ETCC: Imola: Rounds 15, 16 preview

After a well-needed break of over a month, the teams and drivers taking part in the LG Super Racing Weekend series will head for new territory : the 'Enzo e Dino Ferrari' circuit in Imola, Italy, which will host a round of the multi-platform...

After a well-needed break of over a month, the teams and drivers taking part in the LG Super Racing Weekend series will head for new territory : the 'Enzo e Dino Ferrari' circuit in Imola, Italy, which will host a round of the multi-platform series for the very first time. The circuit, located to the east of Bologna, hosts the San Marino Formula One Grand Prix every year. It is 4930 metres long, with evocative corner names such as Tamburello, Acque Minerali and Rivazza. This will be the second Italian round this year, after the first round of the season was held at Monza, near Milan, back in April.

The fifteenth and sixteenth rounds of the 2004 FIA European Touring Car Championship will take place at Imola. The FIA ETCC has only visited the circuit once in the past; this happened in 1987, when Vinnie Vogt and Altfrid Heger won the 500 km race in a Linder BMW M3. In the following seasons, the circuit was a regular venue for the Italian Touring Car Championship, and in 2000 hosted the 11th and 12th rounds of the European Super Touring Cup (which became the FIA ETCC the following year) both won by Roberto Colciago's Audi A4 Quattro. The last Italian rounds of the Championship, in Monza, saw victory shared between Alfa Romeo's Gabriele Tarquini and BMW Team Deutschland's Jörg Müller. Since then, the BMW drivers have dominated the season, claiming a total of nine race wins out of the last ten. Dirk Müller currently leads the classification with 86 points, ahead of Jörg Müller (83) and BMW Great Britain's Andy Priaulx (81). With 60 points still to be awarded, Tarquini is 20 points behind the leader - a wide gap, but which can still be filled - while Giovanardi, with a 40-point gap, is virtually out of contest.

Other races this weekend include two rounds of the Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup, the Trofeo Maserati, and the last two rounds of the 2004 European Alfa Challenge.

IMOLA ACCORDING TO MASERATI'S ANDREA BERTOLINI

Andrea Bertolini, 30 years old, has been racing in the Championship since 2001. His rapid progress and the impressive results he scored in a relatively short racing career meant that he received the LG Super Racing Weekend 'Driver Performance of the Year' award last year. With four victories for JMB Racing last season, as well as four pole positions, he finished fourth in the N-GT drivers' classification. He has been a test driver for the Maserati this year, and after competing for GPC Giesse at Spa, will race the MC12 alongside Mika Salo at Imola.

"The Imola track is very technical for the drivers, and Friday's work on the set-up will be crucial to find the best compromise in terms of balancing the car, and also in order to choose the tyres for the race. If it is likely to be hot, as well as the tyres, it will also be necessary to work on saving the brakes. The circuit's most interesting corners are the Piratella and the Acque Minerali, but I think that it will be possible to see a lot of overtaking under braking at the Rivazza and the Variante Bassa. For us, Maserati drivers, it will be a special weekend. Not only because this is our home race track, just a few kilometres away from the Maserati factory, but also because this will the car's maiden race after eight months of testing and developments."

Circuit length : 4930 m
Location : 30 km east of Bologna

The FIA European Touring Car Championship lands in Imola, with Alfa Romeo eager to remedy a difficult situation that sees Gabriele Tarquini and Fabrizio Giovanardi - winners of the two previous championships - desperately chasing three BMW drivers in the run for the European title.

BMW Team Deutschland's Dirk and Jörg Müller, and BMW Team Great Britain's Andy Priaulx have dominated the latest part of the season, claiming a total of nine race wins out of ten. This means that they are currently lying in the first three places of the Drivers' Championship, with Dirk in the lead (86 points), ahead of Jörg (83) and Priaulx (81). With 60 points to be awarded, Tarquini is 20 points behind the leader - a wide gap, but which can still be filled - while Giovanardi, 40 points behind, is virtually out of the contest.

The home track, and the weight handicaps (40 kg for the Müllers, 20 kg for Priaulx) might help Tarquini to close in on the BMW men; although for this event the AutoDelta team will not be able to count on James Thompson, because of a clash with the British Championship.

ZANARDI AT HIS HOME TRACK
BMW Team Italy-Spain's Alessandro Zanardi lives in Bologna, only 30 km from Imola, and this may give him additional motivation to do his best before his local supporters. "Touring Car racing is very popular in Italy, and I'm sure that we'll have a large crowd in Imola, as we did in Monza. If some of them will come especially to support me, so much the better," he stated.

In the latest rounds of the championship, Zanardi has shown substantial progress, closing up to the front-runners' pace. "We are in the final part of the season, and we managed to solve the problems we had in the first half. I scored points in Donington and I could have done very well in Spa. The qualifying result was my best so far, and I was aiming for finishing the first race in the points and have a good starting position on the reverse grid. But unfortunately I was caught in the accident with Giovanardi and Rydell at the start. Now I really wish to make up for it in Imola. Not because it is my home track, as this means nothing in a professional championship, but because is a circuit that suits our car very well, and I love driving there."

