Pre-season newsletter 2005-03-25

TEST DAYS AT MONZA : MASERATI AND FERRARI SHARE HONOURS The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was the location for the two-day official test for the cars taking part in this year's FIA GT Championship. With the weather staying fine and dry until the...

TEST DAYS AT MONZA : MASERATI AND FERRARI SHARE HONOURS

The Autodromo Nazionale di Monza was the location for the two-day official test for the cars taking part in this year's FIA GT Championship. With the weather staying fine and dry until the very last session on Wednesday, the teams were able to get plenty of testing, and the extremely close times around the fast circuit bode well for the season ahead. The rain then came down for the sixth and final track session. Vitaphone ran its two Maserati MC 12 cars, up against the Ferrari 550 cars of Russian Age Racing and Czech team Menx, one Ferrari 575 M Maranello from GPC Sport and two from Swiss team Loris Kessel. Reiter Engineering's Lamborghini Murciélago was in the hands of Norman Simon, while the Lister Storm was an early casualty with engine problems. In GT2, GruppeM Racing ran both their Porsche 996 GT3-RS cars in their new livery, while other Porsches were entered by British GT frontrunner Embassy Racing, Machanek Racing from Slovenia, ARC from Slovakia and Italian teams AB Motorsport and Autorlando. Balfe Motorsport entered its G2 class Mosler.

On the Tuesday, times gradually dropped during some extremely close sessions. Vitaphone's Maserati MC 12 cars led the first two, with Christophe Bouchut in the Russian Age Racing Ferrari setting the best time of the day in the final session, with a lap of 1:45.187, one tenth of a second ahead of the nr 10 Maserati. In GT2, the nr 66 GruppeM Porsche of Lieb and Rockenfeller was fastest, with a time of 1:50.449.

During Wednesday, Vitaphone brought down the barriers again, with a lap of 1:44.596 in the first session. Menx set the best time during the second session of the day, with a time of 1:45.316 for Tomas Enge. GruppeM also improved on its time, with a lap of 1:50.138 for the nr 66 car, one tenth ahead of the nr 88. Embassy Racing was third in the GT2 class.

MEDIA LAUNCH OF THE 2005 SEASON IN MONZA

With over 200 journalists, photographers and members of TV crews in attendance, the 2005 seasons of the FIA World Touring Car Championship and the FIA GT Championship were launched in Monza on Tuesday March 22nd. Stephane Ratel, chairman of SRO, promoter of the FIA GT Championship, gave a speech during the press conference.

A transcript of this speech follows :

"During the winter, there were a lot of rumours that the FIA GT Championship would suffer due to the touring cars becoming a World Championship. We do not think so, because all the things that are important for the FIA GT Championship have been preserved. We will be with the touring cars on six major European events. We have kept our race format, we have preserved the schedule of the meeting. We have the same garage distribution as before. We still benefit from a world class TV production directed by Eurosport and we keep our broadcasting on Eurosport, reinforced by live coverage on Eurosport 2 and a presence on Sport Italia.

For us, the touring cars becoming a World Championship is good news. It reinforces promotion; it reinforces the TV distribution. It will bring more spectators to the circuits, which has been our main objective since we started the Super Racing Weekend.

I think that with the combination of GT and touring cars, and with the World Touring Car Championship, we will certainly have more public, and GT racing will benefit from this. We have also kept our freedom. We have the freedom to have independent races, in our key markets. It was very important for us to remain in the Czech Republic. We have many teams and drivers coming from Eastern Europe : Croatia, Slovakia, Poland, Russia and the Czech Republic. We have the freedom to expand worldwide.

The FIA GT Championship is a kind of world championship without the title. After going to Dubai and Zhuhai last year, we will go back to those two destinations this year and we will add a race in Bahrain. We have the freedom to have a strong presence in the paddock, with a very exciting collaboration with our GT game producer, GTR, with a game park that I am sure you will all enjoy, and which will bring a lot of life to the paddock.

