ETCC: Brno: Rounds 9, 10 preview

Rapidly approaching mid-season, the fifth LG Super Racing Weekend of 2004 will take place at the Brno Automotodrom, in the Czech Republic. The picturesque and popular circuit is a favourite with the drivers, and its changes of elevation, medium...

Rapidly approaching mid-season, the fifth LG Super Racing Weekend of 2004 will take place at the Brno Automotodrom, in the Czech Republic. The picturesque and popular circuit is a favourite with the drivers, and its changes of elevation, medium speed corners and tricky chicanes usually guarantees some fascinating racing.

The historic circuit is situated 16 km from the Czech city of Brno, the second largest city in the Republic, and is 200 km to the south-east of the beautiful capital city of Prague. There has been motor racing at the Masaryk circuit since 1930, when the first race took place on a 30-km track, made up of ordinary roads. The track was shortened over the years, and a new permanent circuit was opened in 1987. This will be the fourth visit of the multi-platform series to the circuit, and will mark the end of the first half of the season. A break of nearly a month will follow, before the sixth round takes place at the British circuit of Donington Park, on June 27th

The FIA European Touring Car Championship's 9th and 10th rounds will take place at Brno. The Masaryk circuit has been part of the ETCC calendar since the early years, when it consisted of 14 km (later reduced to 11) of normal roads, through villages and forests. Between 1968 and 1986, the ETCC raced 17 times on this difficult and perilous track. In 1987 the new Masaryk permanent racetrack was opened, and it welcomed the revived ETCC back in 2001, to become again one of the championship's regular venues. In the two most recent seasons, Alfa Romeo and BMW shared wins in Brno: Fabrizio Giovanardi won both races with the Alfa 156 Gta in 2002, while Dirk Muller and Andy Priaulx took one apiece for BMW last year.

A LAP OF BRNO WITH JMB RACING'S TOTO WOLFF

Austrian driver Toto Wolff , like many of the other Austrians competing in this year's FIA GT Championship, considers Brno his home circuit, as well as one of his favourites. Toto has being racing in the Championship since 2001; his most successful year to date was 2002, when he raced for Autorlando. As well as a win at Oschersleben with compatriot Philipp Peter, a string of other points placed him 6th in the final classification. This year he has moved up to the GT class, racing the nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello with Karl Wendlinger and Robert Lechner Jr.

"I like Brno very much. It is very challenging from a technical point of view. It has slow, medium and fast corners, going up and downhill. For me, it's like a little Spa. I learned to race on the old A1 Ring and Brno, so I have lots of good memories of Formula Ford, and I like it a lot. The circuit itself is quite long. The first corner is very challenging; you take it in 4th gear in a GT car, and need to exit well to get the speed for the next long straight. This is followed by a left-right corner followed by a very fast double right-hander, which, if the car is perfect, the second can be taken flat out. After, you have to be heavy on the brakes for the next corner, which is almost a hairpin. A short straight leads into a left-right hander, where once again you have to sacrifice the left part to gain speed in the straight. We are now at the lowest part of the circuit, taken in 5th gear and quite fast, followed by a 4th gear corner, which is two-thirds downhill. This is followed by the most important part, a left-right chicane, followed by a long uphill straight, nearly a kilometre long. The handling has to be perfect here, so as not to have oversteer exiting the chicane. With no oversteer, you can get on the throttle early, and gain a lot of time. The last part sees another left-right hander, taken in second gear, exiting in 3rd, with a little straight and a fast right-hander leading onto the main straight, which is taken in 6th gear. The top speed is not as fast as circuits like Monza, but the circuit is very abrasive and the weather can be very hot, which means that tyres can be very important. It is a circuit where the set-up is crucial."

Circuit length : 5403 m
Location : 10 km northeast of Brno
Directions : from Brno, take the D1 Motorway westbound for Prague; take exit 182 and follow signs for the track.

FRIDAY NIGHT IS PARTY NIGHT
A special night of entertainment , organised by event sponsor Matador, will take place at the Automotodrom Brno on Friday 28th May, between 8 pm and 11 pm. This will include concerts from Czech and Slovak bands and singers, a dance show and a fire-working competition. Cars from the various Championships taking part it the event will be lining the track.

After the first four meetings of the season, the fight for the FIA ETCC titles is wide open. BMW Team Deutschland's boys, Jorg and Dirk Muller, are leading the Drivers' Championship, separated by 2 points; but

AutoDelta's reigning champion Gabriele Tarquini is only seven points behind Jorg. Andy Priaulx, of BMW Team Great Britain, is fourth, two further points adrift, while Tarquini's team-mate Fabrizio Giovanardi is currently 17 points behind. In the Manufacturers' Championship BMW has widened the gap in Hockenheim, and leads Alfa Romeo by 31 points.

The weight handicap situation sees both the Mullers weighted down with 40 kg, while Tarquini and Jordi Gene's SEAT Toledo will be carrying 10. Therefore Priaulx and Giovanardi, free from ballast for Brno, will have a great opportunity to reduce their gaps.

In the previous meeting at Hockenheim, BMW nearly monopolised the podium positions, with Priaulx and Jorg Muller scoring one win each. Alfa Romeo had one of the blackest weekends ever of its long racing history, after the three AutoDelta men eliminated each other in a pile-up on the first lap of the first race. SEAT finally broke into the fight for the top, placing all its three drivers in the points and claiming both its first pole position and its first podium of the season with Jordi Gene.

