ETCC: Estoril: Saturday notes

WEATHER: Sunny and windy, with a dry track. FREE PRACTICE 1: LARINI BREAKS LAP RECORD Nicola Larini showed he was on the ball from early in the morning, breaking last year's pole position record by 0.85 seconds. Five minutes into the session,...

WEATHER: Sunny and windy, with a dry track.

FREE PRACTICE 1: LARINI BREAKS LAP RECORD

Nicola Larini showed he was on the ball from early in the morning, breaking last year's pole position record by 0.85 seconds. Five minutes into the session, the Alfa Romeo driver set the fastest time with a lap of 1:47.886, and no one else was able to break the 1:47 barrier. Larini's team-mate Roberto Colciago and Gabriele Tarquini were ranked second and third, 0.318 and 0.380 seconds behind respectively.

Dirk Muller was the only BMW man who seemed able to stay on the pace of the Alfa Romeo trio; the young German driver set his fastest lap at 1:48.317, 0.431 seconds behind Larini. Handicapped by their ballasts, current Championship leader Jorg Muller and runner-up Andy Priaulx, were classified fifth and sixth, 1.183 and 1.197 behind respectively. The extra weight also affected the performances of newcomers James Thompson and Yvan Muller : the Briton was only 10th in his Alfa 156 Gta, while the Frenchman was ranked 17th in his SEAT Toledo.

At the wheel of a brand new Carly Motors 2003 BMW car for the first time, Tom Coronel set the eighth fastest time and emerged as the best amongst the Independents. Two cars suffered from engine problems: Fabrizio Giovanardi's BMW 320i, which stopped alongside the track, and Andre Couto's Honda Civic.

FREE PRACTICE 2: TARQUINI AND THOMPSON CHASE LARINI

As in the first session, Larini was the fastest driver, although his best lap of 1:48.271 was significantly higher than that he set in the early morning. For most of the session Tarquini was leading the time sheet with a lap of 1:48.477; but Larini first equalled his team-mate's time and then beat it.

Despite the session being slower than the first one, a number of drivers drastically improved their times. Thompson improved by eighth tenths and set the third-fastest time, while Dirk Muller again was the best BMW man, confirming his fourth position, 0.571 behind Larini.

Couto achieved the biggest improvement: the engine problems solved, his PRO Motorsport Honda Civic was clocked at 1:49.618, which was good for a ninth position. Rickard Rydell and his ART Engineering Volvo S60 also improved by 1.1 seconds, climbing from 18th to an excellent sixth place. Duncan Huisman was the fastest Independent driver, setting the eighth time overall, while Yvan Muller improved by four tenths to be the fastest SEAT driver in the session.

Giovanardi spent the session running in a new engine in his BMW; which means he will be demoted to the back of the grid, regardless of his qualifying result.

QUALIFYING: FOUR OF A KIND FOR ALFA ROMEO

Alfa Romeo made a clean sweep in the qualifying session, placing the whole Autodelta four-car pack at the top of the qualifying times. Larini continued his domination in Estoril, claiming his fourth pole position of the season. Ten minutes into the session, the Italian driver ousted his team-mate Tarquini from the provisional pole, with a time of 1:47.634. Seven minutes later Tarquini jumped back to the top, when he was clocked at 1:47.509. But Larini responded and claimed the pole for good with a lap of 1:46.865, with seven minutes left. On their last timed

laps, both Colciago and Tarquini improved to 1:47.219 and 1:47.389, to secure second and third positions respectively. Larini's time represented a massive 1.9-second improvement compared to last year's pole position, obtained by Rydell's Volvo S60 in 1:48.734.

Once again Dirk Muller emerged as the fastest BMW driver, and he even managed to provisionally squeeze in amongst the Alfa Romeos, when he set the fourth-fastest time ahead of Thompson. However, the Englishman managed to reclaim fourth position with a lap of 1:47.518, completing Autodelta's perfect result. BMW had to settle with three drivers, Dirk Muller, Garcia and Jorg Muller, in fifth, sixth and seventh position; the latter 1.2 seconds from the pole.

