ETCC: Monza: Saturday practice/qualifying notes

WEATHER: Overcast, with cool temperatures and a dry track. FREE PRACTICE 1: THE MÜLLERS SET THE PACE BMW Team Deutschland's duo of Jörg and Dirk Müller, set a stunning pace in the first practice. Driving in close formation around a track on...

WEATHER: Overcast, with cool temperatures and a dry track.

FREE PRACTICE 1: THE MÜLLERS SET THE PACE

BMW Team Deutschland's duo of Jörg and Dirk Müller, set a stunning pace in the first practice. Driving in close formation around a track on which aspiration makes the difference, the two German drivers helped each other to clock the fastest laps by far, with a lap of 2:00.378 for Jörg and 2:00.681 for Dirk. Three Alfa Romeo cars were classified in third, fourth and fifth positions, with gaps of over one second. Roberto Colciago set the third-fastest time, with a lap of 2:01.633 (with a 1.255 gap), ahead of James Thompson (2:01.673) and Nicola Larini (2:01.688). The latter was only one thousandths of a second faster than BMW Team Italy-Spain's Antonio García (sixth fastest), while Gabriele Tarquini and Andy Priaulx were timed at 2:01.884 and 2:01.965, ranking seventh and eighth on the time sheets. Alessandro Zanardi's much-anticipated debut was postponed to the second free practice, due to a problem with the electronic clutch control on his BMW Team Italy-Spain's car. F1 star Giancarlo Fisichella, on his first practice in the fifth Autodelta Alfa 156, was classified 16th, his car suffering from gearbox problems. Fabio Francia's Clever Cats R&M Alfa 156 did not post a time, because of a gearbox failure. ART Enginering withdrew Rickard Rydell's Volvo S60 from the meeting. "Rickard's engine had a major problem in Estoril, and it was not possible to repair it in time, due to lack of some critical components," explained Volvo Motorsport chief Olle Odsell. "The only available spare engine is a test engine, which is not fully competitive."

FREE PRACTICE 2: ALFA SANDWICHED BETWEEN TWO MÜLLERS AND^Å A MULLER

Dirk and Jörg Müller swapped position at the top. As in the first practice, the two Germans were the only drivers able to break the 2:01. barrier; however they remained half-a-second away from their morning times. Dirk set the fastest time at 2:00.826, with Jörg second in 2:00.956. Larini emerged as the fastest Alfa Romeo driver, ranking third with a lap in 2:01.102, just ahead of his team-mate Thompson, fourth in 2:01.269.

Yvan Muller created a surprise, setting the fifth-fastest time in his SEAT Toledo Cupra, with a lap of 2:01.456, nearly improving by two seconds his first practice time. Fisichella also made a massive 2.4-second improvement, climbing to 11th position, but the F1 driver went off at the Parabolica during a further attempt. Fisichella was classified behind Tarquini and Giovanardi. The clutch problems solved, Zanardi completed his first laps in a racing weekend for two years. The Italian driver consistently improved his lap times and eventually set the 14th fastest time at 2:02.247, with a gap of only 1.4 seconds from Dirk Müller. Priaulx went off into the Parabolica gravel trap of the Parabolica early in the session, and did not post a time. The session was close as usual, with the nine fastest drivers covered by only seven tenths.

QUALIFYING: BMW CLAIMS FRONT ROW IN ALFA ROMEO'S BLACKEST DAY Jörg Müller claimed his second pole position of the season, giving a big boost to his hopes to secure the European title. The German driver and his BMW Team Deutschland team-mate Dirk Müller topped the time sheet and set the fastest and the second-fastest qualifying times, with laps of 2:00.454 and 2:00.467, with only 0.013 seconds between them.

Roberto Colciago and James Thompson managed to qualify their Autodelta Alfa Romeo 156 Gta cars in third and fourth positions; their times (2:00.613 and 2:00.786) were only one and three hundredths of a second from the pole respectively.

However, this was only a minor consolation for Alfa Romeo, which experienced its blackest day on its home racetrack. Three of the five Autodelta drivers did not post a qualifying time after their cars went off on the warm up laps. Giancarlo Fisichella began the carnage, with a massive shunt at the exit of the Ascari chicane, which caused the session to be red-flagged after three minutes. As the qualifying resumed, half-an-hour later, it was Nicola Larini's turn to crash at the Ascari, while current Championship leader Gabriele Tarquini went off in the same corner, his car stranded in the gravel. Both Larini and Fisichella's cars have been sent to Autodelta's workshop in Cremona, a hundred km from Monza, where the team's mechanics will work all night in an attempt to repair them in time for tomorrow's warm up.

Carly Motors' driver Duncan Huisman emerged as the fastest of the Independents, and was classified fifth overall, only 0.4 seconds behind the pole. As for Andy Priaulx, currently third in the drivers' championship, he was clocked at 2:01.250, which was good enough for the seventh position on the grid. Paolo Ruberti, Tom Coronel and Fabio Francia completed the top-ten, qualifying within the same second.

