For round 6 of the FIA GT Championship, the teams and drivers have arrived in Belgium, for the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. Not only the longest race of the year, the event also has the most cars, with a number of extra cars joining the GT and N-GT...
For round 6 of the FIA GT Championship, the teams and drivers have arrived in Belgium, for the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. Not only the longest race of the year, the event also has the most cars, with a number of extra cars joining the GT and N-GT categories, not to mention those from National GT Championships, racing in class G2, and those from single-make series in the G3 class. The beautiful, challenging track of Spa-Francorchamps is the scene for this exceptional event, for which double points will be awarded in the GT and N-GT classes. Half of these points will be awarded at the end of the race, with one quarter at 6 hours and one quarter at 12 hours. No handicap weights are carried for this race, but the weights from after Donington will be added to those awarded at the three point-scoring moments at Spa to give the handicaps for Anderstorp. For this first day of on-track action at Spa-Francorchamps, there were two 90-minute free practice sessions, followed by two night qualifying sessions, one which was one hour long, and the second 90 minutes, between 22:00 and 23:30, to give all drivers the time to qualify in night conditions.
Today's weather has been extremely changeable, alternating warm, humid weather and quite heavy showers, the track drying quite quickly after the showers. The first free practice session was dry, the second announced as being wet after a shower mid-way through
*54 cars are due to take part in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, with 18 cars entered in the GT category and 18 in the N-GT category. A further 12 cars are competing in the National GT class and six in the Single Make Series class.
*A number of cars changed category, including the Zakspeed Chrysler Viper GTS-R, now running in G2, and the Porsche 996 GT3-RS cars of Ice Pol Racing and Didier Caradec
*Double champion Christophe Bouchut made a surprise return to Larbre Competition, with his place in the Creation Autosportif Lister Storm taken by Duncan Huisman, from the Netherlands.
*The Force One Festina car line-ups have been finalised, with team regulars Philippe Alliot, Mike Hezemans and Anthony Kumpen sharing the nr 4 Chrysler Viper, joined by Mike's 2001 team-mate David Hart, from the Netherlands. The nr 5 car will be shared by David Hallyday and Steve Zacchia, with newcomers Julien Gilbert and Francois Jakubowski.
*The nr 9 JMB Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello will be driven by Philipp Peter, Fabio Babini and Boris Derichebourg, while former Formula One driver Luciano Burti joins the team alongside Fabrizio De Simone and Iradj Alexander in the nr 53 Ferrari 360 Modena.
*In the nr 51 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS, Bert Longin and Gabriele Gardel have been joined by Autopalace regular Guillaume Gomez and Belgian driver Jeffrey van Hooydonk, a former Formula 3000 driver.
*In the nr 61 EMKA Racing Porsche 996 GT3-RS, Tim Sugden and Emmanuel Collard have been joined by British driver Chris Goodwin, last seen in the FIA GT Championship behind the wheel of the Parabolica McLaren in 1997.
First Free Practice Session : Lister and JMB Racing lead the times Free practice for the 2003 edition of the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa started with a dry session, in which the nr 14 Lister Storm set the fastest time, with a lap of 2:18.279 round the 6.947 km track. The nr 15 Lister Racing car, driven by Andrea Piccini, David Sterkx, Gabriele Lancieri and Gavin Pickering, was second fastest, just under a second slower. Third fastest was the nr 22 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello, with the nr 2 Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7-R fourth and the nr 1 Larbre Competition Chrysler Viper GTS-R in fifth place -- meaning four makes in the top five. The fastest N-GT car was the nr 52 JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena driven by 2001 N-GT Champions David Terrien and Christian Pescatori, joined by Andrea Bertolini. They were followed by the two Team Maranello Concessionaire Ferrari 360 Modena cars, with the nr 50 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS fourth.
