Hockenheim Friday free practice

FIA GT Championship 26 - 28 June 1998 Hockenheim Round Friday 26 June 1998 - Free Practice Sessions The FIA GT Championship returns to the site of its very first race for the third round of the 1998 Championship. A circuit of contrasts, 6.832...

FIA GT Championship 26 - 28 June 1998 Hockenheim Round Friday 26 June 1998 - Free Practice Sessions

The FIA GT Championship returns to the site of its very first race for the third round of the 1998 Championship. A circuit of contrasts, 6.832 km long, the winding Motodrom section, surrounded by huge grandstands, is followed by the long straights, when the cars disappear off into the forest.

Last year, the Mercedes CLK-GTR was the newcomer, taking pole only 128 days after the start of the project. This year, the AMG Mercedes team has entered a new version of the CLK, based on the Le Mans car, but amended to comply with the FIA technical regulations. The Porsche AG team, however, fresh from their Le Mans victory, will surely be aiming to redress the balance in the GT1 category, which has seen Mercedes take victory in the first two races.

Weather Warm and overcast when the first 90-minute free practice session started, the weather has generally been hot and humid, with a possibility of showers and even thunderstorms to come.

Rundown 32 cars have entered this third round of the FIA GT Championship, with 13 in the GT1 category and 19 in GT2. In GT1, Yannick Dalmas returns to his Porsche GT1 car after missing the Silverstone round due to injury. Three new teams have entered the GT2 category, Paul Belmondo Racing, Swiss Team Salamin and Seikel Motorsport, all with Porsche 911 GT2 cars. The Cirtek Motorsport Ford Saleen Mustang has a new line-up, with the Italian trio of Casadei, Zadra and Garbagnati at the wheel. Mauro Casadei and Andrea Garbagnati are regular competitors in the Lamborghini Trophy, also racing this week-end at Hockenheim.

First Free Practice Session The '98 version of the Mercedes CLK-GTR was on top form for the first 90 minute practice session, with Ludwig in the #2 AMG Mercedes setting the fastest time, of 2:00.496. Schneider and Webber were second fastest, ahead of the #8 Porsche 911 GT1 '98. The Panoz was fourth. The #10 Bitter, to be driven by Bonnetsm|ller, Jurasz and Fielder, did not set a time after a fire, while the #9 car has gearbox problems. Beretta and Lamy were once again fastest in GT2, with their championship-leading Viper setting a fastest lap of 2:08.665, a second faster than their sister car. H|rtgen and Ortelli, still yet to score a point in the Roock Porsche, were third fastest, in spite of an engine blow-up towards the end of the session. This meant that they were unable to take part in the afternoon session, although they hope to be back on the track tomorrow.

Second Free Practice Session After the Mercedes domination of the first session, the second saw the factory-entered Porsche 911 GT1 cars led the timing screens for much of the session. However, at the very end of the session, the Persson Motorsport car driven by Gounon and Tiemann went fastest with a lap of 2:00.570 - a time further improved by Schneider to 2:00.530. "I am quite happy, " Tiemann, who set the time, said. "The lap was just good. I had new tyres, and managed to slip-stream a bit - it was just lucky." But he also says that the V12 engine still used by the Persson Mercedes CLK-GTR cars is not too bad here, as "there are only straights." Vipers took the top three places in the GT2 category, with the Chamberlain Viper (which has a new livery) driven by the Portuguese line-up of Ni Amorin and Goncalo Gomes behind the two Oreca Vipers. In fourth place was the Marcos LM600, driven by Euser, Becker and Vann. "We've been testing in Zeltweg, and will go on to test at the N|rburgring," Cor Euser said. "We are putting a lot of work in, and hope it pays off." As for this race, "We can't outrun the Vipers on this circuit," he said, "But we have more hope for Dijon and Hungary - they are twisty circuits, which is good for our car." Christian Vann should be joining them for the rest of the season. The Stretton/Seiler Konrad Porsche GT2 was towed back to the pits at the end of the session, after a dramatic fire which has damaged the rear end of the car. "600 metres before the first chicane, when I was doing almost 250 km/h, the car caught fire," Toni Seiler said. He managed to bring the car to a halt, and used the fire extinguisher himself to try to bring the fire under control. "The mechanics will have to work all night"

