ETCC: Brno: Round four race notes

A BMW FESTIVAL, BUT TARQUINI LEADS THE CHAMPIONSHIP After the Alfa Romeo cars dominated the previous Championship meeting in Pergusa, it was a BMW festival today in Brno, which was attended by a crowd of 39,000 over the two days. The German...

A BMW FESTIVAL, BUT TARQUINI LEADS THE CHAMPIONSHIP

After the Alfa Romeo cars dominated the previous Championship meeting in Pergusa, it was a BMW festival today in Brno, which was attended by a crowd of 39,000 over the two days.

The German cars monopolized the podium of both races, with BMW drivers claiming the first six positions in the first race - before the stewards decided to exclude Jörg Müller for causing an avoidable accident that involved Nicola Larini and Gabriele Tarquini.

As it happened, the German driver's exclusion from the first race, in which he had finished fifth, which was followed by his retirement from the second race, allowed Tarquini to take a solo lead in the drivers Championship. The Alfa Romeo man finished the two races in sixth and fourth positions and he now has a four-point margin over Andy Priaulx, while Dirk Müller is third, a further two points behind.

Priaulx and Müller won one race apiece today. Dirk claimed his second win of the season in Race 1, ahead of Antonio García and Fabrizio Giovanardi, while the Briton scored his first FIA ETCC success in Race 2, beating Giovanardi and Dirk. Jordi Gené finished eighth in the second race, adding another point to SEAT's score in the Manufacturers Championship. The fight amongst the independent drivers resulted in victories for Duncan Huisman and Paolo Ruberti.

WARM UP: FASTEST TIME FOR ANDY PRIAULX

Andy Priaulx emerged as the fastest driver in the warm up, clocking a time in 2:13.320. The Briton was closely followed by two other BMW drivers: Fabrizio Giovanardi and Dirk Müller, separated by a gap of only two and three tenths of a second respectively. As in qualifying, Nicola Larini was the fastest of the Alfa Romeo men, finishing fourth, four tenths behind Priaulx, while Duncan Huisman was fifth and first of the independent drivers. The times were very close, with eleven cars within nine tenths of a second.

Jordi Gené was classified ninth in his SEAT Toledo, with André Couto 13th in the PRO Motorsport Honda Civic. The Scottish team's sister car finally hit the track with Miguel Ramos at the wheel, after it was forced to remain in the garage for the whole of Saturday due to gearbox problems. Eric Cayrolle completed only two laps before going of the track and hitting the rail with his Scuderia Bigazzi Alfa 156, while Fabio Francia did not post a time due to a broken driveshaft on his Clever Cats R&M Alfa 156.

RACE 1 : DIRK MÜLLER LEADS A SIX-BMW TRAIN

From pole position García sprinted to take the lead at the start, chased by Dirk Müller, Priaulx, Giovanardi, Jörg Müller, Larini, Tarquini and Huisman. During the first lap Tarquini overtook Huisman for seventh, while Rydell went off the track after a collision and retired, the front right suspension of his Volvo having collapsed. Another clash between Ruberti, Cayrolle and Molenaar resulted in the Dutchman going out of the race and the Frenchman losing a lap in the pits for repairs. Giovanardi overtook Priaulx and moved to third place, leaving the Briton facing attacks from Jörg Müller. Larini benefited from the situation and passed them both to jump into fourth position.

On lap 3, Dirk Müller stole the lead from García, while Jörg Müller overtook Larini for fourth, but the Italian hit back and recovered his position on the following lap. The fight between them turned red-hot, when Tarquini stuck on the BMW's tail. During the fourth lap, Larini and Müller collided, the Italian spun and was hit by Tarquini. Both the Alfa cars rejoined the race, but lost several positions.

Balzan took advantage from the incident, moving to fifth position, but lost it to Jörg Müller on lap 5 and found himself duelling with Huisman for the leadership in the Independents trophy. On lap 6 Couto and Sardelli collided and pulled out.

After he had dropped to tenth position, Tarquini overtook Gené for ninth and Colciago for eighth. On lap 7 Huisman managed to pass Balzan, who also lost seventh position to Tarquini.

Dirk Müller scored his second wind of the season, closely followed by García, while Giovanardi managed to maintain his third place by a very narrow margin despite Priaulx's attack. Jörg Müller, Huisman (first of the independents), Tarquini and Balzan claimed the remaining positions in the points, but after the end of the race the Stewards excluded Jörg Müller for causing the fourth-lap incident.