The Championship itself is looking very exciting for this season. There is no doubt that the FIA GT Championship is becoming more and more professional. There are very few gentlemen drivers left, and all the teams are very competitive. The grid we are presenting is the result of six years during which we convinced GT manufacturers, one after the other, to go into racing. It is also the result of common regulations between the FIA and the ACO. Our GT cars can be raced in America, at Sebring, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in the FIA GT Championship and in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. This has encouraged many manufacturers to build cars. We can always talk of the greatest times of the fifties, sixties and seventies, but never in history did we have on the same grid, as we will during the Tourist Trophy at Silverstone, for the centenary of the Royal Automobile Club of Great Britain when Aston Martin will enter two official cars - a total of eight manufacturers represented. There will be seven in GT1. Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Aston Martin, Lister, Saleen and Porsche in the smaller class.

If I have one negative point to make, it is that Porsche does not have any competition in the GT2 class. We will have some Ferrari Modena cars on a race-by-race basis. We will also have a number of race-by-race competitors coming to many events. We will start here in Monza with a grid of between 28 to 30 cars, so I think it will be a very exciting show. At Istanbul, we will introduce for the first time a two-hour format, which offer more exciting racing and a format suitable for TV. We will experience it, and we will see for the future. It will depend mainly on the interest of the manufacturers themselves - are they ready to come more behind the FIA GT Championship, to help us move overseas for more events ? We have interest from America, we have interest from Australia, from Japan. The Championship could become in 2006 and 2007 a real world Championship with only a few races in Europe."

JMB RACING ANNOUNCES DRIVERS FOR 2005

Monaco-based team JMB Racing has confirmed that it will be entering two Maserati MC12 cars in the 2005 season of the FIA GT Championship, in partnership with Pirelli and Red Bull.

Three drivers have already been signed for the team : Austrian drivers Karl Wendlinger and Philipp Peter will be joined by Italian driver Andrea Bertolini. The line-up for the two cars will be completed and confirmed shortly.

All three drivers have extensive FIA GT experience. Karl Wendlinger won the Championship in 1999, with Olivier Beretta in a Chrysler Viper run by Team Oreca. He returned to the Championship last year, in one of JMB Racing's Ferrari 575 M Maranello cars, winning the Donington round with Jaime Melo from Brazil.

Philipp Peter's first FIA GT race was back in 1997; he has competed regularly since 2001, winning three times in the N-GT category and once in GT, when he gave the Ferrari 575 M Maranello a win on its Championship debut in Estoril 2003. Last year he raced for GPC Giesse Squadra Corse, coming close to a win at Hockenheim and finishing second in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa.

As for Andrea Bertolini, he also started in the N-GT category, quickly becoming one of the fastest drivers around. He claimed 4 pole positions in 2003 in a JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena with Christian Pescatori. As the test driver for the Maserati test programme, he returned to the Championship with AF Corse, winning the Oschersleben race and scoring the car's first points in Zhuhai, when he won the race with Mika Salo.

"I am very happy," Wendlinger said. "I worked really well with JMB last year, and, on paper at least, the Maserati appears to be the best car of the moment."

Philipp Peter is also pleased to be back with JMB : "There were a number of options, but I think the package with Red Bull, Maserati and JMB is the best possible one." The team will be testing in Italy next week.

SCHEIDER AND BIAGI COMPLETE VITAPHONE LINEUP

Vitaphone Racing has signed Timo Scheider from Austria and Italian driver Thomas Biagi to complete their 2005 line up. Both drivers were present in Monza for the official test day.

"I am really delighted that we have succeeded in completing our driver line-up by signing Timo and Thomas," Rafael Calafell, the Team Director of the Vitaphone Racing Team explained. "Now we have to focus on adapting to the Masarati MC 12 and adapting the cars to the requirements of our drivers. I am confident we will be competitive when the season kicks off." The team started off well, setting the fastest overall time in testing at Monza.

