Hockenheimring: Round four preview

The fourth LG Super Racing Weekend of the 2004 season will take place in Germany, at the Hockenheimring Baden-Wurttemberg. This will be the first time that the famous circuit, which hosts the German Formula One Grand Prix every year, will welcome...

The fourth LG Super Racing Weekend of the 2004 season will take place in Germany, at the Hockenheimring Baden-Wurttemberg. This will be the first time that the famous circuit, which hosts the German Formula One Grand Prix every year, will welcome the multi-platform series, and it will mark the first of two German rounds in the 2004 calendar, with a return visit to Oschersleben on September 19th.

There has been a circuit in the German town of Hockenheim since 1932. It has seen a number of changes over the years, with the Motodrom stadium being built in 1966. The first Formula One race took place at the circuit in August 1970. In January 2002, work began on reconstruction and modernisation measures, reducing the length of the circuit to 4.574 km. The circuit no longer has the long power sections through the forests, but retains the famous slow and technical stadium section, to the delight of the spectators.

Although none of the series have raced on the current configuration, the FIA GT Championship visited Hockenheim on three occasions between 1997 and 1999; the circuit hosted the first-ever race of the Championship. The last visit was in June 1999, which saw Chrysler Viper Team Oreca dominate the event, with Jean-Philippe Belloc and Dominique Dupuy winning ahead of the second Chrysler Viper of Justin Bell and Luca Drudi. Franz Konrad and the late Bob Wollek were third in a Porsche 911 GT2. Five years later, the Championship has moved on, and these days, battle is raging between the Ferrari and Saleen cars. Magny-Cours saw a historic first win for the Saleen, in the hands of the Vitaphone Racing Team and German drivers Uwe Alzen and Michael Bartels, while another German team, Freisinger Motorsport, claimed all the podium steps for their drivers, in the yellow and green of main sponsor Yukos, with Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr taking their second consecutive win.

The FIA European Touring Car Championship is returning to Hockenheim for the first time since it was revived in 2001. Previously, the championship visited the circuit once before, in 1986. Back then, the Volvo 240 Turbo driven by Cecotto-Lindstrom won the race from the Schnitzer BMW 635 Csi of Ravaglia-Quester with only a 2-second margin. Victory in the second division went to the Mercedes 190E of Snobeck-Cudini, while the Swiss team of Eichmann-P. Muller won the first division in a Toyota Corolla. Returning to modern times, the third event of the season proved to be a good one for BMW, with Dirk Muller and Andy Priaulx winning the two French rounds, and they will be surely keen to repeat these results on home ground. However, these excellent results mean that some of the major home stars, including Jorg and Dirk Muller, will be heavily ballasted for Hockenheim. BMW currently leads the Manufacturers' classification, while AutoDelta's Gabriele Tarquini leads the Drivers'.


German driver Frank Diefenbacher is one of a growing group of up-and-coming young drivers in the FIA European Touring Car Championship. Aged 22, from Pforzheim, he has been driving for SEAT Sport since last year. In 2003, he claimed SEAT's first podium at the German circuit of Oschersleben. In Magny-Cours last week, he set his best-ever qualifying time, starting from third on the grid.

"Hockenheim is very much my local circuit -- it's only about half an hour away from where I live and I know it well. The only problem area is the long back straight down to the hairpin, but the section around the motordrome should really suit the Toledo. If you look at the team's overall performance, we've been to three very different circuits and had very good results in qualifying and warm-up, but some incredible bad luck during the races. I think it's just a matter of time now before we're regularly scoring podium finishes."

Circuit length : 4574 m
Location : 15 km south of Heidelberg
Directions : From Frankfurt, take the A5 Motorway southbound for Mannheim/Karlsruhe; take the Hockenheim exit. The track is east of the town.

After the first three rounds of the 2004 season of the FIA GT Championship, BMS Scuderia Italia has built up a healthy lead in the points classifications, and is currently 30 points ahead of nearest rivals JMB Racing. The team's four drivers are vying for the lead of the Drivers classification as well, with Gollin and Cappellari five points ahead of Bobbi and Gardel. However, after the Saleen cars dominated in Magny-Cours, where Walter Lechner Jr took pole, the Vitaphone car of Alzen and Bartels won the race and the JMB Ferrari 575 M Maranello finished on the podium, the fight is definitely on. The points in the GT class remain provisional, pending the appeal lodged by BMS Scuderia Italia against the 50-second penalty awarded to the nr 1 car, judged to have been responsible for causing an avoidable accident with the nr 2 car. This demoted Bobbi and Gardel to fourth place, with Gollin and Cappellari moving up to third, and the JMB Racing trio of Wendlinger, Wolff and Lechner inheriting second. In N-GT, Freisinger Yukos Motorsport is in the lead, fifteen points ahead of the third Porsche 996 GT3-RS run by the team under the name Freisinger Motorsport. GPC Giesse, with its Ferrari 360 Modena, is lying third, ahead of Proton Competition. Ortelli and Collard have a lead of four points over Luhr and Maassen, who were victorious in the past three races.

