ETCC: Monza: Practice, qualifying notes

FREE PRACTICE 1: BMW DRIVERS FASTEST ON THE DAMP TRACK The track was still damp after night showers when the cars hit the track for the first session of the season. The lap times improved as the asphalt dried, although they remained considerably...

FREE PRACTICE 1: BMW DRIVERS FASTEST ON THE DAMP TRACK

The track was still damp after night showers when the cars hit the track for the first session of the season. The lap times improved as the asphalt dried, although they remained considerably higher than those clocked three weeks ago, during the test days.

Three BMW men topped the time list, with BMW Team Great Britain's Andy Priaulx emerging as the fastest in the session with a lap of 2:11.009. He was followed by the BMW Team Deutschland duo; with 2:11.253, Jörg Müller was only 0.244 seconds slower than Priaulx, while Dirk Müller remained one second behind (2:12.089).

Reigning champion Gabriele Tarquini set the fourth-fastest lap, and the best for an Alfa Romeo car, at 2:12.164; he missed part of the session when he was forced to return to the pits after his Alfa 156 S2000 ran over debris from another car.

Jordi Gené and Frank Diefenbacher confirmed SEAT's progress. They set the fifth and sixth-fastest times respectively, just ahead of BMW Team Italy-Spain's Antonio García, Alessandro Balzan in the JAS Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R (fastest of the Independent drivers), Fabrizio Giovanardi in the second Autodelta car and García's team-mate Alessandro Zanardi.

23 cars took part in the session, the only driver who missed it was Gianni Morbidelli, in the SEAT Sport Italia car, due to an engine problem.

FREE PRACTICE 2: THREE DRIVERS SMASH THE 2-MINUTE BARRIER

The second session was run on a dry track, and immediately the 2-minute barrier was smashed. Gabriele Tarquini, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Dirk Müller were the first three drivers to lap in the 1:59 range: 1:59.624, 1:59.636 and 1:59.734 respectively. These remained the fastest times in the session, all covered by only one tenth of a second. Jörg Müller and Alfa Romeo's new boy Augusto Farfus were only a few tenths behind, as they clocked the fourth and fifth-fastest times, with laps in 2:00.063 and 2:00126 respectively.

Andy Priaulx was classified sixth, closely followed by SEAT's Jordi Gené and Frank Diefenbacher, meaning that the top-eight drivers in the session were all covered by nine tenths. Antonio García and Salvatore Tavano (the fastest Independent in an Oregon Alfa 156 Gta) completed the top-ten positions.

The engine problems solved on his SEAT Sport Italia's car, Gianni Morbidelli managed to complete his first-ever real test at the wheel of the Toledo Cupra, and clocked the 15th-fastest time.

All the 24 cars having passed scrutineering took part in the session. The time list was closed by Toni Ruokonen, whose GR Asia Honda Civic Type-R stopped at the first chicane in the early stages of the session with gearbox problems.

QUALIFYING: TARQUINI AND FARFUS CLAIM FRONT ROW FOR ALFA

Gabriele Tarquini is the first pole-setter for the 2004 FIA European Touring Car Championship. The reigning champion literally smashed last year's pole position time, improving it by two seconds. His young team-mate Augusto Farfus caused the greatest surprise of the day, setting the second fastest-time, and relegating the two Müllers to the second row of the grid.

The sun was finally shining when the session started, and immediately the Autodelta trio shot along the main straight to set the provisional fastest times; all of them under the 2-minute mark. Tarquini's 1:58.905 was already a new track record for the Super 2000 cars, while Fabrizio Giovanardi and Farfus clocked times of 1:59.642 and 1:59.793 respectively. The young Brazilian managed to improve already on the following laps, moving up to second with the time of 1:59.614.

After a few warm-up laps, the BMW Team Deutschland's drivers started to push in a close formation. One after another they crossed the finishing line, setting the fourth and fifth-fastest laps at 1:59.806 for Dirk Müller and 2:00.073 for Jörg Müller. A few moments later, Dirk took the provisional second position from Farfus, with a lap in 1:59.386.

However, the Autodelta men answered immediately, as Tarquini and Farfus set off to further improve their times. The Italian consolidated his pole position with an astonishing 1:58.395, meaning an improvement of two seconds compared to last year's pole set by Jörg Müller. Farfus went down to 1:59.156, recovering his second place for good. Tomorrow they will share the front row on the starting grid for the first race, while the Müllers will share the second thanks to Jörg's final rush, which enabled him to go also under the two minutes (1:59.612), moving up to fourth and demoting Giovanardi to fifth. The latter will share the third row with Andy Priaulx.

