ETCC: Brno: Practice and qualifying notes

WEATHER: Sunny; with a dry track FREE PRACTICE 1: LARINI SETS FASTEST TIME At the wheel of his Autodelta Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, Nicola Larini set the fastest time in the first free practice session, with a lap of 2:12.478. Larini's time was 0.6...

WEATHER: Sunny; with a dry track

FREE PRACTICE 1: LARINI SETS FASTEST TIME

At the wheel of his Autodelta Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, Nicola Larini set the fastest time in the first free practice session, with a lap of 2:12.478. Larini's time was 0.6 seconds faster than last year's pole position of 2:13.144, set by Fabrizio Giovanardi. Second fastest in the session was Dirk Müller in the # 43 Schnitzer BMW 320i, with a time of 2:12.944, while no other driver managed to break the 2:13 barrier. Giovanardi set the third fastest time in his Ravaglia Motorsport BMW 320i, with a lap of 2:13.000. The three top times were set by cars without handicap weight (Müller and Giovanardi), or with only 10 extra kilos onboard (Larini).

Joint Championship leaders, Jörg Müller and Gabriele Tarquini, who are carrying 30 and 40 kg ballast respectively, set the fourth (2:13.215) and the sixth (2:13.379) fastest times respectively; with Antonio García in fifth position (2:13.227). The best of the SEAT Sport drivers was Jordi Gené, who lapped in 2:13.696 to be ranked eighth. Paolo Ruberti was the fastest of the independent drivers in his Clever Cats R&M Team Alfa Romeo 156 Gta; he was classified tenth with a time of 2:13. Donald Molenaar had his first drive in the # 22 Carly Motors BMW 320i, replacing Tom Coronel; the Dutchman took it easy and set the 16th fastest time, in 2:14.954.

FREE PRACTICE 2: DIRK MÜLLER AND LARINI SWAP POSITIONS

Sunshine and hot temperatures made the track slower for the second practice. None of the drivers managed to go under the 2:13 mark and only Dirk Müller went under 2:14. The German driver set the fastest time with a lap in 2:13.759, which was 0.8 seconds slower than Nicola Larini's time in the first session. Larini was second fastest in 2:14.030, with Andy Priaulx in the RBM BMW 320i third (2:14.113) and Antonio García in the Ravaglia Motorsport BMW 320i fourth (2:14.292). Right at the end of the session, Fabrizio Giovanardi was timed at 2:14.396 and jumped into fifth position ahead of Gabriele Tarquini (2:14.633). Alessandro Balzan was ranked seventh (2:14.634), just one thousandth of a second behind Tarquini, and topped the independent drivers' classification. Once more, Jordi Gené was the fastest of the SEAT Sport drivers, placing him eighth with a time of 2:14.738. Jörg Müller and Roberto Colciago suffered with their 30 kg ballast and could do better than tenth and eleventh fastest time respectively; while newcomer Donald Molenaar remained 16th. Sandro Sardelli did not set a time, due to electrical problems plaguing his ART Engineering Volvo S60.

QUALIFYING: GARCÍA CLAIMS FIRST POLE IN A BMW 1-2-3-4

Young Spanish driver Antonio García claimed his first pole position in a Touring car, as well as giving BMW its first pole this season, by setting the fastest qualifying time today at the wheel of his Ravaglia Motorsport BMW 320i. García's best lap was clocked at 2:11.620, which represented an impressive 1.5-second improvement compared to last year's pole position. The qualifying session was dominated by BMW drivers, who secured the first two rows on the starting grid for tomorrow's Race 1. Dirk Müller (2:11.782), Andy Priaulx (2:12.001) and Fabrizio Giovanardi (2:12.077) were classified right behind García, relegating the first Alfa Romeo car, driven by Nicola Larini, to fifth place with a time of 2:12.239, which was only 0.6 tenths of a second behind the pole position.

Jörg Müller and Gabriele Tarquini, who are currently sharing the leadership of the Championship, both on 36 points, qualified sixth and seventh respectively, just ahead of Jordi Gené. The latter was very impressive, driving his SEAT Toledo Cupra to a provisional pole position five minutes into the session, lapping in 2:12.377. It was the first time a SEAT has topped the time sheets, even if Gené was ousted by Larini a few minutes later.

