Imola: Round four preview

May is definitely a busy month for the FIA GT Championship; after the Imola round, over one third of the season will already have been completed. And what a season it has been so far ! With cars from three different manufacturers winning the three...

May is definitely a busy month for the FIA GT Championship; after the Imola round, over one third of the season will already have been completed. And what a season it has been so far ! With cars from three different manufacturers winning the three first races, and six drivers tied on the top of the Championship classification, it looks like being a very interesting year.

The Aston Martin DBR9, victorious in Silverstone, will not be back for the Imola race, but one of the winning drivers, Pedro Lamy, should be back in his regular cars : the Monza-winning Larbre Competition Ferrari 550 Maranello. The Maserati MC 12 cars entered by JMB Racing and Teams classfication leaders Vitaphone will be aiming to repeat their Magny-Cours Maserati domination, while the GLPK Carsport Corvette, a frontrunner in all sessions this season so far, will be aiming for its first, and already overdue, podium finish.

In GT2, the GruppeM Racing Porsches have won all three race this season, and the nr 66 car of Lieb and Rockenfeller will already be on the maximum penalty weight of 50 kg. Monza podium finishers Ebimotors will be back, while ARC Bratislava Slovakia and Dutch team Lammertink will make their debut.

In the G2 class, Balfe Motorsport put in a fine performance on home soil in Silverstone. In Imola they will face new opposition in the form of Belgian Racing, with the Gillet Vertigo in the capable hands of Bas Leinders and Renaud Kuppens.

WHAT THE DRIVERS THINK ...

"Imola is a difficult circuit for cars and drivers alike. It is often very hot, and the winding and extremely technical circuit makes it extremely wearing on both the mechanical parts of the car and on the people. It's a circuit that I like, but you really have to find the right set-up, or the race will be infernal..." Christophe Bouchut, Russian Age Racing

"Imola is a nice track; I like it as it is flowing and suits my driving style. We ran well there in 2004 with the Graham Nash Saleen, so I am expecting good things. The surrounding area is also very nice... " Paolo Ruberti, Graham Nash Motorsport

"Imola is still one of the best tracks in the world. It is not fast any more, but it is full of big braking moments. You have no time to relax because a corner is already near... It is hard on the car and also on the driver.. " Gabriele Gardel, Larbre Competition

"A strong engine is required to climb up to Aqua Minerale, and strong brakes for Rivazza. The drivers are continuously under pressure and it is difficult to find the right set-up." Michael Bartels, Vitaphone Racing Team

SIX DRIVERS SHARE GT1 CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD !

With the two Vitaphone Maserati MC 12 cars finishing third and fifth in Silverstone, separated by the nr 15 JMB Racing Maserati, six drivers are now sharing the lead of the Championship : Bartels, Scheider, Babini, Biagi, Bertolini and Wendlinger. They are all just three points ahead of leading Ferrari driver Gabriele Gardel. As well as having all its drivers sharing the lead, Vitaphone has a healthy lead in the Teams classification, being 12 points ahead of JMB Racing, with Larbre Competition third, only seven points behind JMB.

"It is my first time racing at Imola," Timo Scheider said. "I only know the circuit from TV and from the stories of my race engineer Luigi Urbinelli. I am very happy to race on a track which is brand new for me. From what I have seen on TV, the track is typically Italian. I think there are a lot of possiblities for overtaking and slipstreaming will work there very well. I am looking forward to driving in Imola, with nice Italian weather and a lot of spectators.""

HEAVY TIMES FOR GRUPPE M

British team GruppeM has won three races in a row in the GT2 category, with two wins for Lieb and Rockenfeller, and one for Sugden and Collard.

The nr 66 car will therefore be on the maximum penalty weight of 50 kg for the next round in Imola. Should they win again, the car would then go up to the 'supermaximum' of 75 kg.

As for the nr 88 car, a broken water pipe lost the car time in the pits in Silverstone, and therefore finished 6th. This place, along with three points, brought a reduction of 20 kg in the handicap weights, putting the car back down to just 15 kg. This will be GruppeM's first time in Imola.

LAMMERTINK : NEW TEAM IN GT2

Dutch team Lammertink will be entering a 2004-model Porsche 996 GT3-RSR in the Imola round of the FIA GT Championship. The car will be driven by FIA GT regular Wolfgang Kaufmann of Germany and his Italian protege Luca Moro.

"I have been helping Luca with his career over the past two years, since he moved from bikes to car racing," Wolfgang said. "I am trying to teach and help him as much as possible. He is currently doing the Dutch Porsche Carrera Cup." This will be Wolfgang's first FIA GT race in a 2004-model Porsche, with the sequential gearbox and a number of other improvements.

"I am really looking forward to it," Wolfgang said. "We recently did a Belcar race together at Spa, in the car prepared by Lammertink, which went well. The team has plenty of experience and it is a good car." This will be Moro's first international race, and also his first time at Imola. As for Wolfgang, he knows the circuit, but has not raced there since Formula Three back in the late 1980's. "I can remember some things, but the track has obviously changed a lot since then. But we will try to do our best and to get a good result for the team and for Dunlop."

For Brno, Wolfgang will be back with the Austrian team Renauer. "Brno is almost their home race, and the team is working hard for the best possible result."

REITER TESTS IN ADRIA

Reiter Engineering has just completed a successful three-day test at the Adria circuit in Italy, running the Lamborghini Murcielago. The team had changed a number of components on the car. "We did some long-distance testing and we are pleased with the performance gain.

It is definitely faster than before," team principal Hans Reiter explained. "However, we need some more running in order to be totally confident with the car." The team will continue to work on the car in order to be back as soon as possible.

KONRAD MOTORSPORT : ENGINE PROBLEM IDENTIFIED

Konrad Motorsport was forced to miss the Silverstone event, after the German team's two Saleen S7 cars suffered engine problems in both Monza and Magny- Cours.

"After error diagnosis, we have finally traced the cause of the problem," Franz Konrad said. "The defective parts must be changed. We have to order the parts from the USA and unfortunately we have long delivery times."

The team should therefore be back on the grid with the two yellow and black Saleen S7 cars for the Imola round. Harald Becker will share the nr 4 car with Antonio Hermann from Brazil, who finished second in last year's Trofeo Brasile, one of the Trofeo Maserati one-make series. Robert Lechner will be in the nr 5 car; his team-mate is yet to be announced.

VERTIGO JOINS THE FIA GT CHAMPIONSHIP

The Balfe Motorsport Mosler will have a new rival in the G2 category at Imola, as Belgian Racing is entering its Vertigo Streiff in the race, to be driven by Bas Leinders and Renaud Kuppens. "We did the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa and the Bahrain GT Festival last year," former Minardi third driver Bas Leinders explained. "Our sponsors decided to do more races, and the first is Imola, partly as a preparation for this year's Spa round. I am really glad to be part of this 100% Belgian effort. That the car exists and can race is in itself a small miracle."

"I know Imola quite well, I've raced there in F3000 and tested there in Formula One," he continued. "It's a very nice and challenging circuit, and I'm looking forward to driving there agian. We'll be up against the Mosler, which is a very fast car. But for us, Imola is mainly to see how the car works, as the team has made changes to the gearbox, brakes and other parts. Our aim is therefore to see if everything goes well in race conditions, and to finish as far forward as we can, even if we can't score points.

It is a practice session for Spa, which is very important for all Belgian teams and drivers, and is becoming an increasingly important event for all drivers. I am very happy to be part of the FIA GT Championship again." Kuppens has competed in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa over the last three seasons, every time with a Vertigo Streiff.

GLPK - A COMPLETE OVERHAUL BEFORE ROUND 4

Despite its undoubted speed, setting the best time in Sunday's warm-up and challenging the Aston Martin in the first hour of the race, the nr 6 GLPK Carsport Corvette C5R did not reach the finish line at Silverstone, having suffered from a brake problem.