RACE 2: FIRST ETCC WIN FOR ANDY PRIAULX

Sardelli did not make the grid following his Race 1 accident. For the second time in a row, Balzan was the pole sitter on the reversed grid, while Jörg Müller, following his exclusion, was pushed to the back and left his fourth spot empty. Molenaar took the start from the pit lane, because the Carly Motors crew could not complete the repairs on his car before the pit lane exit was closed.

Tarquini started from the outside of the front row and managed to take the lead from Giovanardi and Priaulx. Balzan almost stalled his engine and collided with Huisman, they both were forced out of the race. On lap 2, Giovanardi overtook Tarquini and managed to jump into the lead for the first time since he drives for BMW. Dirk Müller and García were fighting for fourth place, their cars clashed and the Spaniard went into a 360-degree spin, while Müller dropped to sixth behind Colciago and Gené. However he immediately moved up to fifth again, overtaking Gené.

On lap 3 Priaulx claimed second place from Tarquini and closed on Giovanardi. While he was shouldering his way through the field, Jörg Müller collided again with Larini in a fight for the tenth place and was given a drive through penalty. On lap 4 Tarquini went wide in a corner, which enabled Dirk Müller to stick on his car's tail and finally pass him for third position. On lap 5 Priaulx jumped into the lead, overtaking Giovanardi.

On lap 6 Rydell broke into the point positions, claiming eighth place from Ruberti, who was leading the Independents' race. On lap 7 Jörg Müller came back to the pits and retired as the engine temperature went up. In the final laps, García managed to pass both Rydell and Gené, moving up to seventh position. Cayrolle attacked Ruberti for the independents' lead, they clashed, and the Italian was finally able to score his first win of the season in the privateers class.

It was also the first ETCC victory for both Andy Priaulx and his team, Bart Mampaey Racing, Andy crossed the line ahead of Giovanardi and Dirk Müller, who were classified second and third with only two tenths splitting them. Tarquini claimed an important fourth place for the title fight, followed by his team-mates Larini and Colciago, while García and Gené earned the points for the seventh and eight places.

^ÊKODA AUTOSPEKTRUM PRESENTS ETCC PROGRAMME

Yesterday afternoon in Brno, the Autospektrum Racing Team presented their programme to run two ^Êkoda Superb cars in the FIA European Touring Car Championship. "Actually a decision on when we will join the Championship has yet to be taken, but we are aiming to take part in some meetings of the current season," team manager Otakar Zenkl said, adding. "The programme has been delayed because of financial and technical reasons, but now we should be able to proceed as it was planned. We are focusing on building the first car, with which we'll start testing as soon as possible." The drivers who were signed for the programme are 22-year old Petr Kolár and 27-year old Ondrej Navrátil, both from Czech Republic, who achieved very good results in the national championships, but never raced abroad: "We are very much looking forward to when the car will be ready to run. Racing in the ETCC it will be a great challenge for us and a big step forward in our careers," declared Kolár. Before their involvement in this programme, the Autospektrum Racing Team has worked for ten years in close cooperation with ^Êkoda Motorsport, building more than one hundred racing cars and also providing technical assistance. "It is important to point out that this ETCC programme is privately funded and that the cars are being entirely built and developed by us. The plan set up by our sponsors is on a three- year basis," Zenkl revealed.

RACE NOTES AND QUOTES

Dirk MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 1st in Race 1, 3rd in Race 2: "The first race was really great. I loved racing against Antonio García, which was really fair. At this point, I would like to apologize that we came together in the second race. I don't know where we touched, but it was quite hard. I almost lost the car, so I was lucky to get the car back. I lost three places. In the second race the Alfas were quite slow mid-corners but they came out quickly and were fast on the straights. It was quite difficult to overtake them, although I could do it. Then I tried to close up the gap from Andy and Fabrizio. I should have had two more laps, so I could have tried to overtake. It was a great weekend, thanks to Schnitzer and BMW, I really had a brilliant car. Without mistakes in the second race, I could have achieved any even better result. I am really pleased to have closed the gap on Tarquini in the Championship classification. I had never thought after Magny-Cours that I would be able to come back in the Championship classification. At that stage, I thought it was gone. I am pleased to be third again. I will carry 40 kg in Donington but I like the circuit and I hope to collect some points there. I am looking forward to it."

Andy PRIAULX, BMW Team Great Britain, 4th in Race 1, 1st in Race 2: "It is always going to be a tough weekend, coming to a circuit that you don't know. But the team really helped me to get the car and myself up to speed. It is very rewarding to have my first win in the Championship, which is a very high level. At Donington I will have to carry 40 kg of ballast and I am happy with that! In the second race, I made a good start but it got really busy. One of the Alfas was going left and right, out of control, and it swiped the middle of my car. So I got launched into the air. I came down into third place, just behind Tarquini, and as the race went on his tyres were going off and I picked him on at the hairpin and then Giovanardi into the first corner. It was really an enjoyable day's racing, especially as we were rewarded with the top step of the podium, which was just a dream."

