The 2003 season is drawing to a close ... but there is still a lot to be decided before the garage doors shut on another sucessful season of the LG Super Racing Weekend series. For the last action-packed weekend of racing of the year, the teams and drivers will be meeting up at the Italian circuit of Monza, located near Milan, in Italy.
The circuit has a special significance for the multi-series platform, as it hosted the first-ever event in this format, in 2001. Since then, however, the circuit has undergone renovations, both to the infrastructure, and to the track itself, which is now 5.77 km long, and which remains one of the fastest circuits in Europe.
The last time the FIA GT Championship raced in Monza, Jamie Campbell-Walter and Tom Coronel won the event in their Lister Storm, while Johnny Cecotto and Philipp Peter were victorious in N-GT. Peter, who claimed a fine debut win for the JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello with his team-mate Fabio Babini in Estoril last week, will be hoping to repeat the result. And although the Championship might have been decided in the GT category, with Matteo Bobbi and Thomas Biagi taking an unassailable lead in the Drivers Championship, and their team BMS Scuderia Italia claiming the Teams title with their Ferrari 550 Maranello cars, the situation is much less clear in N-GT. Freisinger Motorsport and Team Maranello Concessionaires are still fighting for the Teams title, while Stephane Ortelli and Marc Lieb, Jamie Davies and Fabrizio De Simone all have a mathematical chance of taking the Drivers title. A record grid of 41 cars has applied to take part in this final round of 2003.
MONZA - ACCORDING TO GABRIELE TARQUINI
Joint leader of the FIA European Touring Car Championship, Gabriele Tarquini has had a long career in both Formual One and Touring cars. In 1994, he won the British Touring Car Championship for Alfa Romeo; in 2001, he came close to winning the FIA European Super Touring Championship, losing out to Fabrizio Giovanardi at the final round.
"This is definitely the fastest circuit we have in the Championship. It is not fun to drive, because you spend most of the lap time giving full throttle on the straight, rather than negotiating corners. However, it is very difficult, because the smallest hesitation can cost you a lot. A slight mistake at the exit of a chicane or the Parabolica, would result in a significant loss of speed on the straight.
"You need to maintain maximum concentration for the whole race, particularly at the braking points. FIA ETCC cars have small brake discs, however we can brake at the 130-metre mark before the first chicane; during the races we have to manage the brakes in order to save them, but in the final laps our braking points will be up to twenty or thirty metres earlier. Set-up is another challenge. You should have a very stiff car here, because of the high speed, but it is better to find a compromise, in order to have a more efficient car that can jump over the kerbs. In this respect, touring cars are better than singleseaters. As for overtaking, you choose a place and dive inside. The only place where it is impossible to pass is between the two Lesmos."
Heading for the final round of the 2003 season, the FIA GT Championship is looking good. With 41 cars applying to take part - an exemption over the normal maximum of 38 cars having been requested from the GT Commission, with the agreement of all the teams - this would be the largest grid, not counting the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa - since the GT1 days back in 1997.
Plenty remains to be decided, not least the titles in the N-GT category. Although Ortelli and Lieb only need one point to claim the Drivers title, and the team needs to make sure of four points to retain their Teams title, the fast Monza circuit could still reserve some surprises.
In GT, BMS Scuderia Italia has now made sure of both Team and Drivers titles, but only two points separate Gollin and Cappellari from Care Racing's Bryner and Calderari, in the battle for the runners-up position. In the Teams classification, Lister Racing is a comfortable second, but there is a close fight for third, between Care Racing, Creation Autosportif and Graham Nash Motorsport.
Newcomers to the GT category include Italian team Megadrive, which will be entering a Chrysler Viper GTS-R for Gabriele Matteuzzi and Piergiuseppe Perazzini, while Polish team Alda Motorsport will be returning with a Porsche 911 GT2, to be driven by Max Stanco, Mauro Casadei and Moreno Soli.
In the N-GT class, Autopalace should be back with their Ferrari 360 Modena, as will Yellow Racing, the Swiss team which already raced in Estoril. JVG Racing will be entering two Porsche 996 GT3-RS cars, one of which will be driven by father and son team of Horst Felbermayr Sr. and Jr. Italian team Mastercar plans to enter a Ferrari 360 Modena, to be driven by 2002 N-GT front-runner Andrea Montermini, and Italian driver Franco Bertoli. Another Italian team, AB Motorsport, enters a Porsche 996 GT3-RS for Antonio de Castro, Renato Premoli and Bruno Barboaro, while Autorlando, after its points finish in Estoril will have two Porsche 996 GT3-RS cars, one for Alessi, Mediani and Gay, as in Estoril, and the second for Marco Spinelli and Gabriele Sabatini, both GT regulars in past seasons.
