The long summer break is drawing to a close, and next weekend the teams and drivers of the LG Super Racing Weekend series will be meeting up at the Italian track of Pergusa. Situated near the town of Enna in central Sicily, the 4.950 km circuit ...
The long summer break is drawing to a close, and next weekend the teams and drivers of the LG Super Racing Weekend series will be meeting up at the Italian track of Pergusa. Situated near the town of Enna in central Sicily, the 4.950 km circuit encircles a volcanic lake, and is almost an oval, with added chicanes. The track has a long history of hosting international motorsport, including seven rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Championship between 1977 and 1984, and until recently rounds of the FIA Formula 3000 Championship. As well as marking the return of the FIA European Touring Car Championship after an 18-year break, this will be the FIA GT Championship's first visit to Sicily.
However, an Italian round has figured in the GT Championship most seasons, with races in Mugello in 1997 and Monza every year since 1999. Last year, the first rounds of both Championships were held at Monza; the 500 km FIA GT Championship race saw victory go to the Lister Storm of Jamie Campbell-Walter and Tom Coronel, while the Italian team Autorlando won on home ground, with Philipp Peter and Johnny Cecotto at the wheel of the Porsche 996 GT3-R. Alfa Romeo Team Nordauto took a one-two in the first FIA Super Touring Championship race, with Fabrizio Giovanardi winning ahead of Nicola Larini, while JAS Honda's Gabriele Tarquini was victorious in the second. Peter Kox won the first FIA Super Production race, at the wheel of a Ravaglia Motorsport BMW 320i.
Many of last year's Monza victors will be back in action this year, and hoping for a repeat of their luck on Italian soil. The situation in both Championships is closer than ever after the Spa meeting. The second consecutive win for Larbre Competition Chéreau at the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa has given the team, and drivers Bouchut and Terrien, a good lead in the GT points, but the French team is not beyond the reach of Lister Storm Racing, BMS Scuderia Italia or Carsport Holland. In N-GT, Spa winners Freisinger Motorsport are now only half a point behind JMB Racing.
FIA GT CHAMPIONSHIP
The 2002 season continues to be one of the closest and most exciting in the six-year history of the FIA GT Championship. After Lister Storm Racing dominated the early part of the season, a run of wins for BMS Scuderia Italia's Ferrari 550 Maranello gave Deletraz and Piccini the lead in the Drivers Classification after Oschersleben. However, Larbre Competition Chéreau's dominant performance in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, with the French team's two Chrysler Viper GTS-R cars finishing on the podium for the second year running, has placed the reigning Champions back at the top of the table. Away from the endurance format, and once more carrying 100 kg penalty weight, the team faces strong competition for the remaining three rounds.
The N-GT class is equally thrilling. Freisinger Motorsport dominated the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, taking maximum points. The class win gave Frenchman Stéphane Ortelli the points lead, while the German team is now only half a point behind JMB Racing. However, the battle between the Porsche 996 GT3-R and the Ferrari 360 Modena is sure to continue for the rest of the season.
A BUSY SUMMER
The FIA GT Championship might have taken a six-week break over the summer, but the drivers have been extremely busy. Stéphane Ortelli repeated his Spa victory a month later, winning the Michelin Porsche Supercup race held within the context of the Formula One Grand Prix; he is currently leading the series, with 3 rounds remaining. Anthony Kumpen bounced back from the heavy crash that took him out of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa to win the 24 Hours of Zolder. His team-mates in the GLPK Chrysler Viper included his Carsport Holland co-driver Mike Hezemans, Freisinger regular Bert Longin and Vincent Dupont, who finished third in last year's Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. Luca Rangoni, who raced for Autorlando at Jarama, claimed his third successive Renault Sport Clio Trophy title at Imola, while System Force points scorer Phil Bastiaans claimed the Renault International Clio Cup title at Zandvoort. RWS's Antonio Garcia took his first podium finish in the World Series by Nissan, finishing the Magny Cours race in third place, just behind 1998 FIA GT Champion Ricardo Zonta.
