Donington: Free practice report

After a break of nearly a month, the FIA GT Championship has returned to Donington Park, in Great Britain, for the sixth round of the 2004 Championship. 28 cars are due to line up on Sunday for the 500 km, three-hour race, round the 4.023m...

After a break of nearly a month, the FIA GT Championship has returned to Donington Park, in Great Britain, for the sixth round of the 2004 Championship. 28 cars are due to line up on Sunday for the 500 km, three-hour race, round the 4.023m circuit. A number of the leading cars from the British GT Championship have joined the N-GT class for this race, with two TVR Tuscan T400R cars also taking part, although they are not eligible to score points. The circuit, with a mix of fast and slow corners, is generally popular with the drivers and an exciting race is forecast.

Weather
Relatively warm and windy, with some sunshine. A threat of showers with some grey clouds overhead in the morning, clearer later

Last year
In 2003, bright sunshine saw an action-packed race round the Donington circuit. The Force One Festina Carsport Chrysler Viper took its first pole of the season, Philippe Alliot behind the wheel. But the race win went to Biagi and Bobbi in their Ferrari 550 Maranello - their fifth consecutive win. In N-GT, an all-Porsche podium saw the Freisinger Motorsport cars take first and third, with RWS Motorsport third.

Handicap Weights
Heaviest on the track is still the Championship leader, the nr 2 Ferrari 550 Maranello, with 100 kg. The nr 1 BMS Ferrari lost 40 kg after failing to finish in Brno, meaning that Bobbi and Gardel are now on 40 kg. After their Brno win, the nr 5 Vitaphone Saleen S7 also has 40 kg penalty weight, with the nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello on 30 kg after finishing second. In N-GT, both the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Porsche and the nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche have the maximum 50 kg. The nr 62 GPC Ferrari is on 40 kg after winning in Brno. The new N-GT competitors which have joined or re-joined the Championship in this race all have 30 kg, while the nr 22 Wieth Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello has 60 kg penalty for missing Brno.

Paddock News

- 28 cars should take part in this round, 17 in GT, 9 in N-GT and two in the SPA2 category

- Former Formula One driver Gianni Morbidelli, more recently seen in the FIA ETCC, has joined GPC Giesse Squadra Corse. He will drive the nr 13 Ferrari 575 M Maranello alongside Emanuele Naspetti; the two Italians have been team-mates on a number of occasions in the past, most notably for BMW in the Italian Super Touring Championship.

- Paul Knapfield, who has previously driven various Porsches and a Lister in the FIA GT Championship, will be behind the wheel of the nr 4 Konrad Saleen S7 this weekend. He shares the car with Walter Lechner Jr and Toni Seiler

- JMB Racing have retained the successful Brno partnership of Wendlinger and Melo in the nr 17 car. In the nr 18, Bert Longin has been joined by JMB Racing's successful duo from the Italian Championship, Lorenzo Casé and Matteo Malucelli, who won both races in their last outing at Misano. In the nr 19 JMB Ferrari, Antoine Gosse and Andrea Garbagnati are joined by Mauro Casadei, more frequently seen at the wheel of a Porsche.

- Wieth Racing, returning to the Championship, after missing the last two races, has two British drivers in the nr 22 Ferrari 550 Maranello alongside team regular Wolfgang Kaufmann : Mark Mayall, seen with JVG Racing last year, and Championship newcomer Rob Croydon

- Paul Whight and David Leslie have joined Paolo Ruberti in the nr 28 Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen S7

- Bobby Verdon-Roe, a regular with Creation last year, is back in the nr 27 Lister Storm alongside Jamie Campbell-Walter and Jamie Derbyshire.

- Jens Petersen Racing, last seen briefly at Hockenheim before suffering an engine failure, has returned with their nr 59 Porsche 996 GT3-RS

- British GT entrants Scuderia Ecosse, JWR and Gruppe M Europe have joined the N-GT category, with respectively a Ferrari 360 Modena and two Porsche 996 GT3 cars. The nr 65 Scuderia Ecosse car is driven by former race-winner Nathan Kinch and Andrew Kirkaldy, last seen in a Veloqx Ferrari. JWR 's Porsche is in the hands of Mike Jordan, who entered the two Eurotech Porsches last season, with David Warnock. The Gruppe M Europe Porsche is driven by 2003 TMC driver Tim Mullen and Jonathan Cocker, who at the age of 17 is quite likely the youngest FIA GT driver so far.

