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FIA Sportscar Championship - Round 3 - SPA 12/13th May The third round of the FIA Sportscar Championship takes at the majestic and much fabled Spa Francorchamps this weekend with a clear message from the opening two rounds at Barcelona and Monza...

FIA Sportscar Championship - Round 3 - SPA 12/13th May

The third round of the FIA Sportscar Championship takes at the majestic and much fabled Spa Francorchamps this weekend with a clear message from the opening two rounds at Barcelona and Monza -- this years championship is wide open.

After what was without doubt one of the best ever Monza 1000kms three weeks ago, the championship is poised between the new and the old, in the shape of a scrap between the Ferrari/Riley & Scott/Lola generation and the latest breed of sportscars that includes the Domes, the Ascari and the Reynard.

Going in to Spa, the team brimming with confidence will be the GLV Brums Ferrari Judd outfit who scored that unforgettable win at Monza. After driving the race of his life, Giovanni Lavaggi and team will be looking to sustain that momentum, and his team mate, Christian Vann is sure that this is the start of a prolonged championship claim; "As you can imagine we are all still quite high after Monza but realise that we can not let ourselves lose focus," said the 25-year-old. "I think at this point we have a very realistic chance of increasing our points margin over the other teams which is why everybody at GLV is working doubly hard to ensure our performance is 100% at Spa."

BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari have always gone well at Spa and came just 2 seconds away from winning last years race in appalling conditions. That day, Angelo Zadra was chasing for the win and he will once again be looking for that elusive first sportscar victory with regular team mates Enzo Calderari and Lilian Bryner. Still joint leaders in the championship with the Brums team drivers is Marco Zadra, courtesy of that conclusive Barcelona win. Marco, who is enhancing his reputation race by race, will be joined by ex Mercedes and BMW works driver Jean Marc Gounon who subs for the indisposed Christian Pescatori this weekend. Jean Marc is one of the very quickest drivers over a single lap and the Frenchman's acrobatic skills could just be the thing to compensate for the Ferrari V12 engine's lack of straightline speed compared to the ultra powerful Judd V10's.

The C60 Pescarolo run Courage was all set to clean up at Monza until a broken oil pump intervened, but at Spa the sleek Yves Courage designed car could be the thing to have. Jean Christophe Boullion and Laurent Redon are entered to drive, as the impressive Sebastien Bourdais has Formula 3000 commitments in Austria. The turbocharged Peugeot engine has shown consistently in the first two rounds that it has the legs of the Judd powered cars and the 'green machine' underlined that at Le Mans last weekend with a time good enough for the top ten. Boullion loves Spa and his move on Frank Lagorce on the outside of Blanchimont during the F3000 race in 1994 has already gone in to circuit legend.

Team Ascari finally registered their first finish at Monza and although they should have won the 1000kms the team were pleased to get points on the board. With one of the strongest driver line-ups in the championship in the form of Ben Collins and Werner Lupberger, the Kent based team are on the verge of doing great things in the FIA Sportscar Championship. Lupberger is the unofficial master of Eau Rouge and his performance during qualifying in the SR2 Pilbeam last year were nothing short of heroic. With his helmet baring an uncanny yet unintentional similarity to the late, great Stefan Bellof, Werner is making a real name for himself as a hard charging, hard racing fighter, very much in the same vein as the much missed German.

The Dome S101's has made an immediate impact on the FIA Sportscar Championship with both cars showing there potential at the Monza race last month. The Den Bla Avis car seems to have had more than its fair share of bad luck so far, but with reliability on their side, both John Nielsen and Hiroki Katoh are sure to be at the front of the field. 'Big John' adores the Spa track and will be out to clinch his first sportscar win in three years; "" I love racing at Spa and there is real satisfaction in getting a lap absolutely right. The key to a good lap is to get a flow going, as the majority of the corners are quick ones where the driver can make a lot of time. " said the great Dane.

Jan Lammers and his Racing For Holland team that also includes the youngest racer in the field, 19 year old Val Hillebrand, are on a high at the moment after a well earned third place at Monza and a competitive outing at last weekends Le Mans test days. With the Dome quicker than any other car in a straightline (including the factory Audi's at La Sarthe) the chequered S101, like the Den Bla car will be right up there. For Val Hillebrand it is kind of a home race as the teenager actually races under a Belgian licence. " Like everyone else I love this track and I was quick here in F3 last year when I qualified close to guys like Schektar and Pizzonia. I think the Dome will be up there at Spa as like Monza the track is so quick, so we have a lot of positive feeling for this weekend," said the youngster.

One of the stars of last year's race, Didier De Radigues returns for another crack at his home race with the Kremer Racing Lola B98/K2001 Roush. After leading for much of the race last year, Didier and his team mate -- Sam Hancock could be the dark horse for outright victory. Sam showed his promise at Monza when he lapped quicker than the more experienced Didier at stages of the race, but with so little dry running in the car, the 21 year old is still learning all about sportscars. Highlighting just how committed the Londoner is to making a name for himself in the FIA Sportscar Championship, he entered a race at Spa last weekend to learn the circuit more as it is the first time he had driven there since his Formula Palmer Audi days in 1999. The Lola car is certainly one of the best handling cars around the arduous Spa circuit and if reliability can at last be found from the team then another front runner will be added to the over subscribed list of potential winners.

