Spa: Round seven preview

The seventh round of the LG Super Racing Weekend series will take place at the magnificent Belgian circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, a long, challenging track, generally extremely popular with teams and drivers alike. The weekend of racing will...

The seventh round of the LG Super Racing Weekend series will take place at the magnificent Belgian circuit of Spa-Francorchamps, a long, challenging track, generally extremely popular with teams and drivers alike. The weekend of racing will include the 13th and 14th rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Championship, which will be held on the Saturday. Instead of the usual three-hour race, the teams and drivers from the FIA GT Championship race will take part in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, which will start at 16:00 on Saturday.

The FIA GT Championship first raced at Spa in 1997, when the 4-hour race was won by the BMW Motorsport McLaren F1 GTR of Lehto and Soper, after an epic battle with the Mercedes CLK GTR of Schneider and Wurz. Last year, the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa saw Larbre Competition Chéreau place its two Chrysler Viper GTS-R cars in first and second positions, allowing drivers Bouchut and Belloc to claim the Drivers title, and virtually sealing the Teams title for the French team. RWS Motorsport took the N-GT victory, with Riccitelli, Quester, Simon and Garcia in a Porsche 996 GT3-R.

This year up to 55 cars are due to line up for the start, with the regular competitors joined by cars from various National GT Championships and other single-make series. Racing in their own classes, they will not be eligible for FIA GT or N-GTpoints.

The inclusion of a 24 Hour race into the normal LG Super Racing Weekend schedule has necessarily brought about some changes to the timetable. Free practice sessions for the FIA European Touring Car Championship and the FIA GT Championship will be held on Thursday, as will the first Qualifying session for the FIA GT Championship. Thursday evening will also see a Night Qualifying session for the 24-hour race, as all drivers have to qualify in night conditions. The FIA European Touring Car Championship Qualifying will take place on Friday, as well as the FIA GT Superpole. Saturday morning will start with the Formula Renault 2000 Eurocup and Renault Sport Clio Trophy races, with rounds 13 and 14 of the FIA European Touring Car Championship starting at 12.20.

FIA GT CHAMPIONSHIP

This will be the second time that the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa is being run as part of the FIA GT Championship. After last year's undeniable success, the race is compulsory for all 2002 full-season entrants, and a number of changes to the points and weights scales are sure to make it a fascinating race. After six rounds, the classification has rarely been closer, and the top four teams in the GT Championship are only separated by seven points. In the Drivers classification, new leaders Deletraz and Piccini have a one-point lead over Campbell-Walter and Springer. In N-GT, Pescatori and Montermini still lead, with Ortelli just five points behind, while JMB Racing has a commanding lead in the Teams classification. With double points on offer for the 24-hour race, and only three races remaining after Spa, the endurance race in the Ardennes is bound to play a vital role in the 2002 Championship title battle. No penalty weights will be carried for this race, but the weights after Oschersleben will be carried forward to Pergusa, augmented by the weights earned at Spa. Instead of double points being awarded to the overall winners, as happened in 2001, this year the points will be distributed throughout the race. Half of the double points will be awarded at the end, with a quarter given to those cars classified in the top 6 in each class after 6 hours, and a quarter awarded to those lying in the top six after twelve hours.

GT CHAMPIONSHIP

LISTER STORM RACING GOING FLAT OUT (1st in GT, 37 points)
After a storming race in Oschersleben, when Jamie Campbell-Walter finished just a second behind the winning Ferrari 550 Maranello of new points leaders Deletraz and Piccini, and after Nicolaus Springer put in his best performance so far, Lister Storm Racing regained the lead in the GT Teams Classification. The team is now busy preparing for the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, a race they opted not to contest last season. The regular drivers of the nr 14 Lister Storm will be joined by Eric van de Poele and Andy Wallace, both of whom have driven for Lister in the past. "We're doing all right," team principal Laurence Pearce said. "The car was very quick in testing, when Jamie did a 2:16.7 - we were really in a league of our own on the test day. I am not planning to put Nicolaus into the car until after the 12-hour mark; I'll just run Wallace, van de Poele and Jamie. I've prepared a car specially for this race, with a new spec engine and gear-box, we've got new tyres from Dunlop, who have risen to the occasion, and I'm really out to have a go ! I like the idea of the points at the 6 hour and 12 hour marks. I'd like to run the first 6 hours flat out, with 5 pit stops to the first points. If it's dry, we'll go as fast as we can, get some points under our belts and go on from there. Things are pretty close in the Championship now, but the winner of the 24 Hours of Spa will most probably go on to win the Championship." The second car will be driven by Verdon Roe, Miguel de Castro, a Lister driver in the Spanish GT Championship, David Sterckx, who won Group 3 last year in a Land Motorsport Porsche 996, and Philippe Steveny, who led the race in the Rafanelli Ferrari Maranello last year. Knapfield will not be driving for Lister Storm Racing again this season; his replacement will be announced later.