- The nr 14 Lister Storm is not present this weekend. The team explained : "This year, what with crashes, trips to the gravel, and fires we have been unable to show our form. The Lister Racing Italy drivers were interested in competing at Donington but are now concentrating on the Italian Championship in which they are lying second - although they may appear, in a works Lister, in later FIA races. Driver line-up is also vital in these 3 hour races - we tried hard to put together a suitable pairing but, at the last minute, all possibilities fell through."

- Klaus Abbelen will no longer be driving for Zwaan's Racing, both parties having decided to go their own way. The team does not have a replacement driver for this event, but stated "negotiations with several drivers for the remainder of the season including the 24 hour race at Spa."

First free practice session : Vitaphone Saleen and Scuderia Ecosse fastest The nr 5 Vitaphone Saleen was fastest throughout the first 90-minute free practice session, gradually improving its time and setting a best lap of 1:27.822 after thirty minutes. The Brno winners were followed by the nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello, three tenths slower, with the nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello third. The nr 11 GPC Ferrari was fourth fastest, with the nr 28 Graham Nash Saleen fifth ahead of the second GPC car, now driven by Italian duo Naspetti and Morbidelli. In N-GT, new entrant Scuderia Ecosse made a sensational start to their international career by setting the fastest time towards the end of the session. A lap of 1:32.365 placed Kinch and Kirkaldy and their Ferrari 360 Modena nearly two tenths faster than the Brno winners GPC Giesse, also with a Ferrari. The nr 99 and 50 Freisinger Porsche cars were third and fourth, with another new car, the nr 71 JWR Porsche, fourth. It was a bad session for the reigning Champions, BMS Scuderia Italia. The nr 3 car stopped by the side of the track early on with problems with the rear wheel, while the nr 2 car had an engine problem. It then caught fire, which caused the session to be red-flagged. With only ten minutes remaining, the session did not restart.

Second free practice session : Close session sees repeat of free practice one The second 90-minute session was extremely close, and times came down slightly compared to the morning. However, the overall result was the same, with the nr 5 Saleen and the nr 65 Ferrari setting the best times. The Saleen cars obviously suit the Donington circuit, with the Vitaphone, RML and Graham Nash cars all setting good times; thirty minutes before the end of the session, they were leading the time sheets, with the nr 1 BMS Ferrari the best of the rest in fourth. At this stage, the top seven cars were all within eight tenths of a second of each other. Towards the end of the session, the nr 17 JMB Ferrari improved to second, five tenths behind the leading Saleen. In N-GT, the Porsche cars were fastest for much of the session, with the nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche of Maassen and Luhr ahead of Ortelli and Collard in the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos car. However, at the end, the nr 65 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 360 repeated its morning feat, and set the best N-GT time, with a lap of 1:32.111. The nr 62 GPC Ferrari only completed 15 laps before stopping on the circuit. Neither the nr 2 nor the nr 3 Ferrari cars took part in the session, while the team works to repair them for tomorrow's qualifying.

Decision concerning the TVR Tuscan cars
After receiving information from the FIA concerning the satisfactory results of crash tests on the TVR Tuscan cars entered in this event, it was decided to let cars 153 (RSR Racing) and 154 (Chamberlain - Synergy Motorsport) take part in the event, provided they are not eligible to score points for the Championship. The cars are allocated to category SPA2, assimilated to N-GT, and will carry a penalty weight of 30kg according to the regulations (article 69b)

-fia-

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Philippe Alliot , Jamie Campbell-Walter , Mark Mayall , David Leslie , Toni Seiler , Emanuele Naspetti , Wolfgang Kaufmann , Andrea Garbagnati , David Warnock , Jamie Derbyshire , Nathan Kinch , Tim Mullen , Andrew Kirkaldy , Jonathan Cocker , Rob Croydon , Bobby Verdon-Roe , Antoine Gosse , Paul Knapfield , Lorenzo Casé , Bert Longin , Matteo Malucelli , Jens Petersen , Gianni Morbidelli , Paul Whight , Paolo Ruberti , Klaus Abbelen , Mike Jordan
Teams RSR Racing