Magny-Cours: Round two preview

After the first race meeting of the seventh season of the FIA GT Championship, newcomers Biagi and Bobbi lead the GT Drivers Classification, while their team, BMS Scuderia Italia, has already amassed a 12-point lead in the Teams Classification. ...

After the first race meeting of the seventh season of the FIA GT Championship, newcomers Biagi and Bobbi lead the GT Drivers Classification, while their team, BMS Scuderia Italia, has already amassed a 12-point lead in the Teams Classification. In N-GT, although JMB Racing drivers Bertolini and De Simone lead the Drivers points, Team Maranello Concessionaires leads the Teams points after its Ferrari 360 Modena cars finishing in second and third places.

For the second 500 km race, at the French track of Magny-Cours, the cars will carry penalty weight, with the nr 23 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello carrying 40kg, the nr 22 car 30 kg and the nr 21 Care Racing car 20 kg. In N-GT, the nr 52 JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena will have 20 kg ballast, with the nr 88 and 89 Team Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari 360 Modena cars 15 and 10 kg respectively.

This race should see Yellow Racing make its debut, after missing the Barcelona round. The Italo-Swiss Ferrari 360 Modena is likely to be driven by team owner Fabio Venier, with the second driver yet to be named. The race-by-race entrants are likely to include French teams Monteiro Racing Porsche 911 GT2 - a familiar face from the early history of the Championship - and a Porsche 996 GT3-RS entered by Protonic Desbrueres, driven by Philippe Brocard, Daniel Desbrueres and Dany Snobeck. Brocard previously entered a car in the final round of the 2001 Championship.


Thomas Biagi and Matteo Bobbi drove into the FIA GT Championship record books in Barcelona, when they became the first pair of drivers to win the overall race on their debut -- with the sole exception the first-ever FIA GT winners, JJ Lehto and Steve Soper, at the Hockenheimring, 1997. A number of drivers have won on their first appearance, such as Tom Coronel at the A1 Ring in 2000, and Mike Jordan at the Nurburgring in 2001, but they were paired with more experienced FIA GT drivers. But this was still an exceptional performance for the two young Italians in the nr 23 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello.

Bobbi, aged 24, has previously competed in the Formula Nissan 2000 series, and is also a Formula One test driver for Minardi. "I like Magny-Cours a lot; I won both races when I took part in the Formula Nissan race there last year. Barcelona and Magny-Cours are my favourite tracks, so I am really looking forward to the next race. It will not be easy to repeat the same result, as Lister will undoubtedly be very quick there. We have not tested since the last race, so the car will be the same. The 40kg penalty weight will be a bit different, but I do not think it will be as penalising in Magny-Cours as it would have been at Barcelona. We'll have to see in the free practice sessions." This weekend, Bobbi will be driving the third Minardi Formula One car in the Friday morning test session at Imola, for the San Marino Grand Prix.

Biagi has been a F3000 driver for many years, and this is first venture out of single-seaters. "I am also confident for the race, although I know we will face a strong challenge from the Lister Storms, the Chrysler Vipers and from our team-mates. The team has done a good job, and I know they will do the same in Magny-Cours. I have very mixed feelings about Magny-Cours. My first race in F3000 was there, which was good, but I also have some bad memories, after Marco Campos died there in an accident in 1995. That was a very bad time for me, so I would really like to do my best, to be able to dedicate the race to his memory." Biagi is pleased with his move to the FIA GT Championship : "It's a big step forward for me, with very professional teams and organisation. And there is a very good atmosphere inside my team. It's all very positive !"


