ETCC: Brno: Practice, qualifying report

All the twenty cars entered passed scrutineering and were allowed to take part in the two free practice sessions. WEATHER Blue sky with a few clouds and a fresh breeze. FIRST SESSION: RYDELL CLAIMS FASTEST LAP FROM GIOVANARDI Rickard Rydell,...

All the twenty cars entered passed scrutineering and were allowed to take part in the two free practice sessions.

WEATHER
Blue sky with a few clouds and a fresh breeze.

FIRST SESSION: RYDELL CLAIMS FASTEST LAP FROM GIOVANARDI
Rickard Rydell, at the wheel of his Prodrive-built Volvo S60, set the fastest time at the very end of the first free practice session. His lap of 2:14.564 eclipsed the previous best time, set by Fabrizio Giovanardi, by 0.201 seconds. The Alfa Romeo driver, currently leading the championship, had set his best time in his first lap out of the pits, with a lap of 2:14.765 that remained the fastest in the session until Rydell's exploit just before the chequered flag. This was the first time this season that an official timed session was not led by an Alfa Romeo 156 Gta.

Third in the first free practice, 0.524 seconds behind Rydell, was Dirk Muller, the best of the BMW drivers. Behind the young German, Giovanardi's team-mate Nicola Larini and AGS Motorsport driver Paolo Ruberti set the fourth and fifth times, respectively 0.959 and 1.104 seconds behind. Scuderia Bigazzi obtained promising results by placing its two Alfa Romeo 156 Gta cars driven by Spaniard Luis Villamil and Frenchman Eric Cayrolle, in sixth and eighth positions; while Briton James Hanson managed to squeeze between them in seventh place, confirming the improvement in the performance of the Volvo S60.

Sandro Sardelli's CiBiEmme Honda Civic Type-R was the only car not to set a time, having covered only one lap. The team's other driver, Salvatore Tavano continued to develop the Super 2000 version of the Japanese car and set the 17th time. Tommy Rustad and his RJN Motorsport Nissan Primera completed only three laps before suffering engine problems, which also forced him to miss most of the second session.

SECOND SESSION: VILLAMIL'S LAST-MINUTE SURPRISE
Rydell managed to improve his first session lap time by 35 thousandths of a second, but this was not enough for him to top the practice classification, as Scuderia Bigazzi driver Luis Villamil created a surprise by clocking the fastest time of 2:14.320 as the chequered flag fell. The Spaniard's time, set with new tyres, was also the fastest overall time from the two free practice sessions.

Rydell was classified second, 0.209 seconds behind Villamil, with Giovanardi third, 0.348 slower. Once more, Dirk Muller proved to be the fastest of the BMW drivers, setting a time of 2:15.215. He was closely followed by Ravaglia Motorsport's Fabrizio De Simone; the two drivers being placed fourth and fifth respectively. Cayrolle set the sixth time to complete Scuderia Bigazzi's excellent result.

Both the two CiBiEmme Honda Civic cars of Tavano and Sardelli covered a number of laps, constantly improving their lap times.

GIOVANARDI STEALS POLE FROM RYDELL AT THE LAST SECOND
Fabrizio Giovanardi claimed his third consecutive pole position of the season right at the end of the 30-minute qualifying session. The Gta Racing Team Nordauto driver pushed his Alfa Romeo 156 Gta to the limit and clocked a time of 2:13.144 just as the chequered flag fell, preventing Volvo's Rickard Rydell from obtaining his first pole position in the FIA European Touring Car Championship.

Both Giovanardi and Rydell sat in the pits for the first third of the session, and when they finally took to the track they were the first drivers to break the 2:14 barrier. The Swede set a time of 2:13.195, which was immediately followed by Giovanardi's lap of 2:13.589. None of the others competitors was able to near their times and they remained first and second until Giovanardi was able to improve again, claiming the pole position for good.

Nicola Larini set provisional pole position with a lap of 2:14.123 in the early minutes of the session, but he was pushed down to third position by Rydell and Giovanardi; in the end the former Formula one driver managed to improve his time slightly, with a lap of 2:14.016 but he eventually had to settle for third place, 0.872 seconds behind his team-mate Giovanardi.

The fourth position on the starting grid for tomorrow's race one was the subject of a fierce dispute between four drivers: Germany's Dirk Muller, Sweden's Fredrik Ekblom, Britain's James Hanson and Italy's Paolo Ruberti. Driving his Schnitzer BMW 320i, Muller held on to second position behind Larini for some time, with a time of 2:14.470; later in the session he dropped down the field, before eventually recovering to fourth with a lap of 2:14.154.

Hanson, in the second Prodrive-built Volvo S60, managed his best qualifying performance yet in the FIA European Touring Car Championship. Twenty-four minutes into the session, the young Englishman set a time at 2:14.270 which placed him fourth, before being eventually pushed down to fifth by Dirk Muller.

Ekblom's RBM BMW 320i was also momentarily fourth with a time of 2:14.337, before losing two places to Muller and Hanson.

Ruberti (AGS Motorsport Alfa Romeo 156 Gta) managed to set a fast time on his first lap: 2:14.621, the third overall at that stage. The Italian driver further improved again to 2:14.497, which earned him seventh place on the grid.

