Monza: Round one preview

Five months after a fascinating weekend of competition brought the 2003 season of the LG Super Racing Weekend to a close, the teams and drivers will be heading back to Monza, which will host the first round of the latest chapter of the ...

Five months after a fascinating weekend of competition brought the 2003 season of the LG Super Racing Weekend to a close, the teams and drivers will be heading back to Monza, which will host the first round of the latest chapter of the multi-platform series.

This year, the FIA GT Championship, FIA European Touring Car Championship and the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup will be setting off for a ten-round tour, starting at Monza, calling at Valencia, Magny-Cours, Hockenheim, Brno, Donington Park, Spa-Francorchamps, Imola, Oschersleben and finishing the season outside Europe, with a race at the brand-new Dubai Autodrome, in the United Arab Emirates. Missing Hockenheim, the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup will race within the prestigious context of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix. After Dubai, the FIA GT Championship will head even further east, for a season finale in China. Eight countries, ten prestigious circuits, three fascinating and varied Championships, joining together GT, Touring Car and Single-Seater racing in a single action-packed weekend : the 2004 LG Super Racing Weekend.

Not only the fastest circuit visited during the season, Monza has a special significance for the LG Super Racing Weekend series, as it hosted the first-ever event in this format, in 2001. Returning there in 2003, after the circuit had seen a number of alterations, BMS Scuderia Italia crowned an incredibly successful season with victory in the FIA GT Championship 500 km race for Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari in their Ferrari 550 Maranello, increasing their team's Championship-winning points score. JMB Racing's Ferrari 360 of Andrea Bertolini and Fabrizio De Simone won the N-GT category, but second place for Stephane Ortelli and Marc Lieb was enough to give them and their team, Freisinger Motorsport, the title.

So what is Monza likely to hold for the three main series this year ? With the Formula Renault Grand Race on Saturday, the 500 km FIA GT Championship race on Sunday, followed by two FIA European Touring Car 50-km sprint races run back to back, finishing off with the Formula Renault Super Sprint, the weekend is bound to be full of excitement. Other races in Monza will include the European Alfa Challenge, in the first of six races with the LG Super Racing Weekend, and the Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup, which will be present during all events except for the season finale in Dubai.

Twenty-five years old, and the reigning FIA GT Champion, Matteo Bobbi is entering his second season of GT racing. The young Italian will have a new team-mate in the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello this year : Switzerland's Gabriele Gardel.

"Monza is a very fast track, which is very difficult on braking. There are many important corners, such as Ascari and the Parabolica. After the first straight, you have to brake hard for the first chicane, then there is another long straight, followed by another important braking manoeuvre for the 2nd chicane. Then comes Lesmo1 and Lesmo 2, both of which are normal corners. Another big straight, and then you have to brake hard again for the very important corner, Ascari. This is followed by a final straight, before heading into the final corner, the Parabolica, which is very important in order to get enough speed to take you through to the pits straight again..."

This will be the fifth time that FIA GT Championship will race at the Italian circuit of Monza. For the first round of the 2004 season, 25 cars are expected to line up on the grid; a number of the cars which have entered for the full season are not yet ready to start competing, and the grid should increase for future races.

