Preseason newsletter 2006-04-07

VITAPHONE RACING TEAM CONTINUES SUCCESSFUL MASERATI PROJECT IN THE FIA GT CHAMPIONSHIP For the 2006 season, the Vitaphone Racing Team will be continuing its successful FIA GT Championship involvement. As in 2005, the team will be entering two ...


For the 2006 season, the Vitaphone Racing Team will be continuing its successful FIA GT Championship involvement. As in 2005, the team will be entering two Maserati MC 12s, which will be driven by Michael Bartels, Andrea Bertolini, Thomas Biagi and Jamie Davies.

Andrea Bertolini and Jamie Davies have been signed to team-up with 2005 regulars, Michael Bartels and Thomas Biagi. Both newcomers have experience of the MC12 : Bertolini was involved in the development of the sports car's racing version, and has raced for AF Corse and JMB Racing, while Davies made his debut as a Vitaphone Racing team driver in the 2005 Spa-Francorchamps 24-Hour Race. Previously, both Davies and Bertolini were race winners in the N-GT category.

Stability is a must for the Vitaphone Racing Team, which has opted for evolution instead of revolution. During extensive testing in the off-season, the optimisation of the Maserati MC 12 was successfully continued, with a special focus being set on the Pirelli tyres the Butzbach based team once again is going to rely on, in the 2006 season.

"The Vitaphone Racing Team delivered in fine style, in its first full season with the Maserati MC 12," says Maserati Motorsport Director Claudio Berro. "While doing so, the team consistently enhanced and refined the car. For 2006 we have set ourselves the goal to tie in with our previous successes. Yet, the competition will be clearly stronger than in the past two years."

Rafael Calafell, Director of the Vitaphone Racing Team, is confident: "We succeeded in creating an extraordinary package for the forthcoming season and will give our very best to defend our title in the team ranking. Furthermore, we have signed a top class driver line-up that has got what it needs to also secure the Drivers' Championship."

Vitaphone's Managing Director, Matthias Quinger, adds: "Vitaphone has been involved in motor racing for five years -- with the success increasing consistently. We succeeded in improving our company's publicity and are truly happy with what we've achieved so far. Still, I hope that we will be able to crown our 2006 involvement with the drivers' title.


New FIA GT team B-Racing had a spectacular launch last week in the Scalaria, St Wolfgang, Austria, in front of over 350 guests.

With various Lamborghini models on display, SRO Chairman Stephane Ratel,Hans Reiter of Reiter Engineering and drivers Peter Kox and Norman Simon were among the guests. "It was an amazing evening," Triple FIA GT Champion Christophe Bouchut said. "I have rarely been to such an impressive party. Fireworks, cars coming down from the ceiling -- quite spectacular. I had a great time, and it has got the season off to a great start."

The team's 2006 drivers were presented during the evening, including Norbert Walchhofer, Benjamin Leuenberger, Christophe Bouchut and Michele Bartyan. Bouchut, Bartyan and Walchhofer will be sharing the line-up for the FIA GT races. Italian driver Bartyan, aged 25, claimed the 2005 LMES GT1 title - inheriting from Bouchut, who won it the year before.

Afterwards, Christophe, who will compete in a number of FIA GT races for B-Racing, gave his thoughts on 2006. "The Lamborghini Murcielago has not shown its full potential yet, but we hope to be as close as possible to the big names in the GT1 class, such as the Maserati or Aston Martin. B-Racing is working hard, and they are very keen to do the right thing. Mr Walchhofer is a real enthusiast : he wanted to run a Lamborghini, and I hope we will be able to give him some good results."


It looks like being a very busy year for Italian team AF Corse ! As well as running three Maserati GranSport Light cars in the new FIA GT3 European Championship, Amato Ferrari has confirmed that he plans to enter two Ferrari F430 GTC cars in the GT2 category of the FIA GT Championship.

"We hope to do a good job," Amato continued. "The drivers will be Mika Salo, Matteo Bobbi, Rui Aguas and Jaime Melo, but I have not yet decided what the line-up for the two cars will be."

Successful Formula One driver Mika Salo, from Finland, raced for AF Corse when it ran the Maserati MC 12 in the final four races of 2004, winning in Zhuhai after the car received its homologation. He also took part in the 2004 Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, finishing second with GPC in the Ferrari 575 M Maranello.

