ETCC: Barcelona: Season first rounds race notes

One win each for Alfa Romeo and BMW. Gabriele Tarquini is the first leader of the 2003 FIA European Touring Car Championship, but BMW has already a solid lead in the Manufacturers' Championship. With terrific determination, Tarquini won the ...

One win each for Alfa Romeo and BMW.

Gabriele Tarquini is the first leader of the 2003 FIA European Touring Car Championship, but BMW has already a solid lead in the Manufacturers' Championship.

With terrific determination, Tarquini won the first race, leading from the lights to the flag and managing to withstand all the assaults made by reigning champion Fabrizio Giovanardi.

The second race was a BMW show, with Dirk and Jörg Müller scoring a 1-2 finish for the BMW Team Deutschland.

ETCC newcomers Antonio García and Andy Priaulx celebrated their debuts by claiming one podium apiece; the young Spaniard came home behind Tarquini and Giovanardi in the first race, while the Briton finished a close third to the Müllers in Race 2.

Bad luck hit SEAT on its first appearance in the European Touring Car Championship. After a very promising qualifying result, both the Toledo Cupra cars of Frank Diefenbacher and Jordi Gené fought hard for the mid-field positions in Race 1, but then were forced to retire in Race 2.

WARM UP: LARINI FASTEST, COUTO'S HONDA IN FIFTH

Nicola Larini set the fastest time in the warm up, lapping in 1:54.316. The Italian driver was followed by his team-mate Roberto Colciago (1:54.809) and by Dirk Müller (1:55.447), whose BMW seemed in a much better shape than in qualifying.

Paolo Ruberti confirmed his intentions by setting the fourth-fastest time with a lap of 1:55.727, only one tenth of a second faster than André Couto's Honda Civic (1:55.862). PRO Motorsport worked hard to eliminate the engine bugs, which had plagued the #12 Honda yesterday, and at last Couto was able to complete eight laps at a very competitive speed.

Only Sandro Sardelli did not take part in the session, due to gearbox problems.

RACE 1: ALFA TAKES FIRST WIN WITH TARQUINI

Starting from pole, Tarquini was the only Alfa Romeo driver able to make a good start, while his team-mates Colciago and Larini almost stalled their engines. This enabled Giovanardi, García and Jörg Müller to follow Tarquini, in second, third and fourth positions respectively. Ruberti's Alfa was the only car which could did start, due to a broken driveshaft.

On the first lap Couto's Honda collided with Nilsson's Volvo, crashed into the wall and retired. The Tarquini-Giovanardi-García trio pulled away, while there was a fierce five-car fight for the fourth position. On lap 2 Larini overtook Jörg Müller for fourth, while Colciago, Dirk Müller and Priaulx were running nose-to-tail. On lap 3 Jörg Müller recovered fourth place, while Coronel, Diefenbacher and Rydell were closing in on the group. Larini and Jörg Müller continued to swap positions.

On lap 5 Dirk Müller overtook both Priaulx and Colciago, moving up to sixth. At half distance, Giovanardi was putting pressure on Tarquini, who was playing a defensive game. On the seventh lap Diefenbacher spun and lost his tenth position. Larini lost two places to Dirk Müller and Priaulx, slipping down to seventh. On the ninth lap Huisman and Rydell clashed while fighting for the eleventh place; Huisman crashed into the wall and Rydell went back to the pits.

Tarquini managed to win the race - his first success in an Alfa Romeo since the International Touring Car Championship round at Silverstone in 1996 - with a very narrow margin over Giovanardi and García. Three more BMW drivers - Jörg Müller, Dirk Müller and Priaulx - were classified behind them. Larini came home in seventh, and Coronel managed to overtake Colciago on the last lap, stealing eighth place from him, as well as the last point and the pole position for the second race. Coronel also won the Independents ' race, from Balzan and Francia.

RACE 2: DIRK MÜLLER LEADS A BMW 1-2-3

Huisman's BMW and Couto's Honda were missing on the grid after their Race 1 crashes. Ruberti took the start from the pit-lane after the Clever Cats R&M crew changed another broken driveshaft. A group of BMW drivers fought for the lead at the start, while Nilsson's Volvo went off and rolled in the gravel.

The Swedish car did not suffer any serious damage: "The handling wasn't good after a collision in Race 1, and suddenly I found myself driving sideways and went off," Nilsson explained.

Dirk Müller was leading from Jörg Müller, Priaulx, Coronel and Giovanardi. Larini, in sixth, was the first Alfa Romeo man, and he was chased by García, Tarquini and Colciago. On the second lap Giovanardi and Larini overtook Coronel. On the third lap Larini passed his former team-mate, moving up to fourth; Tarquini overtook García for seventh and closed on the Larini-Giovanardi duo. Dirk Müller built up a small margin, leaving Jörg Müller in the throes of Priaulx. Palomeras retired with gearbox problems.

On the seventh lap Diefenbacher retired when a front wheel collapsed, while Francia stole ninth place from Colciago. On the ninth lap, Tarquini overtook Giovanardi for fifth and then Larini for fourth. Gené retired on the tenth lap, due to transmission problems. Dirk Müller beat Jörg Müller and Priaulx in the final sprint, the three of them finishing within four tenths of a second. Tarquini was classified fourth in front of Giovanardi who had overtaken Larini on the last lap. García and Coronel claimed the two last point-scoring positions, with the Dutchman repeating his Race 1 success amongst the Independent drivers.

Francia finished in a very good ninth place, while Rydell broke into the top ten by overtaking Balzan and Colciago. The Swedish driver made an excellent recovery after starting from the back of the grid, as did Ruberti, who was classified 13th.

-fia-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Andre Couto , Paolo Ruberti , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago