ETCC: Round one is approaching

The first round of the LG Super Racing Weekend series is approaching fast, with just six weeks to go before the 2003 season gets underway. The FIA GT Championship promises to be as close and as exciting as last year, in both categories. Chrysler,...

The first round of the LG Super Racing Weekend series is approaching fast, with just six weeks to go before the 2003 season gets underway. The FIA GT Championship promises to be as close and as exciting as last year, in both categories. Chrysler, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Lister, Porsche - and newcomers Saleen - should line up on the grid on Sunday April 6th for an exhilarating 3-hour race round the Catalunya circuit in Barcelona. As for the FIA European Touring Car Championship, the second year with the Super 2000 specification cars looks sure to see some great on-track battles between Alfa Romeo, BMW and SEAT, who will compete for the Manufacturers title, while a number of private teams will be battling for the inaugural Independents Trophy. The third series in this headlining trio will be the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup, with its high-tech single-seaters and an exciting race format, designed to give young drivers a complete motorsports education. Teams and drivers are beginning to be announced, and the first season looks extremely interesting. Not forgetting the action-packed Renault Sport Clio Trophy and the Renault Sport Elf Clio International Cup, competing in the LG Super Racing Weekend package for the first time.

* The Saleen S7 cars have been positively inspected by the FIA, and therefore should be homologated in time for the 2003 season. Graham Nash Motorsport is planning to enter two cars in this year's Championship, with other cars a possibility.


So far, the major FIA ETCC competitors have tested alone. But with the start of the season growing steadily nearer, the first direct confrontation will take place next week, at the Italian circuit of Monza. On February 25th and 26th Alfa Romeo, BMW and SEAT will take to the track with their 2003-specification cars. When Alfa Romeo and BMW met in Vallelunga for the Michelin tests on 9th and 10th January, they both were running hybrid cars; on that occasion Dirk Müller set the fastest time at the wheel of a Schnitzer Motorsport BMW 320i. Since then, both BMW and Alfa have tested at Misano on different occasions. Two weeks ago, during a BMW test, reigning ETCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi set the fastest time in a Ravaglia Motorsport car with a time of 1:39.1. On Wedenesday, this week, Nicola Larini exactly matched that time in his Alfa 156 Gta. Now both Manufacturers appear to be ready to run their 2003 cars at Monza, where they will also face the new SEAT Toledo for the first time. "It's going to be very interesting. The test will give us a good idea of how things could be for at the start of the season," Larini commented. And Giovanardi added: "I expect Alfa and BMW to be at the same level. I would be very surprised if one of them would be half-a-second faster than the other."


Fabio Francia A newcomer to the FIA European Touring Car Championship, the Clever Cats Team will be entering two Alfa Romeo 156 Gta cars as well as the series' youngest driving line-up. The sum of its drivers' ages is only^Å 49. A regular FIA ETCC competitor since 2001, 27-year old Paolo Ruberti is returning to the Championship after being forced to miss the last three meetings of 2002. Ruberti was classified sixth in the 2001 Super Production Championship with a CiBiEmme BMW 320i, and 11th in 2002, when he drove an AGS Motorsport Alfa Romeo 156 Gta. "I'm quite happy to be back with an Alfa. My goal is to try to win the Independents Trophy," Ruberti declared. His team mate is 22-year old Fabio Francia, who only switched from karting to racing cars in 2000. Over the past two seasons, Francia has competed in the Italian Super Production Championship with an Alfa Romeo 147, finishing first in 2001 and second in 2002. "I'm very excited, because this is a great opportunity for my career. However, I am a bit concerned, because I don't know any of the tracks outside Italy," commented Francia. His father, Giorgio, is currently an Alfa Romeo test driver, having been part of the Italian Manufacturer's works teams for thirteen years, winning a number of rounds in the European, the Italian and the German Touring Car Championships. Clever Cats is a young team, founded in 2002; in its first season, the team claimed the Italian Super Production title with Massimo Pigoli, driving a BMW 320i. "We wanted to improve and Alfa Romeo offered us a good opportunity of running parallel programmes in the European and Italian championships," team owner Maximiliano Costi explained.


Macanese driver André Couto is seriously considering an opportunity to race in the FIA European Touring Car Championship. Born in Lisbon 26 years ago, Couto will drive a PRO Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R during the official FIA ETCC test days in Barcelona, on March 6th and 7th; if the test goes well, he should take the wheel of the Japanese car for the season. So far Couto has spent his racing career in high-level single-seater competition: from the Formula Opel Euroseries (5th place in 1995) to Formula 3 (two wins in the 1997 Italian Championship; winner of the 2000 Macau Grand Prix); from Formula 3000 (two podium results in the FIA Championship between 1998 and 2000) to Formula Nippon (one win in 2001). Last season he competed in the Telefonica World Series, in which he was classified seventh. Couto made his Touring Car debut last November, in the Macau Guia Race, at the wheel of a Carly Motors BMW 320i; he crashed halfway through the second heat, whilst fighting with Alfa Romeo's Nicola Larini for second place. The Scottish PRO Motorsport team took over the two Honda Civic cars that were run CiBiEmme in the 2002 FIA ETCC. "We firmly believe that the cars have good potential, which was proved by their progress over the past season," team manager Alan Martin declared. "We are very confident, because JAS Motorsport will continue to work on their technical development." PRO Motorsport is not new to the FIA ETCC, having run a Nissan Primera in the 2001 FIA European Super Touring Championship, claiming the Michelin Amateurs Trophy with Sandro Sardelli.