Second Free Practice Session : Konrad and Team Maranello improve After a brief thunderstorm between the sessions, race started fifteen minutes into the second 90-minute practice session, which was declared a Wet Practice by the race director. However, the track dried relatively quickly and the weather remained changeable. Although the time set by the nr 14 Lister Storm remained the fastest of the two sessions, the nr 2 Konrad Motorsport Saleen set the best time in the second session, with a lap of 2:18.714, placing them second quickest overall. The Lister Storm was less lucky, the car crashing with Belgian driver Bas Leinders at the wheel, inflicting quite serious damage on the car, which is unlikely to be able to take part in the evening's night qualifying session. The nr 4 Force One Chrysler Viper was second fastest in the session, with a time of 2:18.899, placing the car third overall in the Free Practice. The nr 23 BMS Ferrari of undefeated 2003 winners Matteo Bobbi and Thomas Biagi was third in the second session, placing them fourth overall. Fastest of the N-GT cars was the nr 89 TMC Ferrari 360 Modena of Davies, Turner and Smith, setting the best time in the category throughout the two sessions, with a lap of 1:23.431.
First Qualifying Session
This took place between 20:30 and 21:30, at the start of which the skies were still light but overcast. The session started slowly, but after around 20 minutes the times started coming down, with the nr 22 BMS Ferrari and the nr 2 Konrad Saleen the first to go under the 2:18 barrier. At 20:55, the nr 23 BMS Ferrari set a time of 2:16.777; shortly afterwards, the team's second car went faster still, with a time of 2:15.718, faster than the 2002 pole. Shortly after 21:00, the session was red-flagged due to oil on the track, caused by a blown engine in the nr 126 Zakspeed Chrysler Viper GTS-R. At this point, the fastest time in N-GT was a lap of 2:22.691, set by the nr 89 Team Maranello Concessionaires, with the nr 50 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS second and the nr 52 JMB Ferrari 360 Modena third. The session was stopped for fifteen minutes. After the session restarted, Andrea Piccini, in the nr 15 Lister Storm, improved to fourth overall, with a lap of 2:17.283. The nr 2 Konrad, 5th in the session, stopped at corner 13 with electrical problems. The nr 4 Force One Festina Chrysler Viper also stopped on the side of the track shortly before the end of the session. At the end of the session, the nr 22 was fastest with a time of 2:15.718 ahead of the nr 23 BMS Ferrari, with the nr 4 Chrysler Viper third, the nr 15 Lister Storm fourth and the nr 2 Konrad Saleen fifth -- four makes in the top four once more, separated by less than 2 seconds. In N-GT, the top car was the nr 89 TMC Ferrari 360 Modena with a lap of 2:22.691, in 16th overall, ahead of the nr 50 Freisinger Porsche and the nr 52 JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena, with the nr 61 EMKA Porsche fourth.
Second Qualifying Session -- night qualifying
The main aim of the second qualifying session, 90 minutes long, was to allow all drivers to set the three laps in night conditions which are stipulated in the regulations, and there were few improvements in terms of lap times. The nr 14 Lister Storm, and the nr 126 Zakspeed Chrysler Viper were both excused from the need to complete night qualifying, due to Force Majeure. The session was stopped 2 times. There was a first red flag 38 minutes into the session, when the nr 72 Seikel Porsche and the nr 15 Lister Storm, Gabriele Lancieri at the wheel, both spun simultaneously, the Lister being stranded briefly in the middle of the track. A second red flag came at 22:50, after the nr 68 Peter Kutemann Ferrari 360 Modena spun into the gravel after Pouhon. At the end of the session, the nr 25 Paul Belmondo Chrysler Viper stopped at corner nr 5.
BMS Scuderia Italia and Team Maranello Concessionaires on Provisional Pole After the first day, Ferrari cars were on provisional pole in both categories, with the nr 22 BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello of Fabrizio Gollin, Luca Cappellari, Lilian Bryner and Enzo Calderari setting the fastest time in GT, with a lap of 2:15.718, ahead of the team's second car, with the nr 4 Force One Festina Chrysler Viper third. The nr 15 Lister Storm was provisionally fourth, with the nr 2 Konrad Saleen fifth. Gollin set the fastest time. "I am very happy, as I had no traffic on my fast lap, and didn't make any mistakes. The car is very good, and I was lucky ! I hope the third session goes well tomorrow ! Anything is possible." In N-GT, the nr 89 TMC Ferrari 360 Modena was fastest, with a time of 2:22.691, ahead of the nr 50 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS, with the nr 52 JMB Racing Ferrari of Terrien, Pescatori and Bertolini third. The nr 61 EMKA Racing Porsche was fourth, with the nr 88 TMC car fifth. Darren Turner set the time in the nr 89 car. "Everything is fine; we're working well and quite happy with the car," his team-mate Jamie Davies explained. "The 24 hours are more of a problem, but it should be OK. We've been working hard and it should pay dividends."