Clever Cats R&M's Paolo Ruberti set the pole position in the Independents class, with a lap in 1:48.463 (good enough for the eighth place overall), just ahead of Duncan Huisman's 1:48.538. Andy Priaulx, currently second in the Drivers' Championship, was placed tenth, with Jordi Gene, the fastest of the SEAT drivers in 11th position. The Spanish Manufacturer's new driver, BTCC champion Yvan Muller, qualified in a disappointing 17th position.

As for Giovanardi, whose engine blew during the first free practice session, he set the 15th time at 1:48.846, without pushing too much, as he knew that he was going to start from the back of the grid in any case, due to the engine change.

QUALIFYING NOTES AND QUOTES

Nicola LARINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 1st: "We are very happy to have four Alfas at the front, as it will be a very important race for us. Tomorrow's result might prove crucial for the title fight. Our target is to maintain the same positions at the end of the first race. It won't be easy, but we have to try. At the moment, we do not have any team orders. I think it will depend from the start. If, during the race, I will receive the order to help Gabriele (Tarquini), who is the best placed among us, I will obey."

Roberto COLCIAGO, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 2nd: "This is an excellent result for Alfa Romeo today, but now we have to win the races! It is very important for us to get the maximum points here in Estoril, so that we may head to the last meeting in Monza with good chances to win the Championship."

Gabriele TARQUINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 3rd: "Our car is very good here, also on top speed. I am very optimistic. We have four drivers on the two front rows, and this is very important for us. Particularly because start is not our strong point... Maybe the fact that the main straight goes downhill, will help us to take a better start. But we will see only after the first corner if our four cars are able maintain their positions. For sure it will be very difficult..."

James THOMPSON, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 4th: "I'm really pleased, because I've not driven the car before. No shake down, nothing! And I have to carry the 40 kg ballast. On a two minute-lap like here, with a lot of downshifting from sixth to second gear and a lot of acceleration, it costs you a lot of time. I'm finding my way round the car, which is very good to drive. I'm enjoying it, but I have to work hard. It's not easy to learn the Alfa in 20 laps and try to help the other guys."

Jorg MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 7th: "I'm happy with my qualifying result. If you think that I have 40 extra kg onboard, it was not bad. Obviously we can see that the Alfa Romeo cars are very strong here. They improved two seconds from last year, while we only improved by 1.2, 1.3. It' s going to be very tough for the rest of the season. I'm thinking of using different strategies from the other BMW drivers; with my gearbox too. We'll se if this works."

Paolo RUBERTI, Clever Cats R&M, 8th: "Today everything was fine. The car was good, no technical problems during the qualifying session. We broke a gearbox, but luckily it happened in the first free practice. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's races. I really hope we can make up for the latest rounds, in which Lady Luck turned her back to us. With her aid I'm sure we can aim for two good results."

Andy PRIAULX, BMW Team Great Britain, 10th: "We know it's going to be tough with 40 kg. But it's a long weekend. We got two races, the second one with the reverse grid. It is definitely not over for me. I just have more work to do, that's all. I expected to be anywhere between seventh and twelfth after the qualifying. I'm not happy to be tenth, but I could easily be lower down."

Jordi GENE, SEAT Sport, 11th: "We are nearly close to the top-ten, just a few hundredths from Priaulx, which is not bad at all. However, I'm not really happy with the car today. I could not find the grip on new tyres. In the end I made a lap during which I had fifty percent of chances to go off and fifty to stay in. I managed to stay in, and to improve my time. But it was very risky."

Yvan MULLER, SEAT Sport, 17th: "This is a track where the weight is so important. Look at how far from the pole Jorg Muller and Priaulx are. For me too, with 40 kg of handicap weight it was not possible to go faster. I am too much penalised coming out from every corner. I'm happy enough with the car itself, which is very well balanced. I think it has a lot of potential."

-fia-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Yvan Muller , James Thompson , Duncan Huisman , Andre Couto , Rickard Rydell , Paolo Ruberti , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago