Magny-Cours: Round two preview

What a race that was ! The 2005 season got off to a thrilling start in Monza, and now all eyes are turning to the French circuit of Magny-Cours to see how the next installment in this breath-taking drama will unfold. In Monza, Larbre...

What a race that was ! The 2005 season got off to a thrilling start in Monza, and now all eyes are turning to the French circuit of Magny-Cours to see how the next installment in this breath-taking drama will unfold.

In Monza, Larbre Competition's Ferrari 550 Maranello, driven by Pedro Lamy of Portugal and Gabriele Gardel from Switzerland, claimed a narrow victory over the two Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati MC 12 cars. A fascinating race around the fast circuit saw impressive challenges from the new Corvette C5R,which looked certain of a podium finish until an oil line broke, as well as a fine start from the Russian Age Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello. With the Saleen and Lamborghini cars likely to be more competitive on the challenging French circuit next week, an excellent battle is in prospect.

GT2 will be equally exciting. In Monza, the main competition was between the two Gruppe M Porsche 996 GT3 cars, with no quarter given between the battling teammates. In France, they will face their main rivals from 2004, as the GT2 cars from the British GT Championship join the fray. With Scuderia Ecosse and their two Ferrari 360 Modena cars, LNT with the competitive TVR T400R, and a number of Porsches including the Embassy Racing and Eurotech cars, a fascinating race is in prospect. The cars will be eligible for GT2 points, but will also score towards the British GT classification.

Additional cars will also join the Balfe Motorsport Mosler in the G2 category.

WHAT THE DRIVERS THINK ...

"Magny-Cours is now my home circuit, as I live in the neighbouring countryside. The circuit is technical and very interesting from a driver's point of view. Despite the recent changes, it is still one of the most interesting circuits of the year. The only problem about the track is the weather, as it often rains..." Christophe Bouchut, Russian Age Racing

"Although Magny-Cours is not one of my favourite circuits, I find the Nevers area very picturesque !" Paolo Ruberti, Graham Nash Motorsport

"Magny-Cours is a tricky circuit, where the experienced driver can make a big difference. I really like the long right-hand corner before the Mistral straight. There are a number of fast chicanes where you can improve or lose time... " Gabriele Gardel, Larbre Competition

"The track requires medium to high downforce, and in terms of grip and balance, it is more dependant on track temperature than on any other circuit. The car must be aerodynamically efficient and manoeuvrable; the only real overtaking opportunity is in the braking zone for the Adelaide hairpin." Michael Bartels, Vitaphone Racing Team

VITAPHONE CLAIM EARLY CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD

The Vitaphone Racing Team took an early lead in the GT1 Championship by placing its two Maserati MC 12 cars in second and third places in the first round at Monza.

Michael Bartels and newcomer Timo Scheider finished second, with Thomas Biagi and Fabio Babini close behind. The team claimed its first win at Magny-Cours last year, with the Saleen S7, while the driver of the nr 10 car, Thomas Biagi, won the Magny- Cours round in 2003, so the team will be keen to keep the sequence going.

"I am very pleased to be racing with Vitaphone and Maserati," Thomas explained. "The team is very professional, and they work hard in all areas. It is also a great pleasure to drive a Maserati, as the company originated in Bologna, my home town. I've now done 12 FIA GT races, and I've been on the podium 9 times - a good record."

ONE -TWO FOR GRUPPEM IN GT2

GruppeM took a fine one-two in the first round at Monza, to take a commanding lead in the GT2 teams classifcation. With Lieb and Rockenfeller winning ahead of Sugden and Collard, they will face increased competition at Magny-Cours, where the Ferrari 360 Modena cars have traditionally been very successful.

As well as the British GT2 cars competing in this round, the Czech National Team Porsche will be shared by Jan Vonka and Mauro Casadei. Proton Competition will be keen to keep up their unbroken pointsscoring run and Balfe Motorsport will have more G2 competition.

LARBRE COMPETITION : TOTAL CONCENTRATION FOR HOME ROUND

Not many races - in the FIA GT or elsewhere - can boast such a close finish.

Monza marked an excellent return for leading French team Larbre Competition to the FIA GT Championship, which it won between 2000 and 2002. With the second car in sixth position, Larbre is just one point behind Vitaphone in the points.

"That was such a good race," Gardel exclaimed. "But now we are working hard for Magny Cours. The Championship is so long and so close, we need to stay 100% concentrated and work on doing our very best at each round."

WALTER LECHNER JR. TO MISS 2005 SEASON THROUGH ILLNESS

Popular young Austrian driver Walter Lechner who had planned to compete for Konrad Motorsport this year, has been forced to cancel his 2005 season due to ill-health. Having been taken ill during the first round of the season in Monza, the 23-year old has been diagnosed as suffering from acute lymphatic leukaemia.

Going directly from Monza to hospital in Salzburg, the 23-year old Austrian has already started chemotherapy. "I am taking strong medicine, which make competitive sport impossible," Lechner said. However, he is confident of overcoming his illness. "I am used to pushing, to winning. This time, the fight is not on the track but in my own body. I am convinced that I can win through."

As well as the top-class team of doctors at the LKH Salzburg, Walter Lechner Jr. is surrounded by his family, including his brother and Konrad Motorsport team-mate Robert and his father Walter. He is also receiving plenty of support from his team boss Franz Konrad, who has promised that as soon as he is fit, the cockpit of the Saleen will be ready and waiting for him.

Walter first raced in the FIA GT Championship in 2002, when he was just 20 years old. Since 2003, he has accumulated six pole positions, always with the Konrad Saleen S7. The whole SRO team wishes him a very speedy recovery. "Walter is definitely one of the fastest men in the FIA GT Championship, with an amazing record of pole positions," Stephane Ratel said. "We are looking forward to having him back in the Championship as soon as he gets over this difficult time."

GLPK CORVETTE : TWO-DAY TEST BEFORE MAGNY-COURS

The Corvette C5R made a stunning debut at Monza, aiming for a podium finish in its first-ever race. However, it was not to be, with a broken oil line brinigng the race to an end. "We were disappointed with the result, but not with the race," Anthony Kumpen said. "I think we proved the car is up there, and has the potential to win. We hope to do better in Magny-Cours, as the circuit should suit the car.

We will test for two days in Dijon, to give all three drivers more time in the car, and to start to work on the set-up. We will also test some new Pirelli tyres."

-fia-

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Franz Konrad , Timo Scheider , Michael Bartels , Anthony Kumpen , Christophe Bouchut , Stéphane Ratel , Mauro Casadei , Fabio Babini , Thomas Biagi , Gabriele Gardel , Paolo Ruberti , Jan Vonka
Teams Proton Competition , Larbre Competition