In Formula One, he raced for a number of teams, with his best results coming while he replaced the injured Michael Schumacher at Ferrari in 1999. Matteo Bobbi claimed the FIA GT Championship title for BMS Scuderia Italia in 2003 with Thomas Biagi, after a record-breaking run of five wins in his first five races, driving the Ferrari 550 Maranello. He finished second in 2004, also with BMS, and then headed for Grand Am in America.

Jaime Melo, from Brazil, has been a regular in the Championship over the past few years. In 2004, he managed the unusual feat of winning a race in both the N-GT and GT categories in the same year, with the JMB Racing Ferrari 575 M Maranello and the GPC Ferrari 360 Maranello. He remained with the Ferrari cars last year returned last year with GPC Sport, in the Ferrari 575 M Maranello, with a best result of second in Brno.

The newcomer among the four is Rui Aguas, from Portugal. The talented driver, who was testing the AF Corse Maserati GT3 car at Paul Ricard in the last test, had a successful single-seater career, in German Formula Three and then in Formula 3000. In recent years, he has raced in Formula Nissan and in the Renault Clio Cup.

"I hope to be able to go for the title," Amato Ferrari said. "However, I know it will be difficult, as the competition will be tough in the GT2 class this year. We are starting a bit late with our plans, but we will work hard to arrive on time for the first race in Silverstone. The car is brand new, but it proved its potential in the ALMS at Sebring, and in the Italian GT Championship at Imola, and I believe Ferrari Corse Clienti, in collaboration with Michelotto Automobili, have done a very good job for their clients." The cars will run on Pirelli tyres. The first test for the AF Corse Ferrari will be at the official test days in Dijon, where just one car will run.

2003 Champion Matteo Bobbi is delighted to be returning to the FIA GT Championship: "I like GT racing a lot, and had some of my best moments in this series, so I'm very happy to be back. AF Corse is a great team, and we are very motivated. My team-mates are some of the best drivers in the world, so I'm proud to be working with these guys."


The Chevrolet Corvette Z06.R GT3 is poised to fight for victory in the all new FIA GT3 European Championship. Six Z06.R GT3 cars have been built by Team Carsport for the 2006 season. Three will be fielded by the French Riverside team and three by Team Carsport-Callaway, which has already signed German racing legend Klaus Ludwig, who will partner Uli Martini in one car. The Carsport-Callaway team is now looking for drivers for its other two cars.

"This is the perfect series for ambitious gentlemen racers looking for the ideal ambiance in which to compete: beautiful GT cars, nice circuits, professional teams, superb organisation and a great atmosphere. And with the Z06.R we can provide our drivers with a serious chance to win", says Toine Hezemans of Team Carsport that took the Corvette C5.R to victory in the 2005 FIA GT1 Championship and will fight for the GT1 title this year with the C6.R. "Chevrolet has been extremely successful in GT racing for years now", Toine continued. "The Corvette is fast and reliable by nature and thus the basics for a competitive GT3 car were all there already. It's got the DNA of a winner. We have developed the Z06.R specifically for the new GT3 series. Six cars have been built for the FIA championship plus one for the Dutch and Belgian GT series. From the first tests at Paul Ricard and Hockenheim it is clear that the Z06.R will be among the fastest cars. From what I hear our rates are highly competitive too, so the value for money that we can offer is quite exceptional.

Drivers also have the option to buy the car if they wish. I am looking forward to this season, as the FIA GT3 series promises to provide a fantastic arena in which our car is set to shine."


1998 FIA GT Champion Klaus Ludwig, of Germany, will be returning to GT competition in the new FIA GT3 European Championship, in one of the Callaway Carsport Corvette Z06 cars.

Despite his glorious race record, including three wins at Le Mans in 1979, 1984 and 1985, Klaus is eligible to compete in the new Championship as, at the age of 56, he is automatically classified as a non-professional driver. Ludwig competed in the FIA GT Championship in the first two seasons. After racing for Kremer Racing in the very first event, alongside Christophe Bouchut and Carl Rosenblad, he joined AMG Mercedes, driving both the nr 11 and 12 Mercedes CLK GTR and claiming four wins. In 1998, he raced the nr 2 car with young Brazilian Ricardo Zonta. Together, they claimed five wins, narrowly beating Bernd Schneider and Mark Webber to the title after a dramatic final race in Laguna Seca, America.


The GLPK Corvette C6, which will run in this season's FIA GT Championship, took to the track at Spa-Francorchamps for the first time, for a successful shakedown test.

