Barcelona: Season opener preview

The 2003 season of the LG Super Racing Weekend series will get underway next weekend, at the Circuit de Catalunya, a relatively new circuit in the coastal city of Barcelona, Spain. This will be the first time the Series has visited the modern, ...

The 2003 season of the LG Super Racing Weekend series will get underway next weekend, at the Circuit de Catalunya, a relatively new circuit in the coastal city of Barcelona, Spain. This will be the first time the Series has visited the modern, challenging circuit, although teams and drivers had an opportunity to test there earlier this month. The FIA GT Championship -- with a full and varied grid of Chrysler Viper, Ferrari, Lister, Porsche and Saleen cars -- the FIA European Touring Car Championship -- with Manufacturers Alfa Romeo, BMW and Seat, as well as teams representing Honda and Volvo -- and the brand-new Formula Renault V6 Eurocup, with its field of future champions, are the headlining events, with support races including the Renault Sport Clio Trophy, the Renault Sport Clio Elf International Cup and the Trofeo Maserati.

The action gets underway early for this first event, with the Formula Renault V6 cars testing on Wednesday and Thursday, while the cars from the FIA European Touring Car Championship will be in action on Thursday, with two 90-minute official test sessions, at 12:00 and 16:00.

The seventh season of the FIA GT Championship will get underway at Barcelona, with potentially the most exciting and closest grid ever. With the full capacity of 38 cars due to line up on the grid for the three-hour race on Sunday April 6th, it is extremely difficult to predict the outcome in either class, with so many new cars, teams and driver line-ups. A fascinating weekend is in prospect.

QUINTET OF MAKES FIGHT FOR GT TITLE

This seventh season of the FIA GT Championship will see five different makes -- Chrysler Viper, Ferrari, Lister Storm, Porsche and Saleen - take part in the GT category, with a total of 18 cars entered by 13 teams. With teams from six different countries entered for the full season, the drivers represent nine different nationalities.

The field has rarely been so close. The Championship-winning car over the past two seasons, the Chrysler Viper GTS-R, will be back, although with fewer numbers than in previous years. The car is still reliable and has received new upgrades over the winter. Larbre Competition, with reigning Champion Christophe Bouchut, will be entering one car, while recently merged teams Force One and Carsport have two cars, with star drivers Philippe Alliot and Mike Hezemans heading the line-ups. The Roos Optima Racing Team, from Sweden, and Zwaan's Racing, from the Netherlands, complete the list.

Having won four out of the ten rounds last year, and claimed five pole positions, the Ferrari 550 Maranello may well be the car to beat this season. Six are due to take part, originating from three different engineering companies. BMS Scuderia Italia and Care Racing have cars built by British company Prodrive, while JMB Racing are entering two cars, originally developed by Italtechnica, while waiting for new 575 Maranello cars mid-season, and Wieth Racing has its own version of the car.

A Lister Storm won the Championship in 2000, and this year there will be three of the cars on the track. Two are entered by Lister Racing, with 2000 Champion Jamie Campbell-Walter and 2002 BMS drivers Deletraz and Piccini behind the wheel, while a third will be in the hands of new team Creation Autosportif. Saleen is this season's mystery element, with three cars lining up for the first time. Two Saleen S7-R cars will be entered by Graham Nash Motorsport -- winners of the British and Spanish GT Championships last year, while the third is in the hands of Konrad Motorsport, making a return to the Championship. Finally, Proton Competition, which has taken part in almost all the rounds of the FIA GT Championship since the start in 1997, will be back with a Porsche 911 GT2.

N-GT : THE PORSCHE-FERRARI BATTLE INTENSIFIES

After JMB Competition won the 2001 N-GT Championship with a Ferrari 360 Modena, Freisinger Motorsport claimed the 2002 crown with a Porsche 996 GT3-RS. This year, the battle between the two makes represented in the N-GT category looks to be closer than ever. Ten Porsches and seven Ferraris are entered for the full season, with teams from six countries and drivers of 11 different nationalities. The Porsche corner will be led by reigning Champion, Freisinger Motorsport, with defending Champion Stephane Ortelli, double race winner Marc Lieb and a strong line-up of Longin and Gardel in the second car. Other leading Porsche teams include Cirtek Motorsport, which had a strong season in 2002 and hopes to do even better this year, EMKA, with Sugden and Hanson behind the wheel, RWS Yukos Motorsport and newcomers Alda Motorsport and Team Eurotech. As far as the Ferrari contingent is concerned, Team Maranello Concessionaires seem determined to follow victory in the 2002 British Championship with international glory, and four fast drivers, Davies, Mullen, Burt and Turner, should make them a force to be reckoned with. The leading JMB Racing car will be in the hands of rapid Italian Andrea Bertolini and former touring car driver De Simone, while the second 360 Modena will driven by Kutemann and Gosse. The MenX entry from the Czech Republic should be watched closely - F3000 star Tomas Enge has claimed pole position on two out of the three visits he has made to the Championship. Young French team AutoPalace SRC is also new to the Championship, as is E.V. Racing, from Spain, led by Miguel de Castro, who finished second in the 2002 Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, with Lister Storm Racing.

As well as the season-long regulars, three race-by-race entrants in the N-GT category will bring the number of cars up to 38 -- full capacity for the Championship.

OFFICIAL LAUNCH OF TEAM MARANELLO CONCESSIONAIRES

Team Maranello Concessionaires was officially re-launched last week, at the newly refurbished Tower Garage in Egham, Surrey -- the home of Maranello Sales Limited, and the original headquarters of Ferrari UK.