NOTES AND QUOTES
Steve Zacchia -- nr 5 Force One Festina Chrysler Viper GTS-R : "This is my first time at Spa, and the circuit is magnificent. I hope I have the time to do a lot more laps ! We had a slight oil pump problem this morning, which meant I did not really get out until the afternoon. Our four drivers should make quite a homogenous team, and I am really looking forward to the race."
Bobby Verdon-Roe -- nr 6 Creation : "We're getting there ! I am pleased with the time I set on old rubber; we've found a decent race set-up, and I really think we're almost there. We need a good car for both wet and dry conditions here; when it was raining at La Source, it was still quite dry in other places, and it dried quickly. But I am really happy, as the car is the best it has been all year." Team Principal Ian Bickerton was also happy. "It's going well -- the drivers are doing a good job, and Duncan is adapting to the car well. He's got them all fired up -- he's just what the team needed."
Boris Derichebourg - nr 9 JMB Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello : "We had a few little problems to solve this morning, as the car is all more or less new. Our main aim is to set the car up for the race."
Rob Schirle -- nr 14 Lister Storm : "The car is awesome, the best GT car in the world. It's really good to be driving again, although it seems quite strange not to have all the stress of running a team. I don't know how Franz Konrad manages to do both ! The Lister has changed a lot since I last drove it, especially in the aerodynamics. My aim now is to do a good job and to try to keep driving for the rest of the season !"
Nathan Kinch -- nr 14 Lister Storm : "It looks as if we will have to start at the back, as the car has been quite badly damaged when Bas Leinders went into the wall. The track was generally dry, but the kerbs were slippery, and unfortunately he found a bit of damp. It should be OK for the race, but we won't be out today. It's a shame as the car was really good this morning."
Matteo Bobbi -- nr 23 BMS Ferrari 550 Maranello : "It's going well. I only did 3 laps in the first session, as we were letting the new drivers get used to the car. But in the second session, I managed to set a time of 2:19, which placed us fourth. But the time is not important, we are working for the 24-hour race, and the car is really good. It is completely different without the 100 kg penalty weight we have carried in the last two races. I love this track -- it's the best in Europe. But now we'll have to see what it is like at night. I'm looking forward to that as it's something I've never done before, so it's completely new to me.
Stephane Ortelli -- nr 50 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS : "We're too slow ! But we started off 8th in free practice at Donington, and we won, so perhaps it's not too bad. But we have no idea why we are so much slower than the others. We are mainly working for the race set-up, and it should be OK for Saturday and Sunday."
Christian Pescatori -- nr 52 JMB Racing 360 Modena : "This is the first time I have driven this year's car, and I am very pleased with it. It's easy to drive it quickly. This race is difficult -- due to the number of cars on the track, the nature of the track, the weather -- you cannot relax, it's more like 24 hours of qualifying. But I still have a very good feeling with this car; I have done so many kilometres in it, and I quickly fell back into the rhythm. It's a real pleasure, especially with team-mates like David Terrien and Andrea Bertolini.
Fabrizio De Simone -- nr 53 JMB Racing Ferrari 360 Modena : "It's not going too badly, we made a few small improvements in the second session, although it was not an easy session with the rain and the traffic. We hope to qualify well, although it is just a little part of the weekend. I am getting along very well with Luciano and Iradj, and I hope we have a good race."
Jarek Janis -- nr 58 MENX Ferrari 360 Modena : "It's going quite well, although it was difficult to get a clear lap with so many cars out there. It 's very nice to be here -- I'm enjoying being out on the track among so many fast cars. I like the Ferrari, and I was able to adapt to it quite quickly. I'm now looking forward to the night qualifying, which should be quite an experience."
Adam Jones -- nr 77 RWS-Yukos Porsche 996 GT3-RS : "This morning, it was the first time I'd been here since 2001, and the track has changed quite a bit, so I had to get used to that, as well as the car and tyres, which are new to me. I had to find my feet, but in the second session, there was so much traffic that I couldn't get a clear lap, but my time was quite a decent 2:27.3. After the high of the podium at Estoril last year, the start of this season was disappointing, so I'm hoping to finish here. I'd be over the moon with a good result."