After a break of nearly a month, the sixth round of the LG Super Racing Weekend series will see the teams and drivers head over the English Channel to the British circuit of Donington Park, in the Midlands. A popular circuit with everyone involved, the multi-platform series has raced there in both 2002 and 2003. The historic circuit, dating back to after the Second World War, is 4.023 km long. Located next to the Nottingham-East Midlands airport, it has a finely balanced combination of fast, challenging corners and a slow, technical hairpin section, meaning that the car set-up is crucial.
The eleventh and twelfth rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Championship will take place at Donington, with a record field of 27 cars - including a fourth Alfa Romeo for former British Touring Car Champion and ETCC race winner James Thompson. He will join the other local heroes on the ETCC grid, Andy Priaulx, currently second in the classification, and Simon Harrison, in the steadily-improving GR Asia Honda Civic Type-R. After five events, the Championship could hardly be closer. BMW Team Deutschland's Dirk and Jörg Müller are currently first and third, surrounding BMW Team Great Britain's Andy Priaulx, while AutoDelta Alfa Romeo aces, reigning champion Gabriele Tarquini and Fabrizio Giovanardi, are in fourth and fifth positions, still within striking distance. After pole positions and podiums obtained in Hockenheim and Brno, the time is ripe for SEAT to win its first FIA ETCC race. And Peugeot is stepping up its programme: Jan Magnussen will drive the new 5-door 307 Gti for the first time; he will be joined by former Danish Touring Car Champion Jason Watt. Last year, honours were equal, with Gabriele Tarquini taking the first win for Alfa Romeo, while Jörg Müller responded with a win for BMW in the second race. Donington could be a very interesting and important round as far as the Championship is concerned.
A LAP OF DONINGTON WITH BMW GREAT BRITAIN'S ANDY PRIAULX
Andy Priaulx, 30 years old, made a very good impression in his first season in the FIA ETCC, when he managed to win three championship rounds in Brno, Spa and Oschersleben, fighting for the European crown till the last race in Monza. Eventually he was classified third, seven points behind Tarquini. This year, only halfway through the season, the Briton has already matched that score, with wins in Magny-Cours, Hockenheim and Brno (the only driver with three victories so far); he is currently second in the Drivers' Championship, with a four-point gap from Dirk Müller.
"Donington is a great circuit! You always see exciting Touring Car races there.The key to success is braking. If you have a good set-up, and the car is balanced under braking, then you have nearly eveything you need in Donington. The tyres wear is not worse than anywhere else.
I hope we have a sunny weekend, because if it rains, the track becomes very slippery, due to the kerosene left by the aircraft landing and taking off at the East Midlands airport. Redgate corner, at the end of the main straight, is not a problem. Even at the start, when the whole field is still packed, everybody finds a way to pass. Problems start downhill at the Craner curves. This is one of the most difficult corners to do in a touring car. With single seater is not a problem, but with a saloon, wow! I think that everybody enjoys that, especially during the first lap, on cold tyres^Å If you make a mistake there, you have good chances to go off at the following corner, the Old hairpin.
But if you do it right, then you have the momentum to go uphill towards McLean's, even if you have ballast on board.
The most important part comes at the end of the Starkey's straight: the chicane, the Melbourne hairpin and Goddards. Here is where you can make it or lose it. And that is where the handicap weight really hurts."
Circuit length : 4023 m
Location : 15 km southwest of Nottingham
Directions : from London, take the M1 Motorway northbound for Nottingham; exit at junction 24 A for Derby - A6; follow signs to the Nottingham-East Midlands airport. The track is on the right, just after the airport.
PRESS CONFERENCE AND TEST DAY IN SPA
On Tuesday, July 6th, RACE will be organising the official test day for the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, as well as a press conference to launch the Belgian round of the LG Super Racing Weekend, which will take place between July 28th and August 1st, featuring the FIA European Touring Car Championship, the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup and the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, a round of the FIA GT Championship.
The FIA ETCC is heading for Great Britain, a country which is really addicted to Touring Car racing,with a record field of 27 cars, thanks to a fourth Alfa Romeo for James Thompson. They join a breathtaking Championship, which has already offered plenty of emotions in the first half of the season.
The British fans will have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to choosing their favourite drivers. They can support the local heroes - Andy Priaulx, who is fighting for the European crown, GR Asia's Simon Harrison, aiming for a good result in the Independents Trophy, and guest star James Thompson - or cheer for former BTCC champions such as Gabriele Tarquini and Rickard Rydell.
The handicap weights are expected to influence the results. The current situation sees Dirk Müller and Priaulx carrying the maximum of 40 kg, while Jörg Müller and BMW Team Italy-Spain's Antonio García are on 10. An excellent opportunity for the penalty-free Alfa Romeo and SEAT cars.