As far as handicap weights are concerned, the nr 23 Ferrari will be the heaviest, with 70 kg, while the nr 22 will have 45 kg. The nr 14 Lister Storm will be reduced to 40 kg, the same as for the Estoril-winning nr 9 Ferrari 575 Maranello. The nr 2 Konrad Saleen has 10kg.
In N-GT, the nr 52 JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena will have 40 kg, as will the nr 88 TMC Ferrari. The nr 50 Freisinger Mortorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS has 25 kg , and the 61 EMKA Racing Porsche has 20 kg. The newcomers in the GT category will have 60 kg, those in the N-GT category, 30 kg.
JMB RACING : LOOKING FORWARD TO MONZA
After a very difficult first season in the GT category, 2001 N-GT Champions JMB Racing took their first win on their first time out with the brand-new Ferrari 575 M Maranello. "It was really good, and everyone is delighted," Philipp Peter explained. "It will be a bit more difficult in Monza, and we will still be under pressure as it is an important race for us, as it is the home race for Ferrari, Pirelli and N.technology - as well as my team-mate Fabio Babini. I hope we will be able to fight for the final win, like we did in Estoril." The last time the FIA GT Championship raced in Monza, Philipp Peter, then behind the wheel of an Autorlando Porsche 996 GT3-R, won the N-GT category with Johnny Cecotto. This time, he will be carrying 40 kg sucess ballast : "It is certainly not ideal that we have to carry the penalty weight, especially for Monza, as the hard braking and accelerating means that you will really feel the weight. But it's all part of the game. Monza is almost like my home track, as we have not been to Austria this year. It's a lovely track, close to home in Lugano for me. I'm really looking forward to it."
BOBBI AND BIAGI : CHAMPIONS ELECT
Third place in Estoril was enough to move Matteo Bobbi and Thomas Biagi out of the reach of the rest of the field in the fight for the GT Drivers title. "Before I won the title, I thought that afterwards I would just relax, but I've been twice as busy as before," Thomas Biagi explained. "It has been unbelievable - but very good ! This is my first title in my career, and that is very important to me. I am also pleased that I won it in such a professional Championship as the FIA GT, and even more so that I managed to win it in my first season. Monza is my home circuit, and it is very important to us that we have a good result, especially as the team is based near Milan too. I like the circuit; I've had two pole positions there over the past two years, but I haven't managed to win there, so it would be nice to close the season with a victory, just like we started it. As for the future, my target is to remain in the FIA GT Championship." Bobbi is equally looking forward to the final race : "Now we will try for a good result in Monza, in front of our sponsors and friends. We will do our best. I think we have a good chance, as it's a nice track and we know it well, Thomas and I. It should be a good track for our car, with the long straight. But I think the new Ferrari will also be very competitive, and it should be a good fight ! This has been an incredible season, and it is really good to be closing the season in Monza - I am really looking forward to it."
BETTER LUCK FOR LISTER IN MONZA ?
In Estoril, none of the four Lister Storm cars entered reached the end of the race. The nr 14 Storm struggled with 80 kg ballast and a sticking throttle throughout the weekend. "Can you believe it? I don't know why the Listers had so many problems," Jamie Campbell-Walter said. "But I hope it will change for Monza."
Campbell-Walter won the last round of the FIA GT Championship held at the fast Italian circuit, with Tom Coronel. "I'm looking forward to the race; it's a good high-speed track, with corners like Lesmo 1, Ascari and the Parabolica, which should be good for us. I hope we can do some magic. We have nothing to lose or gain, so we can go flat out and try to win. We're down to 40 kg which will be better. It's a good track and it's nice to be going back." Andrea Piccini, the highest-classified Lister driver this year, will be sharing the nr 15 car with David Sterckx and Gabriele Lancieri. "I like the circuit very much, and I've always been quick there. Our engine is not the most powerful but we have a very good aerodynamics. I'll push terribly hard... ...and I'd like to score a victory this year, specially at my home race!"
GNM IN CLOSE BATTLE FOR THIRD IN GT
Although the first and second places in the GT Teams Championship have been decided, with BMS Scuderia Italia having a comfortable lead over Lister Racing, there is a very close battle for third place. Care Racing is currently third, five points ahead of Creation Autosportif, with Graham Nash Motorsport just half a point further behind. With both cars finishing in the points in Estoril, the Monza line-up for Graham Nash Motorsport will remain the same as for Estoril, with Ni Amorim, Miguel Ramos and guest driver Antonio Coimbra once again behind the wheel of the No 8 Saleen, while the No 7 car features the season-long pairing of Tommy Erdos and Mike Newton. "I am looking forward to the Monza race," Tommy Erdos said. "Although it seems incredible that the season is now nearly over. It has passed so quickly. We will do the best we can, aiming for reliability. I think Monza should suit the Saleen; it is efficient aerodynamically. It would be a fantastic achievement if we could get up to third in the Teams Championship."
