ETCC: Brno: Practice and qualifying notes

WEATHER: Windy with a dry track; the sky was bright in the morning, then turned cloudy in the afternoon. QUALIFYING: SEAT DOES IT AGAIN : RYDELL CLAIMS POLE IN EXTREMIS After breaking its duck in Hockenheim with Jordi Gene, SEAT claimed ...

WEATHER: Windy with a dry track; the sky was bright in the morning, then turned cloudy in the afternoon.

QUALIFYING: SEAT DOES IT AGAIN : RYDELL CLAIMS POLE IN EXTREMIS

After breaking its duck in Hockenheim with Jordi Gene, SEAT claimed its second pole position in a row, thanks to Rickard Rydell's fantastic lap, just one minute before the end of the session. This also means a fifth different driver on pole for the five events held so far.

The session was absolutely breathtaking, with pole position changing hands six times in half-an-hour. Rydell himself started hostilities, clocking a provisional fastest lap in 2:11.044 only four minutes into the session. His SEAT team-mate Frank Diefenbacher (2:11.369) and AutoDelta men Fabrizio Giovanardi (2:11.896) and Augusto Farfus (2:11.983) were provisionally placed in second, third and fourth positions, until Carly Motors' Independent driver Tom Coronel squeezed up to second with an astonishing 2:11.275.

The fastest laps were already well under last year's pole position, set by Antonio Garcia (2:12.620), when Gabriele Tarquini jumped into the lead posting an impressive 2:10.950. At this stage, only one third of the session had passed by. Three minutes later Garcia reminded everybody he was on pole in 2003, and improved the fastest time to 2:10.722. His joy did not last for long, less than one minute, before Rydell got to the top again with a lap in 2:10.625. And again, the situation changed in a handful of seconds, when Andy Priaulx was clocked in 2:10.501.

The Briton's exploit seemed to have secured him the pole, as the following tries weren't good enough to oust him. First Dirk Muller moved up to second, completing a lap in 2:10.502, only one thousandth of a second slower than Priaulx. Then Giovanardi improved his own time to 2:10.586, meaning a provisional third position for him. But suddenly Jordi Gene demoted him to third with a lap in 2:10.505. With four minutes left in the session, the game seemed to be up, with Priaulx, Dirk Muller and Gene in the first three positions, all of them covered by only four thousandths. However, Rydell settled the argument with a lap of 2:09.913, which was good enough for his second pole position in the ETCC, following that in Estoril 2002 for Volvo.

Coronel set pole in the Independents Trophy, with a time of 2:10.861 and a seventh position on the overall grid. As for the current championship leader, Jorg Muller, he qualified 11th. "I do not really know what the problem was," he commented tersely.

Oregon Team's Michele Bartyan did not post a qualifying time, as he went off on his first lap, and could not rejoin the session, having received external aid. RS-Line's Sebastian Grunert did not take part at all in the session due to an engine failure.

FREE PRACTICE 1: ONE LAP IS ENOUGH FOR GIOVANARDI

It took only one lap for Fabrizio Giovanardi to set the fastest lap in the first practice. The AutoDelta driver sat in his pit for fifteen of the session's thirty minutes. Then he hit the track at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo 156, and immediately clocked the overall fastest time with a lap of 2:11.110. He also managed to improve by half-a-second last year's pole position time of 2:11.620, set by Antonio Garcia.

Before Giovanardi's exploit, Rickard Rydell had been the first driver to break the 2:12 barrier, completing a provisional fastest lap in 2:11.906 with his SEAT Toledo Cupra. Later on, the Swede was able to improve twice, going down to 2:11.899 and finally to 2:11.762. However he was placed third, behind Giovanardi and BMW Team Great Britain's Andy Priaulx, second-fastest with a lap of 2:11.651.

None of the other drivers were able to lap in the 2:11 range. Oregon Team's Luca Rangoni emerged as the fastest of the Independents, with a lap of 2:12.578, good enough for the eighth position overall. While Alessandro Zanardi only completed three slow laps, his BMW Team Italy-Spain's car suffering from gearbox problems.

FREE PRACTICE 2: SEAT AND BMW OUTPACE ALFA

Like in the previous meeting, at Hockenheim, Jordi Gene and his SEAT Toledo Cupra set the fastest time in the second practice. Eight minutes before the end of the session, the Spanish driver clocked a time of 2:11.461, ousting from the top of the time sheet his fellow countryman Antonio Garcia, who had completed his best lap in 2:12.215. While he was trying to improve, Garcia spun at the first corner, his BMW 320i completing a 360-degree and rejoining.

Second and third fastest were placed Andy Priaulx (2:12.331) and Rickard Rydell (2:12.348), followed by Jorg Muller and Fabrizio Giovanardi; with a lap in 2:12.981, the latter was the best of the Alfa Romeo men. Again Luca Rangoni was the fastest of the Independent drivers: a seventh place overall for him (2:13.002).

It was promising session for Alessandro Balzan (2:13.540), 10th in his JAS Motorsport Honda Accord, Alessandro Zanardi (13th in 2:13.760), his gearbox problems solved, and Jan Magnussen's Peugeot 307 (14th in 2:13.774), who were all faster than Gabriele Tarquini (15th).

Toni Ruokonen's GR Asia Honda Civic went off the track on the first lap, due to set-up problems, and the Finn could not restart.

PAULIEN ZWART VISITS THE PADDOCK

Carly Motors' lady driver Paulien Zwart, who was seriously injured one month ago in a terrible shunt while testing at Magny-Cours, paid her first visit to the ETCC paddock after being released from hospital. Her fractured pelvis and ankle are getting better, and now she is able to walk for a while on crutches.

"I was getting bored at home, and I actually needed to breath some racing air again," she said.

Tomorrow, Paulien will specially support her father Klaas and her real-life companion Tom Coronel, who will be driving Carly Motors' two BMW cars. She will try to return to racing at the next race meeting at Donington, in one month time, or, at the latest, in the following one at Spa.

-fia/etcc-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Jan Magnussen , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Augusto Farfus , Rickard Rydell , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Luca Rangoni , Michele Bartyan , Toni Ruokonen , Paulien Zwart