Fastest Man : Klaus Ludwig The best time of the day was set by Klaus Ludwig in the new model AMG Mercedes CLK-GTR - a time of 2:00.496 over the 6.832 km circuit. "The car is going very well. I am really optimistic that I can go under 2 minutes," Ludwig said. "This afternoon, we had a problem with the starter motor - the car was smoking when I came out of the pits. They changed the starter, and the electric cabling. Then I overdid it, and flat-spotted the tyres." But he is confident that tomorrow he can go under the two-minute mark. "Definitely. 1:58, 1:57 even." The car he is driving is totally different from that used at Silverstone and Oschersleben. "Different chassis, different suspension, different aerodynamics, different centre of gravity, different weight. It's the Le Mans car adapted for the FIA GT regulations." As for Hockenheim, he knows the track very well, and has won many races here. "I hate the track, and I like it. Whatever, I am fast here. That is why I will be qualifying the car." What about the difference between driving an ITC car here and the CLK-GTR ? "They are very close, actually. Of course the ITC car had ABS and all sorts of technological help. The GT car is really back to basics, with no ABS, no traction control. There is a lot more driving to do - it can be a real handful !"

Injury list : Bouchut French Persson Motorsport driver Christophe Bouchut is driving with a broken finger, the result of an accident whilst on holiday in Scotland. In spite of this minor inconvenience, Bouchut managed to set the sixth best time, with a lap of 2:01.293 in the afternoon. "There is still a lot to do."

Quotes : Sandy Grau, Zakspeed Porsche 911 GT1 : "We can't find the right set-up for qualifying. We know we'll be OK for the race, but we're in the middle of nowhere concerning qualifying." As they did not qualify for Le Mans, the team has been concentrating on testing, mainly for qualifying tyres. "Pirelli are pushing hard and doing some good work. But these things take time." Eighth in the morning and 10th in the afternoon, Grau said "I know this is not the ITC - it's a 500 km race, and qualifying is not so important, but it still matters."

M|ller and Alzen were 3rd fastest in both qualifying sessions. "Everything is all right - we have some set-up problems as the track is a bit bumpy," M|ller said. Concerning their win at Le Mans - "It has made no real difference to the team morale - they were good guys before, and they are good guys afterwards. But it has made everyone very happy ! Everything came right at the right time - the first two FIA GT races allowed us to sort out all the minor problems." Concerning the track - "I like it. It's one of the German tracks that you can't drive at every week. I am really fed up with the N|rburgring - when I was in Formula 3 we were testing there nearly every weekend. But this is a fast track and I really like to drive it. " Concerning the Motodrom section, M|ller is equally enthusiatic. He once drove here in a support race to the German F1 Grand Prix. "As the only German in the race, coming into the stadium with all the German flags waving was really impressive ! I was so impressed I nearly missed the corner "

Geoff Lees (Davidoff Classic McLaren n0 15) After the disappointment of his retirement from Le Mans, when the Toyota GT One he shared with Boutsen and Kelleners had been leading the race, Lees is back in the Team Davidoff McLaren, which came 6th in the last round at Silverstone. "I'm quite happy with the car," he said. "We've got bigger restrictors for this race, and it's made an improvement. We've also got a better compound tyres from Goodyear. So the car is working well." The track, with its long straight sections, suits the McLaren. "It's not so good on tight circuits." As for Le Mans - "It was a great disappointment. To win the race would have been one of the highlights of my career." It's hard to compare the two cars - "The Toyota is almost a Formula One car - " but there is still a lot of good in the McLaren. "The car could still be developed. It still has a road-going suspension, for example. But it is very reliable - and that is where the Toyota let us down."

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Yannick Dalmas , Klaus Ludwig , Toni Seiler , Christophe Bouchut , Christian Vann , Paul Belmondo , Mauro Casadei , Andrea Garbagnati , Cor Euser , Geoff Lees , Goncalo Gomes
Teams Persson Motorsport , Team Zakspeed