ETCC: Notes of Interest 2003-02-28

Next Thursday and Friday will give a first real taste of the 2003 season of the LG Super Racing Weekend series, with a two-day test session at the Catalunya circuit in Barcelona, which will also host the first round on April 6th. The Media Day,...

Next Thursday and Friday will give a first real taste of the 2003 season of the LG Super Racing Weekend series, with a two-day test session at the Catalunya circuit in Barcelona, which will also host the first round on April 6th. The Media Day, on March 6th, will include a press conference to launch the 2003 season. So far, 16 cars from the FIA GT Championship are expected to take part in the test days, including Chrysler Viper, Ferrari 550 Maranello and 360 Modena, Lister Storm, Porsche 996 GT3-R and Saleen S7 models. A total of 11 cars from the FIA ETCC will take part, with the Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, BMW 320 i and SEAT Toledo cars of the three Manufacturers officially involved, as well as the Volvo S60 and Honda Civic cars from Art Engineering and PRO Motorsport.

The location of the third round of the LG Super Racing Weekend, which will take place between May 9th and 11th, has been confirmed as Enna Pergusa, the Italian circuit in Sicily which hosted the eighth round in 2002. It was extremely successful, with the spectators flocking to the circuit, which is set in the natural crater of an extinct volcano. It also proved to be a good race for the national heroes as Fabrizio Giovanardi confirmed his title as 'King of the Lake' by taking a double win for Gta Racing Team Nordauto , while another Italian, Fabrizio Gollin, claimed his first pole position in the Carsport Holland Chrysler Viper GTS-R. In the race, he finished second with fellow Italian Luca Capellari, while the win went to the Lister Storm of Campbell-Walter and Springer.

The closing date for entries to the FIA GT Championship is today, February 28th. The entry list for the season should be issued by the FIA on March 14th. Teams can name their drivers up until the start of each race meeting.

BMS Scuderia Italia has announced that the drivers for the leading car will be two young Italians, both coming from single-seater competition. The Ferrari 550 Maranello will be in the hands of 24-year old Matteo Bobbi, a frontrunner in the Formula Nissan 2000 series last year, and the test driver for Minardi in Formula One, and Thomas Biagi, whose career has mainly focussed on Formula 3000, racing in the Italian, Euro and International Championships.

"We hope they will be a very fast team !" Team Logistics Manager Marco Streparava said. BMS Scuderia Italia took four wins last season, with Andrea Piccini and Jean-Denis Deletraz, remaining in contention for the title until the penultimate race of the season.

"I am very proud at the thought of driving a Ferrari, as well as taking part in a Championship as competitive and prestigious as the FIA GT," Biagi said. "I am also very happy to be driving for a team as professional as BMS Scuderia Italia. I am very optimistic and ready to start this new adventure with the team !"

2002 FIA N-GT Drivers' Champion, Stephane Ortelli, will be racing with Marc Lieb in 2003, giving Freisinger Motorsport an extremely powerful line-up in their leading Porsche 996 GT3-R. The 22-year-old German first drove alongside Ortelli at Brno, winning the race, to give Ortelli his first points of the season. He returned to the team for the eighth round of the season, at the Italian track of Enna-Pergusa, when the duo won again. Marc won the German Porsche Carrera Cup last year, as well as competing in rounds of the Porsche Supercup. "It is going to be great," Ortelli said. "I am very happy that Marc will be my partner for the whole season. We have been successful together in the past, and he also did very well at Spa last season, for his first time in a 24-hour race. Racing together for the whole year will make us a very strong team. I am really looking forward to the season - although from what I hear about the competition, it is going to be tough ! But I like that !"

Michael Hinterberg, who will be the Freisinger Motorsport team manager this year, also confirmed that the team's second Porsche 996 GT3-R would be driven by Belgian driver Bert Longin, a regular for the team in the 2002 Championship, and by 25-year old Swiss driver Gabriele Gardel, who has previously raced in Formula 3 and the Euro Formula 3000 series.

Czech team Menx Racing is hoping to enter a Ferrari 360 Modena in the N-GT class of the FIA GT Championship, with a high-powered line-up. The car would be driven by F3000 front-runner and GT star Tomas Enge, and by fellow Czech Robert Pergl, who was part of the Coca Cola Racing Team line-up during the 2001 season. Enge has driven in the FIA GT Championship on three occasions. He claimed pole position in the N-GT class on his first appearance, with Coca Cola Racing, at Brno in 2001.

He followed this up with a podium finish with his then F3000 team-mate, Justin Wilson, at Magny Cours, at the wheel of a Coca Cola Racing Porsche 996 GT3-R. In 2002, he returned for the Brno round, racing for BMS Scuderia Italia, claiming the team's first pole position.

