Donington: Round 6 free practice report

Free Practice Sessions 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...

Free Practice Sessions

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)

FREE PRACTICE QUOTES

Marco Streparava - Sporting Director, BMS Scuderia Italia : "We had a problem with the engine on the nr 2 car; it exploded and oil went on the hoses, and the car caught fire. It is quite badly damaged. We have stopped absolutely for today and we will work for tomorrow. For the nr 3 car, it had a problem with the right rear wheel, and it went into the gravel, and it stayed there. It has not been a good start to the weekend for us !"

Gabriele Gardel - nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello : "I really love this circuit, it really suits my driving style. I did well here last year, and finished third on the podium. But the car is going well, and it feels so light with only 40 kg penalty weight instead of 80 ! "

Walter Lechner - nr 4 Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7 : "We had some problems today; the nr 5 car is good, but the nr 4 car is not so fast. We worked very hard on the set-up; we have to see what changes they made on the nr 5 car. We need to work on the aerodynamics, as I think this is not working at the moment, it might be too low at the rear and high at the front, so we will change it for tomorrow and I am sure it will get better. At the moment I don't feel really comfortable around the circuit, which is new to me - I have to learn it. We could not really work on the car in both sessions, as Paul Knapfield needs to learn the car as well. There is a lot to do."

Val Hillebrand - nr 9 Zwaan's Racing Chrysler Viper : "We had some problem with the tyres. We started on old tyres, which were harder, and they were great. Then we went on to some new soft tyres and we were slower, which was not great. So we went back to the harder tyres, at the end, and I did a 1:29.3, which was pretty good. With the harder compound tyres, we can improve. I'm really confident, because we did some good, consistent times. The car feels totally different here, it just suits this circuit so well. With just Rob and me in the car this weekend, I hope we can do a good job, and even another podium, like last year. I love the track."

Fabio Babini - nr 11 GPC Giesse Squadra Corse : "The car has gone really well today. This morning we did some good work, and set fourth time. This afternoon we did engine testing, and had a few electrical problems. I run at the end, with old tyres, and set our best time of the day; we had really good grip. We tested in Vallelunga, and worked very hard. I think this is the result; it is important to work at home and to find the right solutions for the race. It is very good to arrive here on the Friday and to already have something good. It was a very close session, and we were very good."

Jamie Melo - nr 17 JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello : "The car is working well, the set-up is good, so we are very confident for both the race and the qualifying. I drove here in the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup last year; I like the circuit. Everything looks good, and it has been a good start for the weekend. The car feels a lot better for qualifying, so if we can qualify better than in Brno, we can also do a better race."

Rob Croydon - nr 22 Wieth Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello : "We missed the morning session unfortunately, but I got ten laps in the car this afternoon. It's a nice car, and I've enjoyed it. I've driven quite a few different things up to now - NASCAR, GT, Prototypes, Radicals, and finished the Nürburgring 24 Hours recently. This is my first FIA GT Championship race, but I hope it won't be my last."

Jamie Campbell-Walter - nr 27 Creation Autosportif Lister Storm : "I think the car will be really good for the race. We can do 1:29 laps on old tyres, with half-tank, which will be really good for the race. I don't think we've got the ultimate speed for qualifying, but if we get the car a bit better, we should be able to do a low 1:28. It's quite close at the top, so you have to hook up a good lap for qualifying. We'd like to be up the grid; the brakes are good, the car is nicely balanced, we're all on the pace here."

Bobby Verdon-Roe - nr 27 Creation Autosportif Lister Storm : "It's nice to be back in the car - it feels a lot better than last year, too. I should be here for this race then for Spa. I've been racing historics recently, which is quite good fun - but it's nice to be back here !"

Paul Whight - nr 28 Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen S7 : "I've only had three laps in the car so far, so I'm not sure yet. I tested in the wet in Snetterton last week, among 40 2CV cars, so I have not had any real running yet. But it is very similar to the Group C car I normally race, an Aston Martin Group 2 car, which is very quick. I had a big crash seven weeks ago, and I am still on crutches, having crushed my ankles. But while I've been out of action, I've been following my son's progress, who is racing in the Cup class in the British GT Championship."

Nathan Kinch - nr 65 Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 360 Modena : "Andrew did a great job. Everything is going well so far. The team did a fantastic job to get the car out after the crash we had a Castle Combe last weekend. It feels good out there - it does take a bit of time to get used to the GT cars going past you - I've got a new respect for the N-GT drivers now ! The British Championship has been going well, the team has done a great job and I get on well with Andrew. But I do miss the FIA GT Championship, the great circuits and the GT-class cars ! We are not really surprised with our times today; we have the latest spec car and we thought we'd be up with the GPC Ferrari. But the race is a different matter. We'll have to see. But I'm looking forward to it !"

Jonathan Cocker - nr 88 Gruppe M Porsche 996 GT3 : "It's going very well so far - we've made quite a few changes to the car and hope to go quicker. Since we were last here in the British Championship we have made quite a few changes to the car, so we had to make some adjustments. I know Donington quite well, but you are still always learning and finding new things. It is quite strange to be out there and to have cars like the Saleen and Ferrari flying past you on the straight - they are really quick cars. You have to think about them passing you. But it's good to see the Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari doing so well- it's a good target for us to chase in the British GT Championship. It's a long race on Sunday, and a lot can happen - it will be the longest race I'll have done."

-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 , Val Hillebrand , Andrea Garbagnati , David Warnock , Jamie Derbyshire , Fabio Babini , Nathan Kinch , Tim Mullen , Andrew Kirkaldy , Jonathan Cocker , Rob Croydon , Gabriele Gardel , 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