ETCC: Barcelona: Saturday notes

FREE PRACTICE 1: RYDELL SQUEEZES BETWEEN THE ALFAS Nicola Larini, in his Autodelta Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, topped the times in the first free practice session. The Italian driver beat his team-mate Gabriele Tarquini by only 94 hundredths of a...

FREE PRACTICE 1: RYDELL SQUEEZES BETWEEN THE ALFAS

Nicola Larini, in his Autodelta Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, topped the times in the first free practice session. The Italian driver beat his team-mate Gabriele Tarquini by only 94 hundredths of a second, while ART Engineering's Rickard Rydell was classified third in his Volvo S60, exactly half-a-second behind Larini. The third Autodelta driver, Roberto Colciago, set the fourth-fastest time, just ahead of the leading BMW drivers: Andy Priaulx and Antonio García.

The session was red flagged after twelve minutes, as Fabio Francia's Alfa 156 was stuck in the gravel, resuming five minutes later. Tarquini had clocked his fastest time and the session's fastest so far, 1:53.495, just before the red flag was waved. Larini was the only top driver able to significantly improve his time after the session resumed, and he jumped into the lead. André Couto did not post a time, due to continuing engine problems.

FREE PRACTICE 2: THREE ALFA MEN ON TOP

The second session was quite uneventful, with a slower track and all the teams working on refining the set-up of their cars. The three Alfa Romeo Autodelta works cars set the fastest times in the session, with Gabriele Tarquini ahead of Nicola Larini and Roberto Colciago. Dirk Müller was ranked fourth, first of the BMW drivers. Lap times remained higher than those of the first session and the only driver able to slightly improve was SEAT's Frank Diefenbacher.

Once more, André Couto's car was suffering from engine problems, and he did not post a time.

QUALIFYING: TARQUINI TAKES POLE WITH 50 SECONDS TO GO

The expected Alfa vs BMW duel got underway in the first qualifying session of the year, with drivers from the two Manufacturers sharing the front thee rows of starting grid for tomorrow's Race One. But SEAT is not far behind, with Frank Diefenbacher clocking the eighth fastest time, only half a second behind pole position.

Gabriele Tarquini, Roberto Colciago and Nicola Larini repeated their second free practice result, monopolizing the first three spots of the grid. Larini set a provisional pole position, nine minutes into the session, with a time of 1:53.689 and kept it until the final seconds, when Tarquini set a time of 1:53.461 with only fifty seconds left. As the chequered flag was waived, Roberto Colciago set the second fastest time of the session, lapping in 1:53.689. Tarquini's pole was the 30th claimed by the Alfa Romeo 156 since 1998.

Four BMWs were classified behind the three Alfa cars, with Fabrizio Giovanardi fourth (0.339 from the pole), Antonio García fifth, Jörg Müller sixth and Andy Priaulx seventh.

The session's results confirmed that competition is very close and when the flag dropped twelve drivers were within 9 tenths of a second. Paolo Ruberti set the ninth fastest time in his Clever Cats R&M Alfa 156, and emerged as the best of the Independent drivers.

A few drivers were disappointed by their qualifying results. After his promising third fastest time in the morning practice, Rickard Rydell was classified 13th due to a lack of power, whilst Dirk Müller was twelfth due to set-up problems. But the most upset of them all was André Couto, whose engine suffered again from unidentified bugs, preventing him from setting a qualifying time.

NOTES AND QUOTES

Gabriele TARQUINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 1st: "I'm very happy I managed to claim pole position. This is the best place to be, particularly for the first race of the season. Today we have achieved the best possible result for the team: three drivers in the first three positions. It was due to a great collective effort that might be very important for the races too, because we have seen that competition between us and BMW is quite close, and starting from the front positions is a great advantage. I also should say that I was very lucky, because my car did not suffer any important damages after I rolled it over on Thursday. It happened at a very low speed and I didn't expect my car to go upside down. The mechanics repaired it very quickly, and my qualifying time proves that they did a very good job."

Roberto COLCIAGO, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 2nd: "It was a difficult session for me. My first attempt on a new set of tyres was spoiled when I found dust and gravel at the first chicane. Then I had again the same problem when I used my second set. I was becoming very nervous. But finally on my third set I managed to clock a good time; not enough to get pole, but enough for a front row starting position. I think that Gabriele's performance was fantastic, he did not make the slightest mistake and set the fastest time; he really deserved this pole."

Nicola LARINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 3rd: "I think that my strategy to aim for the pole early in the session was good. I managed to clock a very quick time and I hoped this was a good start to maintain the pole. Just to be sure of the result I came out again to further improve my time, but I couldn't because the racing lines were very dirty. I'm happy for the team, because we were able to place three cars at the top of the grid, although I'm a bit worried, because I will have a hoard of BMW drivers on my tail at the start of the first race."

Antonio GARCÍA, BMW Team Italy-Spain, 5th: "I'm quite confident, because since the first testing on Thursday I have been able to chase the Alfas. In qualifying I was closer to them than ever, and this is a good omen for the race. I'm happy for the team, which did its best, emerging as the best BMW team in qualifying. And I'm happy for myself, because I managed to set almost the same time as my team-mate Giovanardi, who did not win two European titles by chance."

Frank DIEFENBACHER, SEAT Sport, 8th: "Honestly I'm very surprised by this result, but I'm also very happy we managed to get such a result. From Thursday testing onwards we had some discussions about the set-up, because my first concern was to feel comfortable in the car. Since then we have improved a lot and when I went out in qualifying on my first set of tyres, I pushed to check the potential of the car. Then I came in, asked for another set, came out again and pushed more. It worked and I couldn't believe that I was only three tenths from the pole. I think it's a fantastic result for the team on our first ETCC appearance."

Paolo RUBERTI, Clever Cats R&M, 9th: "I'm happy with the time, but not with the position. The gap with the cars ahead is very small, and I'm only ninth. I still have some understeer problems, otherwise I could have done a bit better. But we reached our goal, which is being fastest of the Independent drivers. Tom Coronel is right behind me and it's easy to predict he will be a tough competitor in the races."

Dirk MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 12th: "I was quite confident after the second practice session, when I was the quickest BMW driver. But everything has changed in qualifying. I simply could not set a good time. Now we have to check the data and hoping to find what was wrong."

Rickard RYDELL, ART Engineering, 13th: "I am very, very disappointed. I expected much more from qualifying after I set the third fastest time in the first free practice. But we saw already in the midday free practice, when it got hotter, that we have lost a lot of speed on the straight. This morning we were only three kilometres per hour behind the top cars, that is very good for the Volvo, but at midday we were six km/h back. The team is trying to understand what happened, but it was a shame, because this morning the car was very good."

-fia-

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Series General
Drivers Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Andre Couto , Rickard Rydell , Paolo Ruberti , Gabriele Tarquini , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago