Pre-season newsletter 2006-03-10

TWO-DAY TEST AT THE PAUL RICARD HTTT FIA GT AND GT3 CARS HIT THE TRACK A well-attended and successful two-day test took place at the Paul Ricard High-Tech Test Track on March 7th and 8th. Although the main objective for the sessions was to ...


A well-attended and successful two-day test took place at the Paul Ricard High-Tech Test Track on March 7th and 8th. Although the main objective for the sessions was to continue the procedure of balancing the performance of the cars which will take place in this year's all-new FIA GT3 European Championship, a number of other GT cars were present, including Race Alliance, with its two Aston Martin DBR9 cars and one Porsche 996 GT3 RSR, B-Racing with its Lamborghini Murcielago, PSI with two Corvettes, a C5 and a C6, and Zakspeed, with the Saleen it will enter in the FIA GT Championship.

The best time over the two days was set by Sascha Bert in the Zakspeed Saleen S7, with a time of 2:01.653 on the Wednesday. The Race Alliance Aston Martin was second, Karl Wendlinger having set a fastest lap of 2:03.224, with the PSI Corvettes in third and fourth place.

The B-Racing RS Line Lamborghini Murcielago was sixth fastest on the Wednesday, having put in two good days of testing for the new team, in collaboration with Reiter Engineering. A number of drivers tested the car, including Norbert Walchhofer and Marino Franchitti.

While Christophe Bouchut and Jean-Marc Gounon continued the work of testing the GT3 cars for the FIA, the teams and manufacturers were able to work on their cars. Pedro Lamy was driving for Aston Martin, in the DBRS9, while Mike Hezemans and Bert Longin drove the Corvette Z06. Peter Kox was testing for Reiter Engineering, which had an array of Lamborghini cars present, including the GT3 car, the Gallardo. Bernhard Muller and Michael Trunk were also driving; they were regulars in the FIA GT Championship in previous years, first in their Porsche 911 GT2, and then in a Lamborghini GTR.

The test also saw the very first kilometres put on the clock of the Venturi Heritage, driven by the 1998 and 1999 FIA GT Champion, Olivier Beretta. British teams Tech9 and Damax were present, with their Porsche and Ascari cars respectively, and tested a number of drivers in preparation for the upcoming season.


Race Alliance was out in force for the two-day Paul Ricard test. They had both Aston Martin DBR9 cars, as well as the Porsche 996 GT3 RSR which will compete in the GT2 category. Karl Wendlinger, who will share one Aston Martin with Philipp Peter, drove the car for the first time : " Everything is looking very good," he said. " It's a new team, a new Austrian team, which, for me, as an Austrian driver, makes the whole thing more special. A new car with a lot of potential : the whole thing looks very good and I'm very happy with it. I did around 20 laps on the first day, and the first impressions were very good. The car handles very well and is very strong. We have planned a few test days before the start of the season, to learn the set-up, to sort the tyres out and build up experience. I think we should be very well organised for the first race. It's a big challenge to sort out a new team in such a short time, but they have experienced people like Andreas Heinke, the new team manager, and I think they have done a great job so far. This is my first time back in an Austrian team since my very early days in motorsport. I think the last time was in 1991, in Formula 3000. It looks as if the competition may be even greater this year than last - which was already very close. I am really looking forward to the season !"

Philipp Peter continued : "The primary test in Le Castellet was to get a feel for the new car, the entire crew and our new tyre supplier Dunlop. This proved to be a very positive experience." Joint team-owner Lukas Lichtner-Hoyer was also at the Paul Ricard - he will be racing the Porsche this year. "Because of my background in aviation, I am used to aspiring to the highest quality standards. Hence our vision in racing is to to let the best drivers race the best car in the best team. Right here, we have made huge steps towards that goal. In the remaining test sessions, we will surely eliminate the rest of our teething problems."


New team B-Racing RS Line were testing their Lamborghini Murcielago during the two-day Paul Ricard session. A number of drivers were working on the car, including Marino Franchitti of Scotland and young German driver Bastian Kolmsee. Norbert Walchhofer explained : "We are very happy to be joining the Championship - we hope to have a lot of fun ! But now we are working hard, in order to make the right decisions. We are next going to Estoril to test with Dunlop, and we have already tested in Adria and Imola. I think we will also have one day in Spa, before our official presentation on the 23rd, and then we will carry on testing until the start of the season. We hope to announce the full driver line-up on Monday. I have been racing in the Ferrari Challenge for the last four years. I was originally thinking about racing in the GT2, but then we talked with Hans Reiter and decided to go to the GT1 category. I should be driving with one or two professionals, to give me time to learn. We have long-term projects; we know the car needs a lot of work, but it has the potential. The good thing is that anything we do well, we know it is from our own hard work, and we know we are on the right way."

Marino Franchitti confirmed the progress that had been made on the second day : "The team have made big improvements overnight with the set-up, but the circuit is still so wet on the kerbs, which makes it like ice. The car can go a lot faster. It's my first time in a Lamborghini and my first time at the circuit, so it's quite a steep learning curve. This place is unbelieveable : a good circuit, and a fantastic facility."