LARBRE COMPETITION CHEREAU HOPES TO REPEAT 2001 FEAT (2nd in GT, 36 points)
The nr 1 Chrysler Viper had its first retirement of the season in Germany, after Bouchut and Belloc had finished on the podium in every other race. However, the second car of Vosse and Rosenblad finished fourth, placing the team just one point behind the current leaders. "We won last year at Spa and we hope to aim for victory there again in 2002," said team owner Jack Leconte. "We will be on an equal footing with our competitors for the first time for some races, as none of us will have any penalty weight. And, before retiring with technical problems, we were able to show at Oschersleben that despite having 100 kg, we were able to keep in touch with Lister and Ferrari. Larbre is the only team in the GT category with significant endurance experience. We finished second at Daytona and third at Sebring this year, and we hope to continue in that vein. This race is a cornerstone of the 2002 Championship and we intend to definitively take the lead. If we don't do it here, the chance will be gone. You can count on us to aimfor the win ! We have 4 drivers in each car, as we do for Daytona. The circuit is harder on the drivers than Le Mans, with no long straights, so this gives us more of a safety margin. Some drivers are better in the rain, some are better at night - I want to hold all the cards in my hands !"

Bouchut, Terrien and Vosse will be in the lead car, joined by current F3000 leader Sebastien Bourdais, who finished second in last year's race. "This weekend is doubly important," 2001 winner Christophe Bouchut explained. "First of all, there is the prestige of the winning the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, and the importance of the race in the Championship. After retiring in Oschersleben, we really need a win if we want to get the title. We will not be aiming to be the fastest over one lap, but we will be looking at this race like any other endurance race." The second car will be driven by Rosenblad, Jean-Luc Chéreau and Jean-Claude Lagniez, joined by Didier Defourny.

BMS SCUDERIA ITALIA : FOUR IN A ROW ? (3rd in GT, 33 points)
After three consecutive wins, Jean-Denis Deletraz and Andrea Piccini have risen to lead the GT Drivers Classification, and have taken their team, BMS Scuderia Italia, to within four points of the overall lead in the Teams points chart. "This race is the big question mark for us," Deletraz said. "The Prodrive-built Maranello has only done one 24-hour race, which it failed to finish due to problems linked to the youth of the project. They have fixed that problem, but we do not know if others might appear. But it did run very quickly for twelve hours, so we will be pushing hard to try for the points at six and twelve hours, and then we'll see. All the team has been working extremely hard. Our main aim is to limit any damage so that we have a good chance of going for the title in the final three races. At Spa, I think our main rivals will be Bouchut and Terrien. Larbre Competition Chéreau won last year, and the Chrysler Viper has many solid years of endurance experience. Our main ally could be the rain, which will level the field and which is easier on the car. As a track, I like Spa a lot, and so does Andrea."

This will be Andrea Piccini's first 24-hour race. "I'll just have to see how it goes. I've never raced at night before; I've only done 24 hour karting races, which were indoors, so the conditions never change. However, I know Spa well, from Opel Lotus and three years in Formula 3000, so I know where the track goes. The circuit is quite challenging, but at least you don't get bored. The weather could be difficult, but it'll be the same for everyone. And I really like racing in the rain, I'm always very confident in wet conditions, so whatever happens, I'll be OK." They will be sharing the nr 23 Ferrari 550 Maranello with Lilian Bryner.

The nr 22 car will be driven by Frédéric Dor, Enzo Calderari and Dutch driver Peter Kox, who drove the Prodrive Allstars Ferrari 550 Maranello last year, winning at the A1 Ring. Calderari, who missed Oschersleben after undergoing surgery on his arm, hopes to be sufficiently recovered to drive. "We are hoping to fit power steering on the nr 22 car before the race," press officer Marco Streparava explained. "Calderari very much wants to race, and will do everything he can to be in the car."