PRIAULX: I NEED TO BE STRONG DESPITE THE WEIGHT
After an impressive performance in 2003, his first season in the championship, 30-year old Andy Priaulx is now aiming for the title. At the wheel of his BMW 320i, backed by BMW Great Britain and run by Bart Mampaey's RBM, Priaulx is currently second in the Drivers' Championship, four points behind Dirk Müller, with wins in Magny-Cours, Hockenheim and Brno (the only driver with three victories so far). "It's going to be tough in Donington, because I'll have the maximum ballast. But I need to be strong with or without weight, and I hope I will be able to do a good job there. It's just another round, and the champion is only announced at the end of the year," Priaulx said.
THOMPSON RETURNS AFTER HIS 2003 WIN IN MONZA
The last appearance of James Thompson in the FIA ETCC dates back to the final event of 2003, in Monza. It was a lucky weekend for him, as he helped Gabriele Tarquini to clinch the Drivers' title for Alfa Romeo, and also claimed his maiden European victory. Now 'Thommo', a favourite of the British fans, and who is currently chasing his team-mate Yvan Muller in the BTCC classification, will join the AutoDelta team again, alongside Tarquini, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Augusto Farfus.
"I'm very excited. And I think we can expect some good results. This time it's easier for me than it was last year. I had never been to Monza before, while obviously I know Donington very well. An also I don't have to carry the 40 kg ballast, that makes a big difference. I'm very much looking forward to it," Thompson stated.
HARRISON AND GR ASIA AIM TO TAKE A STEP FORWARD
Paul Ridgway's Hong Kong-based GR Asia team will arrive in Donington with great expectations. Drivers Simon Harrison, from Cambridge, and Toni R. Ruokonen, from Finland, know the circuit very well. "It's the first time this season that we race on a track that we have previous experience of. We will not be at an advantage, but this is the first time we will not be at a disadvantage," Harrison commented. Last week the team tested in Brands Hatch: "We were pleased, as on our first run, the lap time would have been quick enough to qualify inside the top ten on the BTCC grid," Harrison said, adding: "I hope Donington is a change up of gear for us, and I want to start looking forward to an Independent podium."
PEUGEOT: JASON WATT JOINS MAGNUSSEN
For the first time Peugeot Sport Engineering will run the new 5-door Peugeot 307 Gti for Jan Magnussen, and also a 3-door car for Jason Watt, who is facing his debut in the series. A former F3000 race winner, the 34-year old Watt lost the use of his legs after a bike accident at the end of 1999. He returned to racing in 2000, and since then has been a frontrunner in the Danish Touring Car Championship for Peugeot, winning the title in 2002. "For me this it's a special occasion, because it marks my comeback to international racing," Watt commented. "Everything is new to me, I am not driving the most competitive car and the team is still in a learning phase. I want to make my contribution, and for the first time the team will be able to compare different set-up solutions."
FIA ETCC NEWS IN BRIEF
RESULTS DECLARED FINAL - Further to the engine checks on Dirk Müller's BMW 320i, Gabriele Tarquini's Alfa Romeo 156 and Jordi Gené's SEAT Toledo Cupra (all in conformity), the results of the FIA ETCC rounds in Hockenheim and Brno were declared final.
PAULIEN DELAYS COMEBACK - Carly Motors' Paulien Zwart will not be back in Donington. Following her physiotherapist's advise, Paulien, who is still recovering after a terrible shunt in Magny-Cours, will rejoin the FIA ETCC in Spa. Her father Klaas will replace her again in England.
LARINI TESTED THE HONDA - Former Alfa Romeo star Nicola Larini tested the JAS Honda Accord in Vallelunga. "I was happy to leave him at the wheel for most of the time," regular driver Alessandro Balzan said. "He helped us a lot with the set-up, and made the car competitive."
GARCÍA FASTEST IN VALLELUNGA - BMW Team Italy-Spain's Antonio García set the fastest time in last week's test in Vallelunga. At 1:17.48 the Spaniard was only slightly faster than Larini in the JAS Honda Accord (1:17.5) and Giovanardi in the Alfa Romeo 156 (1:17.6).
ETCC DRIVERS SHINE IN ENDURANCE - Last week seven ETCC drivers moved over to endurance racing, with brilliant results. Dirk and Jörg Müller won the Nürburgring 24 Hours in a Schnitzer BMW M3, while Roland Asch finished fifth overall in a Nissan Skyline. Jan Magnussen and Rickard Rydell were classified first and third in the GTS Class at Le Mans, in a Chevrolet Corvette and a Ferrari 550 respectively.