ETCC: Spa 24: Race report

WEATHER: Overcast; the track was damp in the morning warm up, but dry in the races. FOLLOWING WINS FOR TARQUINI AND PRIAULX, THE FIGHT FOR THE TITLE IS ON ! Alfa Romeo and BMW continue to share the honours in the FIA European Touring Car ...

WEATHER: Overcast; the track was damp in the morning warm up, but dry in the races.

FOLLOWING WINS FOR TARQUINI AND PRIAULX, THE FIGHT FOR THE TITLE IS ON ! Alfa Romeo and BMW continue to share the honours in the FIA European Touring Car Championship. In Spa, for the 11th and 12th rounds of the season, Autodelta's Gabriele Tarquini and BMW Team Great Britain's Andy Priaulx took one win apiece after two action-packed, exciting races, full of overtaking manoeuvres.

In Race 1, Tarquini's Alfa Romeo 156 Gta took the lead at the beginning of the second lap, and then withstood the countless assaults from the BMWs of Dirk and Jorg Muller. In Race 2, Priaulx's BMW 320i made up for a disappointing start in the first race, winning with a comfortable margin ahead of Nicola Larini and Dirk Muller, while Tarquini lost a valuable sixth place just one hundred metres from the end, because of a puncture. After these results, the fight for the European title is now closer than ever, with five drivers within seven points. Tarquini is still in the lead, but his margin has been reduced to only two points ahead of Jorg Muller, and four ahead of Dirk Muller; Priaulx and Larini are fourth and fifth respectively, both at seven points from the lead.

Carly Motors' driver Duncan Huisman won both the Independents' races and stretched his lead margin in the Trophy's classification.

WARM UP: DIRK MÜLLER FASTEST ON DAMP TRACK

It was a wet practice in the early morning for the ETCC drivers. On a damp track, with the racing lines drying up, Dirk Muller set the fastest lap with a time of 2:42.187. The German driver was followed by pole sitter Andy Priaulx (2:42.785) and Clever Cats R&M's independent driver Paolo Ruberti (2:42.989), the fastest in an Alfa Romeo car.

Two drivers took to the track with new engines in their cars: Frank Diefenbacher's SEAT Toledo Cupra was classified sixth and Alessandro Balzan' s Alfa Romeo 156 Gta 13th.

Neither Nicola Larini nor Fabio Francia posted a time, due to minor technical problems: air intake on Larini's Alfa, a driveshaft on Francia's.

RACE 1: TARQUINI RESISTS TO THE MÜLLERS

Alessandro Balzan and Frank Diefenbacher were at the back of the grid, having lost their qualifying positions (12th and 18th) due to engine changes.

From the pole, Andy Priaulx completely missed his start and Dirk Muller took the lead from Gabriele Tarquini, Jorg Muller, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Antonio Garcia. Priaulx slipped down to tenth position. On the long straight after the Raidillon, Tarquini jumped into the lead, but he missed the braking point at the Combes chicane and drove straight on beyond the kerbs. This enabled Dirk Muller to retake the lead. However Tarquini managed to stay second, ahead of Jorg Muller. Behind the leading trio, Nicola Larini managed to pass Garcia for fifth and was closely chasing Giovanardi. The Stewards decided to impose a drive-through penalty on Garcia for overtaking Priaulx at Eau Rouge outside the track limits. During the first lap, Diefenbacher went off the track after a collision with Andre Couto. The fight for the lead was very close. At the beginning of the second lap, Tarquini took the lead again, outbraking Dirk Muller at the Source hairpin. The Alfa Romeo man tried to create a gap, but the two Mullers remained stuck on his rear bumper. At the same time, Larini was putting pressure on Giovanardi, with the two of them being chased by Paolo Ruberti and Rickard Rydell.

On lap 3, Duncan Huisman overtook Rydell for seventh position and Eric Cayrolle retired due to a clutch failure. Giovanardi, Larini and Ruberti managed to join the three leaders: at the end of the third lap the first six drivers were covered by only two seconds. Priaulx was recovering after his bad start and overtook Rydell and Huisman, moving up to seventh during the fourth lap. Rydell lost another position to Roberto Colciago.