LARBRE COMPETITION CHEREAU RECLAIMS THE LEAD (1st in GT, 60.5 points)
For the second consecutive year, Larbre Competition Chéreau was victorious in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. The nr 1 Chrysler Viper GTS-R was in the lead at each of the points-scoring moments, with the maximum 20 points for Bouchut, Terrien, Vosse and Bourdais. The nr 2 Chrysler Viper finished fourth overall, in third place in the GT class, to give the French team a lead of 11 and a half points over Lister Storm Racing. "To win for a second time at Spa was a great personal satisfaction for me, as I am becoming rather a 24-hour specialist," Christophe Bouchut said. "I think Larbre's performance was grandiose, as it is far from easy to get both cars on the podium in two consecutive years." However, Bouchut realizes that they face tough competition if they are to continue to lead until the end of the Championship. "It's going to be close. It won't be easy with 100 kg of penalty weight, while our rivals will be significantly lighter. We're already slower when we're equal, so with 100 extra kilos, we don't stand a chance. Our aim is to make the podium. Even after Enna we won't be able to make any clear predictions. Everything will be open for Donington and even Estoril." Bouchut last raced at Pergusa in 1995, in Formula 3000. "I was lying second until I was taken out of the race, so I don't have particularly good memories of it. But I think it's a track where a good engine could make the difference."
A STEP FORWARD FOR LISTER STORM RACING (2nd in GT, 49 points)
Although the nr 15 Storm finished in a fine second place at Spa, and the nr 14 car scored points at the six and twelve hour marks, the British team is now trailing Larbre Competition by over eleven points. "But we entered this season thinking that if we scored one or two podiums, we would be happy, so to be leading after Oschersleben was amazing. Of course it was disappointing to lose the lead at Spa, but the second car did well, we learnt a lot, and we proved that the Lister Storm is not just a sprint car. We still have an outside chance at the title," Jamie Campbell-Walter explained. Lister Storm Racing spent two days testing at the French track of Dijon during the summer break. "We tested the engine and have definitely made a step forward there, as well as more tyre testing. I've heard that Pergusa is renowned for being hot and abrasive, so it could be down to the best tyre to win.." While Campbell-Walter and Springer will continue to share the nr 14 Lister Storm, Bobby Verdon Roe will be joined by his fellow Spa driver Miguel de Castro, from Spain.
BMS SCUDERIA ITALIA INTENDS TO KEEP FIGHTING (Joint 3rd in GT, 33 points)
"Spa was a big disappointment for us," Jean-Denis Deletraz admitted. "The car was fast, and we really needed to score points after six hours, and hopefully twelve. But we were stopped by a simple electronic sensor, something totally ridiculous. But that's racing." However, the team is determined to continue to fight, and has worked hard over the summer break. "Both Ferrari 550 Maranello cars will have power steering, which will make life easier for the drivers," Jean-Denis explained. "There have also been a number of aerodynamic evolutions. But most importantly, we have concentrated on making the car as reliable as possible. We are determined to continue to fight for this title. We need to win all three races, which sounds tough, but we've already won three in a row, so why shouldn't we be able to do it again ?" In order to further strengthen the line-up, Jean-Marc Gounon will be replacing Frédéric Dor in the nr 22 car. "This was at Mr Dor's suggestion, as he is unable to take part at Pergusa," Deletraz explained. "Jean-Marc already drove for the team in the FIA SCC last year, helping Marco Zadra claim the title. Mr Dor is very motivated to win this Championship, as we all are. If Jean-Marc can help the nr 22 car to finish ahead of the Larbre Chrysler Viper, that will help our main aim, which is to regain the leadership. I think it will be an excellent end of season. We have not given up, and we will fight until the end."