26-year old Timo Scheider has been an Opel works driver in the DTM for the past five years. He also has some endurance experience, winning the Nürburgring 24-hour race in 2003 with an Opel Astra Coupe V8. " This is my first time in a real GT car," he said. "This is quite a change after five years in the DTM - it is a different kind of driving, a different style.

But overall, there are still four wheels, a steering wheel and a track ! But it's a new challenge for me, and I will have to change my style a bit. But I think the championship is going the right direction, so it is a good opportunity for me. And the Maserati is nice. I love it. I don't know many of the circuits, but it's not a big deal to get used to them."

Thomas Biagi moved from single.seaters to GT racing in 2003, driving for BMS Scuderia Italia with Matteo Bobbi, and winning six races as well as the Championship. Last year he returned for the Dubai round, finishing on the podium. Scheider and Biagi will join the drivers previously named, Michael Bartels and Fabio Babini.

Babini was pleased with the progress made during the test days : "I was very pleased with the tests; it was a good opportunity for everyone to get to know each other, and to get to know the car. We were also very pleased with the times."

GRUPPEM LEADS GT2

British team GruppeM had both Porsches out during the test in Monza, setting the fastest times in the GT2 class. Marc Lieb spoke to us : "I am very happy to be back in the Championship. The cars are fantastic. It is amazing what Kenny Chen and his team have done over the last two months. The car is definitely a step up, and the team is doing a good job. I have a great team-mate with Mike Rockenfeller, he's young and quick and also quite experienced in long distance racing, having driven Le Mans and races in the USA. He knows what is going on.

And we have two fast team mates, Tim Sugden and Emmanuel Collard, who will be our real challengers this year. So far it looks as if it will be very close between the two cars. I know the team from last year, and I think they have put something great together. It's going to be really close and I'm looking forward to that - and praying for some Ferraris and G2 cars to be competitive."

RUSSIAN AGE RACING FASTEST ON FIRST DAY

The Russian Age Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello had its first test during the Monza test days, starting off well with setting the fastest time on the first day. Christophe Bouchut was very pleased with the progress made.

"Everything has gone very well. The car is very well set up, and handles well. I had a very good feeling for it from the start." Christophe's team-mates, Alexei Vasiliev and Nikolaj Fomenko, were also very pleased. "The car is very comfortable to drive and I am very happy to be working with Bouchut," Alexei said.

"This is absolutely a new situation for us, after five years in a Porsche," Fomenko agreed."It is another car, another style, another feeling. I hope that we will have a good chance in the FIA GT Championship. Christophe is a good guy; working step by step I think we will have a good team. And we have a very good atmosphere in the team."

GOOD TIMES FOR REITER

The Reiter Engineering Lamborghini Murciélago, in the hands of Norman Simon, set some good times during the two-day test. "Monza was always going to be our worst circuit," Simon said. "But we are sure we will be more competitive on the other tracks we visit. And Peter Kox and I make up a strong partnership. I am looking forward to the season !"

SUCCESSFUL TEST FOR MENX

The MENX Ferrari 550 Maranello had a postive two-day test at Monza, with a fastest session time as a bonus. The team hopes to take part in the Brno round of the FIA GT Championship.

Next Race
Round 1 MONZA (ITA)
April 8th - 10th 2005

-fia-

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Tomas Enge , Karl Wendlinger , Norman Simon , Mika Salo , Christian Pescatori , Emmanuel Collard , Timo Scheider , Michael Bartels , Matteo Bobbi , Peter Kox , Jaime Melo , Christophe Bouchut , Stéphane Ratel , Marc Lieb , Tim Sugden , Fabio Babini , Olivier Beretta , Andrea Bertolini , Mike Rockenfeller , Thomas Biagi , Philipp Peter
Teams AF Corse , Reiter Engineering