For the first round of the 2001 season, the FIA GT Championship is at the Italian track of Monza. This is the third time that the Championship has visited this circuit, and most of the drivers are familiar with it. "Monza is one of my favourite tracks," Luca Riccitelli said. "I won my first race here in F3, so it has a special feel for me. It's a fast track, not so easy to drive. If you get a good set up for the fast sections, it can be difficult in the slow corners. So you have to find a good compromise."
Cold, damp weather greeted the cars and drivers on Friday, with light rain falling during the first free practice session, and the track remaining damp in the afternoon. Better weather has been forecast for the rest of the weekend, with sunshine predicted for Sunday's 500 km race
Thirty-six cars should line up on the grid on Sunday. Sixteen cars are entered in the GT category, with twenty N-GT cars taking part. Four different makes -- Lister, Chrysler, Ferrari and Porsche -- are represented, with six different models of car. Teams are entered from seven countries -- Belgium, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France and the Czech Republic. 78 drivers are taking part, from fourteen different countries, with 27 coming from Italy. They are followed by France, with 15, Germany, Belgium and Britain with 6 each, 5 from the Netherlands, four from the Czech Republic, two from Russia and Austria, and one each from Monaco, Hungary, Croatia, Venezuela and Switzerland.
Wieth Racing Excluded:
The Stewards of the Meeting received a report from the Technical Delegate stating that car #28 -- Wieth Racing -- does not comply with the homologation form. The Stewards have decided to exclude the car from the race at Monza.
First Free Practice: Larbre and RWS lead
Larbre-Competition-Chereau confirmed their times in the official pre-season test session by going fastest in the first free practice session. Christophe Bouchut, driving the #7 Chrysler Viper GTS-R, set a time of 2:01.480 in the wet conditions. For much of the session he was followed by the #2 Lister Storm, driven by Julian Bailey and Nicolaus Springer, until the #10 Paul Belmondo Competition Chrysler Viper, driven by Anthony Kumpen, improved to second place on the very last lap of the 90-minute session. This put the Lister cars in third and sixth places, with the #3 Team Carsport Holland Chrysler Viper in fourth place. The #6 Team Rafanelli Ferrari 550 Maranello set the fifth-best time of 2:04.528. RWS Motorsport were fastest in N-GT, with the #77 Porsche 996 GT3-R of Luca Riccitelli and Dieter Quester setting a time of 2:05.572, placing them 7th overall. The EMKA Porsche 996 GT3-R of Sugden and O'Rourke, which was fastest in the test days, set the second time in the class, closely followed by Larbre Competition's #51 N-GT car, driven by Jurgen von Gartzen and Bruno Eichmann.
Second Free Practice: Lister and Art:
The weather -- and therefore the times -- improved slightly in the second session. The #3 Carsport Holland Chrysler Viper was the first to overtake Larbre's time. The #1 Lister Storm, with Jamie Campbell-Walter at the wheel, then took the lead, being the only car to go under the two-minute barrier, with a time of 1:59.298. In the last minutes of the session, the #7 Larbre Chrysler Viper, which had dropped to fifth, moved back into the second place, with the leading Team Rafanelli Ferrari 550 Maranello close behind -- meaning three different makes of car in the top three. In the N-GT class, Art Engineering's #54 car of Luigi Moccia and Fabio Babini, set the best time, followed by the #69 Autorlando and the #52 EMKA Racing Porsche 996 GT3-Rs. The GLPK Chrysler Viper was damaged in an accident at the first chicane towards the end of the session.
Lister fastest of the day:
Jamie Campbell-Walter set the fastest time of the day, with a lap of 1:59.298. "We had a couple of problems with the battery and alternator this morning," Jamie Campbell-Walter explained. "So we spent the session bedding in the tyres and didn't go for a time. We think it's going to be dry on Sunday, so today is basically irrelevant. It's nice to be back and defend our titles -- we'll do our best, but the competition is a lot tougher, there are at least 6 cars that could do something, so it's rather exciting." As for Julian, he set the third fastest time in the morning. "It's the first time I've driven since Magny Cours, so I was a bit wary. It took four or five laps to get used to it -- and I nearly went off at the first chicane, which is very different now. My main job this year is to help the #1 car, and try and pick up some results."
Bouchut happy with Chrysler Viper GTS-R:
Christophe Bouchut, at the wheel of the #7 Larbre Competition- Chereau Chrysler Viper GTS-R, set the fastest time in the first session. "The car was going very well, with no particular problems -- it's really easy to drive. It's very satisfying to put the car on the track and immediately to pick up the right rhythm -- it's a good sign for the rest of the weekend," Christophe said. He is driving with Jean-Philippe Belloc, a race-winner for Chrysler Viper Team Oreca in the FIA GT Championship in 1999. "His times were comparable with mine. I think we're going to form a very strong line-up." The car was second in the afternoon, one second behind the leading Lister Storm.
Good start for Rafanelli:
The two Rafanelli Ferrari 550 Maranello cars made a good start in the championship, finishing third and fifth in the second practice session. Belgian driver Marc Duez set the team's fastest time of 2:00.420. "The most important thing is that the car has progressed well. We had a few engine problems at the end of the session, and we're changing the engine to be on the safe side. But I love the car, it's very special to drive, very precise. I think we'll have minor troubles for the first four races. And then we'll win. The engine has a lot more potential, and we can evolve more than our competitors. This is the car that will win the Championship next year !" The #5 car was fifth, with Emanuele Naspetti setting the time. His team-mate, Mimmo Schiatarella, was driving the car for the first time. "It's very new for me, with a roof, and windscreen wipers ! It'll take some time to get used it, but it'll be fine."
Carsport fourth despite problems:
Carsport Holland are suffering from electronic problems with the #4 car, which meant that it was not able to go out today. "Laurence Pearce from Lister is lending us a specialist, who is flying out tonight," team owner Toine Hezemans explained. "It's very sporting of him -- but I suppose it's fair -- we gave him Tom Coronel!" Mike Hezemans, in the #3 Chrysler Viper GTS-R, was fourth fastest in both sessions. "I could have done a 1:59 - no problems," Mike said. "I lost at least 1.4 seconds due to a slower car on my best lap."
RWS fastest N-GT in first session:
"The new car is running well," Luca Riccitelli said after setting the fastest time in the N-GT class, with 7th overall. "In wet conditions, however, it is not too important to find the right set-up -- you can do a lot more as a driver to influence the times. Now, we'll have to see in the dry." However, in the afternoon session, the car developed a serious vibration at the rear. team is checking it -- they think it might be something left over from the accident during testing. We have to find a solution before tomorrow."
Art Engineering sets best afternoon time:
The fastest N-GT time in the afternoon session was set by Fabio Babini in the #54 Art Engineering Porsche 996 GT3-R. "We had no big problems, just a few small ones with the gear-box. But it is very important to do a good time tomorrow morning, to qualify for the SuperPole. We're an Italian team, with two Italian drivers and Italian sponsors -- so it's important to do well in Monza." Their time of 2:03.864 was the fastest N-GT time of the day. "The track was very slippery, with no grip, and very dirty," Babini's team-mate Luigi Moccia said. "The Pirelli tyres were very important, as they performed very well in the conditions."