With over 200 people attending, including many famous team members from earlier eras, the two Ferrari 360 Modena cars, which will take part in this season's FIA GT Championship, were unveiled. "Outside of Formula One, nothing in motor sport can demonstrate the Ferrari brand strengths so effectively as Sportscar racing, " commented Richard Mackay, Managing Director of Ferrari UK. Sam Li, the Managing Director of Team Maranello Concessionaires, continued : "Every member of our team is driven by a passion to win. Last year, Veloqx Motorsport took the British Ferrari challenge to the other famous marques to win the British GT crown. Now we are ready to take that same challenge to the international level."

The nr 88 Ferrari 360 Modena will be driven by Jamie Davies and Tim Mullen, while the nr 89 car will be in the hands of Kelvin Burt and Darren Turner. Andrew Kirkaldy and a sixth driver, yet to be named, will join the team for the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa.

Davies was part of the team who entered the final two rounds of the 2002 Championship. "It's a new challenge for us, and the team and drivers are all looking forward to the season. It's going to be tough, a real challenge, but I believe we have a complete package to challenge for wins, and hopefully by the end of the season, to be fighting for the titles.

However, we are realistic. It's going to be difficult. We are expecting competition from a number of the teams and therefore, I think it was a good idea for us to do the final two races last season. It was the team's first venture into international competition, so it was very useful in order to get a feeling for the Championship. Our results then were very encouraging and we are confident about our chances this year." The team will be testing in Estoril this week, before moving on to Barcelona for the first round of the season.

JMB RACING ANNOUNCES ITS 2003 DRIVERS

French team JMB Racing, which won the 2001 N-GT Championship, has announced most of the drivers for its squad of four cars for this year's FIA GT Championship. One of the Ferrari 550 Maranello cars will be driven by French duo Boris Derichebourg and David Terrien, with the second car in the hands of Fabio Babini of Italy and Philipp Peter of Austria. All four drivers have a long history in the FIA GT Championship, and all are race-winners, either in the GT or N-GT categories - or both. David Terrien is returning to the team with which he won the 2000 FIA Sportscar Championship and the 2001 N-GT Championship, while Boris Derichebourg will be coming back to the Championship, having raced for Paul Belmondo Racing in 2000 and 2001. Fabio Babini, after racing in N-GT with Art Engineering, drove for Paul Belmondo Racing last year, winning at Silverstone with Marc Duez. Philipp Peter has mainly competed in the N-GT category, winning at Oschersleben last season with an Autorlando Porsche 996 GT3-R. "I am really pleased to be back with JMB Racing," David Terrien said. "It's like coming home again. I have a very good feeling with the team, and I hope that everything will go well. The whole project looks very interesting, although I think the start of the season is going to be tough. The cars have undergone a lot of development, but there is still a lot of work to be done - that is all part of the job. I am convinced that the team has the potential to take up this challenge and to succeed. As for me, my objective is to finish the first three races. After that, we'll see..."

Philipp Peter is also delighted to be driving for JMB Racing: "It is a great opportunity for me. I am pleased to be part of a programme which has a great future. We have an excellent package : a good tyre supplier in Pirelli, and my team-mate Fabio Babini is a strong, fast driver - we did the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa together two years ago. And driving a Ferrari is always something special. I am really excited. I think the car should make a significant step forward from last year, and that by the third or fourth race, we should start showing what we can do." In the N-GT category, the first car will be in the hands of Andrea Bertolini, a regular podium-finisher with the team last season, and Fabrizio de Simone, who moves to the FIA GT Championship after a year in the FIA European Touring Car Championship. The second car will be driven by Peter Kutemann, from the Netherlands, and Antoine Gosse.

ZWAAN'S RACING REVEALS ITS COLOURS

Zwaan's Racing revealed the 2003 livery of their Chrysler Viper GTS-R this week. The team has been working hard on the car over the winter. After stripping and rebuilding the car totally, aiming for reliability and speed, technical manager Jille de Kleine then converted the Viper to conform to the FIA regulations. The Van der Zwaan brothers, who already took part in two rounds of the 2002 Championship, will be joined by German driver Klaus Abbelen, a former Euro GT champion. The team has been testing at the Dutch track of Zandvoort, during a three-day test, which proved that the winter's work had been successful. The car will now head for Barcelona, for the first round of the 2003 Championship.

LARBRE COMPETITION CONTINUES TO TEST

Defending Champion, Larbre Competition, will be testing its Chrysler Viper at the Val de Vienne circuit tomorrow, with Christophe Bouchut at the wheel. The team's second driver will not be announced until next week, shortly before the first round. "The development on the car has not been totally finished," team owner Jack Leconte explained. "We will be testing some of the developments tomorrow, but the final phase of improvements will not be finished until mid-April. We will test them in race conditions in the French GT Championship, at Nogaro, and then the car will be totally ready for the second round of the FIA GT Championship at Magny Cours." Leconte is determined to push for another win this season. "If I am there, it is to win, and to try and make it four Championships in a row," he explained. "Since I have been in the Championship, I have always won - there is no other reason to take part."

-fia-

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Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Tomas Enge , Darren Turner , Jamie Davies , Stéphane Ortelli , Philippe Alliot , Jamie Campbell-Walter , Mike Hezemans , Christophe Bouchut , David Terrien , Boris Derichebourg , Paul Belmondo , Marc Lieb , Kelvin Burt , Fabrizio de Simone , Fabio Babini , Peter Kutemann , Andrea Bertolini , Andrew Kirkaldy , Antoine Gosse , Marc Duez , Jack Leconte , Philipp Peter , Klaus Abbelen
Teams Larbre Competition