SATISFACTION AND CONFIDENCE AT SEAT
After two unlucky meetings in Valencia and Magny-Cours, Hockenheim was SEAT Sport's best weekend since joining the FIA ETCC. Jordi Gene claimed the first-ever pole position for the Toledo Cupra, and the three Spanish cars were competitive and reliable throughout the two races. In the first one, Gene was classified third (SEAT's first podium of the season), while his team-mates Frank Diefenbacher and Rickard Rydell were also point scorers. In the second race, Gene and Rydell finished in the points again, while Diefenbacher retired further to a collision. SEAT's points total in the Manufacturers' Championship at Hockenheim was 19, nearly three times their score from the first three races. "This was a great weekend for us; we have shown that our hard work is paying off and we can now live with the top guys," SEAT Sport director Jaime Puig declared. With these premises a victory for the Spanish cars is now in the frame.

BMW: THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Jorg Muller, Dirk Muller and Andy Priaulx are currently first, second and fourth in the Drivers' Championship. A perfect situation for the German Manufacturer in the fight for the FIA ETCC title. Recovering promptly from their defeat in Valencia, the BMW cars plundered nearly everything in Magny-Cours and Hockenheim. Priaulx, with two wins, and the Mullers, all contributed to a four-race winning streak, while in Germany Antonio Garcia also showed up at the top. This situation might even improve in Brno, where the 320i proved to be the car to beat last year. "The problem is that Dirk and I arrive in Czech Republic with the maximum handicap weight on board. And because of its ups and downs, this is a racetrack where the 40 kg make a difference," Jorg Muller said.

NO SERIOUS DAMAGE FOR ALFA ROMEO
Despite winning more races than any other team since the revival of the FIA European Touring Car Championship, even AutoDelta occasionally had a difficult weekend. One such weekend occured in Monza last year, when three of the five works Alfas went off in qualifying. Another took place in Hockenheim, where all three 156 cars of Gabriele Tarquini, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Augusto Farfus were eliminated in a first lap pile-up in the first race. Only Tarquini could start Race 2, when he managed to recover to sixth position and score three points, thus remaining in the title fight. "The only consolation is that none of the cars suffered extensive damages. There was not enough time to repair Augusto's and Fabrizio's between the two races, but they will be in perfect order for Brno," team manager Monica Sipsz commented.

PEUGEOT: SARDELLI WILL JOIN MAGNUSSEN
After Jan Magnussen achieved the team's best result so far -- a 10th position in Hockenheim Race 1 -- Peugeot Sport Engineering is ready to increase their ETCC programme. Yesterday the new 5-door 307 Gti successfully passed the FIA inspection. "We had planned to race it in Brno, but the car suffered from a bad crash in Sweden and we have not had enough time to repair it," team manager Jørgen Agergaard explained. The debut of the new car will enable the team to entrust the 3-door 307 to Sandro Sardelli from Donington onwards. The Italian tested the Peugeot in Hockenheim last Monday: "I was very impressed with the car. It's easy to drive, with good traction and a very good engine. We tested on the short track, and I managed to clock lap times close to Dirk Muller's." Sardelli said.

RS-LINE ARE LOOKING FOR RELIABILITY
A series of technical problems, and a few crashes marked the first part of RS-Line Rotpunkt Sport's maiden season in the FIA European Touring Car Championship. Ironically the German team's home race in Hockenheim was the worst one so far, with both the Ford Focus cars of Roland Asch and Sebastian Grunert out of the first race; the former due to gravel piercing the oil radiator, the latter further to a collision. "It has been a painful and costly beginning of the season for us. Ours is a private team, and we don't know yet if we will manage to repair Asch's car in time for Brno. Then we will benefit from the pause before Donington, to work on reliability and aerodynamics," revealed team manager Reiner Stiefel.

HONDA: ACCORD AND CIVICS ARE IMPROVING
The Honda cars are improving. The JAS Motorsport Accord of Alessandro Balzan retired with a broken suspension while fighting to break into the points. "It was a shame, but we are definitely closing in on the top positions," the driver commented. As for the two GR Asia Civic Type-Rs, both Simon Harrison and Toni Ruokonen were involved in crashes during the first race, but they showed substantial progress in the second race. The team received the visit of their principal Tim Huxley, who flew in from Hong Kong: "I was delighted that we have begun to make a breakthrough in sorting out the handling. It's a real testament to how the series has developed, that the Civics are now two seconds quicker than last year, but have slipped around ten places down the grid! I know that in Paul and Simon we have the engineering and driving talent to move up quickly, particularly when we get the post-Brno break and can really address some of the areas we need to develop."

INDEPENDENTS: IT'S OREGON-- TIME
The three Alfa Romeo Gta cars of the Oregon Team have won five out of the last six rounds in the Independents Trophy. After Salvatore Tavano's two wins in Valencia, and Michele Bartyan's single victory in Magny-Cours, it was Luca Rangoni's turn. The former Renault Clio V6 multi-European-champion dominated both races in Hockenheim. However, with three race wins and a number of finishes, Carly Motors' Tom Coronel is still leading the classification with 56 points. The Dutch driver was classified third and second in Hockenheim, stretching his lead to 15 ahead of Proteam's Stefano D'Aste, who collected only 2 points as well as a blame from the Stewards, further to a collision with Carl Rosenblad. In Brno, the Independents Trophy will welcome back Klaas Zwart, at the wheel of the second Carly Motors car.

-fia/etcc-

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