ETCC: Donington: Practice,qualifying notes

WEATHER: Overcast and windy in the morning; the sun broke in the early afternoon, just in time for the qualifying session. The track remained dry all day, although it was slippery during the first practice session. FREE PRACTICE 1: TARQUINI ...

WEATHER: Overcast and windy in the morning; the sun broke in the early afternoon, just in time for the qualifying session. The track remained dry all day, although it was slippery during the first practice session.

FREE PRACTICE 1: TARQUINI FASTEST, JORG MÜLLER CRASHES The track was slippery and tricky, which resulted in an eventful session. A few drivers dared too much and got acquainted with the gravel traps: Couto, Ruberti, Coronel, Gene, Larini. The unluckiest of them was Jorg Muller, who violently hit the concrete wall before the Dunlop bridge, following a collision with Tom Coronel. The German driver escaped unscathed, but his BMW suffered massive damage. Apparently the collision, which happened under yellow flags, which were being waved following Paolo Ruberti's Alfa went off at McLeans, was due to a misunderstanding. However the Stewards fined Coronel 750.00 euro. Just before the crash, Jorg Muller had set the provisional fastest time, with a lap of 1:41.987, which was eventually beaten only by Gabriele Tarquini. The current Championship leader and his Autodelta Alfa Romeo 156 Gti were clocked at 1:41.938, just five hundredths of a second faster than Muller. Tarquini's team-mate Nicola Larini set the third fastest time (1:42.245), with Dirk Muller fourth (1:42.427). Local hero Andy Priaulx was classified fifth, followed by Antonio Garcia and Rickard Rydell's Volvo S60, which showed substantial progress.

FREE PRACTICE 2: DIRK MÜLLER LEADS 17 CARS WITHIN 9 TENTHS OF A SECOND An incredibly close second practice session saw seventeen cars setting times covered by only nine tenths of a second. Dirk Muller emerged as the fastest driver, setting a lap of 1:42.246, beating Larini by just 0.132 seconds. SEAT's Frank Diefenbacher was 17th position having set a time of 1:43.145. Third in the list and first of the Independent drivers was Duncan Huisman, with a time of 1:42.455.

There was very good news for Volvo and Honda. At the wheel of his ART Engineering Volvo S60, Rydell set the fourth fastest time with a lap in 1:42.474, only two tenths behind Muller's time, and one thousandth of a second faster than fifth-placed Fabio Francia. Salvatore Tavano and his PRO Motorsport Honda Civic were timed in 1:42.481, which meant the 12th fastest time, but only four tenths behind the pole sitter.

The only driver who did not take to the track was Jorg Muller, whose BMW was under repairs following his first session crash.

QUALIFYING: LARINI STEALS POLE FROM TARQUINI Nicola Larini claimed his second pole position of the season, stealing it from his Autodelta team-mate Gabriele Tarquini with only five minutes left in the qualifying session. Larini's time, of 1:40.463, improved by nearly one second the pole position set by Dirk Muller last year, with a lap in 1:41.430.

The session was very close, with the Clever Cats R&M Team's independent drivers Fabio Francia and Paolo Ruberti setting provisional poles. They were ousted by Roberto Colciago's works Alfa Romeo only eight minutes into the session, when the Autodelta man was clocked at 1:41.393. Four minutes later, Larini and Tarquini crossed the line together to break the 1:41. barrier. Tarquini's 1:40.681 was faster than Larini's 1:41.986.

A few moments later, BMW drivers began a tough fight for the third sport of the grid. Fabrizio Giovanardi was clocked at 1:41.816 and immediately improved to 1:41.486 in the following lap. Just afterwards he was pushed down to sixth by Dirk Muller, Antonio Garcia and Colciago. But the reigning champion was able to improve again to 1:40.935, recovering the third position; only to lose it again to Dirk Muller when the German was clocked at 1:40.858.

Francia set the pole in the Independents class in his Alfa Romeo 156, with a time of 1:41.338, which was good enough for a seventh position on the grid, just ahead of local hero Andy Priaulx in the BMW Great Britain-backed 320i. Rickard Rydell qualified his ART Engineering Volvo S60 in ninth position with a lap in 1:41.597, while Ruberti rounded off the top ten.

Salvatore Tavano placed his PRO Motorsport Honda Civic in 12th position, while Jordi Gene qualified the best of the works SEAT Toledo Cupra cars in 14th position, with his team-mate Frank Diefenbacher only 16th. It was a very disappointing session for SEAT, whose cars struggled with set-up problems.

Once more, Jorg Muller missed the entire session. His car was sent to a bodyshop at Derby, where the team will work overnight to repair the chassis and to replace engine and gearbox. The car may not be ready for the warm-up, but should make the grid for the first race.

QUALIFYING NOTES AND QUOTES

Nicola LARINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 1st: "I enjoyed the fight with Gabriele (Tarquini) for the pole. I'm very happy that I managed to win it, although it is not that important. Of course, this is a good start for the weekend, but I'm really focusing on tomorrow's races, because I need to win. I wish to keep my Championship hopes alive, and I have a good opportunity to get back among the drivers who are fighting for the European title. This morning the track conditions were not very good, because yesterday's rain had washed the asphalt and reduce the grip. But in the afternoon the grip was much better and I'm not surprised that I managed to improve last year's pole by one second."

Gabriele TARQUINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 2nd: "Honestly I'm a bit surprised, because I did not expect to fight for the pole with 30 kg of ballast onboard, which add at least three tenths of a second to the lap time. But this track seems to suit our cars very well. Nicola did an excellent job and he deserved the pole, but tomorrow I'll try to beat him in the races. I have a very good feeling, although the BMW cars will be very competitive over the race distance. Now I know that we have better chances than in Brno and I want to make the most out of the situation."

Dirk MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 3rd: "I agree with Gabriele about the effect of the ballast. I have 40 kg onboard and this should mean a penalty of nearly half a second on the lap time. Therefore I am very surprised to be the best-placed BMW driver today. Obviously this was also the consequence of my team-mate's crash in the first practice. I'm very sorry for him and I really hope the team will manage to repair his car in time for the races. But they have to work all night. Back to my performance in qualifying, I was happy with my car and I'm sure I will be in a position to fight with the Alfa Romeo drivers in the races."

Fabrizio GIOVANARDI, BMW Team Italy-Spain 4th: "I feel a bit like one of those football strikers who can't score for a number of matches. But I can't say I'm unhappy with the qualifying result; we expected the Alfa to be on top, and I'm just a few hundredths of a second behind the best BMW. I'm looking forward to making a good start and then we'll see how the first race goes. My prediction is that tomorrow Tarquini and Dirk Muller will be penalised by the ballast more than they were today. I had the same problem last year with 30 kg onboard: qualifying good, but then I struggled in the races. This means that Larini and me should be in the best position to fight for the win. It would be interesting--"

Andy PRIAULX, BMW Team Great Britain, 8th: "I know that some people might be disappointed for this result on my home track, but to be honest I half expected this. We did some testing last week, in which we saw we have problems with the ballast. I'm quite confident anyway, because maybe the reverse grid might help me in the second race. We will do our best under the circumstances and I think I can be faster tomorrow. We'll try something new in the warm up and see how it goes. Today I made a change in the set up and I found three quarters of a second; we have just to find another change and I'll be there."

-etcc-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Duncan Huisman , Rickard Rydell , Paolo Ruberti , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Salvatore Tavano , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago