Brno: Round five preview

Rapidly approaching mid-season, the fifth LG Super Racing Weekend of 2004 will take place at the Brno Automotodrom, in the Czech Republic. The picturesque and popular circuit is a favourite with the drivers, and its changes of elevation, medium...

Rapidly approaching mid-season, the fifth LG Super Racing Weekend of 2004 will take place at the Brno Automotodrom, in the Czech Republic. The picturesque and popular circuit is a favourite with the drivers, and its changes of elevation, medium speed corners and tricky chicanes usually guarantees some fascinating racing.

The historic circuit is situated 16 km from the Czech city of Brno, the second largest city in the Republic, and is 200 km to the south-east of the beautiful capital city of Prague. There has been motor racing at the Masaryk circuit since 1930, when the first race took place on a 30-km track, made up of ordinary roads. The track was shortened over the years, and a new permanent circuit was opened in 1987. This will be the fourth visit of the multi-platform series to the circuit, and will mark the end of the first half of the season. A break of nearly a month will follow, before the sixth round takes place at the British circuit of Donington Park, on June 27th

Brno has become renowned for the excellence of the FIA GT races there; an epic battle took place around the 5.403 km circuit in 2002, and an equally fascinating race was enjoyed last year, when Bobbi and Biagi took the fourth of their run of five victories, despite carrying the maximum 100 kg penalty weight. This year, their team-mates Gollin and Cappellari, current Championship leaders, will be racing in similar conditions and trying to emulate them, after their team, BMS Scuderia Italia, monopolised the podium at Hockenheim. In N-GT, Stephane Ortelli has twice won the Brno round, and will surely be aiming to make it three in a row, to break the run of three consecutive wins for the German pairing of Maassen and Luhr. However, both Porsches will be carrying 50 kg success ballast in Brno, which could be very difficult round the hilly circuit. With a strong Austrian contingent racing this year, led by former Formula One driver and 1999 FIA GT Champion Karl Wendlinger, there will be plenty of interest at the circuit many of them consider their home track.


Austrian driver Toto Wolff , like many of the other Austrians competing in this year's FIA GT Championship, considers Brno his home circuit, as well as one of his favourites. Toto has being racing in the Championship since 2001; his most successful year to date was 2002, when he raced for Autorlando. As well as a win at Oschersleben with compatriot Philipp Peter, a string of other points placed him 6th in the final classification. This year he has moved up to the GT class, racing the nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello with Karl Wendlinger and Robert Lechner Jr.

"I like Brno very much. It is very challenging from a technical point of view. It has slow, medium and fast corners, going up and downhill. For me, it's like a little Spa. I learned to race on the old A1 Ring and Brno, so I have lots of good memories of Formula Ford, and I like it a lot. The circuit itself is quite long. The first corner is very challenging; you take it in 4th gear in a GT car, and need to exit well to get the speed for the next long straight. This is followed by a left-right corner followed by a very fast double right-hander, which, if the car is perfect, the second can be taken flat out. After, you have to be heavy on the brakes for the next corner, which is almost a hairpin. A short straight leads into a left-right hander, where once again you have to sacrifice the left part to gain speed in the straight. We are now at the lowest part of the circuit, taken in 5th gear and quite fast, followed by a 4th gear corner, which is two-thirds downhill. This is followed by the most important part, a left-right chicane, followed by a long uphill straight, nearly a kilometre long. The handling has to be perfect here, so as not to have oversteer exiting the chicane. With no oversteer, you can get on the throttle early, and gain a lot of time. The last part sees another left-right hander, taken in second gear, exiting in 3rd, with a little straight and a fast right-hander leading onto the main straight, which is taken in 6th gear. The top speed is not as fast as circuits like Monza, but the circuit is very abrasive and the weather can be very hot, which means that tyres can be very important. It is a circuit where the set-up is crucial."

Circuit length : 5403 m
Location : 10 km northeast of Brno
Directions : from Brno, take the D1 Motorway westbound for Prague; take exit 182 and follow signs for the track.

A special night of entertainment , organised by event sponsor Matador, will take place at the Automotodrom Brno on Friday 28th May, between 8 pm and 11 pm. This will include concerts from Czech and Slovak bands and singers, a dance show and a fire-working competition. Cars from the various Championships taking part it the event will be lining the track.