Swedish team Flash Engineering recently unveiled its 2003 programme, which will be split between the FIA European Touring Car Championship and the Swedish Touring Car Championship. After taking part in two FIA ETCC meetings in 2002 - Anderstorp and Spa - the team will compete in most of the European Championship's rounds with one Volvo S60 driven by Jan 'Flash' Nilsson, team owner and runner-up behind Roberto Colciago in the 2002 STCC. "My priority is to try to win the Swedish crown, but I'm also aiming for the ETCC Independents Trophy," said Nilsson. Flash Engineering will also line-up a second S60 in the STCC for Magnus Krokström; currently this car does not totally comply with the FIA Super 2000 technical regulations, but it might be upgraded so that it could take part in the Swedish round of the FIA ETCC on September 7th, in Anderstorp, as well as the final meetings of the season. Flash Engineering is now in touch with Italian ART Engineering, which will run the two former Prodrive Volvo S60 cars in the ETCC for Rickard Rydell and Sandro Sardelli; the two teams will establish a cooperation to continue the development of the Swedish saloons.


2000 FIA GT Champion Jamie Campbell-Walter will be sharing his Lister Storm with young newcomer Nathan Kinch for the 2003 season. Lister Storm Racing first competed in FIA GT Championship back in 1997, and has been a frontrunner since 1999. They plan to enter two of the fast, spectacular Storm cars in this season's Championship, although the British team is still looking for suitable drivers for the second car. Kinch is 20 years old, from Scotland, and has previously competed in the Ferrari Challenge and in the British GT Championship, at the wheel of a Saleen. Kinch had a good first test in the Lister at Donington earlier this year, and the team are confident for the forthcoming season. "I am really looking forward to the season," Jamie Campbell-Walter explained. "Nathan did a very good job during the test. His experience in the Saleen most probably helps. He was not far off the pace - just one and a half seconds slower than me, which was way above expectations, considering that I practically live in a Lister at Donington ! It will be nice to have a young, keen guy alongside me, and I hope to win a few races. Luckily, he does know most of the European tracks, from racing in the Ferrari Challenge Cup, which will be a big advantage." The Lister Storm will not have changed much over the winter. "Basically, there is nothing much we can do. We have concentrated on the engine, as there is the potential to have more power. And through tyre testing, we should get a little more time - and there is always our strong point, the pit-stops. The car is reliable and fast, and hopefully we can start off in our usual fashion and keep going all season. With two fast drivers, we can revert to two pit stops, and strategy will not be quite so important. It was great to win races with Nicolaus Springer last year, but I respect his wishes not to race in the Championship this year, and I am sure he will be on the pit wall to cheer us on." As for the competition, Jamie is looking forward to another close season. "BMS Scuderia Italia are our main rivals, and we want to beat them. It will be strange and interesting to have another Lister on the track that is not run by Lister. It's a good car, and should be on the pace right away - I'm sure Bobby and I will see each other on the track ! It will also be good to have the Saleens out there - we've raced against them in the British GT Championship, and we were on a par in the races, although they got more pole positions. It should be a good, competitive season - and we'll try to win !"


Polish team Alda Motorsport, after entering the Magny Cours and Brno races early in 2002, is working hard to prepare for the 2003 season, when it plans to contest the full season with a new Porsche 996 GT3-R. The car will be driven by two Polish drivers, Andrzej Dziurka and Wojciech Dobrzanski. The team, which was founded in 1993, is based in Slawkow, near Cracow. Dziurka is the most experienced Polish driver in international racing, and has previously competed in the Ford Fiesta Cup, the Euro STC in 2000 and the V8 Star series in 2001, as well as competing in the Macau Guia race four times, and the Paris Dakar rally-raid.

Dobrzanski in the son of one of the best-known Polish rally-driver, Jerzy Dobrzanski. He started in rallying, moving over to circuit racing last year, when his first-ever race was the FIA GT Championship round at Magny Cours.

The team has been taking part in an intensive testing program over the winter, using a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, at Poznan, Brno, Jerez, Estoril, Albacete and Jarama, with the two drivers completing over 6000 km. Alda's target for the 2003 season is to win some points, and to gain as much experience as possible.