Frank Diefenbacher emerged as the fastest SEAT driver, qualifying his Toledo Cupra car in seventh position with a lap in 2:00.044, just ahead of the BMWs of Alessandro Zanardi and Tom Coronel. The Dutchman topped the list of the Independent drivers, inflicting 1.5 tenths to his closest competitor, Oregon Team's Salvatore Tavano, who qualified 11th, behind Antonio García.

The best of the Honda Civics was Simon Harrison's GR Asia car; the Briton set the 18th fastest lap, just in front of JAS Motorsport's Alessandro Balzan. Harrison's team-mate Toni Ruokonen missed the session due to an engine failure.

As for the two RS-Line Rotpunkt Sport's Ford Focus cars, they closed the time sheet, with Sebastian Grunert in 22nd position and Roland Asch in 23rd. The two German cars, which were only finished yesterday at the racetrack, were suffering with a number of minor problems.

QUALIFYING QUOTES

Gabriele TARQUINI - AutoDelta Squadra Corse, pole position
"I think half of the improvement in the pole position time from last year was due to the tyres. We changed the type of the tyres, and this is a big advantage which enabled me to beat last year's pole time by more than two seconds. I also got a really good slipstream from my team-mate Augusto (Farfus), who did a fantastic job. Here in Monza, slipstreaming is very important to make a good lap time. The team did a very good job as well. We use a brand new car, which was only finished one day before the test days we had three weeks ago. But I think tomorrow will be a different story. The standing start is not as good for us as it is for BMW; therefore I would be very happy to arrive second or third at the first corner."

Augusto FARFUS - AutoDelta Squadra Corse, 2nd
"I didn't expect to be so good in my first qualifying in a touring car. I'm surprised, but quite happy with the result. I have yet to learn to understand how to drive this kind of cars, and then I can fight for the points. So I'm very relaxed in facing tomorrow's races. I'm not afraid of the challenge. I have a good team and a lot of support, and I will do my best to score some points or maybe even end up on the podium tomorrow. At the end of the day, when you're driving at the limit, it doesn't matter if you're sitting in a single-seater or in a touring car, it's all the same."

Dirk MÜLLER - BMW Team Deutschland, 3rd
"I'm happy to be here in the press conference. A third place is more than I expected. Alfa Romeo has three very strong drivers, and at least we managed to keep one of them behind us. The race will be a different story, however. Our lap time now is about one second quicker than it was last year, when we were on pole position, so we've actually improved, despite only being third and fourth on the grid. This is the best we can do at the moment. I hope we can beat Alfa at the start. The regulations have been changed, and now the cars may use different clutches. It will be our first time using it tomorrow, and I hope it all goes well so that we can manage to pass the others and take the lead at the start."

Frank DIEFENBACHER - SEAT Sport, 7th
"To be completely honest, I did much better then I expected. The tow Rickard (Rydell) gave me worked really well. And also all the work we did on the test benches really begins to pay off. As for tomorrow, it all depends on the first corner of the first race; if you're in a group and get a good tow then anything is possible."

Tom CORONEL - Carly Motors, 9th
"Qualifying went even better than I expected. I got a very good slipstream from Andy Priaulx and Antonio Garcia, which helped me a lot. The handling is good, the engine is good, and ninth position is not bad - there are eight cars ahead for me to get a slipstream from. We still have to get used to this type of tyres, which is very different. But I am confident for tomorrow, and it is looking good among the privateers."

Simon HARRISON - GR Asia, 18th
"I'm certailnly very pleased to be the fastest Honda driver. And I'm certainly very pleased with the time we have done. However there's a lot to do, especially when you look at the time Tom Coronel had set, which was 1.7 seconds faster than mine, there's a lot to do to be at the front of the Independents, which is where we need to be. But this is the first step, and we are happy. As for the races, first I would like to get through the chicane, which is not an easy job, as we saw from the races which were run today. Then I will try to be reliable and get to the end."

Sebastian GRUNERT - RS-Line Rotpunkt Sport, 22nd
"We knew that here in Monza it was going to be very very tough for us. The team worked very hard to finish the cars in time, and Roland's (Asch) was finished here yesterday. We did not have any major technical problems, just a lot of minor things, which are quite normal on brand new cars. Roland had a clutch problem this morning, and I had brake problems. Both our cars had too much understeer. We managed to improve just a bit at a time, but the others are improving more and faster than we do. Anyway, we are here to gain experience, and this what we want to do tomorrow."

-fia/etcc-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Augusto Farfus , Simon Harrison , Gianni Morbidelli , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Salvatore Tavano , Toni Ruokonen , Roland Asch