Italo-Swiss team, Yellow Racing, is intending to enter a Ferrari 360 Modena in this year's FIA GT Championship. The team took part in a number of rounds of the French GT Championship last season, and is now looking forward to moving up to the international level. The team's sporting director is Clay Ragazzoni, the former Formula One driver, who claimed 5 wins during his 132-race career, four of them for Ferrari. Although an accident finished his Formula One career, he has remained active in motorsport, and this is the most recent of his ventures. The drivers for the car are likely to include team manager Fabio Venier and Michel Neugarten, a frequent competitor in the FIA GT Championship over the years, who most recently drove for Perspective Racing in 2001, winning the final race of the season at Estoril. The team will be taking part in the test day at Barcelona.

The cars currently planning to take part in next week's two-day test session include both reigning Champions, plenty of familiar names - and a lot of newcomers. Among the GT cars, there should be two Chrysler Viper GTS-R cars, from Larbre Competition and Force One Festina Racing Carsport, three Ferrari 550 Maranello cars for BMS Scuderia Italia and Wieth Racing, a Lister Storm for Creation Autosportive, and two Saleen S7-R cars from Graham Nash Motorsport. The N-GT cars include Porsche 996 GT3-R cars from Freisinger Motorsport, Alda Motorsport and Team Eurotech, while Ferrari 360 Modena cars will be run by Team Maranello Concessionaires, Menx and Yellow Racing.

JVG Racing, the team started by successful German driver Jurgen von Gartzen, is hoping to enter its Porsche 996 GT3-R in this year's FIA GT Championship. The team made an exceptional start to the 2002 season, finishing second at Magny Cours and third at Silverstone. British driver Ian Kahn, who drove the silver-grey Porsche last year, should be one of the drivers. "We are still looking for a second driver," Von Gartzen explained. "It is not easy this year. However, we are definitely hoping to be there when the season starts, and I have a number of meetings coming up." The team has worked hard on the car over the winter. "It is totally ready for the new season - we have made a number of changes, with new parts from Porsche and some new developments."

Alfa Romeo will be entering its three works cars in the 2003 FIA European Touring Car Championship under the Autodelta name. The Italian Manufacturer is thereby reviving one of the most glorious names in motorsport, on its 40th anniversary. Autodelta was founded the 5th March 1963, as the Alfa Romeo racing department, and for the following twenty-two years ran all the works sporting programmes on behalf of the factory, starting with the first edition of the European Touring Car Championship in 1963. The Autodelta Giulia cars (Gta, Gta Junior and Gt Am) proceeded to claim eight driver's titles and six Manufacturers titles. From 1968, Autodelta also designed and raced the Alfa Romeo 33 sportscars, achieving a number of class wins in the major endurance races (Sebring, Daytona and Le Mans) and clinching two FIA World Championships in 1975 and 1977. Autodelta's last commitment was Formula 1, first as an engine supplier to Brabham from 1976 onwards, with two Grand Prix wins in 1978 for Niki Lauda at Anderstorp and Monza. From 1979, Autodelta ran the all-Alfa F1 programme, which resulted in podium finishes for the likes of Bruno Giacomelli, Andrea De Cesaris and Riccardo Patrese. In 1985, Autodelta's story came to an end, when Alfa Romeo decided to rename it Alfa Corse. Now this glorious name has returned to its roots. The Nordauto team, twice a winner of the FIA ETCC in 2001 and 2002, has changed its name to Autodelta, to run the three 156 Gta cars of Nicola Larini, Gabriele Tarquini and Roberto Colciago. At the same time,, Fiat Group's motorsport department, will start to produce and sell a small series of sports-tuned Alfa Romeo cars under the Autodelta brand, such as the 300-bhp 156 Gta that was presented last December at the Bologna Motor Show.

The 2003 FIA European Touring Car Championship appears to be heading for a close-fought season. Alfa Romeo and BMW are sharpening their weapons in preparation for the start of the season, while SEAT continues to develop its brand new Toledo. On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, teams representing the three Manufacturers officially involved in the 2003 FIA ETCC took part in a test session at Monza, with the lap times showing that the Alfa and BMW new cars are equally competitive. The red Alfa Romeo 156 Gta is still setting the pace, as Nicola Larini and Gabriele Tarquini were the fastest drivers on the track, clocking nearly the same time: 2:01.60 for Larini, 2:01.62 for Tarquini. But Dirk Muller, at the wheel of a Schnitzer BMW 320i, was only three tenths of a second behind them, with a best lap of 2:01.90. "This makes me much happier and more confident than I was after the first day," the German driver said. While Jorg Muller focussed on the team's BMW M3 GTR, which is being developed for the Nurburgring 24 Hours, the third Alfa Romeo driver, Roberto Colciago, emerged as the fourth fastest man. Colciago only drove a fraction of the 147 laps completed by the Alfa car over the two days, but nevertheless managed to set fast times, with a best lap of 2:02.05. As for the Ravaglia Motorsport drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi and Antonio Garcia, they took turns behind the wheel of the team's BMW 320i from last year, which suffered from a suspension problem during the second day. Giovanardi's best lap was clocked at 2:03.55 and Garcia's at 2:03.70. Experiencing a few minor technical problems, the SEAT Toledo was not able to show its real potential; Jordi Gene was mainly in charge of developing the Spanish car, setting a fastest time of 2:08.78, while Frank Diefenbacher mainly drove the hybrid Leon laboratory car.

