Imola: Friday practice report

Free Practice Sessions After a summer break, necessary after the hard work during the longest event of the season, the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, the teams and drivers of the FIA GT Championship have headed back to the track. The eighth round of...

Free Practice Sessions
After a summer break, necessary after the hard work during the longest event of the season, the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, the teams and drivers of the FIA GT Championship have headed back to the track. The eighth round of the season is being held in Italy, at the circuit of Imola, which hosts the San Marino Grand Prix every year. This is the Championship's first-ever visit to the challenging, undulating 4.933 km circuit, with historic corner names such as Tamburello and Rivazza. 31 cars are due to take part in this round, with seven different makes of car represented : Maserati and Lamborghini joining Chrysler, Ferrari, Lister, Porsche and Saleen.

Weather
Extremely hot and humid; the weather is due to remain warm all weekend.

LAST TIME

This is the Championship's first visit to Imola, the fourth Italian circuit it has visited since 1997, after Mugello, Monza and Enna Pergusa. The last Italian race was the first round of 2004, at Monza, when BMS Scuderia Italia's nr 2 Ferrari 550 Maranello of Gollin and Cappellari was victorious, while Stephane Ortelli and Emmanuel Collard won in N-GT, with the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS. Both cars also won the previous round at Spa, and are both still leading their respective Championships.

HANDICAP WEIGHTS

After running without penalty weights at Spa, the ballast for Imola takes account of both the weight after Donington and that gained after six, twelve and twenty-four hours at Spa. Additionally, all new entrants have 60 kg in GT, 30 kg in N-GT - unless their drivers have more weight. The nr 2 and nr 3 Ferrari 550 Maranello cars both are on the maximum 100 kg, with the nr 11 GPC Ferrari 575 M Maranello on 85 kg and the nr 17 JMB Ferrari on 70 kg. The nr 33 AF Corse Maserati MC12 has 65 kg due to Mika Salo's second place at Spa, while the nr 34 Maserati and both DAMS Lamborghini Murcielago cars are on 60 kg. The nr 1 BMS car has 45 kg, with the nr 5 Vitaphone Saleen on 30 kg. In N-GT, the nr 50 Porsche has 75 kg, with the nr 99 car on 50 kg and the nr 59 Jens Petersen on 40 kg, with the nr 77 Freisinger Yukos car on 35 kg and the nr 62 Ferrari on 5 kg. New and returning entrants AB Motorsport, Vonka, Mik Corse and Scuderia Veregra all have 30 kg.

FIRST GT RACE FOR DAMS SINCE 1998

French team DAMS has returned to the FIA GT Championship with two Lamborghini Murcielago cars, both decked out in a stunning black and orange livery. The team previously entered a Panoz GTR in 1997 and 1998. The cars and driven by experienced FIA GT duo and four times race-winners Jean-Denis Deletraz and Andrea Piccini and by Beppe Gabbiani and Felipe Ortiz, who have plenty of sportscar experience but who will be racing in the FIA GT for the first time.

MASERATI MC12 TO MAKE RACE DEBUT

The two Maserati MC12 cars are making their race debut this weekend, after special permission was granted from the FIA. The cars, which are not yet homologated, will not be eligible to score Championship points. The two cars are entered by AF Corse; the nr 33 is driven by Andrea Bertolini and Mika Salo, with Johnny Herbert and Fabrizio De Simone in the nr 34. The team's best result in practice was second fastest for the nr 33.

PADDOCK NEWS

* 31 cars should line up on Sunday, with 20 in the GT class and 11 in the N-GT. This includes nine Porsche 996 GT3, five Ferrari 575 M Maranello, five Saleen S7, three 550 Maranello, two each of Chrysler Viper, Maserati MC12 and Lamborghini Murcielago and Ferrari 360 Modena, and one Lister Storm

* Three-times Champion Christophe Bouchut has returned to Zwaan's Racing GTR Team, where he will be racing the nr 10 Chrysler Viper GTS-R with Stephane Lemeret and Val Hillebrand. The Dutch team is only entering one Viper for this race.

