ETCC: Imola: Saturday practice, qualifying notes

Qualifying: Giovanardi Back On Pole After Two Years Fabrizio Giovanardi claimed his first pole position of the season in Imola today. The last time he was on pole was nearly two years ago, the 21st September 2002 in Pergusa. Today Giovanardi ...

Qualifying: Giovanardi Back On Pole After Two Years

Fabrizio Giovanardi claimed his first pole position of the season in Imola today. The last time he was on pole was nearly two years ago, the 21st September 2002 in Pergusa. Today Giovanardi topped a perfect Alfa Romeo trio, with his AutoDelta team-mates placed second (Gabriele Tarquini) and third (Augusto Farfus).

At the beginning of the session Rickard Rydell set a provisional pole position at 1:59.684, the first driver to break the 2:00 barrier, and Giovanardi clocked a provisional second-fastest lap in 1:56.761.

The Alfa Romeo man managed to improve a first time to 1:59.359, claiming a provisional pole, but a few minutes later he was ousted by Tarquini's 1:58.924. Other drivers managed to go under the 2-minute mark -- Rydell (1:59.684) and Priaulx (1:59.929) -- but nobody was able to push Tarquini from the pole until Stefano D'Aste hit the tyres at the Villeneuve chicane and brought them rolling down right to the middle of the track, which forced the race director to red-flag the session with ten minutes left.

As soon as the session resumed, Fabrizio Giovanardi claimed pole position for good with a lap in 1:58.460, while Augusto Farfus completed the Alfa Romeo trio at the top, clocking a 1:59.111 good enough for the third position on the grid.

Oregon Team's Salvatore Tavano and Luca Rangoni also benefited from the pause, and on new tyres they set the fourth and fifth fastest times (1:59.254, and 1:59.482). However they were finally demoted when Jordi Gene claimed fourth position at 1:59.221.

Like in the free practice sessions, the best BMW (Andy Priaulx's) was only ninth, behind Rydell's SEAT and the excellent Honda Accord of Alessandro Balzan. The two Mullers were further back: Jorg 11th and Dirk 19th, his car plagued by gearbox problems.

A NEW SUSPENSION FOR ALFA ROMEO

In Imola, the three AutoDelta Alfa Romeo 156 cars are running with a modified front suspension. The new components were tested last Wednesday in Vallelunga and their use has been authorized by the FIA Stewards, after they received the written approval of all the other competitors, and after they heard the opinions of the FIA ETCC Technical Delegate and a representative of Michelin.

The change concerns the mounting points of the front suspension, and has been authorized for safety reasons.

PRACTICE 1: THREE ALFAS SET THE PACE

Fabrizio Giovanardi, Gabriele Tarquini and Augusto Farfus set the three fastest times of the session in their AutoDelta Alfa Romeo 156 cars. The three SEAT Sports drivers were classified immediately behind them, Frank Diefenbacher 4th, Rickard Rydell 5th and Jordi Gene 6th. Seventh and eighth-fastest were Oregon Team's independents Luca Rangoni and Salvatore Tavano.

The BMW drivers were not as fast as usual. Despite his ninth position, Antonio Garcia emerged as the best of them, ahead of the three leaders of the Drivers' Championship: Andy Priaulx, Jorg and Dirk Muller.

The whole session was dominated by the Alfa Romeo men. Tarquini set an early mark at 2:00.346, but then Giovanardi broke the 2:00 wall at 1:59.519, improving further to 1:59.380 and finally to 1:59.281. Tarquini improved as well, to be second fastest with a lap in 1:59.507, while Farfus set the third-fastest time at 1:59.822. Diefenbacher was always the quickest for SEAT sport; halfway through the session he clocked a time of 2:00.041 -- good enough for fourth -- but then he hit the tyres at the Villeneuve chicane destroying the front of his Toledo car.

Other drivers made mistakes, such as Zanardi -- who went off into the gravel at the Acque Minerali -- and Luca Rangoni.

PRACTICE 2: ALFA AND SEAT ON TOP AGAIN

Again AutoDelta Alfa Romeo drivers topped the time list, and once again, the BMWs seemed to be in serious trouble.

On the sizzling hot asphalt, which caused the second session to be a bit slower, it was Tarquini's turn to emerge as the fastest of the pack, with a lap in 1:59.625, while his team-mates Giovanardi and Farfus were a few tenths behind (1:59.753 and 2:00.131 respectively).

The three SEAT Sport cars encored their results from the previous session, placing 4th (Rydell), 5th (Diefenbacher) and 6th (Gene). And the same did Rangoni and Tavano: seventh and eighth, and fastest of the Independents.

The first BMW was Andy Priaulx's in ninth. The Englishman was followed by Alessandro Balzan's Honda Accord and third Oregon man Michele Bartyan, meaning that the Mullers were relegated in 13th and 14th.

A few drivers were summoned to the Stewards, and were blamed for driving beyond the kerbs.

-fia/etcc-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Augusto Farfus , Rickard Rydell , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Luca Rangoni , Michele Bartyan , Salvatore Tavano , Stefano D'Aste