FIA Sportscar Championship Round 2 Preview: Estoril - 13/14 April Pescarolo's Iberian double? Round Two of the FIA Sportscar Championship gets underway this weekend at Estoril in Portugal, concluding the second part of an Iberian double header...
FIA Sportscar Championship Round 2 Preview: Estoril - 13/14 April
Pescarolo's Iberian double?
Round Two of the FIA Sportscar Championship gets underway this weekend at Estoril in Portugal, concluding the second part of an Iberian double header that started last weekend at Barcelona where Henri Pescarolo's team emerged victorious after a thrilling opening race.
What became obvious in Spain was that a mouth watering group of four cars had broken away to form a spectacular battle for supremacy in this years championship. With three French teams (Pescarolo, Courage Competition, Team ORECA) against the Racing For Holland outfit of Jan Lammers, fireworks were expected and fireworks were most certainly what we got in Catalunya. All four cars led at some stage during the race and all four could have won, but it was the wily Henri Pescarolo who was celebrating last Sunday afternoon as his boys, Sebastien Bourdais and Jean Christophe Boullion, took the chequered flag.
Pescarolo Sport will also start the Portuguese race with a slight advantage having won the now defunct ELMS series race there last year. Their Team Principal, four time Le Mans winner - Henri Pescarolo thinks they will be in the best shape possible to start the season off with a double maximum score this weekend. "We had a strange weekend in Portugal last year when we won on the track and also in the stewards room," (they were originally disqualified over an accident but subsequently awarded the win), said Henri. "I think we can be closer to the Dallara on outright pace than we were in Spain and it will be a good indication of who is where in terms of speed as the Spanish race was a bit variable because of the weather."
The Le Mans based team will replace Bourdias, who is on Formula 3000 duty at Imola this weekend, with ex Panoz and Mercedes works driver Franck Lagorce. Ironically it was Lagorce who ran Boullion closest to the 1994 F3000 title and the two of them have had a healthy respect for each other since that famous season.
Team ORECA also make a change to their driving team with ex ChampCar racer Nicolas Minassian replacing Franck Montagny, who has Formula Nissan commitments to attend to this weekend. Minassian raced for Chip Ganassi last year and has a second to none pedigree in single seater racing. He was also impressive in his sportscar debut at Le Mans in 2000 where he drove an ORECA entered Reynard, albeit only in qualifying.
The charismatic British based Frenchman was looking forward to making his championship debut this weekend. "I know the competition in the series is high," he said. "It is a nice opportunity for me to race and I am for sure looking for a victory this weekend. I know Olivier well and he is a nice guy and I know I will work well with him."
Racing For Holland finished a bitterly disappointed 4th at Barcelona last weekend after Val Hillebrand spun away a certain victory with just 25 minutes of the race remaining. Revenge then, is uppermost in the friendly Aerdenhout based teams mind and their competitors must be reminded that last year the team scored a stunning win at the Nurburgring immediately after Hillebrand had made a similar error at Mondello Park in Ireland just a week earlier. Lammers was in superlative form in Spain seven days ago, executing one of his trademark first lap manoeuvres around the outside of both Courages, so expect more fireworks from the spectacular Dutchman this weekend.
Courage Competition had an eventful weekend in Spain with Didier Cottaz surviving an accident, a re-fuelling problem and losing a wheel in pitlane. Fifth place was poor reward for the teams efforts and the patriotic French Racing bleue C60JX will be primed for a further assault on its maiden win this weekend. Boris Dereichebourg will partner longtime Courage favourite Cottaz, while Thed Bjork hopes to make his SR1 debut as a third driver.
R&M had an encouraging debut last weekend with their Giorgio Stirano built chassis. The unique looking car ran 5th at one stage in the race and both the teams drivers - Mauro Baldi and Alex Caffi were suitably impressed with the cars handling. "It is much improved, particularly on the gearbox and the brakes," said this years Daytona winner - Baldi. "We have a lot of work to do but the potential is there and I think it is a high potential, especially in the aerodynamics. We have to change a few things at the rear of the car but I think we might surprise some people later this year."
A reliable source in the R&M camp also hinted in Spain that the team were looking at a possible Le Mans assault for the 2003 season in conjunction with a full title attack on the FIA Sportscar Championship.
Team Durango could also be a darkhorse for a good result at Estoril with rapid youngster Mirco Venturi having raced at the venue in Formula Renault. The 20-year-old from Reggio Emilia impressed many with his raw speed at Barcelona and his mature attitude has also pleased the team in what is a very steep learning curve for the F3000 aspirant. Team mate Alessandro Battaglin also gave a good account of himself on his first ever circuit race after competing in International rallies for the majority of his career!
If the battle is intense in SR1, then in the 3-litre SR2 division things are seriously red hot with a variety of constructors being 'nip and tuck' for outright honours. Lucchini, Pilbeam, Rapier 6 and Lola all have a chance of victory this weekend. However, if Lucchini can reproduce the form that they showed last weekend then they could be almost unstoppable. Piergiuseppe Peroni was a force to be reckoned with in Spain and the experienced Italian has found a quick and consistent team mate in ex British F3000 racer Mirko Savoldi.
If that were not daunting enough for Lucchini's opposition then the second car of ex GT racers, Gianni Collini and Fabio Mancini makes anything other than another Lucchini victory difficult this weekend. The main challengers should once again be the Lola Nissan of Mattias Andersson and Niklas Loven who scored an uneventful 3rd place last weekend.
The Rapier 6 of Ian Flux and Mike Millard will also be a contender especially in the hands of Flux who has hit a rich vein of form recently in the 30 minute qualifying sessions. Other cars to watch in Portugal could be the Pierre Bruneau's pair of chassis, one Debora and the other Pilbeam, and the SCI Lucchini of sportscar stalwarts Raniere Randaccio and Leonardo Maddalena.
Qualifying for the race starts on Saturday afternoon while the race itself takes place at 13.00 cet, Sunday afternoon.
For more information on the FIA Sportscar Championship please click on to www.sportscarchampionship.com