NEW CHASSIS FOR CARSPORT HOLLAND (Joint 3rd in GT, 33 points)
The nr 3 Carsport Holland Chrysler Viper was leading the race at Spa when Anthony Kumpen was involved in a serious crash, which not only took the car out of the race, but brought the safety car out for three hours. However, Carsport will be back with two cars for Pergusa. "We had to build a completely new chassis," Mike Hezemans explained. "The old one was damaged even worse than we had originally thought, it was quite unbelievable. There was basically nothing left. We haven't tested the new car, but I am sure it will be OK." Since their merger with Italian team Racing Box, this will be, to some extent, Carsport's national event. "I don't know the track, but I am sure the Ferrari will be quick there. It's an engine track, not a chassis one, I've heard." The team took advantage of rebuilding the nr 3 car to make a change to the front of the car : "We have changed the intake, so that you have the restrictors and then the filter, which gives you more pressure in the airbox. This is the system that the Prodrive cars use. We had meant to do it before Spa, but didn't have time. We'll have no penalty weight for Spa, so it should be OK. We're aiming for the podium, but it would be nice to win - I hope our bad luck is now behind us." The nr 4 car will be driven, as usual, by the all-Italian duo of Luca Cappellari and Fabrizio Gollin, who will be hoping for another good result on home ground.
REITER ENGINEERING RETURNS TO THE FIA GT CHAMPIONSHIP
Reiter Engineering will be making its 2002 debut at Pergusa, with the Lamborghini GT car the German team has raced in the Championship since 2000. The impressive car will be driven by British driver Oliver Gavin, with the second driver as yet unknown. Gavin was also at the wheel of the Lamborghini for its previous FIA GT outing, at Estoril last year, when he drove with Peter Kox. That was also the car's best-ever performance, claiming 5th place. Although the car has not been competing this year so far, the team has still be at many round of the LG Super Racing Weekend series, as it enters cars in the Lamborghini GTR Supertrophy.
"We have a new aero package for this year, and also new tyres from Pirelli," team owner Hans Reiter explained. "We have been testing at the A1 Ring and the Salzburgring, and I am pleased with the progress we have made. We will now have to see how we compare to the others. I think we should be in the top ten in Qualifying, and if we finish fifth again, I'll be very happy. We are definitely still down on engine power compared to the other GT cars, but we hope to make up for that with our other improvements." The team should also be racing at the final round of the season, in Estoril.
DART RACING COMPLETE SUCCESSFUL TESTING AT A1-RING
Dart Racing, the Italian team that enters an Alfa Romeo 156 Gta for young British driver Tom Ferrier in the FIA European Touring Car Championship, will be making its debut in the FIA GT Championship at Pergusa, with an Italtecnica-built Ferrari 550 Maranello, updated to 2002 specifications. The car, with its electric blue Red Bull livery, will be driven by Austrian Dieter Quester and Italian Luca Riccitelli, who have been frontrunners in the N-GT class for RWS Motorsport over the past two seasons. The team undertook a two-day test at the Austrian A1 Ring circuit on the 10th and 11th of September. "The test was really positive," Luca Riccitelli said. "Considering it was the first rollout of the car, we had no real problems. Of course, it is difficult to compare lap times to those of last year, but we did a lap of 1:29.9, with the car in the old configuration, with the low wing, smaller restrictors and with the 60 kg penalty weight we have due to joining the Championship at this stage of the season. This compared well to last year's best time in Qualifying, which was just under 1:29.3, especially as this was not a performance test, we were just working, with full tanks. I am therefore quite confident that we can get into the top six, which is excellent news, as I was quite afraid after the Force One car had so many mechanical failures. We did over 400 km, with no big problems. I am really happy with the work the team has done; all the Dart team members are very professional and have done an excellent job. I am looking forward to the race !"
JMB RACING RETAINS A NARROW LEAD (1st in N-GT, 66.5 points)
The Ferrari 360 Modena put in an excellent performance in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, with a second-place finish in the N-GT category for the all-Italian line-up of Pescatori, Montermini, Bertolini and Garbagnati. Having successfully retained the Championship lead, the four drivers will be back in their own cars for their home round at Pergusa. "We were very pleased with our Spa result, as it was the first time a Ferrari 360 Modena finished a 24-hour race," Christian Pescatori said. "However, the Porsches are very fast, faster than our car, especially in a straight line. We did some testing over the summer at Vallelunga, but we were working on the set-up and aerodynamics; we have no engine or part changes which will give us the sort of extra speed we need to challenge. However, everything is still to be decided in the Championship. I think that Pergusa, with its straights and chicanes will suit the Porsche rather than the Ferrari. Donington and Estoril will be better for us, with their combination of slow and fast corners." Pescatori knows the Pergusa track well, and hopes this will give them an advantage. "I raced there in the Italian Formula Three Championship, then in Formula 3000 and most recently in the Sports Racing World Cup, in 1999, when I won the race. It's a very difficult circuit, with long, fast straights and difficult chicanes, with very high kerbs. I think it will be a real advantage to know the track."