Tarquini fought hard to defend his lead, as Dirk and Jorg Muller tried to overtake him in every corner. On lap 5, Priaulx stole sixth position from Ruberti, then closed on to the Giovanardi-Larini duo. At the end of the following lap, the leading sextet -- Tarquini, Dirk, Jorg, Giovanardi, Larini and Priaulx -- was still within two seconds. During the following lap, Larini managed to overtake Giovanardi and climbed up to fourth. Couto's Honda stopped along the track due to an electrical problem.

Tarquini kept his rivals behind him tol the chequered flag, scoring his fourth win of the season with a very narrow margin ahead of Dirk and Jorg Muller. Larini was classified fourth, from Giovanardi and Priaulx. On the last lap, Huisman overtook Ruberti, which gave him the seventh position and another success in the Independent Trophy; just before the end, Ruberti also lost the eighth position to Colciago.

RACE 2: PRIAULX GIVES RBM TEAM A HOME WIN

Cayrolle did not appear on the grid after his clutch failure in Race 1. Colciago was on pole on the reversed grid, but he was overtaken by Huisman and Priaulx at the start. Huisman managed to defend his first position for the entire first lap, but at the beginning of the second, Priaulx passed him and jumped into the lead. A group of nine cars was fighting nose-to-tail for the first positions. The closest fight involved Tarquini, Dirk Muller and Rydell, who were seventh, eighth and ninth.

On lap 3, Colciago tried to steal second position from Huisman, but Larini dived inside his team-mate and past him, moving up to third; Colciago went wide at Rivages and slipped down to fifth behind Jorg Muller. Almost at the same time, Dirk Muller overtook Tarquini for sixth. Sardelli went off at the Source after a collision with another car, while Tavano's Honda retired after a spin.

On lap 4, Huisman could not withstand the pressure of his pursuers any longer, and at the Source he lost three places to Larini, Jorg Muller and Colciago. Dirk Muller and Giovanardi were fighting door-to-door for sixth place.

The fierce battle behind him enabled Priaulx to pull away; the Briton stretched his margin to more than two seconds. On lap 5, Dirk Muller overtook Giovanardi on the straight and climbed to sixth; a few moments later the German driver earned another position from Huisman. Rydell retired from ninth when his Volvo's airscope broke.

On lap 6 Dirk Muller overtook Colciago for fourth and closed on to Larini and Jorg Muller. On lap 7 Tarquini overtook Giovanardi for sixth; at the same time Dirk Muller jumped ahead of his team-mate Jorg. During the final lap the two Mullers tried hard to steal second place from Larini, but in vain.

Priaulx scored his second win of the season and gave Bart Mampaey's RBM Team a well-deserved home win. While fighting for seventh position, Giovanardi and Huisman clashed at Fagnes; the Italian got the worst of it and went into the gravel trap.

As for Tarquini, he went of at the Bus Stop chicane, one hundred metres from the finish line, when the front right tyre got flat; this cost him a sixth place and four points in the Championship.

Colciago was classified fifth, with Huisman sixth, and first of the Independent drivers. Tom Coronel and Ruberti filled the remaining points positions.

RACE NOTES AND QUOTES

Gabriele TARQUINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 1st in Race 1, 14th in Race 2: "The first race was very good, because my car was really fantastic. On the first lap, I made a mistake after I took the lead, missing the braking point at Les Combes. But I managed to get into the lead again, and my car was very good for the next two or three laps. However I had to take care of my tyres, especially because of the 40kg of ballast I was carrying, and it was very difficult to control Dirk. It was a big battle, a hot race. I had my rear-view mirror full of BMWs. The second race was not as good. I was driving very carefully, aiming to score as many points as I could. But on the last lap a tyre went down; it was a shame, because I lost four points, but racing is like this and I have to accept it. The championship is really competitive and it will be certainly be decided in Monza at the last race. I am still optimistic, as my car seems to work very well. We need to improve in some areas, so maybe we will spend August testing somewhere. However is very difficult if I carry on scoring points only in the first races like in the last two meetings. In Donington I won the first race and I scored nil in the second. Here it was the same. I cannot win the title just by winning the first races."

