In a month's time, the Media Day, as part of a two-day test session, will mark the official start of the 2003 season of the LG Super Racing Weekend series. This will take place at the Catalunya circuit in Barcelona, which will also host the first round of the 2003 season on April 6th. A number of teams, manufacturers and drivers taking part in the FIA GT and European Touring Car Championships will be attending the test session, as will representatives of the Renault series involved. An occasion not to be missed !
A number of regular LG SRW teams and drivers were busy last weekend, with the first major endurance race of the year taking place at Daytona, Florida. Teams such as JMB Racing, RWS Motorsport, Proton and MAC Racing took part, with frequent FIA GT driver Michel Neugarten and Renault Sport Clio Trophy frontrunner Jérôme Policand among the GTS class winning line-up, driving for Perspective Racing, a race winner in the N-GT class in 2001. The same weekend, FIA GT regular Marc Duez and FIA ETCC driver Eric Cayrolle were in much cooler climes, taking part in the 24 Hours of Chamonix, first round of the Ice Racing Series International. Duez, with Dany Snobeck and Patrick Herbert, finished second overall in a Seat Cordoba WRC, behind their team-mates Yvan Muller and Gilles Stievenart.
TEAM MARANELLO CONCESSIONAIRES TO COMPETE IN FIA GT CHAMPIONSHIP
Ferrari UK announced on January 31st that one of the most successful privateer Ferrari racing teams, the Maranello Concessionaires Racing Team, was being re-launched, and would enter two Ferrari 360 Modena cars in the 2003 FIA GT Championship, under the name of Team Maranello Concessionaires.
This historic team took part in 92 international races between 1961 and 1972, scoring 24 victories. The team founder, Colonel Ronnie Hoare established the original Ferrari UK distributor, Maranello Concessionaires Limited, which evolved into the current Ferrari UK.
Team Maranello Concessionaires will be run by Veloqx Motorsport, which won its class in the British GT Championship last season, as well as giving a fine performance in the final two rounds of the FIA GT Championship. Sam Li, the team principal, commented : "Veloqx Motorsport successfully took the British Ferrari challenge to other famous marques to win the British GT crown, after a very close battle in 2002. Now we are ready to take that same challenge to the international level. The FIA GT Championship is hugely competitive and there will be a lot of pressure on us to perform, but we have all the right ingredients to perform strongly. The car is very good, the technical partners are fully supporting the programme, the team has a wealth of engineering skills and undoubtedly the best of British drivers."
Four British drivers have been chosen for the two Ferrari 360 Modena cars. Jamie Davies, the 2002 British GTO Champion, will head the TMC line-up; he will drive with 25-year old Tim Mullen, who also drove for the team in 2002. Davies already took part in the FIA GT Championship at Donington and Estoril, putting in strong performances. The second car will be driven by 2001 British GTO Champion, Kelvin Burt, who drove for Cirtek Motorsport in the FIA GT Championship at Brno last year, finishing 7th in the N-GT class with Jirko Malcharek. He will share his car with Darren Turner, a former DTM driver for Mercedes. Both cars will use Dunlop tyres.
ORTELLI PLANS TO DEFEND HIS TITLE
2002 FIA N-GT Drivers Champion Stéphane Ortelli plans to defend his title with Freisinger Motorsport. The driver from Monaco announced that he had an verbal agreement with Manfred Freisinger for the new season, and that it was 99% certain that he would be back. "Manfred wants me back, to try to be the leading car again, to fight against the Ferraris and other Porsches. We were both very happy with the season we had last year, and so this is the best news I could possibly have. It is great to have the opportunity to defend our titles together."
There is still no word on a team-mate for Stéphane. "I hope to have a good, strong team-mate, most likely drawn from those drivers who were alongside me in 2002. It would definitely be easier to have one team-mate all season, as when your team-mate is not totally focussed on the Championship, it can be difficult."
Stéphane is happy to be staying in the N-GT class. "I am proud to be defending my title, and I would really like to win another Championship. It is very difficult financially to get a good deal to drive in the GT class, which means that, like last year, you can get some of the strongest drivers in the N-GT cars. The cost of the car is more reasonable, so the teams can afford better drivers. Manfred should also be running a second car, for Bert Longin and a Swiss driver, as yet unnamed."
Ortelli is looking forward to the season. "It will be great to be back with Freisinger. We have an excellent relationship together, and it will be good to have the continuity. Dunlop were also pushing for me to continue. My target for 2003 is to defend my title one hundred per cent !"
