ETCC: Brno: Round four preview

The fourth meeting of the 2003 season will see the LG Super Racing Weekend series head northwards again, to the Czech Republic. The historic Masaryk circuit near Brno, is widely appreciated by teams and drivers alike, and both the FIA GT ...

The fourth meeting of the 2003 season will see the LG Super Racing Weekend series head northwards again, to the Czech Republic. The historic Masaryk circuit near Brno, is widely appreciated by teams and drivers alike, and both the FIA GT Championship and the FIA European Touring Car Championship have been visiting the circuit for a number of years. Exciting races are usually guaranteed by the Czech track, with its changes of elevation and medium-speed corners.

In the FIA ETCC races, Alfa Romeo scored two wins with Fabrizio Giovanardi, but only after fierce battles with the BMW and Volvo cars, with a couple of controversial manoeuvres.

In the FIA ETCC, BMW and Alfa Romeo are only separated by five points in the Manufacturers Championship, while Jorg Muller, leading the Drivers' classification, is tied on points with Gabriele Tarquini. Regular support events, the Renault Sport Clio Trophy and Renault Sport Elf Clio International Cup will be joined in Brno by the Formula Renault 2000 Masters, an international competition for the teams taking part in the various Renault national Championships. The Formula Renault V6 Eurocup will be back at Donington.

The domination of the 156 Gta cars in Pergusa allowed Alfa Romeo to close up the situation in the Championship classifications. With a third place and a win in Sicily, Gabriele Tarquini is now second in the Drivers' Championship, but with the same points as Jorg Muller. Tarquini's Autodelta team-mates Nicola Larini and Roberto Colciago are third and fourth respectively, having reduced their gaps to the leaders. Thanks to their results, Alfa Romeo is now only five points behind BMW in the Manufacturers' Championship. All three Italian drivers will carry handicap weight in Brno: Tarquini will carry 40 kg, Colciago will have 30 kg - his first ballast - and Larini 10 kg. The two leading BMW drivers in the Championship will also have handicap weight: Jorg Muller 30 kg and Andy Priaulx 10 kg. On the Saturday in Brno, ^Êkoda Autospektrum Racing Team, based in the Czech Republic, will present its racing programme to the press

Despite all three Alfa Romeo drivers carrying penalty weight, Tarquini, Larini and Colciago still have good reasons to be optimistic for the Czech meeting. "Brno is the kind of track that suits BMW better than Alfa Romeo," Tarquini declares. "Because there are uphill parts, second gear corners and hard braking points, ballast will make a lot of difference. For this reason my strategy will be defensive, focusing on scoring points. I'm well aware that, from now on, the drivers who will be fighting for the title won't have many chances to lose their handicap weight completely. We have to learn to cope with it on board." Colciago won a round of the 2000 Euro Super Touring Cup in Brno, at the wheel of an Audi A4 Quattro. "I am very confident," he said. "I like the track very much and I have a good feeling with the Alfa. Unfortunately, not everything went right in Barcelona and Magny-Cours, and I have accumulated fewer points than I could. But Pergusa was my chance to make up for all that. And now I want to stay in the group of drivers who will be fighting for the European crown."

Despite disappointing results in Pergusa, Jorg Muller is still leading the Drivers' Championship, and therefore will have to carry an extra 30 kg on board his Schnitzer machine. "This handicap will be as penalising as it has proved to be on the other race tracks so far," Muller said. "It's not going be easy for me, but I'm happy because I'm still in the championship lead, and I'm going to Brno as motivated as I was in the previous races. The good news is that the Alfa Romeo drivers will also have handicap weight. It will be difficult for me to beat Larini, who has only 10 kg on board, but the others are in a similar situation as me. Brno is a very interesting racetrack, with its own character. It demands a lot of attention from the drivers while working on the set-up. I hope I will do a good job there, although I think that the wins will go to those drivers who don't have ballast on board. I would bet on my team-mate Dirk, but Larini also has a good chance."

Although they had no great expectations for Pergusa, SEAT Sport drivers Jordi Gene and Frank Diefenbacher were disappointed with how things went in Sicily. The German driver had a good qualifying time disallowed due to cutting a chicane, then he and Gene collided at the start of the first race, while Diefenbacher's recovery in Race 2 was stopped by a puncture. "We could have scored points easily, but everything went wrong," said the SEAT youngster. Brno is a completely different track from Pergusa, and this could play in favour of the Toledo Cupra cars. "The team and I have never been there before," Diefenbacher admitted. "Therefore we don't know what to expect. But it should suit our cars very well, like it suited the Volvo S60 last year. We might have some technical improvements in Brno, and if we are able to work well on the set-up, we should have a car which is capable of quick cornering and saving the tyres over the race distance."

During the weekend in Brno, the ^Êkoda Autospektrum Racing Team, will officially present its programme in the FIA European Touring Car Championship to the press. The Czech team will join the Championship soon, running two ^Êkoda Superb cars adapted to the FIA Super 2000 technical specifications. The cars, built in the Autospecktrum 2000 workshop, under supervision from ^Êkoda Motorsport, will be driven by two young, talented Czech drivers: 22-year old Petr Kolař and 28-year old Ondřej Navratil, who were among the best competitors in the ^Êkoda Octavia Cup. The team is based in the Czech Republic and directed by Otakar Zenkl. The Czech Manufacturer previously raced in the European Touring Car Championship from the end of the Sixties to the beginning of the Eighties, claiming 26 class wins and the overall Manufacturers Championship in 1981, with a team of three 130 RS 1.3-litre works cars driven by a group of Czech drivers, which included Zdenek Vojtech and Bretislav Enge, father to FIA GT driver Tomas.

Predictably, the ART Engineering Volvo S60 cars of Rickard Rydell and Sandro Sardelli had a difficult weekend in Pergusa. "We expected to be at the back, but not so far adrift," team manager Paolo Alessandrini admitted, after Rydell and Sardelli fought in vain against their lack of engine power. However, Brno could mark a turning point in ART Engineering's programme, as the Swedish cars proved last year they were very competitive on the Czech circuit, with Rydell setting the second fastest time in the qualifying session. "This is true," Alessandrini comments, "but we are very disappointed by how things are going so far. We are going to Brno without any significant improvement and, therefore, we are not very optimistic. We will be planning an intensive testing programme before Donington; we'll have one month and I really hope that the promised technical developments will arrive from Sweden."

Tom Coronel, the leader of the Independent drivers' classification, will miss the meeting in Brno, as he will be racing in the Japanese GT Championship that weekend. He will be replaced at the wheel of the nr 20 Carly Motors BMW 320i by his fellow countryman Donald Molenaar. A winner of the 1998 Dutch Touring Car Championship, Molenaar has driven for Carly Motors since 2002; this year he is taking part the German DTC in a Carly-Schubert Motorsport BMW, in which he won the first round in Oschersleben. Young Alfa Romeo drivers Fabio Francia and Alessandro Balzan dominated the Independents' races in Pergusa, but neither driver has any experience of the Brno circuit, which could give their team-mates Paolo Ruberti and Eric Cayrolle the advantage. As for Andre Couto and his PRO Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R, they have a good chance to be competitive if the team manages to solve the brake problems which plagued the Japanese car in Pergusa.


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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Eric Cayrolle , Rickard Rydell , Paolo Ruberti , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago , Donald Molenaar