Fabrizio GIOVANARDI, BMW Team Italy-Spain, 3rd in Race 1, 2nd in Race 2: "The two last weekends were bad so I am really happy now! The last time I was on the podium twice in a weekend was a long time ago. It was impossible to win here as we did a lot of work this weekend on the car. We need more time to find the best set up. The team did a really good job, as it was easier for me and Antonio to fight against the others this weekend. When overtaking the Alfas, I have the same feeling as overtaking any other cars. I am just concentrating to try and win the race. In the second race Priaulx was really fast, so I concentrated on finishing the race in the best possible position. I had a problem at the end of the first race as I made a mistake with the tyre pressure. I still have to understand this car!"

Antonio GARCÍA, BMW Team Italy-Spain, 2nd in Race 1, 7th in Race 2: "In the first race, I had a problem with the set-up, especially for the first laps. Dirk was faster than me, so he overtook me. Then my car got better and I could maintain the distance between us, but also with the cars following me. In the second race, I believe there was some confusion with Dirk. At the start, there were a lot of crashes. I was really lucky not to touch anyone. We were 4th and 5th behind the Alfas and then, in the first chicane, I tried to go outside in order to go inside in the next one. But suddenly Dirk was next to me and we collided. My engine stalled so by the time I restarted, I had lost a lot of places. I tried to recover. I was fast but the races are too short to recover a lot. If it had been 2 laps longer, I could have overtaken the Alfas. Anyway, the car was very good today and I would like to thank Ravaglia. I hope that this is the start of a good season for us! "

Gabriele TARQUINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 6th in Race 1, 4th in Race 2: "We knew that Brno would be a difficult track for us. In the races we were never on the pace with the BMW cars. It was a sweet and sour weekend for the team, because we did not finish on the podium but now, I am leading the Championship by 4 points. And this is the most important thing. As we had so many set-up problems, the only way to face these races was to adopt a clever strategy. This is what I did, focusing on the points for the Championship. And it worked, despite the bad luck I had in the first race, when I was involved in the accident between Jörg and Nicola. When I hit Nicola's car, my radiator was broken and I managed to finish the race with the water temperature at 100°. I had a very good start in the second race and took the lead. But I never thought I could win the race. The BMW cars were faster, and I did not take any risks. I let them pass me by and I was happy with my 4th place."

Jordi GENÉ, SEAT Sport, 9th in Race 1, 8th in Race 2: "It was a good weekend for us, with another point scored in the championship. We had a good qualifying result and the races today were good too. For the first time we were able to fight against the works Alfa cars. In the second race I was chasing them, and in some parts of the track my car was faster. We still need to develop the engine more, because currently our problem is that we lack the power to overtake. Our car is very good in the high-speed corners and on tracks like this one and Donington we just need a little bit of luck to obtain good results. At the end of the second race, Garcia was chasing me. He was faster than me and I tried to maintain my 7th position, closing the door on him in each corner. I thought he was going to push me off but in the end, he just overtook me."

Duncan HUISMAN, Carly Motors, 5th in Race 1: "The first race was good, especially the first six laps. My car was very good. I am pleased with my 5th position and I got 10 points in the Independents Trophy, which was the most important thing for us. In the second race, I got hit on the rear axle by Balzan. He said that I pulled over to the left, but that is not true, as I was between Tarquini and him. There was too much damage, my car was going sideways on the straight. We tried to fix it but we couldn't."

Paolo RUBERTI, Clever Cats R&M Team, 12th in Race 1, 11th in Race 2: "I am very pleased to have finally managed to win a race in the Independents' Trophy. It was about time, as I had a lot of bad luck in the previous races. Today in the first race I made a good start but I had a collision with Diefenbacher and I broke a rim. Afterwards my car was out of balance. In the second race, I was luckier. Again, I took a good start and I managed to keep a very fast pace in the first laps. Then the temperature of my front tyres went up and I had to slow down by one second a lap. On the last lap of the second race, I made a mistake, braking too late, and Cayrolle tried to overtake me. We clashed and Cayrolle got the worst of the situation. But I think it was a normal racing accident."

-fia-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Jorg Muller , Miguel Ramos , Eric Cayrolle , Duncan Huisman , Andre Couto , Paolo Ruberti , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini