Paul Ricard: Round five preview

How can you possibly follow such a thrilling race as this year's Proximus 24 Hours of Spa? How about heading south, to the legendary Paul Ricard HTTT circuit, for the first major international race to be held there since the track was rebuilt and...

How can you possibly follow such a thrilling race as this year's Proximus 24 Hours of Spa? How about heading south, to the legendary Paul Ricard HTTT circuit, for the first major international race to be held there since the track was rebuilt and redesigned five years ago?

The track, renowned for hosting Formula One and various other races in the past, has been totally rebuilt, to become one of the safest, most advanced dedicated test facilities in the world, with impressive infrastructures and countless different track possibilities. This is an exceptional opportunity for the FIA GT Championship, and the GT cars should be spectacular on the 5.791 km track, including the full length of the famous Mistral straight. A grid of over 30 cars is expected for this fifth round of the 2006 season.

As far as the Championship is concerned, the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa was good for both the category leaders. Spa winners Bartels and Bertolini extended their lead in the GT1 Drivers classification, although Piccini and Deletraz are only eight points behind - with six races remaining. Vitaphone Racing Team now has a 22-point lead over Phoenix Motorsport. But, as Deletraz confirmed at Spa, Phoenix is determined to fight back, after losing the lead in Spa during the very final hour. In GT2, all four regular AF Corse drivers are sharing the lead in the Drivers classification, while the team has a massive 37.5 point lead over Scuderia Ecosse.

However, all the category leaders will face heavier cars for the Paul Ricard HTTT event. Both the nr 1 Maserati and nr 5 Aston Martin will have 100 kg, while the nr 59 Ferrari 430 GT2 has 50 kg and the nr 58 has 42.5 kg success ballast. This could give their rivals a chance to fight back. A number of cars join the grid for this event: PSI Experience, fifth at Spa, will be back with their Corvette C6R, while Spanish team RSV enters two Ferrari 430 GT2 after a good showing in Belgium, and Red Racing plans to enter its Lister Storm.

Four cars from the FIA GT3 European Championship will be taking part in the G3 class: two Ferrari 430 Challenge GT3 cars from JMB Racing and two Corvette Z06 cars entered by French team Riverside. Support events for this round - held exceptionally over two days - will be the Touring Cup and the Group C/GTP series.

WHAT THE DRIVERS THINK...

"This track has fantastic facilities. Also the environment is superb. Although I have tested a few times at the Paul Ricard HTTT, I have never driven on the full course. From what I have seen it looks impressive." Anthony Kumpen, GLPK Carsport Corvette C6

"Paul Ricard is a legendary circuit. The longest straight is 1.5 km, which means you can reach very high speeds ! The next right-handed corner is also very fast, as the F1 cars go through at over 250 km/h ! The rest of the circuit is very varied, with all sorts of corners. It can be compared to Spa as far as the techical side is concerned. Prodrive has tested our Aston on the Paul Ricard HTTT track, and we are very satisfied with it." Jean-Denis Deletraz, Phoenix Motorsport Aston Martin DBR9

PAUL RICARD - AN EXCEPTIONAL CIRCUIT

The circuit was created in 1970 by Paul Ricard, and was the scene of many national and international races, including 14 editions of the French Formula One Grand Prix, many editions of the Bol d'Or motorbike race and 12 Grands Prix of the World Motorbike Championship.

Indirectly, the circuit also played an important role in the history of the FIA GT Championship, as the first-ever round of the BPR Global Endurance Series was held there in 1994, won by Larbre Competition with a Porsche 911 Turbo with Wollek and Pareja at the wheel. In 1995, the four-hour race was won by the Gulf Racing /GTC McLaren F1 GTR of Ray Bellm and Maurizio Sandro-Sala, ahead of the Larbre Competition Porsche 911 GT2 Evo of Wollek, Bouchut and Jarier. The 1996 season again started at Paul Ricard, when Ray Bellm was again victorious, this time with James Weaver alongside him.

The circuit changed hands in 1999. In February 2001, the new Toyota Motorsport Formula One team signed an agreement with the new owners, and set up its test base at the circuit. Renovation works started in April 2001. By October, the new Paul Ricard High Tech Test Track was in use by Toyota to develop their new single-seater.

The new state-of-the art circuit includes multiple circuit layouts, varying from 0.826 km to 5.833 km, with 13 right-handed corners and 8 left-handed corners. The safety features are incomparable, with over 20 hectares of run-off areas with three types of abrasive asphalt, an ultra-modern medical centre, over 21 km of safety barriers. The circuit's distinctive blue lines around the track are actually a special design which allows a better 'reading' of the circuit.