Halfway through the session, Dirk Müller managed to steal pole from Larini, but with nine minutes remaining, the Ravaglia Motorsport duo was able to drastically improve their lap times: García jumped onto pole, while Giovanardi moved up to third, behind Dirk Müller. The last change in the top positions came when Andy Priaulx ousted Giovanardi from third place. After his triumph in Pergusa, Roberto Colciago experienced a difficult day; he only qualified 12th, 1.6 seconds from the pole, due to set-up problems. All the three Alfa Romeo works drivers complained of understeer. Colciago was also outpaced by Duncan Huisman and Alessandro Balzan, who emerged as the fastest independent drivers, placed in 10th and 11th positions. Sandro Sardelli once more failed to set a time, due to persistent electrical problems with his Volvo S60.

QUALIFYING NOTES AND QUOTES

Antonio GARCÍA, BMW Team Italy-Spain, 1st: "I'm quite happy for myself, for BMW and for my team. To be on pole position on my fourth Touring car race ever is definitely a great achievement. I'm very surprised to be on pole, but I'm already thinking about tomorrow. Races are more important than qualifying, although the pole position can actually help you very much in doing a good race. As I said, I'm pleased for the team; they did a great job and put me in a position to claim such a result; as a matter of fact my car today was absolutely perfect. I just had to drive it and avoid making mistakes. All the guys proved they can do a good job, and this was not easy, because we had to recover after two disappointing weekends in Magny-Cours and Pergusa. Now we hope the hard times are gone and we can focus on the results. My goal for tomorrow is to win!"

Dirk MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 2nd: "Honestly, when I had claimed the pole position halfway through the session, I did not expect that anybody would beat my time. Antonio did it and I wish to congratulate him on claiming his first ETCC pole. He did a great job. But I am quite happy, because my time was only one tenth of a second from the pole, which is very good if we think that we did not concentrate on qualifying, but we focused on the set up for the race. Therefore I'm really looking forward to tomorrow, because it seems that here the Alfa Romeo cars are struggling to be on the pace. Although I believe that this is mainly due to the handicap weight, otherwise they would have been on pole again."

Andy PRIAULX, BMW Team Great Britain, 3rd: "I am the only driver among the top three to carry ballast onboard, although I'm not sure how much ten kilos affect the car's performance. I'm very pleased to be third in qualifying, because I didn't know this track. But the team worked very hard to give me a good car. We have done only the lesser part of the job, now we have to look at the races and I believe they will be very tough. But hope I will be able to claim a good result, even if this would mean I have to carry ballast in the next meeting, which is Donington. The ballast will give me an excuse if something goes wrong there... Jokes apart, obviously Donington is important for us, but when you compete in such a Championship, you have to be competitive non only on your home racetrack."

Nicola LARINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 5th: "Despite being the best placed Alfa Romeo driver on the grid, I'm quite disappointed. The free practice sessions were both very good for me; I was fastest in the first and second in the second. I didn't expect to have to fight so hard in qualifying, only to find myself in fifth position. I have to say that my second attempt was spoiled by a slower car, which forced me to drive off the lines; but that was not the real problem. We have a lot of understeer since we start pushing, and the consequence is that we can't get the most out of the new tyres. Now the warm up has become crucial for us. We have to find a good set up for the races or, at least, a compromise that could allow us to fight for the podium positions if not for the win. But with so many BMW cars ahead of us, it will be very difficult."

Gabriele TARQUINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 7th: "I'm not unhappy with my qualifying result, particularly if I consider that Jörg Müller is only one spot ahead of me on the grid. We had a few handling problems with our cars and these problems are magnified by the handicap weight. If we don't manage to change something before the races, it will be very hard to score points. We have done a meeting to plan some set up changes which we will test tomorrow morning during the warm up. We'll try different solutions on each of our three cars, and we'll make the decision afterwards."

Jordi GENÉ, SEAT Sport, 8th: "I'm happy with this qualifying session, which even saw me on provisional pole position for a few minutes. I was very confident before coming to Brno, because this is a track where the chassis is more important than the engine. We worked very well in the free practice and managed to make some set up changes before qualifying that proved effective, particularly when I was on new tyres. I managed to set a very fast time on my first attempt, and honestly I should say that getting the aspiration from García's car helped me; this lap time exceeded my highest hopes. Then I made a mistake on my second set of tyres, because I dared too much. But I can say I'm satisfied, although it's hard to think that I missed the fifth position on the grid by only one tenth of a second. Now I wish to do well in the races. Our car is very gentle on the tyres over the race distance. Let's wait and see."

-fia-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Duncan Huisman , Paolo Ruberti , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago , Donald Molenaar