Round four saw a BMS Scuderia Italia whitewash, clever fuel strategy, reliability and an element of luck allowing them to scoop the top three places after the other contenders dropped back with mechanical problems and punctures. This means that BMS Scuderia Italia has further extended its lead in the Teams Classification, where they now have a lead of 44 points over GPC Giesse Squadra Corse. Second place in Hockenheim means that Gollin and Cappellari retain the lead in the Drivers' classification too, although Bobbi and Gardel are now only three points behind. In N-GT, Ortelli and Collard have a two-point lead over Maassen and Luhr, with De Simone and Pescatori ten points behind the leaders. Freisinger Yukos Motorsport has a 13-point lead over its sister team, Freisinger Motorsport. The results remain provisional, pending fuel tests on four cars.

Finishing second in Hockenheim, the nr 2 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello failed to reduce its handicap, and remains on 100 kg for Brno. The nr 1 has doubled its weight, and will carry 80 kg up and down the Brno undulations. The nr 3 Care Racing Ferrari will be handicapped for the first time this season, with 20 kg. In N-GT, both the nr 50 and nr 99 Porsche 996 GT3-RS cars will carry the maximum 50 kg. A win by either would increase this to 75 kg for Donington. The nr 62 Ferrari, third in Hockenheim, is now on 20 kg. Additionally, any new cars joining or re-joining the Championship for the 4th round will have a penalty of 40 kg in GT and 20 kg in N-GT.

"It's still like a dream - everything went just right!" Swiss driver Gabriele Gardel is still ecstatic after winning his first-ever FIA GT race in Hockenheim, alongside reigning Champion Matteo Bobbi. "Now I'm looking forward to Brno. I love the track, and my team-mate is really fast there, so I think we will have a good race. Our main problem is the Saleen, which is difficult to beat. Our strategy is to work hard in the first two stints to preserve fuel, which we think is the only way we can hope to beat their speed. We are all positive, confident, working hard on our fitness in order to face the rest of the season in the best possible way." His car will carry 80 kg penalty weight in Brno. "I'm happy to have 80 kg - it means we won ! It might be difficult in qualifying, but I think we will be fine in the race."

Leading the N-GT classification with team-mate Emmanuel Collard, Ortelli is looking forward to Brno. "I really like the track, it suits the Porsche and my driving style, and I have won there the last two years, so I have some happy memories," Stephane Ortelli explained. "The 50 kg will be a problem against the Ferrari, which is lighter, but for me, the most interesting thing in the Championship is the close fight between us. We might not be many top cars, but we are fighting like crazy. I really want to try and get my hat-trick ! The last two years, Brno was my first win of the season, and it would be a good place to start winning again. The race is sure to be very tough; the track is made for overtaking, and I am sure we will make full advantage of it and have a very good event."

After the disappointment of coming so close to their first win, only to see a puncture remove all chances on the penultimate lap, Philipp Peter is looking forward to the next race. "You have to look forward. The car is progressing, and we have some small ideas on what we can do to further improve it. I like Brno a lot; it is close to my home town of Vienna, and therefore, like Monza, is almost like a home track for me." Peter sees their current problem as lacking the speed in qualifying. "We have a good consistant race tyre, but we are missing the peak that Michelin have in the first ten laps. We're waiting for Pirelli to give us that. The Saleen is still the car to beat, but they have some reliability problems. The Championship is getting closer and closer, and I have never seen so many changes of lead. It's getting really interesting. But it's a shame we missed out on those 10 points, which would have closed things up. That bothers us more than the lost win."

After a fine second place in Magny-Cours, the nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello was a front-runner at Hockenheim, achieving its best qualifying position yet, and looking certain of a podium finish until two punctures dropped it back down the field. The nr 18 car, driven by Bert Longin, Ian Khan and Thomas Bleiner, also suffered a slow puncture, while the nr 19 completed a consistent race. After Hockenheim, the team had two days of testing at the Paul Ricard circuit. "This was our first real opportunity to test," Karl Wendlinger explained. "We could really spend time trying different things to optimise the set-up. It went well and I think we learnt a lot. We had already improved a lot between Valencia and Hockenheim, but this test was the next step." Brno is quite close to home for the team's four Austrian drivers, Karl, Toto Wolff, Robert Lechner and Thomas Bleiner. "I've raced there once or twice, in Formula Ford and Formula 3," Karl continued. "It's a nice, challenging circuit. Our main aim is to finish the race with no problems and to score points."

The nr 62 GPC Giesse Ferrari 360 Modena was the dominant car in the N-GT class at Hockenheim, and without a problem getting going after their final pit-stop, would have won, as the eventual victors admitted in the press conference. "I was very happy, despite finishing third," De Simone explained. "All six of us fight hard but we all respect each other. It's a very fair fight." For Brno, the Ferrari will only have 20 kg, compared to 50kg for the nr 50 and 99 Porsche cars. "This could help us at Brno, as the weight could have more effect on the up and downhill sections, and the long corners. It should be a very good fight and an interesting race."