VITAPHONE STRENGTHEN THEIR CHAMPIONSHIP LEAD

With their third win of the season, Bartels and Bertolini, accompanied by Eric van de Poele, claimed a fine win in Spa, giving the spectators a fantastic battle in the closing stages. The duo now has an 8-point lead over Piccini and Deletraz, while Vitaphone Racing also strengthened its lead in the Teams Championship. However, as Bartels mentioned in the press conference, this means the nr 1 Maserati MC 12 will be very heavy for the Paul Ricard HTTT.

Vitaphone Racing Team Director Rafael Calafell: "After a great victory in Spa we did not have much time to celebrate because the whole Team started working immediately after, to get our cars in a perfect shape for Paul Ricard HTTT. Winning the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, the nr 1 Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati increased the lead in the Championship but we are conscious that it is going to be difficult to keep this gap, as we must carry a handicap weight of 100kg plus the 25kg imposed by the Bureau. In these conditions, it will be very difficult for Andrea Bertolini and Michael Bartels to reach the podium, but that will be the target for our nr 2 Vitaphone Racing Team Maserati driven by Thomas Biagi and Jamie Davies, who did a great job in Spa but unfortunately could not finish the race."

"This will be a great opportunity to compare the performance of the different cars with and without handicap weight in the legendary "Mistral" straight, the longest available in all circuits where we usually compete," he continued. "Our Engineers and Technicians worked hard in the test sessions and races to get the maximal efficiency out of our Maserati MC12s in every circumstance. To find the right aero and mechanical balance at Paul Ricard we are counting on the competitive Pirelli Tires. The goal is to score the necessary points for the battle for the Drivers and Teams Championship."

NEARLY A HOME RACE FOR JMB-GRUPPE M

JMB RACING will be entering two Ferrari F430 cars in the GT2 category, and two in Group 3 for the Paul Ricard HTTT round of the FIA GT Championship. "The Monaco-based team, who will be racing nearly at home, is keen to put in a good performance in order to relaunch their Championship bid," the team stated. As for their participation in G3, this will serve as preparation for the two final rounds in the FIA GT3 European Championship. "The two F430 GT3 cars have a number of evolutions which will be tested by the FIA," the team concluded.

GT3 CARS FOR ROUND 5

After FIA GT3 European Championship teams Pouchelon and BMS Scuderia Italia took part in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, another two teams are due to enter their GT3-category cars in the FIA GT Championship. JMB Racing, whose team is based in nearby Monaco, will enter two Ferrari 430 GT3 Challenge cars in the G3 category, while French team Riverside will enter two Corvette Z06 GT3 cars.

All four will compete in the G3 category, which means they will not be eligible for GT points.

RVS MOTORSPORT ENTERS TWO FERRARI 430 GT2 AT PAUL RICARD HTTT

It was a case of 'Mission Accomplished' for Spanish team RSV Motorsport when they finished the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa race in 8th position in the GT2 category - an excellent result for their first long-distance race.

The team, motivated by their good result, is now heading for the Paul Ricard HTTT, where they will compete in the fifth round of the FIA GT Championship.

The team will enter two Ferrari 430 GT2 cars, manned by the team's usual drivers from the Spanish GT Championship. Ronald Severin and Michel Ligonnet will share one car, while Domingo Romero and Peter Sundberg will be behind the wheel of the second car.

This will be the first time at the redesigned track for Ligonnet and Severin, although Romero and Sundberg tested there earlier this year. The team is adapting their strategies, and is preparing the most agressive configuration for the Ferrari for the forthcoming race.

Peter Sundberg commented: "It will be fantastic to fight face to face with great drivers and teams such as AF Corse and Scuderia Ecosse. We'll try to take the maximum advantage of the experience we acquired in Paul Ricard during the LMS pre-season test day'."

Michel Ligonnet, who was a regular in the Championship between 1997 and 2000, made his return after a gap of nearly five years at Spa. '' It's my first time at the new Paul Ricard HTTT circuit.," the French driver commented. "We're going to use Dunlop tyres for this meeting. We'll try to do a good race and enjoy the great FIA GT weekend."

-credit: fia

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers James Weaver , Eric van de Poele , Jamie Davies , Michael Bartels , Jean-Denis Deletraz , Anthony Kumpen , Michel Ligonnet , Ray Bellm , Domingo Romero , Peter Sundberg
Teams AF Corse , Larbre Competition