For the Belgo-Dutch team this was a real disappointment, just missing out on an first-rate result for Anthony Kumpen, Bert Longin and Mike Hezemans.

"I reckon that not only were we in reach of a podium place, but even the top," commented Mike Hezemans, who did not drive the Corvette C5-R during the race.

"Our times were really very good, and under these difficult grip conditions the Corvette was handling perfectly. Unfortunately the car is not brand new. And it is difficult to assess how many races certain parts have under their belt. After our retirement we had a discussion with the entire team, and before the coming race at Imola, we have decided to overhaul everything... we're not leaving anything to chance.

And seeing Pirelli should be supplying us with the magic rubber that allowed us to excel during the warm- up, optimism reigns once again in the team. It's a great pity that, at Silverstone, we missed out on an excellent result ..."

RUSSIAN AGE RACING TO RUN ASTON MARTIN FROM SPA ONWARDS

Cirtek Motorsport has announced that it will be the first private team to enter an Aston Martin DBR9 in the FIA GT Championship. The Russian Age Racing Aston Martin will be present at the Spa official test day, and will make its race debut in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa.

The car will be driven by team regulars Christophe Bouchut, Alexei Vasiliev and Nicolai Fomenko, with a fourth driver to be named shortly.

Rob Schirle commented: 'I am delighted with this latest progression for Cirtek. The commencement of the Aston Martin DBR9 race programme gives Russian Age Racing added awareness and credibility on the world motorsport stage'. The car will compete in the remaining rounds of the 2005 FIA GT Championship and further announcements regarding the 2006 season will be made soon. Christophe Bouchut continued : "We had the opportunity to visit the Prodrive factory on the Monday after Silverstone, to see the car under construction.

It is a very interesting development for the rest of the team's projects. I think it is very good that Russian Age Racing will be the first private team to run a private Aston Martin DBR9."

RAM RACING RETURNS FOR IMOLA

Polish team RAM Racing will be back for Imola, with its Saleen S7. The car, driven by Max Stanco and Rafal Janus, was not in Silverstone as the event clashed with a round of the Polish Endurance Championship, in which the team is also competing.

The team finished ninth in its first race at Monza, but failed to finish in Magny- Cours.

<pre> TIMETABLE - IMOLA

Friday 27th May 10.30 - 12.00 FIA GT Free Practice 1 13.30 - 14.00 European Alfa Challenge Free Practice 14.30 - 16.00 FIA GT Free Practice 2 16.15 - 16.45 European Alfa Challenge Qualifying 1 17.00 - 18.00 Maserati Trofeo Free Practice

Saturday 28th May 09.00 - 09.30 FIA WTCC Free Practice 1 09.45 - 10.30 FIA GT Free Practice 10.45 - 11.15 European Alfa Challenge Qualifying 12.30 - 13.00 FIA WTCC Free Practice 2 13.15 - 14.00 Maserati Trofeo Qualifying 14.15 - 15.00 FIA GT Qualifying 1 15.15 - 15.45 FIA WTCC Qualifying 16.20 European Alfa Challenge Race 1 (11 laps)

Sunday 29th May 09.00 - 09.15 FIA GT Warm-up 09.20 - 09.35 FIA WTCC Warm-up 10.00 Maserati Trofeo Race (45 mins) 11.20 FIA GT Race 102 laps (max 3 hrs) 15.10 FIA WTCC Race 1 ( 11 laps) 16.15 FIA WTCC Race 2 (11 laps) 17.20 European Alfa Challenge Race 2 (11 laps)

-fia-

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Franz Konrad , Pedro Lamy , Timo Scheider , Michael Bartels , Anthony Kumpen , Mike Hezemans , Christophe Bouchut , Wolfgang Kaufmann , Bas Leinders , Gabriele Gardel , Bert Longin , Antonio Hermann , Robert Lechner , Max Stanco , Rafal Janus , Harald Becker , Renaud Kuppens
Teams RAM Racing , Larbre Competition , Reiter Engineering