Lister Storm Racing has an exceptional record at the French track of Magny-Cours. The British team has won all three rounds of the Championship held at the Grand Prix track, winning the Championship there in 2000 with Campbell-Walter and Bailey. In 2001, Campbell-Walter and Coronel won the fourth round, while Campbell-Walter and Springer created a surprise by winning the first round of the 2002 season last April. This year, with three Lister Storms on the track, could Lister repeat Ferrari's Barcelona feat and dominate the podium ? "That would be nice !" Fiona Pearce said. "We have an unbeaten FIA GT record at Magny-Cours, and we'd like to maintain it. Jamie desperately wants to win again, and I think we are due some good luck with the nr 14 car, after a crash at Donington for Nathan, engine problems at a later test session and then losing the roof at Barcelona. But Nathan is now more confident in the car, and Piccini and Deletraz are getting up to speed, so we hope that we'll have a more successful weekend !"

"I think Magny-Cours will be a much better reflection on the real state of the Championship," Jean-Denis Deletraz continued. "BMS did a wonderful job to get their three cars on the podium, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Jamie led for the first 45 minutes, that we lost a lap after our accident at the start, that Bouchut was very competitive too. Now that Andrea and I are much more at ease with the car, our objective is to get the two Listers at the front in qualifying, and in the race. I think it will be an extremely competitive race at Magny-Cours, and I am very confident. The team is excellent, the car is very fast - I can guarantee that we will be aiming to win !"


This will be the home race for Force One, which is based at the Magny Cours industrial park. Despite a hard season debut in Barcelona, with neither car finishing, the team hopes for progress in Magny Cours. Anthony Kumpen, who rejoined his 2002 team-mate Mike Hezemans in the nr 5 Chrysler Viper at the last minute, is looking forward to the next race. "Our cars were not really ready for the first race. Qualifying was disastrous, although after some changes, our pace was good in the race. Now, the cars are in Alliot's workshop, and the mechanics are working hard. We hope to have a number of new developments in time for Magny Cours. We had the Pagani in the wind tunnel last week, and found some aerodynamical changes which we hope will work on the Viper too. Basically, we have a new suspension, so we can't make any changes there, the engine can't go any faster, so the only possibility to gain speed is in the aerodynamics. I hope it will go well - the free practice sessions will be very important for us. We will be working hard to be back at the top. I think Magny-Cours is a circuit which suits the Vipers, with its high kerbs, but Enna-Pergusa will definitely be the best track for us this year, and we hope to be really competitive by then. I'm aiming for a podium for the next race, and then we'll go for victory in Pergusa !"


The Chrysler Viper, undoubtedly the most successful car in its class over the history of the Championship, winning the GT2 class in 1997 and 1998, followed by overall GT victory in 1999, 2001 and 2002, has still shown itself capable of following the pace. Despite the advent of the Ferrari 550 Maranello and the Saleen S7-R, and the continued speed of the Lister Storms, the Vipers are still remarkable for their reliability, and both the Roos Optima Racing Team and the Zwaan's Racing Chrysler Viper cars finished in the points in the first round, while the Larbre Competition Viper was running in the top four for much of the race, with Christophe Bouchut setting the fastest lap. "The race was going really well, and I was pleased to see we were on the pace," Bouchut said. "I am sure we could have finished on the podium, apart from a minor problem, which sidelined us." It has been confirmed that Jean-Philippe Belloc, GT Champion with Bouchut in 2001, will be alongside him in the nr 1 Larbre Competition Chrysler Viper at Magny-Cours as well. "I am very pleased to be driving for Larbre again," Belloc said. "I think we proved at Barcelona that the Viper still has the potential for a good result. The team is good, and very motivated, and now we are looking forward to Magny Cours. Although motor-racing is not an exact science, I am optimistic, and I am now sure that we can regularly aim for the podium, which is good for the Championship as well as for ourselves. I know Magny-Cours well, and have had some good results there. It will not be easy, but I hope we can create a surprise."

As for Dutch team Zwaan's Racing, Arjan van der Zwaan was quite pleased with their seventh-place result and first points : "The first race was OK, and I was surprised by how well we could keep up , early in the race. We were aiming for third or fourth place, until we spun off and landed back down in 14th . We climbed back up to 7th, which is not nearly good enough for me. I hope we will do better in Magny-Cours. We have been working hard on the car, and have found the source of the problem which meant we did not have the top speed we expected in Barcelona. The problem has now been solved, although it will not be so important for the next tracks. But it will be vitally important for Spa-Francorchamps and for Monza. We tested at Zandvoort and we were two or three kilometres faster. We're also hoping to find some more downforce. We'll see how we get on in Magny-Cours !"