STRONG LINE-UP FOR CARSPORT HOLLAND (4th in GT, 30 points)
Just seven points behind the leaders in the Teams classification, Dutch team Carsport Holland is fielding two strong line-ups for the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. Thierry Tassin, four-times winner of the event, rejoins the team alongside Mike Hezemans and Anthony Kumpen in the nr 3 Chrysler Viper GTS-R, while fast Belgian single-seater driver Bas Leinders will be in the nr 4 car with Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari. Leinders, a former F3000 driver, is currently competing in the World Nissan series, with two wins so far this season. "It's looking quite good," Hezemans said. "It is always difficult to win a 24 hour race, but I think that maybe we have a chance against the Ferrari and Lister. We haven't had the reliability or the luck this season, so the only hope for us in the Championship is to win this race. We are really aiming for the overall victory, as the other cars will pushing hard for the six and twelve hour points. We have some excellent Belgian drivers in Tassin and Leinders; I hope we can make up for last year's disappointment, when we retired late after being in the lead or second for much of the race."

PAUL BELMONDO RACING : AIMING FOR A WIN (5th in GT, 20 points)
Paul Belmondo Racing took their second podium finish of the year at Oschersleben, with Silverstone winners Fabio Babini and Marc Duez finishing in third place. The team is now aiming for a win in the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, with two interesting line-ups in its Chrysler Viper GTS-R cars. "One car, with Babini, Duez and Derichebourg, is very fast and very experienced," team owner Paul Belmondo explained.

"Gosselin and I will share the other car with Ryo Fukuda, who is a very fast young driver with a lot of experience at Spa. I think it will be a good race. Our tactics are to aim for the overall win, not for the points mid-race. I would prefer to win outright - I think people will remember who won the race, not who got points. So our aim is to be at the front after 24 hours. We will base our rhythm on the other Vipers, although the Ferrari and Lister cars could be a threat." Fukuda, from Japan, is the reigning French Formula Three Champion, and last year he won both of the rounds that were held at Spa. He is currently a test driver for BAR in Formula One.

Boris Derichebourg drove for Paul Belmondo Racing in the FIA GT Championship in 2000 and 2001, with a win and numerous podium finishes. "It's great to be back with the team," the 24-year old Frenchman said. "I know the team and the car well, so I don't think I will have any problems readapting after driving prototypes this season. I know the team has made a lot of progress since last year, and I hope we will have a really good race."

N-GT CHAMPIONSHIP

CONSOLIDATION FOR JMB RACING (1st in N-GT, 56 points)
JMB RACING, currently leading the N-GT teams classification by 19 points, is putting all hope on its side by combining its four leading drivers in one Ferrari 360 Modena. Christian Pescatori and Andrea Montermini, leading the N-GT Drivers classification, will most probably share the nr 50 Ferrari 360 Modena with Andrea Bertolini and Andrea Garbagnati, who have finished on the podium in the last two races. The team will have three cars in total, between JMB Racing and JMB Competition. "We are trying to do Spa with as many of our usual drivers as possible, which will be good for the points," team manager Benjamin Durand explained.

"The second car will be driven by Peter Kutemann, Stephen Earle, who was with us at Le Mans, and one or two drivers yet to be named. Possible drivers for the third car include Batti Pregliasco and Iradj Alexander. We have not done any endurance testing, but the official test day at Spa went extremely well, and we are not at all worried in terms of pure performance. We have just completed some tyre testing with Pirelli at Fiorano, which went very well. Last year we lasted twenty hours, and this year we hope to do four more. We are aiming for a 12-hour race, and anything after that will be a bonus. I think the rhythm of the race will be extremely high for the first six hours, as everyone wants points. After Spa, we will be working hard on the car with Michelotto and Ferrari, to have some surprises for the first race back in September. It should be interesting !"

Christian Pescatori was part of last year's line-up. "This year, the car is a lot more reliable than it was when we did the 24 Hours of Spa last year," he explained. "We have made a number of changes, and we are confident that the car can last the distance. With four drivers who all know the car very well, I think we have a strong team. Also, we will not have any penalty weight for the first time since Magny Cours - although Ortelli will not either ! I think Spa is a fantastic circuit; the only problem is the weather, which can be very changeable. However, our Pirelli tyres are very good in the rain, which could be important. The long fast straights will suit the Porsche cars, but the fast corners will favour us. I would think that the Porsche cars might be ahead for the first six hours, but we hope to catch up and stay in the top three for the rest of the race."