The International Court of Appeal will meet in Paris on Wednesday May 12th, 2004, to hear the Automobile Club d'Italia appeal on behalf of BMS Scuderia Italia, car nr 1 Bobbi/Gardel, against the decision made by the Stewards of the Meeting on May 2nd, concerning the incident during the event run at Magny-Cours (France) and counting towards the 2004 FIA GT Championship. The decision will be announced on Thursday, May 13th in the afternoon. Any requests for accreditation from members of the press must be sent by fax to the FIA Press Office (+33 1 43 12 58 18) by Monday, May 10th at 16:00.

The handicap weights for Hockenheim are provisional, depending on the outcome of the above-mentioned appeal. Although the provisional points and results take the penalty into account, the handicap weights are based on the race results without the penalty. This means that the nr 1 car provisionally has 90 kg for Hockenheim, the nr 2 60 kg and the nr 17 20 kg. Unaffected by the appeal, the nr 5 Saleen will carry 40 kg.

In N-GT, the nr 50 car will have 45 kg, the nr 99 40 kg, and both the nr 77 and the nr 62 Ferrari will be on 10 kg. Additionally, any new cars joining or re-joining the Championship for the 4th round will have a penalty of 40 kg in GT and 20 kg in N-GT.

"It is gorgeous that we won after terribly hard working before the season starts. It is a well-deserved result for the team," Uwe Alzen explained. " I like the series very much and I think that more spectators should realize how excellent this series is. In the evening standing in the pitlane I get goosebumps when I see those beautiful cars. For me it is a fascinating championship, as team spirit plays the main part. For Hockenheim I am optimistic to reach the podium again. For us it is not so bad to get the 40 kg, but it could be difficult with more than that."

His team-mate, Michael Bartels, was also emotional after their first win. "In Magny Cours, I was moved to tears after our win. I am glad to be driving in the FIA GT because the potential of the series is very high. All of the circuits are interesting and I like to drive internationally. We are working very hard and we give our best to fight for victory. I think the next race at Hockenheim will be our home round because Uwe and I have driven everything with four wheels at the circuit of Hockenheim. I hope many spectators will come and give us a real home advantage."

The current Championship leader, BMS Scuderia Italia, has been working hard to prepare the cars for the fourth round of the Championship in Hockenheim. "The cars were not in a good state after the last race," Sporting Director Marco Streparava explained. "We have been trying hard to prepare the cars as always. We are also trying to find the best solution to set up the cars, as this is a new track for us, and we have never been there with the Ferrari 550." The team has a good lead in the Championship at the moment, but they are aware that they cannot relax yet. "The Saleen is more and more of a rival for us, now that the car is becoming very reliable. And we saw in Magny-Cours that the Ferrari 575 M is growing up fast. We have to run faster, and to keep scoring more points, if we want to keep ahead."

At Magny-Cours, Austrian trio Wendlinger, Wolff and Robert Lechner claimed the first podium position of the season for JMB Racing. With the benefit of an engine evolution, and with all involved having gained more experience of the Ferrari 575 M Maranello, the team set its best qualifying position of the season, and proceded to cross the finish line third, later inheriting provisional second place. The nr 18 car was less lucky, being involved in a collision with an N-GT car which took it out of the race, while the nr 19 finished a fine 11th place after a very consistent race. "With this first podium, we can now see the results of the close collaboration between JMB Racing and N-Technology, which has set up the Ferrari 575 GTC and is taking care of it development, as well as the good preparation of the team. We can now face the future in the best possible conditions, in order to continue on the same path."