* Karl Wendlinger and Jaime Melo, victorious at Donington, are reunited in the nr 17 Ferrari 575 M Maranello; in the nr 18 car, Bert Longin has been joined by Sergey Zlobin and Chris Buncombe

* Italian team Scuderia Veregra has entered two cars : a Chrysler Viper GTS-R in the GT category for Italians BaseUp, Valerio Scarsellati and Angelo Lancelotti, and a Porsche 996 GT3 in the N-GT category for Bebo Orlandi and Roberto Castagna.

* Swiss driver Iradj Alexander has taken the place of Fabrizio De Simone in the nr 62 GPC Giesse Ferrari 360 Modena. He has plenty of experience with the car, having driven for JMB Racing in both the FIA GT and the ALMS.

* Cirtek Motorsport's Porsche 996 GT3-RS is being driven by British driver Adam Jones and Russian Nikolaj Fomenko. This car is being used during the Russian film project 'Eau Rouge', in which Fomenko has a starring role.

* Jorg Bergmeister has rejoined Freisinger Yukos Motorsport in the nr 77 car, alongside Alexei Vasiliev. With Timo Berhard, they finished second in Spa.

FIRST FREE PRACTICE : LECHNER JR AT THE TOP; GPC LEADS N-GT

Walter Lechner Jr, in the nr 4 Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7, was comfortably fastest in the first 90-minute free practice session, setting a time of 1:47.180, over half a second ahead of the nr 33 AF Corse car. They were followed by the two BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello cars.

The Saleen cars dominated the session, as the nr 5 Vitaphone car was fastest early on, until the nr 4 car improved after 35 minutes, setting the time that remained fastest until the end. The session was red-flagged shortly afterwards, to allow the nr 73 car to be retrieved after an engine failure.

The nr 34 AF Corse car was also brought back at the same time, after it had stopped on the track at the exit to the Tosa corner, with a transmission problem. After the green flag was given, the nr 33 Maserati improved to set the second-fastest time of the session, 1:47.766, while the nr 2 BMS Ferrari improved to third, despite having 100 kg penalty weight onboard.

The N-GT category was led throughout by the nr 62 GPC Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari 360 of Pescatori and Alexander, with the nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche of Maassen and Luhr second and the nr 77 Freisinger Yukos car of Bergmeister and Vasiliev third.

SECOND FREE PRACTICE : BOUCHUT SHINES; VITAPHONE CONFIRMS SALEEN SPEED

For much of the second free practice session, Christophe Bouchut held the top of the timing screens in the nr 10 Zwaan's Racing Chrysler Viper. The triple Champion went fastest early in the session, with a time of 1:47.967, which remained the best time in the hot conditions until nearing the end, when the nr 5 Vitaphone Saleen put in a blistering lap of 1:46.619. This was easily the fastest lap of the day, and was over a second better than the Viper's time. The nr 8 RML Saleen was an excellent third fastest for Miguel Ramos and Chris Goodwin, with the nr 34 AF Corse Maserati, which had only set seven laps in the morning, setting the fourth time with a lap of 1:48.530. The nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari of Bobbi and Gardel was the best Ferrari, with a time of 1:48.841 putting them fifth. In N-GT, the nr 62 GPC Giesse car was fastest again, setting a time of 1:52.374, ahead of the nr 50 Freisinger Yukos Motorsport Porsche of Ortelli and Collard, with the nr 99 Porsche third.

The session was interrupted when the nr 99 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche went wide coming out of Aqua Minerale, and hit the tyre barriers violently. The driver, Sascha Maassen, was not hurt, but the right-hand side of the car has been badly damaged.

-fia-

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Johnny Herbert , Andrea Piccini , Karl Wendlinger , Mika Salo , Emmanuel Collard , Chris Goodwin , Stéphane Ortelli , Sascha Maassen , Jörg Bergmeister , Jaime Melo , Christophe Bouchut , Val Hillebrand , Bebo Orlandi , Felipe Ortiz , Beppe Gabbiani , Andrea Bertolini , Bert Longin , Jens Petersen , Adam Jones , Chris Buncombe , Sergey Zlobin , Alexander Iradj
Teams AF Corse , DAMS