FREISINGER WORKING HARD FOR THE TITLE (2nd in N-GT, 66 points)
Finishing third overall in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, Freisinger Motorsport's Stéphane Ortelli moved up to lead the N-GT drivers classification for the first time. "Every time I have driven a Porsche recently it has gone well, so it has been a fantastic summer, with the highlight being the 24 Hours of Spa," the French driver explained. "Even after such a long break, that result is very much in my mind. For Pergusa, I will be driving with Marc Lieb again. I like him a lot and we are often on the podium together, which makes us an even stronger team. I am very determined to get the best result possible from Pergusa. I don't know the Pergusa circuit at all, whereas the Ferrari drivers like Montermini and Pescatori will know it from F3000. However, I think it is more important to have a good overall package than specific knowledge. From what I've heard, the track is not difficult to learn. I have been in touch with Freisinger Motorsport throughout the summer; they have all been working hard on the car, and have rebuilt it completely over the summer. The white car has done four long-distance races this season, with Daytona, Sebring, Le Mans and finally Spa, so it needed to be thoroughly checked to ensure it will be reliable for the end of the season. We need to find the best compromise between reliability and performance; we know how strong the Ferrari cars are, after JMB Racing surprised us and forced our admiration with their excellent second place at Spa. I think the last three races are going to see an out and out battle between the Porsche and Ferrari cars in our class; there are lots of good Porsches and two or three good Ferraris. If we finish first, they are bound to finish second and vice versa, so we need to fight hard to keep the lead."
While Ortelli and Lieb renew their partnership, which took them to victory in Brno, the nr 55 Porsche 996 GT3-R will be shared by two Frenchmen, team regular Stéphane Daoudi, who finished in a fine fourth position at Spa while being loaned out to Cirtek Motorsport, and Cyrille Sauvage, who drove for Freisinger alongside Ortelli at Spa and Jarama last season.
AUTORLANDO BACK ON TRACK (3rd in N-GT, 26 points)
Philipp Peter and Toto Wolff, who took their first win of the season in round 6 of the FIA GT Championship at Oschersleben, will be back in the nr 58 Porsche 996 GT3-R for the Pergusa race. The Italian team also won the Italian round of the Championship last season, at Monza, when Peter shared the car with Venezuelan Johnny Cecotto. The car, which was damaged in the same crash that took the nr 3 Carsport Holland Chrysler Viper GTS-R out of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, has been completely repaired. "We had a race in the Italian Championship at the beginning of September, so we had to repair the car quickly," team press officer Rossella Redolfi explained. "As so many companies were on holiday, it was quite difficult to get the work done on time. The left side of the bodyshell was badly damaged, as well damage to the front suspension and the gearbox." Peter and Wolff will be racing with the team for the remaining three rounds. "The car is now in perfect condition, and after the summer break, the drivers are keen to give their best, so we are hoping to repeat our Oschersleben performance."
GARCIA OPTIMISTIC FOR PERGUSA (5th in N-GT, 13.5 points)
RWS Motorsport was not able to repeat its 2001 win in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. However, the nr 77 car of Fomenko, Vasiliev, Garcia and Villaroel, after a real act of endurance, made it to the chequered flag despite spending over five hours in the pits. Garcia will be back in the nr 76 Porsche 996 GT3-R for Pergusa, sharing with Horst Felbermayr Jr, with whom he took second place at Oschersleben. "Although I don't know the track, I think Pergusa will be good. I've done three 500 km races in the Championship this year and they have all been fine, so this should be the same. Horst Felbermayr Jr has experience of the car now, so if he does the same as at Oschersleben, we should be able to get a good result. I just have to work even harder to get the car as far up the field as possible, to improve our chances of a win. With the Championship being so close, I think the opposition will be very careful, which will give me a good chance. I do not have anything to worry about, so I can push as hard as possible, because it doesn't matter, whereas every point counts for the others."