JMB Racing claimed its first win for nearly a year at Barcelona, when the nr 52 Ferrari 360 Modena of Andrea Bertolini and Fabrizio De Simone finished first in the N-GT category. "It was really great - a whole new experience for me," De Simone said. "I didn't know the car very well beforehand, but we worked very well together, with the team and my team-mate, Andrea Bertolini, from the very beginning. I think our victory was a result of all the work we put in together, and the way the victory was built up is more important than the victory itself. That first race was an excellent start, but now we have to continue to work for the rest of the season. But I am really very happy, as my last win was back in April 1999, and it was also Andrea's first FIA GT win. I like Magny-Cours a lot, and I am quite confident about the track, so I hope I will be up to speed quicker than in Barcelona. " Last year, De Simone drove in the FIA European Touring Car Championship. " I have really enjoyed the transition to GT racing. My first experience of endurance was in the 6 Hours of Vallelunga last year; I have found myself fitting into this kind of racing very well - sharing the set-up work with a team-mate, pit-stops and longer races. Although it is completely different from touring car races, it keeps the spirit of a sprint race, so it is a very complete package. I am really very happy indeed."

However, it was a different story for the two Ferrari 550 Maranello cars entered by the French team in the GT class. After two engine failures, the nr 10 car of Terrien, Derichebourg and Pescatori, could not take part in the race, while the nr 9 car suffered repeated problems. "It was difficult, but it was a situation we had expected," Fabio Babini explained. "The project got underway quite late, and therefore we saw Barcelona more as a test session for us, getting in as many kilometres as possible, making a number of changes and doing a lot of pit-stops. We hope that the car will be a lot more reliable for the next race; JMB Racing has been working extremely hard, to give us a good car for Magny-Cours." In previous years, Babini has driven an Art Engineering Porsche 996 GT3-R, and then, last year, a Paul Belmondo Racing Chrysler Viper GTS-R. "I am very pleased to be driving a Ferrari. From the first time I drove it, I could feel that it was very good - the set-up, the chassis... it's the future of the Championship. I think that Barcelona proved what the car can do - but I hope that it will soon be the nr 9 and 10 Ferrari 550 Maranello up there, not just the 23 and 22 ! We'll have to see. I am also very pleased to be racing with Philipp Peter, who is a very fast driver, and I think we will form a good team !"


FIA GT New French team Autopalace will be facing its home race after making an excellent start in the Championship, finishing in fourth place in the N-GT category with the nr 58 Ferrari 360 Modena, driven by Frenchmen Guillaume Gomez and Steeve Hiesse. "We were very pleased with our result," Hiesse said. "It was excellent, especially considering that we had only received the car two days beforehand, and had only done around 5 laps. I had previously only done fifteen laps in an N-GT car in December, so everything was totally new to me. Our aim for the race was to get the car to the finish line, and get some points if we could, but we had not expected to be so far up - we had hoped for 6th or 7th, not 4th ! The level in the Championship is very high, and the differences between the teams and the drivers are very small, with a lot of homogenous driving pairs, so it is going to be very difficult to make the difference. Good preparation and strategy will count a lot, and it will be vital not to make any mistakes."

This was the first time Hiesse had taken part in such a long GT race. "The French Championship races are only an hour long, meaning each driver has around half an hour in the car. Physically, I did not have any problems. The car is very pleasant to drive, and not too tiring, although it is difficult to keep the same high rhythm for such a long time. We hope to have a new gearbox and new evolutions for the engine soon, as we hope to be able to close the gap to the Team Maranello Concessionaires cars in Qualifying, when we were well behind."