German team Freisinger Yukos Motorsport is currently leading the N-GT Teams Classification, with Ortelli and Collard at the top of the Drivers' points table. The Russian duo of Alexey Vasiliev and Nicolay Fomenko, who share the nr 77 Porsche 996 GT3-RS, climbed onto the third step of the podium in Magny-Cours. "Magny-Cours was a great race for us," Vasiliev said. "We have scored our first podium at last, even though we had to change the transmission after qualifying and started the race with power shift problems. The main task was to reach the finish, because compared to qualifying, the car was even slower. To finish third was wonderful for us after such technical problems. Now, having finished third, we don't want to be fourth any more. But first or second - that's another matter!" His team-mate Nikolay Fomenko was equally delighted with their result. "Freisinger Yukos Motorsport is first in the N-GT Teams Championship, and we' ll continue to do our best to help the team win the Championship. Our emotions after the first-ever podium in FIA GT are just great, because we are the first Russians on the FIA GT podium!"

After a breath-taking pole position for Walter Lechner Jr, Magny-Cours finally saw the nr 4 Saleen S7 cross the finish line and claim its first points of the 2004 season. "I think we've taken the first step -- and despite only having half the car at the time -- we finished the race," Lechner Jr. explained afterwards. "Now we need to get the whole car onto the podium !" The young Austrian referred to the fact that the car had practically disintegrated a few laps from the end, with bodywork flying off and the rear hanging down. "We haven't found out what happened yet," he continued. "The car was fine, and suddenly it had gone." Walter is looking forward to the next race in Germany; he raced at the new Hockenheim layout last year, in the Porsche Supercup. "I think the Saleen will be strong -- it's a good car, and as such should be strong everywhere. The competition in the GT class is very strong this year, much more than last year, so we have to be competitive."

The nr 27 Creation Autosportif Lister Storm had adopted a different strategy for Magny-Cours, putting Derbyshire in the car for a short stint mid-race, and then aiming for a splash and dash in the final stages. A pit-stop strategy which placed them out of sync with the rest of the field, but which could have paid off, if not for a puncture towards the end. "And then a stone came into the engine compartment and broke the power steering," Jamie Campbell-Walter explained. "The car was virtually undriveable for the final ten laps." Despite their problems, the car crossed the line and claimed the points for sixth place. "The car is quite good now," he continued, "We might not be on the Saleen's pace, but with a good reliable car, if we get a good run there is no reason we can't get good results. I last drove the short circuit in the Championship in 1999, but I don't know the new layout. The infield is still the same -- it's a good little section, slow and technical, but quite challenging. I'm looking forward to it."

Zwaan's GTR Racing faced their third race without their youngest member, Val Hillebrand, who pulled out of the event after the death of his father. He has vowed to be back for Hockenheim. "It is what my father would have wanted," he explained. "Behind every driver, there is a big father who took him there."

Triple FIA GT Champion Christophe Bouchut, racing for the team this year, raced on the new-look Hockenheim two years ago. "I raced there in the Porsche Supercup. The track is very flat and fast, and I don't think it will really suit the Viper. But we are making progress and I hope for a good result."

Hockenheim has a certain importance to the FIA GT Championship, as it was the scene of the first-ever round, back in April 1997. A number of teams and drivers competing then are still present in the Championship, including Lotus driver Mike Hezemans, who has competed in more rounds, with more different cars, than any other driver, Christophe Bouchut (then running a Kremer Porsche 911 GT1 with current FIA ETCC driver Carl Rosenblad), current N-GT stars Stephane Ortelli, Christian Pescatori and Emmanuel Collard. Konrad Motorsport was present, and its drivers included Toni Seiler, Philipp Peter, Franz Konrad and Uwe Alzen, who should all be action this weekend. Proton Competition was already present, with Gerold Ried at the wheel of his Porsche 911 GT2. That first race was won by JJ Lehto and Steve Soper in a BMW Motorsport McLaren F1 GTR, with Beretta and Gache winning the GT2 class in a Chrysler Viper GTS-R.


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Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Andy Priaulx , Dirk Müller , Franz Konrad , Christian Pescatori , Emmanuel Collard , Stéphane Ortelli , Justin Bell , Sascha Maassen , Uwe Alzen , Michael Bartels , Jamie Campbell-Walter , Jean-Philippe Belloc , Mike Hezemans , Toni Seiler , Luca Drudi , Christophe Bouchut , Frank Diefenbacher , Val Hillebrand , Alexey Vasiliev , Gerold Ried , Gabriele Tarquini , Bob Wollek , Steve Soper , Dominique Dupuy , Robert Lechner , Philipp Peter , JJ Lehto
Teams Proton Competition