After a short shake-down, BMW Team Deutschland chose Monza for the first proper test of the new BMW 320i that will represent the Bavarian Manufacturer in the 2003 FIA European Touring Car Championship. The German saloon car has undergone extensive modifications since last season; major changes were made to the front part of the bodywork, with new headlights, a one-piece front bumper-and-splitter package and aerodynamically-shaped front fenders. Technical changes include modified suspension parts and brake system, as well as a new engine configuration. "The car ran quite well during these two days in Monza," BMW Motorsport works driver Dirk Muller revealed. "So we are quite happy. In terms of performances we are not yet in a position to judge the new car, because we focused on the set up and functionality rather than on lap times. Currently, I should say that I'm working most particularly on the aerodynamic configuration, as that is the most important change compared to last year's car. You need to work a lot on this sort of thing, adjusting and refining it lap after lap to get the most out of it. And it seems that our technicians have done an excellent job, because the car is very stable and also very reactive to any set up adjustments."

At the age of twenty, Frank Diefenbacher looks likely to be the youngest driver in the 2003 FIA European Touring Car Championship this season. After two years in the German Formula 3 Championship -- in which he was classified third and fourth in 2001 and 2002 respectively -- the young German driver is now ready for his first Touring Car season as a member of the SEAT Sport team. "It's a big thing for me, driving for SEAT in the ETCC," Diefenbacher explained. "I have to take the coming season as a learning one. I will be in the best position a young driver can hope for : to race with an experienced team, backed by a big car Manufacturer, in a top-level international championship. I'm only 20 years old, I have to learn and this is the best way to do that." SEAT Sport and Diefenbacher are both facing their first season in the FIA ETCC. The team is working hard in order to develop the new Toledo car, complying with the FIA Super 2000 technical specifications. "I haven't had many laps in the car yet. But what I have seen was enough to impress me. It's a big step forward compared to the Leon Cup car I had previously tested; the Toledo is definitely more of a racing car. I also have to get used to this kind of car, because I only have driven single seaters before and sitting in a touring car is totally different. Your driving position is on the left, rather than in the centre, and much higher. Then you have to cope with heavier weights and different braking points. But I feel highly motivated and I hope I can improve very quickly as the season goes by."

Eleven cars, representing six Manufacturers and eight teams, are expected to attend the FIA European Touring Car Championship official test session in Barcelona next week. The Alfa Romeo works team, freshly renamed Autodelta, will bring one 156 Gta car, with drivers Nicola Larini, Gabriele Tarquini and Roberto Colciago taking turns behind the wheel. Four BMW teams will hit the track, lining up a total of six 320is: BMW Team Deutschland with two cars for Jorg and Dirk Muller, BMW Team Italy Spain with two cars for reigning FIA ETCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi and Antonio Garcia, BMW Great Britain with one car for Andy Priaulx, and Carly Motors with one car shared between Tom Coronel and Duncan Huisman. SEAT Sport will attend with one Toledo, that will be alternatively driven by Jordi Gene and Frank Diefenbacher; ART Engineering will bring both its Volvo S60 cars for Rickard Rydell and Sandro Sardelli; PRO Motorsport will test one Honda Civic Type-R, which will be shared by Andre Couto, from Macao, and British driver Charles Hall. Hall, who is 22 years old, has previously raced in single-seater competition, with a number of wins in series such as Formula Opel Euroseries, British Formula Renault and Formula Atlantic, most recently competing in the US Fran Am series. A number of drivers representing the other teams will also attend the media day: Paolo Ruberti and Fabio Francia for Clever Cats, Jan Nilsson for Flash Engineering, Petr Kolař and Ondřej Navratil for the ^Êkoda Autospektrum Racing Team.


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Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Andrea Piccini , Tomas Enge , Justin Wilson , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Niki Lauda , Riccardo Patrese , Jean-Denis Deletraz , Bruno Giacomelli , Frank Diefenbacher , Charles Hall , Marc Lieb , Michel Neugarten , Duncan Huisman , Thomas Biagi , Andre Couto , Rickard Rydell , Gabriele Gardel , Bert Longin , Paolo Ruberti , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Robert Pergl , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago , Jurgen von Gartzen , Fabio Verner
Teams Nissan Motorsport , Larbre Competition