Said Gordon Davies, GNM's team manager: "Although the top two spots in the GT Team Championship may now be beyond reach after Portugal we believe that there is still much to play for, with little separating the next three places. The S7-R certainly has enough power under the bonnet to take advantage of the Italian circuit's long straights and we would expect both cars to be able to make their mark in qualification, putting us in a strong position for the race itself. Of course being one of the oldest circuits in Europe, Monza would be the perfect place for us to pull off a big finish before the final curtain comes down on the 2003 season."
FREISINGER MOTORSPORT : THE PRESSURE IS ON
Freisinger Motorsport, which leapt into the lead in the N-GT classification after wins in Brno, Donington and Spa-Francorchamps, is still leading coming into the final round of the 2003 Championship. Stephane Ortelli and Marc Lieb, who finished the Estoril round just off the podium in fourth place, are now However, although the 2002 Champions have a good advantage over their rivals, Team Maranello Concessionaires and JMB Racing, they could still be caught. "What a fight there is in N-GT! " team manager Michael Hinterberg commented. " Monza could be very close. We have a good lead, but if we fail to finish in Monza, there is a good chance that either JMB Racing or TMC could win the race. And then either TMC could win by half a point, or JMB on the number of victories -- so everything depends on us finishing in the points. And you can't totally rule out a mechanical failure. For sure, we will be second -- but that is not what we are aiming for. It is going to be really, really tense. And the fact that the weather can be bad in Monza could make it all more interesting."
TMC : A CLOSE FIGHT FOR N-GT TEAMS TITLE
With a second-place finish for Jamie Davies and Darren Turner in Estoril, Team Maranello Concessionaires is 14 points behind Freisinger Motorsport, with 18 points still in play for the N-GT Teams title in its first season, while Jamie Davies, 9.5 points behind Ortelli and Lieb, could claim the Drivers crown. "This year has been a great learning experience for Team Maranello Concessionaires," team manager Rod Benoist explained. "We came to the Championship after winning the top National series in the UK in 2002 and we were determined to demonstrate our competitiveness consistently throughout this season. However, success is in the team's DNA - anything less is unacceptable and so we travel to Monza with one clear objective. To win. We know it will be tough - there would be little reward if not. The team is focused, motivated, determined and anxious to demonstrate their capabilities. Monza should be the most thrilling race of the year."
DE SIMONE STILL IN WITH A CHANCE
Fabrizio de Simone and Andrea Bertolini took their third win of the season in Estoril, having already set pole position and fastest lap, just like in Oschersleben. Although the team is out of the running for the Teams title, De Simone still has a mathematical chance of claiming the Drivers Championship. "We have really grown up with the season, even if we did start off with a high at the first race," De Simone said. "It is a shame that bad luck hit us at Donington, and especially at Anderstorp, or we could have been leading. I am really happy with my season, I have learned a lot this year, and I am pleased to go into the final race still in a position to win. It is still possible for me to win the title, but it will not be easy, as the result is not in our hands. We will push all we can to take our fourth victory of the season, but as for the rest, who knows ? But I have enjoyed this GT season, and I really enjoy the combination of close fighting and strategy that we have seen in the N-GT class. It has been a very good year, and it has been really good to have a team-mate like Andrea - we have become good friends too !"
EMKA RACING : AIMING TO WIN
The last time the FIA GT Championship raced in Italy, earlier this season, British team EMKA Racing emerged victorious. As well as taking a second win in Anderstorp, the nr 61 Porsche 996 GT3-RS, shared by Tim Sugden and Emmanuel Collard, has been consistently fast throughout the season. "I think Monza is more of a Porsche track than a Ferrari one," Sudgen explained. "We should be very quick there. I'm really looking forward to the race. Monza is a fantastic circuit. I still remember the first time I raced there - I had a silly grin on my face; it's something really special. We will be aiming to win, and I am sure we have a good chance; we've been fast all season, and have genuinely led six out of the nine races so far. Emmanuel and I are very similar in a lot of ways; we do not have exactly the same tastes in the car set up, but close enough. We set the same sort of times in the car and we get on really well." EMKA Racing is currently fourth in the Team's Championship, with Sudgen 6th in the Drivers classification and Collard 9th.