Jorg MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 3rd in Race 1, 4th in Race 2: "It's very important to score points, especially when you have 40 kg in your car. In this case it was even more important, as Tarquini did not score in the second race and I have reduced my gap from him in the championship. At the moment Alfa Romeo and BMW are quite different; we have very good starts, the Alfa Romeos have very good first and second laps, when they use the tyres better. We are better in the corners, they are better in a straight line. So there will be some very nice fights in the next events. Some circuits suit the BMW better, some suit the Alfa Romeo better. In the second race I saw that Dirk was coming very fast from behind, and I think you should not block your team-mate. So I just let him by and focused on getting the points safely, which is more important than having the possibility of someone kicking me off. I thought I would just let Dirk by and try to follow him when he got by Larini, but he didn't--"

Dirk MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 2nd in Race 1, 3rd in Race 2: "It was a really brilliant weekend. When Gabriele went off at Les Combes, I thought I could win the first race. But all of a sudden something happened and I couldn't get full throttle; I didn't know what was going on, and I mean it just happened once during the first lap. And I thought: no, it can't be! When Gabriele overtook me, I thought I was in the wrong gear and he was just flying by, because there was a huge different in top speed due to my technical problem. In the second race I was just waiting, but it was just a nightmare. We were never able to judge the situation as there was so much action in every corner. There was an incident with Rydell, I think he braked really late and hit me hard in the side, but luckily there was no damage to the car. We had solved the problem with the throttle and I was really quick on the straight. After Jorg let me by, there were a couple of clashes with Larini; I really tried everything, but I also wanted to be fair and not to push him off."

Andy PRIAULX, BMW Team Great Britain, 6th in Race 1, 1st in Race 2: "In the first race, I basically made a mistake at the start, leaving the handbrake half on. It was the entry to the Eau Rouge before I realised what was going on. I thought the clutch was slipping, so I just had to get my head down and try and make the best of a bad situation. And then because of the reverse grid in the second race, I knew I had the speed to win. I just made a very good start and passed Duncan, then I made the break and got away. I give all credit to my team this weekend, as they've been tremendous. They've given me an excellent car and we've all worked very well together. They really made my weekend. At this level all the drivers are very good and it makes a difference when you are with a good team. They've done well and I needed that result after the first race."

Nicola LARINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 4th in Race 1, 2nd in Race 2: "It's not been easy. I have not yet won a race this year, but it is important to score points. I did it in Donington and I did it here, managing to stay in the fight for the title. In the first race unfortunately I lost time trying to overtake Giovanardi, and when I finally managed to do it, it was too late to chase Tarquini and the Mullers. In the second race the car was good at the beginning, but to attack Jorg was not easy anyway. After I passed him, I focused on defending my second position, because I knew that I couldn't keep Priaulx's pace."

Duncan HUISMAN, Carly Motors, 7th in Race 1; 6th in Race 2: "In the first race I was chasing Ruberti, who was struggling in the double left-hander. The Alfa was quick on the straight, so there was no opportunity there. I knew where he was struggling, so I thought I would give it a try there during the last lap. He just left enough space, so that was ten points for the Independents Trophy. I particularly wanted to win this event. In the second race, I had problems with my gearbox. I already had problems in race one shifting down, and in race two I started having a problem shifting up from second to third: The gearbox was just jumping into first gear. The first time it happened was at the hairpin and I thought it was my mistake, but it happened three or four more times in the race and I was sure I was putting it into third. If not for this, I think we had a chance of a podium in the second race."

-etcc-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Duncan Huisman , Andre Couto , Paolo Ruberti , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago , Bart Mampaey