FREISINGER FIELDS STRONG LINE-UP (2nd in N-GT, 37 points)
After three consecutive wins in Brno, Jarama and Anderstorp, Freisinger Motorsport failed to make it four in a row in Oschersleben, despite claiming pole position and setting a fast pace at the start. A broken wheel rim took the nr 54 Porsche 996 GT3-R out of the race. The team's second car, driven by Daoudi and Longin, came in a fine fourth place, just missing out on a podium after a last minute fuel stop. Last year, Freisinger Motorsport finished second in the N-GT class at Spa, and this year they will be hoping to go one better and take the win.

The leading car will be driven by Stéphane Ortelli and Emmanuel Collard, who won together in Sweden, and young French driver Romain Dumas, who has driven for the team at Le Mans for the past two years. Dumas is one of the frontrunners in the Euro F3000 series, and also drove for Freisinger in the final round of the 2001 FIA GT Championship. Bert Longin will be in the nr 55 Porsche 996 GT3-R, with Georges Fourgeois and two other drivers yet to be named.

AUTORLANDO CLOSE THE GAP AFTER FIRST WIN (3rd in N-GT, 26 points)
Italian team Autorlando Sport took their first win of the season in Oschersleben, with Peter and Wolff bringing their Porsche 996 GT3-R home ahead of the RWS Porsche of Garcia and Felbermayr. The team remains in third place in the Teams classification, but has begun to close the gap to second placed Freisinger Motorsport. "The win in Oschersleben was very good for us," Philipp Peter explained. "We had worked on the race set-up from the beginning of the weekend, but I think our win came partly from superstition. Last year my wins came when I drove second, so I persuaded Toto to start the race, and we were able to win again. Toto has made good progress this year; he concentrates hard, listens a lot, and is able to apply it on the track. It also helps that we are good friends, and have been for 15 years, so we trust each other and get results."

For the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, the nr 58 Porsche 996 GT3-R will not be driven by the usual team, but by four German drivers : Dr Stefan Jentzsch, Dr Ulrich Schumacher, Udo Schneider and Andreas von Zitzewitz.

RICCITELLI AND QUESTER RETURN TO RWS (5th in N-GT, 10 points)
After starting the season in the GT category with a Porsche 996 GT, Luca Riccitelli and Dieter Quester, part of RWS's winning line-up in last year's Proximus 24 Hours of Spa, will return to the team for this year's event. "We will be racing the car usually driven by Garcia in the FIA GT Championship, and the line-up looks very strong to me," Luca said. " We won last year, and so I hope we can do it again. However, in a 24-hour race, it is not only important to have fast drivers, you need everything else to go right too. But I think we have a good chance. I have been waiting for a long time to drive - it is definitely time to get back to the track and time to win!"

They will be joined in the nr 76 car by Oschersleben winners Philipp Peter and Toto Wolff, making a very strong team indeed. "We finalised the deal with RWS last week," Peter said. "We need to be strong to beat the Freisinger guys who are even stronger. I think the race will be interesting, and there will be a lot to think about in terms of tactics, with points being allocated at 6 and 12 hours. I like Spa; I had my first Porsche Supercup podium finish there last year, and the track holds a number of good memories. We tested there in the Supercup at the track last week. I am sure the car will be good, and the Pirelli tyres too."

Antonio Garcia, who has had two podiums for RWS in the three races he has had with the German team, will be in the nr 77 car with Russian drivers Alexei Vasiliev and Nikolaj Fomenko. They will be joined by another Spanish driver, Jésus Villearoy.

-fia-

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About this article
Series Blancpain Sprint
Drivers Andy Wallace , Andrea Piccini , Antonio Garcia , Fabrizio Gollin , Christian Pescatori , Emmanuel Collard , Stéphane Ortelli , Stephen Earle , Ryo Fukuda , Peter Kox , Jamie Campbell-Walter , Sébastien Bourdais , Jean-Denis Deletraz , Andrea Montermini , Anthony Kumpen , Mike Hezemans , Christophe Bouchut , Jean-Luc Chereau , Jean-Claude Lagniez , Boris Derichebourg , Dieter Quester , Paul Belmondo , Andrea Garbagnati , Romain Dumas , Nicolaus Springer , Frederic Dor , Fabio Babini , Peter Kutemann , Andrea Bertolini , Bas Leinders , David Sterckx , Enzo Calderari , Luca Cappellari , Bert Longin , Marc Duez , Batti Pregliasco , Jack Leconte , Toto Wolff , Philipp Peter , Alexander Iradj , Ulrich Schumacher , Philippe Steveny
Teams Nissan Motorsport , Larbre Competition