Despite missing the first free practice, Alessandro Zanardi managed to set a promising 11th fastest time, in his BMW Team Italy-Spain car, with a lap in 2:01.612. Zanardi was able to reduce his gap from the pole to 1.1 seconds. Yvan Muller was the fastest of the SEAT Sport driver, ranked 12th, just ahead of André Couto in the PRO Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R.

NOTES AND QUOTES

Jörg MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 1st: "There was a lot of pressure on both BMW and on Alfa Romeo this weekend, but I think that we have handled the pressure better. We have had a fantastic car right from the beginning. We haven't changed a lot with our set up, we just started with a very good one. I have to thank Dirk for working together on the slipstreaming, it was like something out of a school book. It is the best thing to start on pole for tomorrow's first race, and I just hope that I win. However we will have to keep an eye on Larini and Tarquini even if they had a bad qualifying. They will come back and if they finish somewhere in the first eight then they can get pole for the second race. We really thought that this would be a circuit that would suit Alfa Romeo better than us, and if you look at top speed we are not the fastest. But as I said before the car is good, we gain a lot through the chicanes and the fast corners, and of course BMW have worked very hard to improve the car."

Dirk MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 2nd: "Like Jörg said it was a brilliant team job, and I think that our names should be mentioned in a book of heroes, because whenever I have tried slipstreaming in the past I crashed. It never worked but this time it worked perfectly. We didn't expect to be here after qualifying, because we thought it would be the same as Estoril where I was fifth and the leading BMW. But I just happy that Fisichella is ok, because he had a very bad crash, and Larini's car looked also bad. Today we had a good car out of the box and we just had to concentrate on our driving style."

Roberto COLCIAGO, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 3rd: "It looks like this was the worst qualifying of the season for the team. However, in Monza, even if you have a bad qualifying, you can do something good in the races. So we need to remain concentrated. I hope that both, Gabriele (Tarquini) and Nicola (Larini) will be able to recover and gain as many points as possible. It's normal that the atmosphere in the team is not happy, but we have to be confident and wait until after the races. Because anything can happen."

Duncan HUISMAN, Carly Motors, 5th: "I'm happy with the position, because I had problems in both practice sessions. In the first I had a flat tyre, which drove me into the gravel. In the second one a drive shaft broke. I did not have so much driving time, and I was not happy with the set up. But we copied that of Tom Coronel's car, and in end it worked. It was a very good result. I wouldn't expected to be fifth, because I lose a little coming out of the chicanes, due to my engine I think. I'm really surprised to be in the top five."

Andy PRIAULX, BMW Team Great Britain, 7th: "It was a good result. Not fantastic, but not terrible. From this position I have good chances to do extremely well tomorrow. The BMW is strong here, although we did not expect such a bad start for Alfa Romeo. I have got some work to do in order to improve the car for tomorrow. But I'm happy with where I am on the grid, considering that I missed the second practice because I went off at the Parabolica; there was some traffic and I was caught by surprise. I moved off line, on the dirt, and went off. I can still finish second in the Championship, even first if Jörg has a bad day."

Alessandro ZANARDI, BMW Team Italy-Spain, 11th: "I'm happy, however a driver is never completely happy until he is first. I could have done better. I set my fastest time by myself, without a tow, and I lost at least three tenths because of a slower car I found coming out of the Ascari. But it was something to expect, because I'm lacking experience with this kind of cars. Then I'm not able to get the most out of the new tyres and a clear lap. In my case missing the first practice was a big handicap. Anyway, I'm happy. Today I have built something. Tomorrow I'll continue in the same way, and try to improve."

Monica SIPSZ, Alfa Romeo Autodelta team manager: "It was a real nightmare. We lost Fisichella right at the beginning and the Larini and Tarquini at the same time as soon as the session resumed. I'm terribly sorry, but there was nothing we could do to control the situation. The team did their job, preparing the cars in the proper way. Then when they are out of the garages, it's up to the drivers... Luckily Tarquini's car is unscathed. We will work all night to repair the other two; it will take a lot of work to rebuild Larini's. I don't know yet if it will be possible to do the same with Fisichella's car, as it was nearly broken in two."

Giancarlo FISICHELLA, Alfa Romeo Autodelta: "I'm very upset. My ETCC debut couldn't have been unluckier. I had a gearbox problem in the first practice, in which I was supposed to gain some experience. In the second session I managed to complete three or four good laps, which were enough to set a good lap time. I was sixth at the time, and I knew I could have improved a lot. I came in for new tyres, but on my first lap out I lost the back of my car at the Parabolica and finished stranded in the gravel. I went out for qualifying with only a few laps in the practice, and again, on new tyres, I lost the car at the Ascari. I oversteered, but the car swung and hit the barrier. I'm so sorry for me and for Alfa. I really hope they will be able to repair the car, because I desperately wish to race."

-fia-

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