There has been an influx of Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars for 2004, with three entered by JMB Racing and two by new team G.P.C Giesse Squadra Corse. They will be up against the tried, tested and reliable 550 Maranello cars of reigning Champions BMS Scuderia Italia, with a further 550 entered by Wieth Racing. An interesting battle ahead. But they will not be uncontested on the tracks this year, as proved by the Monza test day : the Saleens are likely to be fast, as are the Listers. The Vitaphone Racing Team Saleen, run by Konrad Motorsport and driven by German stars Uwe Alzen and Michael Bartels, set the best time in testing, just ahead of the RML Saleen of Erdos and Newton. Having claimed four pole positions last year, the Saleen must surely be due a first win soon. And the Listers should never be discounted, with Coronel lapping faster two weeks ago than the best Storm time in October, and Campbell-Walter in the Creation Autosportif car. Zwaan's GTR Racing has a stunning new livery for its two Chrysler Viper GTS-R cars, which can still be fast - a Viper took pole in Monza in October. Other cars are due to start later in the season, and the battles are likely to get even closer. In N-GT, the main competition is likely to be between the powerful Porsche cars of Yukos Freisinger Motorsport - double champion Stephane Ortelli with Emmanuel Collard, Sascha Maassen with Lucas Luhr - up against the G.P.C Giesse Squadra Corse car of Christian Pescatori and Fabrizio De Simone. Other competitors include FIA GT regular Proton Competition and Italian team AB Motorsport.

Reigning Champion Matteo Bobbi is looking forward to the start of the new season. He will behind the wheel of the nr 1 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello with Swiss driver Gabriele Gardel. "I'm very happy to be racing in the FIA GT Championship once more," he said. "I am very confident for the coming season. It would be difficult to repeat what we did in 2003, but I think we can do a very good job. My new team-mate was impressive during the Monza test days. We tested many different things, always running with a heavy fuel load. I also did a long run in race configuaration, and the lap time was very good, so I think we have good reason to be pleased." The nr 2 Ferrari 550 Maranello will be shared by Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari, winners of October's Monza race, while the nr 3 Care Racing Ferrari will also be in the same hands as in 2003, with Lilian Bryner, Enzo Calderari and Stefano Livio behind the wheel.

RML have confirmed that its sportscar division will enter the entire 2004 FIA GT Championship with Miguel Ramos and Chris Goodwin teaming up alongside Tommy Erdos and Mike Newton in a pair of Saleen S7-R's. Both Ramos and Goodwin have extensive knowledge of the car, having raced it in the FIA GT Championship and European Le Mans Series respectively.

Goodwin previously competed in the FIA GT Championship in 1997, sharing a McLaren F1 GTR with Gary Ayles. Last year, he shared the EMKA Porsche in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, with Tim Sugden and Emmanuel Collard. Chris commented "I am looking forward to racing in the FIA GT Championship and to emulating the success of the last RML-run Saleen programme. The car is obviously very fast and with RML's reliability record I believe we have a great opportunity in 2004," Ray Mallock commented "The testing times from Monza underline the pace of the Saleen and we are looking forward to a very competitive season. Both RML cars now have strong driver line ups, who can work together as a team to get the best from each event."

British team Creation Autosportif will be entering their Lister Storm in the 2004 season, and are looking forward to entering into the fray. "We are very excited about the FIA GT 2004 season," Ian Bickerton explained, "Especially with our new Nicholson McLaren engine, which is looking good. With the help of Jamie Campbell-Walter and new young driver Jamie Derbyshire, we hope to improve as the season unfolds." One of the most successful drivers in the history of the Championship, Campbell-Walter moves to Creation after racing for Lister since 1999. His team-mate, Jamie Derbyshire, is 26 years old. He started racing in 2001, in the Caherham Roadsport Championship. He moved to the Radical Championship, before partnering Shaun Balfe in the Mosler in the 2003 British GT Championship, winning seven races.

Zwaans GTR Racing Team launched their 2004 programme in the Netherlands today. The team will be entering two Chrysler Viper GTS-R cars, in a new red and silver livery, inspired by their collaboration with the forthcoming GTR game, developed by the Simbin corporation, and based on the FIA GT Championship. The nr 9 car will be in the hands of Rob van der Zwaan, German driver Klaus Abbelen, who was with the team last year, and Henrik Roos from Sweden. Arjan van der Zwaan will be in the nr 10 car; his team-mates will be announced next week. "I can't wait for the first race," Rob explained. "During the last test in Monza we learned a lot of new things; and I have two solid drivers in my team. Tactically speaking, we are not just going for pure raw speed, but we shall focus on finishing the races in the points."

