ETCC: Donington: Saturday notes

WEATHER: Overcast and windy in the early morning, it then turned rainy. The track was dry for the first practice, wet for the second, and finally dried out again for qualifying. . QUALIFYING: THOMPSON ON POLE AND LEADS AN ALFA QUARTET James...

WEATHER: Overcast and windy in the early morning, it then turned rainy. The track was dry for the first practice, wet for the second, and finally dried out again for qualifying. .

QUALIFYING: THOMPSON ON POLE AND LEADS AN ALFA QUARTET

James Thompson claimed his first pole position in the FIA European Touring Car Championship, and gave Alfa Romeo its third pole of the season.

AutoDelta cars might have been in trouble in the previous meetings, but today in Donington Park they proved to be back on the winning pace. Thompson and his team-mates, Gabriele Tarquini, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Augusto Farfus dominated the day, in both dry and wet conditions.

The qualifying session was tricky, because only the racing lines were dry, while the rest of the track remained damp and slippery. This gave problems to a number of drivers. Carly Motors' Klaas Zwart spun twice and rejoined, Oregon Team's Michele Bartyan went off into the gravel at MacLeans, GR Asia' s Toni Ruokonen crashed due to a brake failure.

From the beginning, the Alfa Romeo men set the pace. Ten minutes into the session Gabriele Tarquini was the first driver to break the 1:40 barrier, setting a provisional pole at 1:39.793, which he immediately improved to 1:39.750. Halfway through the session, Fabrizio Giovanardi ousted Tarquini, with a lap of 1:39.718; he also managed to improve, cutting another four tenths off his time to go down to 1:39.374. With ten minutes left, Thompson moved up to second, clocking a time of 1:39.392 (only 0.018 seconds slower than Giovanardi). A few moments later, the Englishman claimed provisional pole position at 1:39.295, but in the following lap he lost it to Tarquini's 1:38.994. Tarquini was then ousted again by Giovanardi's 1:38.904. But Thompson had the last word, going down to 1:38.698 as the chequered flag was waved. Augusto Farfus completed the Alfa Romeo domination, placing fourth (1:39.561).

Jorg Muller managed to set the fifth fastest time (1:39.562), only one-thousandth of a second slower than Farfus, emerging as the best BMW driver. SEAT Sport's Rickard Rydell and Jordi Gene were placed immediately behind him. Salvatore Tavano was ranked ninth, claiming pole position in the Independents Trophy. The 40-kg handicap weight proved to be very effective, preventing Dirk Muller and Andy Priaulx -- first and second in the championship classification -- to qualify higher than eighth and 13th. The Peugeot 307 cars of Jan Magnussen and Jason Watt set the 17th and 19th time. Tom Coronel and Simon Harrison also had a disappointing qualifying: Carly Motors' Dutch driver placed 20th, after he spun twice on new tyres, while GR Asia's Englishman was only 23rd, struggling with set up problems.

FREE PRACTICE 1: ALFA ROMEO RULES

Alfa Romeo drivers dominated the first practice on a grey and windy morning. Fabrizio Giovanardi sat in the pits for the first ten minutes before joining the session; on his second timed lap he emerged as the provisional fastest driver, setting a time of 1:38.939. This lap already signalled an improvement of 1.5 seconds compared to last year's pole position.

However, with eight minutes left, AutoDelta guest driver James Thompson improved that benchmark with a lap of 1:38.899 (which he later improved to 1:38.893), demoting Giovanardi to second. Their team-mate Gabriele Tarquini (1:39.021) was third-fastest. For most of the session Augusto Farfus (1:39.954) was in fourth position, completing a quartet of red cars at the top. However, lately in the session, Carly Motors' Tom Coronel (1:39.798, fastest of the Independents) and SEAT Sport's Rickard Rydell (1:39.884), managed to demote the young Brazilian to sixth.

Dirk and Jorg Muller were placed seventh and eighth, just ahead of Andy Priaulx. Carl Rosenblad obtained a brilliant 14th fastest time (second of the Independents); Stefano D'Aste was placed 18th, but he had all his times disallowed due to repeatedly cutting the chicane.

The Danish Peugeot team had gear problems (wrong ratios): Jan Magnussen was only 20th in the new 5-door car, while Jason Watt set the 24th time on his first ETCC appearance. There were problems also for SEAT Sport's Frank Diefenbacher and Oregon's Luca Rangoni, who were both stranded in the gravel traps after six and four laps respectively.

FREE PRACTICE 2: THOMPSON ALSO FASTEST IN THE WET

The second session was wet, although the racing lines began to dry in the final minutes. Once again, James Thompson emerged as the fastest driver. Nine minutes into the session he clocked a time of 1:54.137, then he improved to 1:52.898, and finally completed a lap in 1:52.364, which proved to be the fastest one overall.

Just before the chequered flag, Dirk Muller set the second-fastest time in 1:52.565, demoting Gabriele Tarquini (1:52.612) to third. Fourth-fastest was Alessandro Balzan, very impressive in the JAS Motorsport Honda Accord. For most of the session the Italian driver managed to stay within the top three; his best lap time (1:52.957) was only 0.6 seconds slower than that of Thompson.

The SEAT drivers were also very competitive in the wet, with Frank Diefenbacher (1:53.025) and Rickard Rydell (1:53.248) ranked sixth and seventh, just behind Fabrizio Giovanardi (1:52.967). The two Peugeot 307 cars improved significantly: Jason Watt set the nine-fastest time (1:53.385) and Jan Magnussen the twelfth-fastest (1:53.878).

-fia-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Dirk Müller , Jan Magnussen , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Carl Rosenblad , James Thompson , Augusto Farfus , Jason Watt , Simon Harrison , Rickard Rydell , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Klaas Zwart , Luca Rangoni , Michele Bartyan , Salvatore Tavano , Stefano D'Aste , Toni Ruokonen