FREE PRACTICE 1: AUTODELTA MEN DOMINATE THE SESSION
The three AutoDelta drivers set the fastest times ahead of the three SEAT Sport cars. The first BMW was only placed in seventh position.
On their first appearance on Valencia's Ricardo Tormo circuit, the FIA ETCC cars consistently improved their lap times. Andy Priaulx, in the BMW Team Great Britain car was the first one to clock fast times at 1:46.416, immediately improving to 1:46.098; but that was only the beginning of an escalation which led to a stunning 1:42.852 set by Gabriele Tarquini in his Alfa Romeo 156 S2000 only a few minutes before the chequered flag. Tarquini was not the first one to break the 1:43 barrier, as earlier his team-mate Augusto Farfus had clocked a time of 1:42.891, only 0.025 seconds slower. Third AutoDelta man, Fabrizio Giovanardi set the third-fastest time with a lap in 1:43.193.
On their home racetrack, the SEAT Toledo Cupra cars proved to be in an excellent shape: Frank Diefenbacher, Jordi Gene and Rickard Rydell were classified fourth, fifth and sixth, only a few tenths behind the Alfas. BMW Team Deutschland's Jorg Muller emerged as the best of the BMW drivers, setting the seventh fastest time. Oregon Team's Luca Rangoni was the fastest of the independent drivers (and 9th overall), clocking a 1:43.840 at the wheel of his Alfa Romeo 156 Gta.
Newcomers Thomas Klenke (RS-Line Rotpunkt Sport Ford Focus ST170) and Jan Magnussen (Peugeot Sport Engineering Peugeot 307 Gti) made a good impression, setting the 13th and 14th fastest times respectively; Klenke's team-mate Sebastian Grunert was placed 15th, ahead of Alessandro Balzan's JAS Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R.
BMW Team Italy-Spain's Alessandro Zanardi and GR Asia's Toni Ruokonen had a difficult session. The Italian driver had clutch problems, while the Finn went off in the gravel trap at turn 15, and completed only 5 laps.
FREE PRACTICE 2: RANGONI CHASES THE AUTODELTA TRIO
An impressive Luca Rangoni set the fourth-fastest time in the session, close behind the three works Alfa Romeo cars. In a session which was slightly slower than the first one, the Oregon Team's driver was quick from the very beginning, clocking a provisional fastest time at 1:43.511. It took some times before he was ousted by Fabrizio Giovanardi, who completed a lap in 1:43.304, improving to 1:43.202 in the following one. The top positions remained unchanged until Gabriele Tarquini lapped in 1:43.188, a time he was immediately able to improve to 1:42.936. It was enough for him to emerge as the fastest of the session, although he remained almost one tenth slower than he was in the morning. Towards the end of the session Augusto Farfus was clocked at 1:43.409, and demoted Rangoni to fourth. Andy Priaulx was the fifth-fastest driver, and the best of the BMW men, with a time of 1:43.671, just ahead of SEAT Sport's Jordi Gene (1:43.817) and Frank Diefenbacher (1:43.971).
Jan Magnussen and his Peugeot confirmed the 14th position obtained in the first session, however the Danish driver was able to reduce from 2 to 1.3 seconds his gap from the leaders. The Honda and Ford drivers also managed to improve. Alessandro Balzan (JAS Motorsport) and Simon Harrison (GR Asia) were placed 15th and 16th in the Civics, while Thomas Klenke (17th) reduced his Focus' gap to 1.7 seconds.
The clutch problems solved on his car, Alessandro Zanardi moved up to 20th. "At least I managed to have a proper testing session. But I still have to improve a lot," he commented.
QUALIFYING: FARFUS TOPS THE ALFA CRIMSON TIDE
Augusto Farfus claimed his first pole position in the FIA European Touring Car Championship, annihilitating the rest of the field, his own team-mates included, with an amazing lap of 1:40.819. This meant also a massive improvement over the fastest times set in the free practice sessions. Farfus led an Alfa Romeo 1-2-3, a real crimson tide that swept the other competitors away.
Gabriele Tarquini, pole-sitter in Monza, was second-fastest today, only 0.087 seconds behind Farfus, while Fabrizio Giovanardi completed the AutoDelta trio at the top; however, the 2002 FIA ETCC champion was 9 tenths slower than Farfus.
Andy Priaulx was the best of the rest; on his last qualifying lap the Briton clocked a time of 1:42.088. This was 1.2 seconds off the pole, but it was good enough to oust SEAT Sport's Frank Diefenbacher from the fourth spot on the starting grid. Sixth fastest, and best of the independents, was Oregon Team's Luca Rangoni, with a lap of 1:42.396. The Italian driver managed to keep some top-guns behind him, such as the Mullers (Dirk was 7th, Jorg 12th) and local heroes Antonio Garcia (8th) and Jordi Gene (10th).
The Oregon Team's great day was completed by Salvatore Tavano and Michele Bartyan, who were placed 9th and 13th respectively, giving the team a 1-2-3 in the Independents Trophy. Alessandro Zanardi continued to improve after a difficult first practice session, and set the 14th fastest lap. Alessandro Balzan was the best of the Honda drivers, qualifying his JAS Motorsport Civic in a promising 16th position, right ahead of Thomas Klenke's RS-Line Ford Focus and Simon Harrison's GR Asia Honda Civic. Jan Magnussen claimed the 19th position; this was a disappointing result for the Dane and his team as their Peugeot 307 suffered from set-up problems in qualifying after two brilliant practice sessions.
The second RS-Line Rotpunkt's driver Sebastian Grunert (21st fastest today) took part in the qualifying knowing in advance that his times would be disallowed. The engine of his car having been replaced after the meeting in Monza; he will therefore be at back of the grid tomorrow.