For the first time, a Swedish team is planning to contest a full season of the FIA GT Championship. Henrik Roos Motorsports, which ran a Chrysler Viper GTS-R in the Anderstorp and Donington rounds last year, will be entering the newly updated car in the GT class of the 2003 Championship. The team has been extremely successful, winning the Swedish GT Championship over the past three seasons.

The Chrysler Viper, which has been updated to 2003 specifications with the new suspensions, will be driven by team owner Henrik Roos, and by fellow Swede Magnus Wallinder. "Our aim is to always finish in the top six, and to pick up points. If everything holds together, we hope to be up in the top three by the end of the season. We have high goals," Henrik Roos admitted. "When we took part last year, the car was still in 1998/1999 configuration, but we were still quite competitive. With all the updates, and with support from Dunlop, we are definitely there to make a race of it, although we are very aware that the Championship is one of the most competitive and nothing is certain."

His team-mate Marcus Wallinder is no stranger to the FIA GT Championship, having competed on many occasions, most notably in 2000, when he finished 6th in the overall N-GT classification, driving a Pennzoil Quaker State G-Force Porsche 996 GT3-R "I am really looking forward to being back in the Championship," Magnus explained. "I hope we will be competitive. With the new engine and suspension, I think we will do well. However, there is plenty of good competition, such as the Lister Storms and the Ferrari cars. But we are building up the team. The Viper is more of a beast than the Porsche was, but it is great fun to drive !"


Stéphane Daoudi, who took part in most rounds of the 2002 FIA GT Championship with Freisinger Motorsport, has announced that he will be racing for RWS Motorsport in 2003. The Frenchman made rapid progress during his first full season in the Championship. His best results included second place at Pergusa, and a fine fourth in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, when he was 'on loan' to Cirtek Motorsport. This year, he will be sharing an RWS Porsche 996 GT3-R with Walter Lechner Jr. "I am very pleased and very confident about this new season," he explained. "The level in the N-GT class will be rising, with the arrival of the Veloqx/TMC Ferrari 360 cars, as well as the JMB Ferraris and the numerous Porsches, led by Freisinger Motorsport. However, this year, I am familiar with the circuits, and I have the reassurance that the team will give me everything I need to fight for the title." RWS, with their Russian partners, oil company Yukos, will also enter a Porsche 996 GT3-R for Russian duo Fomenko and Vasiliev.


French team Autopalace is planning to enter its Ferrari Modena 360 in the N-GT category of the 2003 FIA GT Championship. The relatively new team, which won the European Ferrari Challenge in 2001, is full of ambition for this new season. The car, which took part in selected rounds of the 2002 FFSA GT Championship as well as the 24 Hours of Le Mans, will be driven by two Frenchmen, Steeve Hiesse, who finished second in the 2002 FFSA French GT Championship, and Guillaume Gomez, who was also a race-winner in the French GT Championship last season. Both drivers are former single-seater front-runners, who are keen to make a name for themselves in international GT competition. The team is managed by Roland Reiss, whose past career includes the Filière Elf, Formula Renault and Formula 3, with eight French Championship titles. The technical director is Edoardo Berto, who has been involved in motorsport since 1978, and who has extensive experience in touring cars and endurance.

The team has been working hard on the car over the winter. "We have managed to gain some horsepower," team press officer Sophie Bassaler explained. " We have also worked on the rigidity of the chassis, the reliability and on the aerodynamics. The car will also have a sequential gear-box. We are working in close collaboration with the drivers on this matter, and aim to make the car 'to measure'. Our drivers are both relatively young, with an astonishing will to win. The whole team is pulling together to do the best we can, and to aim for the Championship title."


Wieth Racing has continued its busy winter testing schedule, running at Jerez in Spain over the weekend and then on Monday, with Dunlop. "It was a good possibility to compare our car to some of our competitors, such as theLister and the Graham Nash Saleen," team manager Florian Hebel explained. "Once again, Wolfgang Kaufmann did a great job, helping us to adjust the new suspension system. However, a lot of work remains to be done on the track, and therefore we will be testing again for three days end of next week, before going to the official FIA Test in Barcelona, at the beginning of March." Wolfgang Kaufmann has been a frequent participant in the FIA GT Championship over the years, mainly racing for Freisinger Motorsport and Paco Orti Racing. He won the 2000 Lausitzring round, the last category win for the Porsche 911 GT2. "The tests went fine, we did plenty of laps and worked well, with hardly any problems," Kaufmann confirmed. "There are still a lot of aerodynamic changes which should be ready for Barcelona. The team is extremely motivated for this season, and they have done a good job." Kaufmann would like to race the car. "I would really like to be back in the GT category, and to race this car, but nothing has been signed yet."


Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Dirk Müller , Jamie Campbell-Walter , Walter Lechner Jr. , Guillaume Gomez , Wolfgang Kaufmann , Nicolaus Springer , Nathan Kinch , Andre Couto , Rickard Rydell , Henrik Roos , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago
Teams Nissan Motorsport