FORCE ONE GOES FROM STRENGTH TO STRENGTH
Force One Chrysler Viper gtracing.net "I am pleased to announce that Force One is growing, developing and is becoming more structured," Philippe Alliot explained. The new French team started the 2002 season with a Ferrari 550 Maranello, suffering from a catalogue of problems before moving over to a Chrysler Viper late in the season. "The team is moving to Magny Cours, where it will be based at the circuit," Alliot continued. "We will be entering two Chrysler Vipers in the 2003 season of the FIA GT Championship, as well as taking part in some rounds of the French GT Championship and the 24 Hours of Le Mans."
Regular FIA GT frontrunner Mike Hezemans is joining Philippe Alliot and David Hallyday, with a fourth team-mate still to be announced. "As Toine Hezemans is not entering a car in the Championship this year, we are entering into a collaboration with him. He prepares good, fast cars, and will be adapting our Chrysler Vipers for the Championship," Alliot continued.
Can a Chrysler Viper still be a winner ? "I am not sure if, in terms of pure performance, a Chrysler Viper can still win a race when faced with the Ferrari and Lister cars. Technically, it has had its day, but it is still very reliable and remains an attractive proposition. We had such a painful experience with the Ferrari, and we wanted to build up the team's confidence by adopting a wise, safe solution for 2003. So we have opted for a car which will give us a good chance of finishing races."
"I had to learn Italian last year, and now French for this season, so this is very good for my education," Mike Hezemans commented. The driver from the Netherlands, now 33 years old, has been a regular in the FIA GT Championship since the beginning, driving a wide variety of cars, from the Lotus Elise GT1 in 1997, through the short-lived Bitter in 1998, a variety of Porsche 911 GT2 cars and even a Lister Storm in 1999, before settling down with a Chrysler Viper GTS-R from 2000 onwards. "I think this season will be OK, no problems," he continued. "We have taken the Pirelli tyres to Force One, and it was a very good solution to join with them. The cars are being worked on at the moment. We have brought the Force One car up to our specifications, and then both cars went to Oreca for the new suspensions."
As for his hopes for the season, Mike is unwilling to speculate. "Last year, I thought we had a good chance of winning, and then it turned into a disaster. The Chrysler Viper GTS-R is still reliable, and it can be fast. But it's difficult to tell what will happen. And there's always the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, which can make a big difference. But I need to have a good partner, because otherwise it will be impossible to win against the faster cars."
ZWAAN'S RACING PLANS FULL SEASON
Dutch team Zwaans Racing, which took part in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa last season, as well as in the final round at Estoril, is hoping to contest the full 2003 season of the FIA GT Championship. "We're going to try to be at the front this year !" Arjan van der Zwaan explained. "We have been working on our Chrysler Viper GTS-R over the winter. It was 1210 kg last year, and we have got it down to 1100 kg. Last season, we were between a second and a second and a half off the pace, but we think the weight will make a difference of at least a second. So we should be more competitive."
As in 2002, Arjan will be driving the car with his brother Rob; they finished in 8th position in the GT category at Estoril. "But we are planning to bring in some good drivers for the 24-hour race, and perhaps for one or two other races. We are really looking forward to the season !" he concluded.
TWO PORSCHES FOR RWS MOTORSPORT
German team RWS Motorsport is planning to enter two Porsche 996 GT3-R cars in the 2003 FIA GT Championship, as in previous years. Their programme will see the return of the two Russian drivers Alexei Vasiliev and Nicolaj Fomenko, who scored their first point at Donington after racing in the Championship since 2000. "We have a new sponsor for the Russians' car," team owner Rudi Walch explained. "This will be Yukos, one of the biggest oil companies in Russia. The second car should be driven by Walter Lechner Jr, but his team-mate has not been chosen yet. We are looking for a professional driver." Lechner Jr already drove in the FIA GT Championship in Anderstorp this year, when he finished on the podium with Toto Wolff in the Autorlando Porsche 996 GT3-R.
The team has just returned from Daytona, where they were leading the GTS class, before an unfortunate crash into the wall. "Alexei did a very good job and took the car to the front, so it was very disappointing to go out after 14 hours," Rudi commented. The team has been working on the engines for the Porsches over the winter, as well as on the differential, and has been trying a sequential gear-box.