Silverstone: Round one preview

What a weekend of action in store ! The 2006 season of the FIA GT Championships will get underway next weekend at the British circuit of Silverstone, running on the popular Grand Prix track. The Silverstone Supercar Showdown, a real celebration...

What a weekend of action in store ! The 2006 season of the FIA GT Championships will get underway next weekend at the British circuit of Silverstone, running on the popular Grand Prix track.

The Silverstone Supercar Showdown, a real celebration of GT racing in all its forms, will include the Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy, which will be the British round of the FIA GT Championship, the first-ever races in the all-new FIA GT3 European Championship, and rounds of the Maserati Trofeo, the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli and the Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli Coppa Shell.

With 30 cars due to take part in the Tourist Trophy, 101 years since it was first run, up to 46 in the inaugural FIA GT3 European Championship, 20 in the Maserati Trofeo and 57 cars signed up for the two Ferrari Challenge series, nearly 150 beautiful modern supercars will be taking part in this first event of 2006 !

After a thrilling season in 2005, the FIA GT Championship looks bigger and better than ever, with a magnificent grid including six Aston Martin DBR9s as well as two Mase- rati MC 12, a Corvette C6, two Saleen S7s and a Lamborghini Murcielago , while GT2 will see a fine battle between nine Porsche 996 GT3, six Ferrari 430 GT2, a Nissan 350Z and a Panoz Esperante.

As for the GT3 Championship, all eyes will be on the very first start, with a magnificent grid of up to 46 cars : Ascari KZ1R, Aston Martin DBRS9, Corvette Z06, Dodge Com- petition Coupe, Ferrari 430 GT3, Lamborghini Gallardo, Maserati GranSport Light and Porsche 997 GT3. The remaining cars which have signed up for the full season of the Championship are being finalised at this moment, and the full grid of 51 cars should be ready in time for the second round, in Oschersleben.

And the supercars are not confined to those on the track. The Tourist Trophy itself will be escorted from London to Silverstone by around 27 cars taking part in the Supercar Tour. Leaving after breakfast in the headquarters of the Royal Automobile Club in London, they will reach Silverstone for a lap of the track at around 13:40 on Friday. Furthermore, many owners clubs will be bringing their cars to display them in the cen- tre of the circuit. With air demonstrations from the Royal Navy's Black Cat Helicopter Display Team on Saturday, and from Mark Jeffries and the Elite Twister Aerobatics Display on the Sunday, and a free fairground, there will be plenty happening both on track and off.

ROYAL AUTOMOBILE CLUB TOURIST TROPHY

And so the tenth season of the FIA GT Championship gets underway, with the historic Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy. The Championship is looking stronger and more varied than ever before, and it is truly impossible to say who is likely to step up to the top of the podium to accept the magnificent Trophy, which will be awarded to the overall winners after Sunday's three-hour race.

In GT1, the level of cars and drivers has risen yet again, and everyone is expecting the competition to be tougher than ever. Vitaphone Racing Team, the defending Champions, are back, with Bertolini and Davies joining Bartels and Biagi behind the wheel of the Maserati MC 12 cars, bearing numbers 1 and 2. They will face GLPK Carsport, the Belgian team which won two races last year, and which has upgraded to the latest Corvette C6 model. Two powerful Saleen S7 cars will be aiming to get back to the top of the podium : Zakspeed, from Germany, and Balfe Motorsport from the UK have both entered the American car, and times in Dijon and Paul Ricard showed their speed. B-Racing RS Line is a new team with big ambitions for the Lamborghini Murcielago. They will all face the biggest group in GT1, the six Aston Martin DBR9 cars. Two of them will be on Michelin tyres : Cirtek Motorsport and Phoenix Racing, driven respectively by Bouchut/Brabham and Piccini /Deletraz. On Dunlop, the two Race Alliance cars from Austria, for Wendlinger/Peter and Lechner/Diefenbacher. And on Pirelli, the Aston Martin Racing BMS cars, for Gollin/Babini and Pescatori/Ramos. In GT2, after two relatively quiet seasons, the fight is back on ! 17 cars are due to line up for this first round. The biggest group remains the Porsches, entered by ARC Bratislava, Ebimotors, Race Alliance, Renauer Motorsport, Team Felbermayr Proton and Vonka. But they will be up against six new Ferrari 430 GT2 cars : two for Italian team AF Corse, two for JMB Racing of Monaco and two for Scuderia Ecosse. RJN Motorsport will enter its Nissan 350Z, with British single-seater star Darren Manning making his European sportscar debut, while Team LNT, a close runner-up to the Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari 430 GT2 in the first British GT races, will enter its Panoz Esperante. A sole car will run in G2, the original and competitive Gillet Vertigo, for Bas Leinders and Renaud Kuppens. On a circuit most drivers enjoy, the grid promises three hours of thrilling racing. As to the winners ... we'll all have to wait and see !

SILVERSTONE - WHAT THE DRIVERS THINK

"Definitely a nice place to visit for the first race of the season. First of all, it's a legendary track, but above all, it's very challenging. It's quite fast, with some difficult corners, making a good aerodynamic balance very important. Weather conditions can be crucial in the race strategy. The Royal Automobile Club Tourist Trophy makes the race even more attractive !" Anthony Kumpen, GLPK Carsport Corvette C6

"I'm very pleased to be going to Silverstone, which is one of the best circuits in the world. This circuit is full of history, and you can feel that when you arrive. My last time there was seven years ago with the European Formula Renault, and I have good memories of the place. The first part is amazing, very fast with technical corners : a big challenge for the driver. I hope to be competitive there : it will be our first race, so we need to put some kilometres under our belts, but I am quite confident to start the season with a smile !" Matteo Bobbi, AF Corse Ferrari F430

"Silverstone is a very fast circuit, one of the last in Europe which has kept its original feel while adapting to new regulations. I really like this circuit, with its wide fast corners, and also the tight corners. One of my favourites." Christophe Bouchut, Cirtek Motorsport Aston Martin DBR9

FIA GT3 EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP A WEEKEND TO REMEMBER

Almost a year exactly since the idea was first put on paper, the FIA GT3 European Championship will take to the track for its inaugural races.

With a grand total of 51 cars having signed up for the season, a grid of up to 46 cars is expected to line up on the Silverstone grid on Saturday, May 6th, for the first one-hour round. The remaining cars should be ready in time for the second event in Oschersleben.

Cars from eight manufacturers will be represented in this first race : the Ascari KZ1R, entered by British team Damax, the Aston Martin DBRS9, entered by Barwell Motorsport and BMS Scuderia Italia, the Corvette Z06 GT3, entered by Carsport Callaway and Riverside, the Dodge Viper Competition Coupe, entered by Racing Logistic, Racing Box and Pouchelon Racing, the Ferrari 430 Challenge GT3, entered by JMB Racing Ferrari, the Maserati GranSport Light, in the hands of GPC Sport and AF Corse, the Lamborghini Gallardo, from Reiter Engineering and S-Berg Racing, and last but by no means least, the Porsche 997 GT3 Cup, raced by Larbre Competition, SOFREV Auto Sport Promotion and Tech 9 Motorsport. As for the drivers, they are a mixed group, including familiar faces from the British and FFSA French GT Championships, such as Roland Berville and Raymond Narac, racing a Larbre Competition Porsche 997 GT3 Cup, or Demitri Deverikos, who won the GT3 category of the British GT Championship last year with Tech 9, and who remains with the team in the GT3 Championship. Gabriel Balthazard (Sofrev), Frederic Makowiecki (Racing Logistic), James Ruffier (Riverside) are also French GT regulars. A number of younger drivers are also taking part, such as 19-year old Jonathan Cocker, who won the British GT Championship in 2004 and the Porsche Carrera Cup Asia last year, and who will be racing for Barwell in an Aston Martin DBRS9. Maxime Dumarey, racing for Tech 9 Motorsport, is only 17, and already an experienced Belcar driver. Dennis Retera, aged 19, will be racing for S-Berg in a Lamborghini. Plenty have been regulars in the FIA GT Championship over the years, such as Lilian Bryner, Enzo Calderari and Toni Seiler, all racing for BMS Scuderia Italia in an Aston Martin DBRS9. Bernhard Muller and Michael Trunk return to Lamborghini competition with Reiter Engineering, having raced first a Porsche and then a Lamborghini in the FIA GT Championship. They will be joined at Reiter by former N-GT race winner Jurgen von Gartzen.

The field is not all masculine, with BMS's Lilian Bryner being joined on the grid by Rachel Green in a Pouchelon Racing Viper. With any drivers over the age of 55 authorised to take part, regardless of their careers, some extremely well-known names will also line up, such as 1998 FIA GT Champion Klaus Ludwig, racing a Carsport Callaway Corvette Z06 GT3. Or Anthony Reid, who has had a long career in touring and sports cars, and who will be sharing his Pouchelon Dodge Viper with paraplegic racer Gilles Duqueine. Tiff Needell, who raced as far as Formula One, and is now better known as a broadcaster, will be racing for Barwell. All cars will be on Michelin tyres, and the performance of the cars will be balanced by the FIA, who have been running tests at Paul Ricard and Dijon over the past months. A colourful and talented grid ! But who is going to be ahead when the cars head for that first corner at Silverstone ?

-fia-

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Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Darren Manning , Anthony Reid , Tiff Needell , Klaus Ludwig , Matteo Bobbi , Anthony Kumpen , Toni Seiler , Christophe Bouchut , Roland Berville , Bas Leinders , Jonathan Cocker , Enzo Calderari , Lilian Bryner , Michael Trunk , Raymond Narac , Renaud Kuppens , Jurgen von Gartzen , Maxime Dumarey , Gabriel Balthazard , Gilles Duqueine , Bernhard Muller , James Ruffier , Rachel Green
Teams Nissan Motorsport , Aston Martin Racing , AF Corse , Larbre Competition , Reiter Engineering , Team LNT , Phoenix Racing , Team Zakspeed