BMW: THREE MEN IN A BOAT
Three BMW men are in the lead, and it looks like they will be up against each other for the Drivers' title.

"This will be only my second time in Imola, but I like the track very much ," declared Dirk Müller, the current leader. "It will be a difficult task to fight with my fellow BMW team-mates, especially with Andy, whose car is 20 kg lighter. In Imola, Alfa Romeo has good chances of winning, which would be good for the Championship, and I will focus on scoring some good points."

His team-mate Jörg Müller is second in the classification, three points behind, while Priaulx is third, a further two points adrift: "It is going to be tough, up to the very last point. I've never driven in Imola before, but I think that if I do my homework properly, it shouldn't be a problem. I've been good in circuits I didn't know, like Brno, where last year I won the second race on my first visit," declared the Englishman.

TARQUINI: HOPE KEEPS DREAMS ALIVE
After he won the FIA ETCC title in 2003, Gabriele Tarquini is now chasing the BMW men in the hopes of an encore. Although the early part of the season was very promising for him and Alfa Romeo, the Italian ace has now slipped to fourth in the classification, 20 points from the lead. However, he keeps fighting.

"In a certain way I am in a better situation than last year, because I've got nothing to lose. I know it's going to be difficult for me, but hope keeps dreams alive and I will keep fighting until the numbers seal my fate. Imola is a good place to try and close the gap, because we know the track very well. I am not relying much on the results of the tests we had last February, because it was very cold, and our car is more competitive when it's cold. But I'm confident, because the summer is ending and we shouldn't have hot temperatures to spoil our plans."

SEAT'S FIRST WIN IS IN THE FRAME
SEAT Sport is pursuing its first, well-deserved race win in the Championship. According to what happened in the previous rounds of the season, with the Toledo Cupra cars showing massive improvements everywehere, the ups and downs of the Italian racetrack should suit the Spanish machines of Frank Diefenbacher, Jordi Gené and Rickard Rydell. The latter has never raced or tested in Imola before, with the exception of a few demonstration laps during the media day, while his team mates took part in the official test days last February, and were on the same pace as BMW and Alfa Romeo.

"We have great expectations for Imola, and also for Oschersleben," admitted Rydell. "We have consistently improved since the beginning of the season, and now it's really the time for us to win our first races. I am confident that this will happen between Imola and Oschersleben."

FIA ETCC NEWS IN BRIEF

PEUGEOT TO RELY ON SARDELLI - The Peugeot Sport Engineering team will only have one car in Imola, for Italian independent driver Sandro Sardelli. The team's leading driver, Jan Magnussen is commited to racing in the Danish Grand Prix at Jyllands-Ringen, the most important round of the Danish Touring Car Championship.

FORD IS CLOSING THE GAP - After the good performance in Spa, where Sebastian Grunert and his Ford Focus fought for the mid-field positions in the Independents' Trophy, the RS-Line Rotpunkt Sport is aiming for closing the gap further. In Imola the Ford Focus is expected to confirm its progress.

JAS IS AIMING FOR POINTS - After the Honda Accord's excellent results in Spa, Alessandro Balzan and JAS Motorsport are looking forward to Imola. "We are confident. The track should suit our car, and Balzan knows it very well. But besides this, we are quite happy with the way the car has improved. Our goal is to finish the first race in the points and take the start of the second race from the top of the reverse grid. Which is possible," said JAS's team manager Stefano Fini.

LUCA RANGONI'S AMBITIONS - Another driver from Bologna is Luca Rangoni; so far his maiden season in the (c) Photo 4 / FIA ETCC FIA ETCC was full of ups and downs. Two wins in the Independents Trophy at Hockenheim were balanced by technical problems and driving mistakes. The Oregon Team's man has great ambitions for the event in Imola, his home racetrack: "I'm really keen to do well, and I have asked the team to give 200 percent. I'm confident, because the track suits my driving style very well. Currently, my priority is to score a couple of wins in the Independents Trophy, but I would like to also achieve a good overall result."

CORONEL'S HANDS ON THE TROPHY - Carly Motors' Tom Coronel has a firm grip on the Independents' Trophy. With seven wins out of 14 rounds, the Dutchman has built up a solid lead, and he is in a position to obtain the mathematical certainty of the title in Imola. His closest competitors are Oregon Team's Salvatore Tavano and JAS Motorsport's Alessandro Balzan, who are 34 and 37 points behind respectively.

MICHELIN TEST IN VALLELUNGA - Michelin has organised a test session for the FIA ETCC cars, next week in Vallelunga (31 August and 1st September). "We are going to test a few evolutions in view of the 2005 season, when the Championship will become FIA WTCC," explained Mathieu Bonardel of Michelin Compétition. Eight teams will take part in the test, with a total of 11 cars.

-fia-

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