The main purpose for the two-day test at the Paul Ricard High-Tech Test Track was to continue the process of balancing the performance of the various cars due to take part in this year's inaugural season, following on from the first test in December 2005. Both Christophe Bouchut and new official test driver, Jean-Marc Gounon, were on hand to try out the GT3 cars, including the Ascari KZ1R, Aston Martin DBRS9, Corvette Z06, Dodge Competition Coupe, Lamborghini Gallardo, Lotus Exige, Maserati GranSport Light and Porsche 997.

The FIA Technical Adviser, Peter Wright, gave his account of the two day's hard work : "It was a good test, with track conditions remaining optimum from 11:00 until after 16:00 each of the two days. This allowed the two FIA drivers, Christophe Bouchut and Jean-Marc Gounon, to assess all the cars that were ready for performance assessment, providing the FIA with baseline performances of the car models entered in the Championship. A number of tests were also carried out to establish the effect of handicapping the cars in different ways, as a prelude to balancing the performances. This work will lead to provisional handicaps being proposed for assessment and final adjustment at the Dijon test on 11/12th April."

The Michelin supplied tyres to be used in the Championship were used for the first time and proved to be very well suited to all the cars, yielding consistent lap times for 40 or more laps.

At the end of the test, the FIA Technical Department secured the cars in a parc ferme, and will strip and measure them to confirm their homologated specification over the next two days.


With a second driver needed for the second official test session for the FIA GT3 European Championship, French driver Jean- Marc Gounon was named alongside Christophe Bouchut. Former Formula One driver Gounon has raced in the FIA GT Championship since the first season, competing in seven different cars to date, from the McLaren F1 GTR in 1997 through to the Saleen S7 in 2005, via the Mercedes CLK, Chrysler Viper, Porsche 996 GT3-R, Ferrari 550 Maranello and Lister Storm. His most recent podium was a third place in the Mil Milhas this year, driving the Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7 with Antonio Hermann and Didier Theys.


Auto Sport Promotion, the team run by Jerôme Policand, will be entering three Porsche cars in this year's FIA GT3 European Championship, under the name of Sofrev-ASP. The team today announced a number of their 2006 drivers. One car will be driven by Gabriel Balthazard, who finished second in the 2005 FFSA French GT Championship with Policand. He will share his car with Carrera Cup driver Mike Savary. The second car will be shared by Jean-Luc Beaubelique and Gilles Chatelain, both of whom raced in the 2005 FFSA French Supertouring Championship. The third car will be shared by Marc Cattaneo and another driver, yet to be announced. Maurice Ricci should take part in two of the five rounds.

This will see ASP return to the European seasons after being away for three years, since the Renault Sport Clio Trophy, which also ran alongside the FIA GT Championship. "We will be racing on circuits that are very interesting technically, quite 'classical' for the drivers. We will be up against a plethora of new cars, all equally competitive, like the Corvette, Viper, Aston Martin, Venturi, Maserati, Ascari, Lotus or Lamborghini. The team is entering a new dimension, and we will do all we can to be up to the task."


Twice an FIA GT race winner with the Corvette C5, Bert Longin spent a day at the Paul Ricard HTTT testing the Corvette Z06. "I already tested this car in Hockenheim," Bert explained. "Then I was given the opportunity to test the car at the Paul Ricard for one whole day, taking over from Mike Hezemans, who did the first day. I like this place a lot, and I'm having a lot of fun with the GT3 car. It's obviously built from a road car, but the base of the car is quite interesting. The guys who are going to drive this are really going to have some fun." As for Bert's own plans for 2006, he should be back in the FIA GT with GLPK Carsport, with the Corvette C6, and he also has a good programme for the Belcar series, with the C5 from last year's FIA GT.


Barwell Motorsport has announced that 19-year-old Jonathan Cocker, British GT Champion in 2004, will be joining their squad for the inaugural season of the FIA GT3 European Championship. He will partner Barwell's Britcar graduate, Leo Machitsky, as part of the three-car Aston Martin DBRS9 team."I'll be racing against my team-mates, which will be hard enough," Cocker said. "And we are up against some incredible cars from Porsche, Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and Ascari. It's going to be very competitive, but the Aston Martin DBRS9 is amazing - we're in it to win the Championship !"

Barwell has recently taken delivery of its first DBRS9, to be driven by Tom Alexander and Tiff Needell, and will carry out a shakedown test at Snetterton on Febuary 27th. Cocker and Machitsky will get their first run in Spain at the end of March. The team is currently talking to suitable drivers with regards to the two seats still available.

Entries for the 2006 FIA GT3 European Championship are due to close at the end of February; all entries are subject to approval from the GT Bureau.


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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Didier Theys , Karl Wendlinger , Pedro Lamy , Tiff Needell , Peter Kox , Marino Franchitti , Mike Hezemans , Christophe Bouchut , Jérome Policand , Jean-Marc Gounon , Jonathan Cocker , Bert Longin , Antonio Hermann , Michael Trunk , Norbert Walchhofer , Sascha Bert , Gabriel Balthazard , Jean-Luc Beaubelique , Gilles Chatelain , Tom Alexander , Philipp Peter , Marc Cattaneo , Maurice Ricci , Mike Savary
Teams Reiter Engineering , Team Zakspeed