The Vitaphone Racing Team Saleen S7 led the fourth round of the Championship in Hockenheim, and looked certain to take its second win, when a broken starter motor ended its race prematurely. Therefore, the nr 5 car will head for Brno without any penalty weight. Michael Bartels best memory of Brno is his victory in Formula 3 there, in 1989. "The circuit is very interesting and varied. I think it is a very good circuit for the Saleen, and I am glad to be going back there after such a long time." As for Uwe, he last drove at the Czech circuit in the early 1990's. "I think we have a good chance of winning, as long as the car does not have any problems. The circuit is very nice, and I like all the bends."

Hockenheim saw the best race performance yet from the Saleen S7 cars entered by RML. Chris Goodwin and Joao Barbosa, in the nr 8 car, were running in 2nd position before encountering brake problems in the closing stages of the race. Chris Goodwin commented "Each race has brought us closer to where we should be, running in 2nd place was great and we saw a fantastic drive from Joao. I feel we have really proved the team's potential today". Tommy Erdos and Mike Newton, in the nr 7 car, retired two hours into the race. They had experienced brake problems, and despite running in 5th place at one stage, struggled to keep the pace before a gearbox problem caused their eventual retirement.

After triple Champion Christophe Bouchut opted not to continue with the Dutch team, French driver Stephane Lemeret, who lives in Belgium and races under a Belgian licence, will be joining the line-up. He finished second in the Renault Sport Clio Trophy last year, and is racing a Porsche 996 Supercup in the Belgian Touring Car Series this year. He also drove the Gillet Vertigo in the 2003 edition of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. Lemeret will share the nr 10 Chrysler Viper with Arjan van der Zwaan and Henrik Roos, while Val Hillebrand, Klaus Abbelen and Robert van der Zwaan drive the nr 9. "I drove for Zwaans in Belcar in 2000, and I approached them this year concerning Spa. They ended up proposing that I complete the rest of the season with them. I am very pleased to be racing at this level," Stephane explained. "Last year, I was in the LG Super Racing Weekend paddock all year, with the Clio Trophy, and I dreamt of driving the GT cars." Lemeret does not have any thoughts of replacing Bouchut in the team. "From my point of view, he is the best Viper driver in the world. His departure and my arrival are totally unconnected. My aim is to close in on the times set by my team-mates."

As well as the Czech team Vonka Racing, which has already taken part in three races this year, there will be a number of new entrants in the N-GT class at Brno. These include two Porsche 996 GT3 cars entered by Slovak team Machanek Racing, which has raced in the Championship at Brno in previous years. JVG Racing will also be making a return, with a Porsche 996 GT3 entered for father and son team Horst Felbermayr Sr & Jr. With both being frequent competitors in the Championship since the earliest days, Horst Felbermayr Jr's best result was a second place in the 2002 Oschersleben round, when he drove for RWS Motorsport, alongside Antonio Garcia. This influx brings the number of cars in the N-GT up to nine.

The long-awaited debut of the DAMS Lamborghini should take place at Donington Park, on June 27th. The French team is due to receive their Murcielago from Reiter Engineering in early June, and a shakedown session will follow on the Bugatti circuit at Le Mans. The car is due to be driven by Andrea Piccini and Jean-Denis Deletraz, both regulars in the FIA GT Championship in previous years. They won four races in 2002 with BMS Scuderia Italia, and finished on the podium last year with a Lister Storm. "I'm very enthusiastic about this agreement," Andrea Piccini said. "This will be an introductory season for us: we will have to break the car in and we will have to resolve all of the inevitable problems that will come up with such a "young" car. It will be hard work but exciting. I can't wait to get on the track in Donington and to make our debut with the Lamborghini Murcielago."

Entries for the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa close on June 14th; a bumper grid is expected for this fourth running of the 24-hour race as part of the FIA GT Championship. The traditional test day and press conference will be held at the circuit of Spa-Francorchamps on July 6th, when the entry list will be unveiled.


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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Andrea Piccini , Antonio Garcia , Karl Wendlinger , Chris Goodwin , Stéphane Ortelli , Michael Bartels , Jean-Denis Deletraz , Joao Barbosa , Christophe Bouchut , Val Hillebrand , Mike Newton , Ian Khan , Gabriele Gardel , Bert Longin , Robert van der Zwaan , Stéphane Lemeret , Arjan van der Zwaan , Henrik Roos , Robert Lechner , Toto Wolff , Philipp Peter
Teams DAMS , Reiter Engineering