ETCC: Magny-Cours: Round three preview

The 2004 LG Super Racing Weekend season is now well underway, and by the time the month of May draws to a close, we will have reached the half-way point. With a race every two weeks from Valencia through to Brno, it is a busy time for everyone ...

The 2004 LG Super Racing Weekend season is now well underway, and by the time the month of May draws to a close, we will have reached the half-way point. With a race every two weeks from Valencia through to Brno, it is a busy time for everyone concerned.

For the third round, the multi-platform series will be returning to France, and the circuit of Magny-Cours. A regular event on the LG Super Racing Weekend calendar, the Nevers Magny-Cours circuit has given us some fascinating battles over the years, and undoubtedly, 2004 will be no different. The circuit, 4.411 km long, underwent major changes to the track layout before the 2003 visit, reworking the final section of the circuit, giving a new corner with overtaking opportunities.

The French circuit of Magny-Cours will host the FIA ETCC for the fourth consecutive year. Since the introduction of the current Super 2000 cars, in 2002, Alfa and BMW have scored two wins apiece: Giovanardi won both races in 2002, while J. Muller did the same last year. Valencia saw total domination by Alfa Romeo, with the three Autodelta cars finishing in the top three positions in both races, while Salvatore Tavano, also in an Alfa Romeo, won both Independents races. With the red cars heavily laden with penalty weight for the fast and challenging Magny-Cours circuit, the BMW drivers and those from SEAT, will be keen to claim their revenge.

MAGNY-COURS - ACCORDING TO STEPHANE DAOUDI

Stephane Daoudi 32-year old Stephane Daoudi has been a regular in the FIA GT Championship over the past three years, mainly competing in the N-GT category, with a number of points finishes to his credit. This year, he is driving for JMB, alongside gentlemen drivers, Antoine Gosse , Andrea Garbagnati and Peter Kutemann. He has had great success at Magny Cours in the past, winning there in Formula Renault in 1994, and then three times in the FFSA French GT Championship, including a rain-soaked event in 2001, when he won the race overall in an N-GT Porsche ahead of all the GT-class cars.

"First and foremost, I think Magny-Cours is a circuit that is more technical than it might initially appear. It is very important to set up the chassis and the aerodynamics correctly, as the Estoril corner is vital for the long straight. It is easy to brake too late for Adelaide, but it can allow overtaking. Then you get to the part I prefer, with the first fast chicane, leading into the 180 corner. Normally you see a number of different trajectories into this corner. Then the fast Nurburgring chicane, where you can gain some time. The new hairpin that replaces the Chateau d'Eau will certainly permit more overtaking. Then you get into the new section, where you can overtake under braking in the downhill section, before going through the little chicane which leads into the pit straight. It's a circuit which has a good rhythm, and I think we will see some good fights. The surface is very smooth, and allows most teams to find the right set-up quickly. The 575 M Maranello cars will certainly be on the pace, as I find the car extremely efficient in the fast corners ! And then ... it often rains at Magny-Cours... "

Circuit length : 4.410 km
Location : 20km south of Nevers

Directions : From Nevers, take the Route Nationale N7 for Moulins; the track is on the left after 20 km.

The FIA European Touring Car Championship heads to Magny-Cours after the third and fourth rounds, in Valencia, were dominated by Alfa Romeo works cars. In the two Spanish races, AutoDelta drivers Gabriele Tarquini and Fabrizio Giovanardi shared out the wins and second places between themselves, while their young team-mate Augusto Farfus completed Alfa's triumph with two third positions. These results propelled Tarquini and Giovanardi to the top of the Drivers' Championship, where they are placed first and second, with 28 and 26 points respectively. The former leader, BMW's Jorg Muller, has slipped down to third position, with 22 points.

Alfa Romeo also overturned the Manufacturers' Championship classification, and is now leading with a 7-point margin from BMW. The Alfa Romeo domination in Valencia continued in the Independents Trophy, with Oregon Team's Salvatore Tavano winning both races. After Valencia, the Alfa 156 S2000 cars are clearly the favourite, however both Tarquini and Giovanardi will be carrying the maximum handicap weight (40 kg), while Farfus and J. Muller will have 10 kg.

In Magny-Cours the FIA ETCC field will increase to 25 cars, with the addition of Kurt Molleken's BMW 320i, run by RBM under the flag of BMW Team Belgium-Luxemburg. Another point of interest will be the debut of the new JAS Motorsport Honda Accord 2.0i, driven by Alessandro Balzan.

ALFA ROMEO IS IN THE BEST SHAPE
With their new Alfa Romeo 156 S2000, AutoDelta and their drivers have no reason to miss the 156 Gta which won three FIA ETCC titles in two seasons. After a winning debut in Monza, the 2004 Alfa annihilated the rest of the field in Valencia. Gabriele Tarquini won the first race and is the new championship leader, Fabrizio Giovanardi won the second race and is currently two points behind his team-mate. Augusto Farfus completed the all-red podium in both races. "You definitely need an Alfa Romeo to win," commented Giovanardi, who stepped back onto the highest step of the rostrum after 18 months, and a disappointing season with BMW.

SEAT EAGER TO FORGET THEIR BAD LUCK
There were great expectations for SEAT on its home event. But everything went wrong for the Spanish Manufacturer, as within a few hundred metres, all the three Toledo Cupras were out of the first race: Jordi Gene and Rickard Rydell were eliminated in an collision with Coronel, and Frank Diefenbacher retired with engine problems.

"It was a shame, because the times set in the practice sessions proved that our car had the potential to fight with the fastest BMWs," said Gene. "We are really eager to make up for this in Magny-Cours."

