For the third round of the 2004 season, the FIA GT Championship has returned to France, visiting the Magny-Cours circuit for the fifth time. The circuit, which saw some major modifications before last year's round, is fast and technical, with some challenging corners such as the Adelaide hairpin. 25 cars are due to take part in Sunday's 500 km, three hour race, eight in N-GT and 17 in GT. With changeable weather, today's free practice saw the Saleen S7 cars prove to be the quickest around the 4.411 km circuit, led by the Vitaphone Racing Team, while the Freisigner Motorsport Porsches were fastest in N-GT.
After a very wet day on Thursday, and heavy rain overnight, conditions had cleared up on Friday morning. However, the skies remained grey, and the track was declared wet for the first practice session. The rain stayed away, and the track dried gradually. By the time the second session started, the track was fully dry. With fifteen minutes of the second session remaining, the rain started again.
Last year --
Last year, the second round of the 2003 FIA GT Championship took place at Magny-Cours, and eventual Champions Matteo Bobbi and Thomas Biagi took their second consecutive win, in the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello. Gollin and Cappellari, in their sister car, were second, with Deletraz and Piccini scoring the first non-Ferrari podium of the season in their Lister Storm. N-GT saw another Ferrari win, with Team Maranello Concessionaires scoring their first FIA GT victory for Mullen and Davies; ahead of the Freisinger Motorsport Porsche of Ortelli and Lieb, with Autopalace taking third for Gomez and Hiesse, also in a Ferrari 360 Modena.
Handicap weights ...
Having finished first and second in both the past races, the nr 2 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello will now carry 80 kg and the nr 1 car 60 kg. In N-GT, the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Porsche of Ortelli and Collard and the nr 62 GPC Ferrari 360 Modena both have 30kg, with the Valencia winners Maassen and Luhr will have 20 kg in their nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS.
- Lister Racing is not at Magny-Cours this weekend, '...due to a last-minute change in driver circumstances,' as the team explained in their press release. The team plans to be back in action for Hockenheim.
- Italian driver Luca Pirri Ardizzone has joined Paolo Ruberti and Jesus Diez Villarroel behind the wheel of the nr 28 Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen S7
- Zwaan's Racing has reorganised its line-up, with Val Hillebrand moving to the nr 9 Chrysler Viper with Robert van der Zwaan and Klaus Abbelen, while Christophe Bouchtut shares the former Roos Optima car, the nr 10 Chrysler Viper, with Arjan van der Zwaan and Henrik Roos.
- Vittorio Zoboli is back in the nr 22 Wieth Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello, sharing with Wolfgang Kaufmann.
- Czech team Vonka Racing, which finished sixth in Valencia in N-GT, is back for Magny-Cours, with Jan Vonka sharing the car with GT regular Mauro Casadei of Italy.
- New team Jens Petersen, from Germany, has entered a Porsche 996 GT3 for Jens Petersen, Oliver Mathai and Jan-Dirk Lueders.
- AB Motorsport, fourth in Monza in the N-GT category, have returned to the N-GT category after missing Valencia, with their Porsche 996 GT3 driven by Antonio de Castro, Renato Premoli and Bruno Barbaro, all from Italy.
First Free Practice : Vitaphone Racing Team leads drying session; Freisinger Yukos fastest in N-GT
The nr 5 Vitaphone Racing Team Saleen S7 of Michael Bartels and Uwe Alzen set the best time during the first free practice session, with a lap of 1:38.718 round the 4.411 km circuit.
The session started on a wet track, but conditions improved throughout the 90 minutes, meaning some significant improvements in the times as the cars first moved onto intermediate tyres and then onto slicks by the end. In between, the N-GT cars made the most of the favourable conditions, with the nr 50 Freisinger Porsche of Ortelli and Collard topping the time sheets on two occasions.
In the earliest, wettest part, the nr 9 and 10 Zwaan's Racing Chrysler Viper cars were fastest during the first 15 minutes. JMB Racing then took the lead, with the nr 17, 18 and 19 Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars all taking turns at the top of the timsheets. After thirty minutes, the nr 17 Ferrari of Wendlinger, Wolff and Lechner was fastest with a time of 1:56.259. As the track continued to dry, times fell, and the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Motorsport Porsche took the lead with a lap of 1:54.093, ahead of the nr 5 Saleen. The nr 1 BMS Ferrari was the next to lead, with the nr 28 Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen S7 leading after an hour, with a lap of 1:49.251.
The Saleens continued to dominate, with the nr 5 taking the times down to 1:46.516. The nr 50 Freisinger Porsche then improved, bringing the best time to 1:45.710. As the sun came out and the cars moved onto slicks, the times continued to go down, with the nr 5 setting a time of 1:39.601, the first to go below the 1:40 mark. As the chequered flag fell, the nr 5 reduced the best time to 1:38.718, followed by the two BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari cars, and with the nr 8 RML Saleen fourth. In N-GT, the nr 50 Porsche continued to dominate the session, despite carrying 30 kg penalty weight, and set a time of 1:43.606, ahead of the nr 99 car of Maassen and Luhr, with the nr 62 Ferrari in third place.
Second Free Practice : Vitaphone and Konrad lead Creation; Maassen and Luhr fastest in N-GT
The second session started on a dry track, and the nr 4 Saleen was immediately on the pace, ahead of the nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello, and the nr 2 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello. However, the nr 4 Konrad car faced strong opposition from the nr 5 Vitaphone Saleen, and the two continued to swap fastest times throughout the session. The nr 5 set a time of 1:38.267; shortly afterwards, the nr 4 improved to 1:37.919.
Twenty minutes before the end, the nr 5 set a time of 1:37.531, which was to be the overall fastest time of the day. There was no further opportunity to improve as, with fifteen minutes remaining, the skies opened and it began to rain heavily. Most of the cars returned to the pits and did not go out again. This left the nr 5 Vitaphone Saleen as fastest, its time of 1:37.531 being two tenths faster than the best time set by Jamie Campbell-Walter in free practice last year. The nr 4 Konrad Motorsport Saleen was second, with Campbell-Walter third, with a time of 1:38.821 in the nr 27 Creation Autosportif Lister Storm. Despite carrying 60 kg penalty weight, the nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello was fourth. The nr 17 JMB Racing was fifth, ahead of the Monza and Valencia winner, the nr 2 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello, which carries 80 kg penalty weight this weekend. The nr 10 Zwaan's Racing Chrysler Viper was seventh.
Times were very close in N-GT, with the nr 99 Porsche setting the best time of 1:42.300, two tenths faster than the nr 62 GPC Giesse Ferrari of Pescatori and De Simone, with the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Porsche a further tenth behind.