he managed Kremer Racing.
RSR RACING AND THE TUSCAN 400R
British team RSR Racing were testing at Monza, with the aim of competing at Monza, Spa and Zhuhai, once the car completes the FIA homologation procedure. If all goes to plan, the team would then enter a full season in 2005, with two cars. Lawrence Tomlinson and Nigel Greensall were driving today; both of them competed in the Radical series in Britain last year, which Nigel won. "The TVR is a really good car, and this is a good opportunity to move forwards," Lawrence explained. "We would like to do something a bit different, and I believe this is the right car to choose."
HANS DEMONSTRATION FOR THE TEAMS
All the teams attending the test day were able to see some images illustrating the value of the HANS device, which is compulsory this year in the FIA GT Championship. The films, using a crash test dummy, showed the difference between a driver retained by a HANS unit and one without, in front, side and rear impacts. Preventing head rotation in such impacts, reducing friction and keeping the spine better aligned, the unit greatly reduces the risk of brain and spinal injuries.
THE NEW BMW CARS TOP THE MONZA TEST
For the first time the three BMW works teams - BMW Team Deutschland, BMW Team Italy-Spain and BMW Great Britain - ran the 2004 ETCC BMW 320i. The new car can be recognised by a different layout for the front splitter, but there are also a lot of technical improvements beneath the bodywork. Air box, suspension and aerodynamics have all undergone major changes, which have enhanced the performance of the German car, as proved in the Monza test. At the end of the two days, the three fastest lap times were clocked by drivers at the wheel of the new BMW. Jörg Müller was the only driver to break the 2:00. barrier; his fastest time of 1:59.565 meant almost a one-second improvement compared to his pole position from last year. Andy Priaulx was second-fastest, with a lap of 2:00.082, while Dirk Müller was third fastest, with a time of 2:00.122.
TARQUINI: ALFA WILL STRUGGLE TO STAY AT THE TOP
The new Alfa Romeo 156 TS cars remained behind the new BMWs during the Monza test. Leading Autodelta men Gabriele Tarquini and Fabrizio Giovanardi were fourth and fifth respectively, with best laps of 2:00.132 and 2:00.536 respectively. Giovanardi was only one thousandth of a second faster than Alessandro Zanardi in the Team Italy-Spain BMW. "Since they were on pole last year, we knew that the BMWs are faster than us on the straight. However, Jörg did his fastest lap in the last session, when I was not driving. Therefore I don't know if he benefitted from aspiration or if he did it by himself - which makes a lot of difference. After all, I was only a few hundredths behind Priaulx and Dirk ," Tarquini commented.
SEAT SPORT SIGNS RICKARD RYDELL
SEAT Sport has signed leading Touring Car driver Rickard Rydell to drive the third works Toledo Cupra car. The Swede will be joining the team's regular drivers, Jordi Gené and Frank Diefenbacher. A former British Touring Car champion, 36-year old Rydell is facing his third season in the FIA ETCC, and also the first with another Manufacturer after a ten-year collaboration with Volvo. "I'm looking forward to this cooperation," said Rydell. "This year will be a big challenge and I am absolutely convinced that SEAT can be very competitive." The inclusion of Rydell in the SEAT Sport team has been made possible thanks to the support from SEAT Sweden. Rydell drove the car for the first time in the Monza test.
FIRST ETCC TEST FOR THE FORD FOCUS
The RS-Line Sport Team made their debut in the FIA ETCC, with the first Ford Focus car in S2000 specs. The drivers, Sebastian Grunert and Roland Asch, both took stints at the wheel, although the Focus suffered from different minor technical problems. "This was no more than a shakedown for us, as we received the car a few days before the test. First we had to change the ratios, which were too short for Monza, then we had engine problems. We will be testing again in Oschersleben," team manager Reiner Stiefel explained.
CARLY MOTORS TO STAY IN THE ETCC
After a successful 2003 season, in which Duncan Huisman won the Independents Trophy, Carly Motors will once more campaign two BMW 320i cars in the FIA ETCC. The Dutch team took part in the Monza test, with one car shared by Tom Coronel and Paulien Zwart. However, team manager Carly Pellinkhof has not yet unveiled the definitive drivers' names. "We will announce them next week. Tom and Paulien are most likely to take the wheel, but Duncan Huisman is also in the frame." Coronel is a regular FIA ETCC competitor, while this would be the maiden season for Paulien Zwart, who competed in the Dutch Alfa Challenge last year.
JAN MAGNUSSEN ATTENDS THE ETCC LAUNCH
The new ETCC Peugeot 307 was not finished in time to take part in the Monza test, but Jan Magnussen attended the media day and the LG Super Racing Weekend press conference. "I'm very impressed by everything, and especially by the professionalism of the FIA ETCC teams," Magnussen said. Denmark-based Peugeot Sport Engineering will test again next week in Brno. "During the tests we did in Nogaro and Magny-Cours, I was very happy with the car straightaway. Our plans for this year are to learn as much as we can. We want to improve at each race and put ourselves in a situation to be challengers for 2005. And then we'll see if we stay with the 307 or switch to the new 407."
FIRST HONDA LAPS FOR BALZAN AND HARRISON
Balzan and Simon Harrison had their first drive in the Honda Civic Type-Rs. The Italian driver was at the wheel of a JAS Motorsport car. "We worked well on developing the car, and I'm quite happy with our progress. The car is still as it finished the past season; we will have a brand new and more advanced one for the first meeting in Monza." At the same time, Harrison drove the first of the two GR Asia cars. "We knew that this two days were going to be tough for us. I was disappointed after the first day, because I was well off the pace, but I'm happier today. There are so many things we want to do, and I have no doubt that when we come back here for the race we will be much closer to the pace."
CRAWFORD RACING AND ROSENBLAD TO COMPETE IN 2004
Crawford Racing and Carl Rosenblad will race in the 2004 FIA European Touring Car Championship. The Sweden-based team directed by Eje Elgh has entered the full season with one BMW 320i car for Rosenblad."We decided to switch to the ETCC because of increasing pressure from our main sponsor Crawford; this company operates in 16 European Countries, and an international racing programme perfectly suits their promotional needs," said Elgh. Crawford Racing has plenty of experience in Touring Car racing, emerging as one of the leading teams in the Swedish Championship. "I'm pleased to be back in the LG Super Racing Weekend. As a driver I want to race against the best competitors, and in the ETCC I will find some of the best Touring Car drivers around," Rosenblad commented.