The car ran on Michelin tyres, as Toine Hezemans explained : "After four years of very good cooperation with Pirelli, we have now switched to Michelin tires. As Pratt & Miller, the official representative, has won all the ALMS and Le Mans races on Michelin tyres, it is for us a much safer bet to choose Michelin tyres for the Championship. Moreover, we are running six Corvette Z06 cars in the FIA GT3 European Championship, for which Michelin in the single tyre manufacturer. We would like to thank Pirelli for their outstanding help."


April 11th and 12th will see many of the participants in this year's FIA GT Championship head for Dijon, for the official test days and the Media Day, which will be held on the Tuesday.

Furthermore, the two days will also be the third and final test for the cars taking part in the new FIA GT3 European Championship, so that the process of balancing the performance of the different cars can be completed. Among the teams taking part in the test days are Aston Martin Racing BMS, Race Alliance, Vitaphone Racing, Zakspeed Racing, GLPK Carsport, Balfe Motorsport, AF Corse, Ebimotors, JMB Racing, Felbermayr-Proton and Scuderia Ecosse.

A press conference will be held at 12:30 on April 11th, to launch the 2006 season.

This is the first time that the Championship has visited Dijon since 1998, in the old GT1 era, when the race was won by the Mercedes CLK of Ricardo Zonta and Klaus Ludwig, while the GT2 class was won by the Chrysler Viper of Olivier Beretta and Pedro Lamy.


The Balfe Motorsport team got its 2006 season off to a successful start , with a shakedown at Donington Park on March 29th followed by a test on the Silverstone south circuit this week.

"The car ran faultlessly all day. We're really pleased to get off to a good start with it," said Balfe after the shakedown. "We made a cautious start and we were hampered in getting some longer runs as there were a lot of red flags during the day. But, our objective was to make sure that everything we have done over the winter worked and we came away from the day more than happy with the results," he added.

At Silverstone, Jamie Derbyshire and Neil Cunningham had their first opportunity to try the car. Both drivers were keen to take to the track and begin the acclimatization in readiness for the new season. The early part of the morning was spent seat fitting and getting all the drivers comfortable. Shaun Balfe then took the car out for a systems check before handing over to Jamie Derbyshire. Even though it was only his first run in the car, he was impressed with the performance of the Saleen and how comfortable he felt.

"It felt really good straight away, said Jamie. "There is obviously more power there than the Mosler, but it's easy to drive and I can tell that the team has done a first class job in rebuilding it. It's a Balfe Motorsport car - everything has been done properly. I was looking forward to getting in the car and I'm really happy now that I've had my first run. The carbon brakes are something that we are all going to have to get used to, but that will come with some more testing. I'm looking forward to Dijon now, getting more miles and seeing where we are compared to the rest of the GT1 grid," he added.

Neil Cunningham had been keen to get into the car from the moment he arrived at the circuit and had the biggest grin on his face when the team fired up the 7-litre V8. The quick Kiwi was immediately up to pace when he got out on track and was full of enthusiasm when he finally climbed back out of the cockpit just before lunchtime. "Everything went really well, I'm really happy," he said. "The team works well together and the car felt really good from the very first lap, they've obviously put a lot of work in and it shows. We managed to get plenty of laps and started to make small changes to the set-up, which made an immediate positive step forward. The test in France next week will be a good chance to see where we are time wise, but so far everything is good," he added.


RJN Motorsport will enter its Nissan 350Z GT2 Car in selected FIA events this year starting with the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy at Silverstone. The car has undergone a test, development and wind tunnel programme to bring it to the 2006 specification. A full press release with the announcements of the drivers and other partners and the intended race programme will follow. The Nissan last raced in the FIA GT in Zhuhai 2004, and was a podium finisher in the 2005 British GT Championship.


Rob Schirle has announced that he will be entering his Aston Martin DBR9 in the season opener, the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy, at Silverstone. The car will be driven by two professional drivers, who will be announced shortly.

"We will start the season and depending on the result may continue on for Brno," team manager Rob Schirle explained. " Silverstone is a perfect start for us, being our home race.


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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Michael Schumacher , Mark Webber , Mika Salo , Jamie Davies , Pedro Lamy , Bernd Schneider , Michael Bartels , Klaus Ludwig , Matteo Bobbi , Peter Kox , Jaime Melo , Christophe Bouchut , Benjamin Leuenberger , Shaun Balfe , Jamie Derbyshire , Neil Cunningham , Olivier Beretta , Andrea Bertolini , Thomas Biagi , Michele Bartyan , Rui Aguas
Teams Nissan Motorsport , Aston Martin Racing , AF Corse , Reiter Engineering , Team Zakspeed