As French drivers, both Gomez and Hiesse know the circuit of Magny-Cours well. "I won there last year in an Almeras Porsche. But I don't know if that will give us much of an advantage, as I think most of the drivers will be familiar with the circuit, which hosts a lot of international meetings. Our aim is to get closer to the class leaders in Qualifying, and then to manage our race as well as we did in Barcelona, so that we can aim for the podium and eventually, for our first win."


With his arm in plaster, 2002 FIA N-GT Champion Stephane Ortelli missed the Barcelona round, and he is due to undergo an official medical examination the day before Magny-Cours, in order to decide whether he is fit to drive. "My arm is recovering according to expectations, which is to say, a bit quicker than expected," Ortelli said. "I will have the plaster removed before Magny-Cours, and I am planning to do some karting on Friday, to test it. However, the final decision as to whether I can race again is not mine, and I perfectly understand and accept the medical regulations concerning such injuries," Ortelli said. After a promising start, the nr 50 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS failed to finish the first race, due to a punctured radiator, which means that Ortelli is still in a position to defend his 2002 title. "Freisinger Team Manager Michael Hinterberg is currently in Germany, with Marc Lieb, and they are looking to find ways to improve the car; any changes should come on line during the first part of the year. We need to continue to be as good as we were in Barcelona in terms of strategy. Ferrari is going to be hard to beat this year !"


FIA GT Finishing in fifth place in the N-GT category at Barcelona, Stephane Daoudi, RWS Yukos driver in the nr 99 Porsche 996 GT3-RS, was, with his team-mate Walter Lechner Jr, the leading Porsche driver. In his second full season in the FIA GT Championship, Stephane is thoroughly looking forward to the second round. "Since I joined the Championship last year, all the circuits have been new to me, so I am really looking forward to Magny-Cours. I've got a good team, a good car, a good team-mate, and I've had some good results at the track in the past. I won there in Formula Renault, and in the French GT Championship, when I won the race outright from the lower category. Considering all the problems we had in Barcelona, like losing the power steering, I feel that we can really aim for the podium at Magny-Cours." Stephane is a fan of the French circuit : "It's a fast, technical circuit, with fast corners like Estoril, and there are less and less circuits like that. They've removed the final chicane, but I think it's a good change. I don't know if it will be a Porsche circuit, but I hope it will be good for us, and that we can manage to keep ahead of the rest of the Porsche cars."


French driver Jean-Marc Gounon will be joining Franz Konrad and Toni Seiler in the nr 2 Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7-R for the next round. The bright yellow Saleen finished in 8th place in Barcelona, taking the final point, despite a difficult weekend, with plenty of work for the team.

"We have been testing at the Hockenheimring," Konrad explained. "We have sorted out a lot of problems, and now we will be competitive. It will be very good to have Jean-Marc on board, especially for the French round at Magny-Cours."

Gounon, who won the Lamborghini GTR Supertrophy with Franck Sevin last season, was a regular competitor in the early years of the FIA GT Championship, driving a Gulf Team Davidoff McLaren F1 GTR in 1997, before joining Mercedes as a factory driver in 1998, racing a Team Persson Mercedes CLK GTR. Since then, he has made a number of appearances, most recently at the wheel of the nr 22 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello for the last three races of 2002, claiming pole position and finishing in second place at Donington with Lilian Bryner and Enzo Calderari.


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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Franz Konrad , Tom Coronel , Stéphane Ortelli , Matteo Bobbi , Jean-Denis Deletraz , Jean-Philippe Belloc , Anthony Kumpen , Mike Hezemans , Guillaume Gomez , Christophe Bouchut , Paul Belmondo , Marc Lieb , Fabio Babini , Jean-Marc Gounon , Andrea Bertolini , Thomas Biagi , Lilian Bryner , Arjan van der Zwaan , Steve Soper , Steeve Hiesse , Philipp Peter , Fabio Veni , Daniel Desbrueres , JJ Lehto , Mike Jordan
Teams Nissan Motorsport , Larbre Competition