BMW TESTS IN VALENCIA TO CLOSE THE GAP
BMW has three drivers placed within striking distance of the Alfa Romeo duo in the Drivers' Championship. Jorg Muller, Dirk Muller and Andy Priaulx are lying third, fourth and fifth behind Tarquini and Giovanardi, but the red cars' domination in Valencia is a matter of worry for the German make.

In order to close the gap, the BMW teams tested in Valencia on the Monday following the last event. Removing the 40-kg ballast he carried during the race weekend, Jorg Muller set the fastest time at 1:42.0, improving his qualifying time by nine tenths. Antonio Garcia (1:42.2), Alessandro Zanardi (1:42.6), Dirk Muller, Tom Coronel and Carl Rosenblad took also part in the test.

JAS SHAKES DOWN THE NEW HONDA ACCORD--
The new Honda Accord 2.0i in Super 2000 specs is ready for its maiden race in Magny-Cours. The Japanese car, built and run by JAS Motorsport, will complete its first laps next Tuesday, at the Adria Raceway, driven by Alessandro Balzan. After taking part in the first two events of the FIA ETCC season at the wheel of an updated Civic Type-R, the young Italian driver can't wait to race the Accord in Magny Cours: "Compared to the Civic, the new car is a big step forward. It has everything it needs to be competitive." JAS Motorsport technical director, Stefano Fini said: "We decided to hurry up, but obviously the Accord is a still raw car which we have to develop in the race meetings."

--AND HARADA IS READY TO DRIVE IT
Former motorcycling world champion Tetsuya Harada is looking at the ETCC. The 33-year-old Japanese, who left bikes at the end of 2002, after 13 seasons in the World Championship, is now ready to start a new career in car racing. "I left at 32, because I was too old for bikes, but I'm still young for cars," said Harada, who visited the FIA ETCC paddock in Valencia. On Tuesday, Harada had a meeting at the JAS Motorsport workshop in Milan, where he discussed the possibility of entering a Honda Accord in the second half of the current season. "I was impressed by the FIA ETCC, and I would like very much to join it," he admitted.

BMW BELGIUM AND RBM ENTER KURT MOLLEKENS
Former F3000-ace Kurt Mollekens will join the FIA European Touring Car Championship in Magny-Cours, at the wheel of a second BMW 320i run by Bart Mampaey's RBM team. Unlike Andy Priaulx's BMW Great Britain car, Molleken's is backed by BMW Belgium-Luxemburg. "We have to thank them for funding this five-event programme," said the Belgian driver, who will also take part in the meetings at Hockenheim, Brno, Donington and Spa. "We are working hard to find some extra budget to finish the season, but first we have to see which kind of results we can achieve," revealed Mollekens.

MAGNUSSEN AND PEUGEOT WITH MORE AMBITIONS
After their FIA ETCC debut in Valencia, former F1-ace Jan Magnussen and the Denmark-based Peugeot Sport Engineering team come to Magny-Cours with greater ambitions. The interim Peugeot 307 Gti car showed great potential on the Spanish track.

Despite a poor qualifying performance, due to the inexperience with the Michelin control tyres, Magnussen recovered well in the first race. In the second he was fighting to break into the points, when he came off worst in a collision with D'Aste. "It was a positive weekend for us. We have learned a lot, and now we know where to work to improve the car," the Dane said.

ASCH BACK AT THE WHEEL OF HIS FORD FOCUS
After skipping Valencia due to illness, the German touring car legend Roland Asch will be back at the wheel of his RS-Line Rotpunkt Sport Ford Focus ST170 for Magny-Cours. In Spain, the team had replaced him with the 2002 German Touring Car Challenge champion Thomas Klenke, who was of great help in developing the car.

"Thomas did a great job. He finished both races in promising positions, and drastically reduced the gap on lap times," team manager Reiner Stiefel commented. "Now the problem is that everybody will be expecting us to improve again in Magny-Cours. But it won't be so easy."

OREGON DRIVERS ARE SERIOUS CONTENDERS
In Valencia the Oregon Team drivers dominated the Independents Trophy. Salvatore Tavano won both races, while Luca Rangoni qualified in sixth position, and then completed a fantastic recovery in the second race, from 19th on the grid to 8th under the chequered flag. Meaning that he scored his first ETCC point.

"In some way I should be disappointed, because I could have achieved a much better result," Rangoni admits. "My first race was spoiled when I was involved in the collision between Coronel and the SEATs, in which a wheel hub was damaged and finally broke. But the second race was great fun. I think we have proved that we are serious contenders."

INDEPENDENTS: FIRST POINT FOR CARL ROSENBLAD
All the 12 drivers taking part in the ETCC Independents Trophy have already scored points. Carly Motors' Tom Coronel is still leading, with a 9-point margin ahead of Proteam's Stefano D'Aste; but Balzan and Tavano are only a few further points adrift. In Valencia Carl Rosenblad and his Crawford Racing BMW 320i managed to finish their first two races of the season, after the Monza disaster, when Carl hit Tavano's Alfa stalled at the start of Race 1. The Swede stayed at the track for the Monday test: "For the first time we worked on the car without bedding brakes or running in parts as rear axels and differentials. I was 1.9 seconds faster then in qualifying, 1:43.3!"

-fia/etcc-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Jan Magnussen , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Carl Rosenblad , Tetsuya Harada , Frank Diefenbacher , Augusto Farfus , Andrea Garbagnati , Peter Kutemann , Rickard Rydell , Antoine Gosse , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Kurt Mollekens , Luca Rangoni , Salvatore Tavano , Stefano D'Aste , Bart Mampaey , Roland Asch