Alex Caffi is the third driver in as many races to partner Mauro Baldi at the R&M Riley & Scott team and the diminutive Italian is keen to make the most of his chance to re-acquaint himself with the team whom he raced for in 1999. "I finally have the chance to express myself again in the FIA Sportscar Championship. I have been friends for many years with Fabio (team boss, Mancini) and I would like to repay their confidence. I think that, together with Baldi, we could start to have great satisfaction already from Spa Francorchamps," said the ex Arrows F1 star. A test at the Dijon circuit in Burgundy this week is hoped to iron out the problems that has so far be-set the team in the early stages of their 2001 campaign.

Off the back of their best ever race at Monza, the Redman Bright squad will have renewed enthusiasm for the Spa event after Guy Smith gauged the true pace of the 01Q with that stunning pole lap and race performance in Italy. There will be no Guy at Spa however, but Mark Smithson and Peter Owen will be looking forward to the exhilaration of making their SR1 debuts at Spa.

The SR2 battle will rage on again at Spa with the Rowan Racing Pilbeam and the Sportsracing Team Sweden Lola locking horns once more after a close finish in the first round at Barcelona. After the Swedes (not forgetting Seattle's Larry Oberto) scored a crushing win in Rowans absence at Monza, the two are neck and neck in the points tables and with two Spa virgins in Oberto and Bjork, the upper hand could be Rowan's as O'Connell is regarded as a Spa ace after some famous F3 performances here.

The rest of the pack is likely to be playing catch up on the above two, with the new Lucchini seemingly the best of the rest. 'Checco' Tonetti and Massimo Saccomanno were on the podium here last year and their 2001 spec Lucchini was near to the pace of the Lola. As yet, overheating problems has blighted the 'works' Lucchini of Francioni/Raimondi but with that incredible victory last year still fresh in the mind of Giorgio Lucchini and Filippo Francioni, a turn around in the teams fortunes is much anticipated this weekend. Other Lucchinis that could show well at Spa are the second Lucchini Engineering car of Piergiuseppe Peroni and championship newcomer Jean Bernard Bouvet. The SCI team will have an unchanged line up from Monza with team principal Ranieri Randaccio sharing duties with 1999 Enna winner Leonardo Maddalena.

BM Autosport have not had any better luck in 2001 than they had in 2000 with mechanical problems hindering strong results, which could have included a win at Monza. Massimo Monti is among the very quickest at Spa and the nimble Tampolli Alfa is a good bet to mix it with the Lola and leading Pilbeam, in qualifying at least. The Renauer Motorsport team who so sadly failed to start their first FIA Sportscar Championship race in Spain are back with a brand new Tampolli and Manfred Jurasz and Hanness Gsell in the cockpit once more.

Other likely pace setters could be the Mike Millard entered Rapier 6 Nissan that showed so well at Barcelona.Despite missing the Monza round the team are confident that in the hands of Ian Flux, the car could be the surprise package at Spa, a circuit where the chassis good handling characteristics could come to the fore. Team Swara are another British team with big ambitions and Simon Wiseman is looking to strike up a solid partnership with his young but quick team mate Michael Mallock.

The familiar Debora of PiR Competition will be at Spa and team principal and driver Pierre Bruneau will be hoping to at least equal last years third place position. As ever countryman Marc Rostan and former Spa 1000kms winner Arturo Merzario will join the Parisian. The sportscar legend first raced at Spa in 1970 and his win came in 1975 aboard the gorgeous Alfa Romeo 33TT.

Two and half-hours of the worlds greatest circuit lies ahead for the FIA Sportscar Championship field and many more questions are about to be answered in this wide open season. With spectacular drivers like Nielsen, Lupberger, Caffi, Lammers and Gounon attacking the 6.698 kilometre track, another mouth-watering weekend of sportscar action is all set to take place. <pre> Timetable

Saturday 12th May 08.30 - 09.45 Free Practice 12.25 - 13.40 Free Practice 15.45 -16.15 SR 2 Qualifying 16.20 - 16.50 SR 1 Qualifying

Sunday 13 th May 08.15 - 08.35 Warm Up 14.00 Race (2 hrs 30 mins)

-FIA-

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Series GT
Drivers Jan Lammers , Guy Smith , Christian Pescatori , Mauro Baldi , Laurent Redon , Sébastien Bourdais , Werner Lupberger , Ben Collins , Christian Vann , John Nielsen , Val Hillebrand , Alex Caffi , Larry Oberto , Manfred Jurasz , Pierre Bruneau , Marc Rostan , Giovanni Lavaggi , Enzo Calderari , Lilian Bryner , Ian Flux , Peter Owen , Ranieri Randaccio , Yves Courage , Leonardo Maddalena , Michael Mallock , Angelo Zadra , Arturo Merzario , Jean Marc Gounon , Hiroki Katoh