As well as entering two Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars in the GT class, new team G.P.C Giesse Squadra Corse will be competing in the N-GT class, with a Ferrari 360 Modena in the extremely competent hands of Italians Christian Pescatori and Fabrizio De Simone. Pescatori won the 2001 N-GT Championship with a JMB Competition Ferrari, while De Simone was victorious on four occasions last year, driving alongside Andrea Bertolini.

The GT line-ups are powerful too. As well as the previously announced pairing of Peter and Babini, the second car will be in the hands of Dutch driver Mike Hezemans and Italian Emanuele Naspetti, last seen behind the wheel of a Team Rafanelli Ferrari 550 Maranello in the 2001season, when he gave Ferrari its first overall pole in the Championship. Mike Hezemans has competed in more rounds of the FIA GT Championship than any other driver, and driven more different makes of car; the Ferrari will bring his total number up to eight.

JMB, which will be entering three brand-new Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars in the FIA GT Championship, is aiming to play a leading role in 2004. The car proved its potential by winning its very first race, at Estoril in 2003, followed up by a fourth place in the season finale in Monza. The drivers for the leading car will be announced next week, and have been described as 'very high level professional drivers'. The second car will be driven by two former N-GT drivers, Belgium's Bert Longin, and Britain's Ian Khan. The third car entered will be in the hands of Peter Kutemann and Antoine Gosse, who also drove for the team in 2003, in a Ferrari 360 Modena. "This will be a big challenge for me because the standards are put a little higher" said Bert Longin. "Of course, JMB's aim is to win races - and that is my ambition too. From the first race in Monza onwards, I will be fighting hard; I really would like to reach the top of the FIA GT Championship."

German team Weith Racing has been working hard on their Ferrari 550 Maranello over the winter. Team regular Wolfgang Kaufmann has already been signed for 2004, but the rest of the line-up remains to be confirmed. "We are negotiating with some very interesting and above all quick drivers to partner Wolfgang, and an decision should be reached within the next two days," team manager Florian Hebel explained. "With the help of an engineer like Steve Ridgers, it should be possible to lift the car to a level that should see us in the points and hopefully on the podium. But the competition in the GT class will be quite strong this year. Our aim in 2003 was to improve the reliability of the car, which we achieved, with our strong six-hour run at Spa and the excellent race in Oschersleben. Since there, the aerodynamics have been changed, giving us more downforce. And more importantly, we will get an even stronger engine for Round 2. With that in mind, we have a good feeling for the season ahead !"

Italian driver Paolo Ruberti is moving to the FIA GT Championship in 2004, where he will drive a Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen S7-R. Ruberti has spent the past three years in the FIA European Touring Car Championship, driving a BMW 320i and Alfa Romeo 156 Gta. "After three years in the European Touring Car Championship, I decided to accept this new challenge, which promises to be very stimulating," Ruberti said. "Although I will not have time to do any testing before the Monza race, and will have to work hard to get the right feeling with the new car. The potential of the S7-R is very high, and my objective is obviously to win races, but it would be a bit more difficult to aim for the Championship, considering the extremely high level of the other teams."


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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Fabrizio Gollin , Christian Pescatori , Emmanuel Collard , Chris Goodwin , Stéphane Ortelli , Sascha Maassen , Lucas Luhr , Uwe Alzen , Michael Bartels , Matteo Bobbi , Mike Hezemans , Emanuele Naspetti , Marc Lieb , Mike Newton , Shaun Balfe , Jamie Derbyshire , Miguel Ramos , Tim Sugden , Ian Khan , Peter Kutemann , Andrea Bertolini , Gabriele Gardel , Enzo Calderari , Stefano Livio , Lilian Bryner , Luca Cappellari , Antoine Gosse , Bert Longin , Paolo Ruberti , Henrik Roos , Ray Mallock , Gary Ayles , Klaus Abbelen