Freeparking.com Racing will join sixty-five of their continental counterparts at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona, northern Spain this coming weekend (17-19 September) for the seventh running of the Formula Q 24 Hours of Barcelona -- Fermi Velez Trophy.
Freeparking.com drivers Phil Bennett, Jim Edwards Jnr and Paul Lomax will battle it out with a host of European household names, including 2002 and 2003 Barcelona 24 Hour winner, Jordi Codony, former Spanish Formula 3 Champion, Marcel Costa and GT legend, Jesus Pareja. With such an abundance of riches in the Spanish national motor racing arena, the all-British Freeparking.com Racing team is one of only three foreign entrants for the 2004 event.
"There is an exceptionally strong field this year," comments Paul Lomax. "No less than six previous winners will be lining up on the grid for Saturday's race and the majority of teams and drivers know the Circuit de Catalunya well after competing in either the national Copa Clio or Seat championships. Undoubtedly, their local knowledge and our will to win will make for close, exciting racing."
Le Mans Endurance Series ace, Phil Bennett and Clio expert, Jim Edwards Jnr tested the Freeparking.com / Abtrakt Galerias Clio 2.0 RS in Spain last month as part of their preparations for Saturday's race.
"The Clio is superb fun to drive," Bennett reported after the test. "The preparation is first class and I was very pleased with the lap times. I did several short runs and then a longer race stint simulation lasting around forty laps. The car ran faultlessly all day so the only problem I had was keeping the grin off my face!
"I'm really looking forward to the race and I think it's fair to say that we are going for the outright win. Jim and Paul are both quick and proven drivers in a Clio so that will keep me on my toes."
While Bennett has never driven a Clio competitively but has ample endurance racing experience to his credit, his fellow former British Touring Car Championship competitor, Edwards Jnr lacks endurance expertise but is an authority in Clio racing. The Berkshire-based driver counts the 2000 UK Clio Cup driver title and a race win in the 2004 championship amongst his most recent achievements.
"I'm really looking forward to the challenge of the Barcelona 24 Hours as this is an area I would like to move towards in the future," Edwards Jnr said. "I have lost 12kgs in body weight in the last eight weeks in an attempt to remain strong and alert through the night hours and will be continuing my preparations in the build up to the race. This will include time in the gym and road running as well as eating and drinking the correct foods to enhance my performance over the 24 hours."
New for the 2004 event, the maximum time allowed in the car for any one driver in a single stint is 1hr 45 minutes, reduced from the two hours allowed in previous years. The updated regulations also state that the recovery period must be at least two thirds of the duration of the stint, making team work an all-important part of the race strategy.
"It's vital that the whole team communicates and works together to find the most efficient and effective way around the circuit for the twenty-four hour duration of the race," special team manager, Mark Fish comments. "Having raced Clios over relatively short distances in the UK series, last month's test at Montmelo was a revelation for me in terms of car set up as endurance racing requires a completely different set of rules. It's important for example to pace the car and driver and balance that with fuel economy in order to get good lap times over longer stints. You also need to try and keep the revs low and maintain an economy of fuel, tyres and brakes."
Like Edwards Jnr, third Freeparking.com driver, Paul Lomax has ample Clio know-how at his disposal. After partnering Edwards Jnr to the 2000 UK Clio Cup Entrant's Championship for Mark Fish Motorsport, he raced in the European Clio V6 series, the highlight of which was a non-championship event supporting the Formula One Grand Prix in Monaco.
"I'm very confident of a good result in Barcelona and we will be racing for the outright win," Lomax said. "The Freeparking.com / Abztrakt Galerias Clio has run superbly in testing. The lap times have been very promising particularly in the first shake down test at Calafat in June. The car was excellent straight out of the box thanks to RC Competicion, Mark Fish and Autotec."
Qualifying for the Barcelona 24 Hours will be held between 17.10 -- 19.40 on Friday 17 September and followed by a free night practice session 21.30 -23.30. Saturday's race will begin at 12.00pm with a rolling start, concluding at 12.00pm Sunday 19 September.
Television coverage will be provided by Catalan station, TV3.