The top-ten positions were completed by Scuderia Bigazzi's Luis Villamil (2:14.497), Schnitzer's Jorg Muller (2:14.646) and Carly Motors-Team Isert's Tom Coronel (2:14.679).

Tommy Rustad's RJN Motorsport Nissan Primera took part in the session after the technical problems which occurred in free practice. The Norwegian driver set the 17th time, but he will be relegated to the final spot of the starting grid due to this morning's engine change.

Fabrizio Giovanardi, nr 1 Gta Racing Team Nordauto, "It is getting more difficult to get pole position at every race now ! Rydell was fantastic in the session. Volvo was fantastic. I was worried as Rickard was really fast ! I pushed hard in the end and thanks to my good car, I managed to get ahead. It is a great fight thanks to the good balance provided by the technical regulations. We have to work hard to stay ahead. Not being on pole is not going to be a big problem for tomorrow's race, as the starts of the previous races were strange. I am not worried about tomorrow."

Rickard Rydell, nr 60 Volvo S60 Racing Team, "The chequered flag came one lap too late. We are improving by half a second at every race. We now only have a gap of half a tenth from the Alfas. I hope that we will get ahead soon but that the gap between the cars stays close until the end of the season. We have worked a lot and we have a bit more power in the engine. It is quite a nice track here. You have a fast entry into the corners and have to be smooth on the brakes."

Nicola Larini, nr 2 Gta Racing Team Nordauto, "I am happy with my lap times in comparison with this morning's and I am happy to start from the second row. I don't like the set up of my car, which I will change for tomorrow. I have a problem with the front wheels. I like the circuit : there are no strong braking points, you have to have a good front set up and the exit of the corners must be good. I have to improve my set up to be faster in the straights although we do not have much power with these cars. We will see tomorrow after the warm up."

Dirk Muller, nr 43 BMW Team Deutschland, "Currently, my target is to be the best BMW drivers and this is a bit frustrating for me. After Silverstone we made a little step forward, but Volvo has made a giant leap and the gap between us and Alfa Romeo is still the same. We are working hard, but we are still one second off the pace. It's clearly a problem with the engine power, we need to drastically improve it."

James Hanson, nr 61 Volvo S60 Racing Team, "Fifth position in qualifying is much better than what I achieved in Magny-Cours and Silverstone; I think is where I should be. I had the chance to do a day of testing in Silverstone after the race, putting in some mileage in the car and this made the difference. To start fifth is not bad because I was aiming to finish the race in the top sixth, but we have to see how the start will be. I think that the car is using the tyres quite efficiently and at the end of the race we can still be quick."

Fredrik Ekblom, nr 10 BMW Team Belgium, "I think we are doing a good job, although we are still too far from the pace of the Alfa Romeos and Volvos. But we have to be realistic, from what we have I think we are getting the most out of it. We will see what is happening in the races tomorrow, I know that we could do a bit faster than this and we have a little advantage in the standing start. Volvo will put pressure on Alfa Romeo and Larini is not so far away--"

Paolo Ruberti, nr 14 AGS Motorsport, "My seventh place could have been something better, but I didn't find a completely clear lap in my qualifying attempts. Twice I had the door shut while I was trying to overtake some other drivers and that cost me at least three tenths. Otherwise I think that I would have obtained a second row position. But I am positive, my goal is to finish again in the points as I did in Silverstone and if everything will go right it would be possible to do it."

Luis Villamil, nr 15 Scuderia Bigazzi, "I am very pleased because we are now working in the right direction for the set-up. For the first time this season the team was able to give me a car that suits my driving style well, and I managed to set the fastest lap in the morning practice. We were expecting something better in qualifying, but a couple of little mistakes were enough to slip down from first to eighth. I'm not saying that tomorrow I will be able to fight for the win, but I am convinced that our car is good enough to aim for a fourth place or, if I'm lucky, even a bit better."

Tom Coronel, nr 7 Carly Motors-Team Isert, "I managed to qualify in the top-ten and this an improvement. The gap between our team's cars and the other BMWs is smaller than it was in the previous races. And this is the most important thing. If you look at the positions between fourth and eleventh, we are all within sixth tenths. This is good competition; at the moment we have to forget the podium positions, but I am sure that tomorrow we will have a very good fight. I feel confident, the car is good and the team is preparing everything in the proper way. We are getting closer and closer and next time I promise I want to climb at least two places."

Fabrizio De Simone, nr 6 BMW Team Spain, "I was very pleased with my fifth time in the second free practice session, but the qualifying was not as brilliant. It was a driving problem, I did not manage to take the most out of the session. I had traffic problems when I was on my first set of new tyres and I made a mistake with the second set. But the good news are that the car is improving and we are closing the gap at least on the cars of the other BMW teams."

Salvatore Tavano, nr 18 CiBiEmme Team, "We are still carrying on the work of setting the cars up, but we are a bit disappointed by the power. We expected to have the full Super 2000 specs engines here, but we got only a further step up from the Super Production engine we had in Silverstone. The new engines will be delivered to the team on Friday next week."

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Eric Cayrolle , Rickard Rydell , Paolo Ruberti , Salvatore Tavano , Nicola Larini , Tommy Rustad