ETCC: Donington: Round nine preview

The summer is definitely over, with the pace picking up once more and the fight definitely on for the titles in both the FIA GT and European Touring Car Championships. After the heat of Sicily, the LG Super Racing Weekend series is moving ...

The summer is definitely over, with the pace picking up once more and the fight definitely on for the titles in both the FIA GT and European Touring Car Championships. After the heat of Sicily, the LG Super Racing Weekend series is moving northwards, to the British track of Donington Park. The circuit, 4.023 km long, is a favourite with teams, drivers and spectators alike. Situated next to British Midland airport, the track has a good mix of fast and slow corners, and a number of changes of elevation - a big change from the flat, fast Pergusa circuit. The FIA GT Championship last raced at Donington in 1999, when a thrilling race saw the Chrysler Viper Team Oreca line-up of Beretta and Wendlinger take their fifth win of the season. However, the result could have been very different if the Lister Storm of Bailey, Hewland and Wallace, which led for the first hour, had not lost time during a difficult pit-stop, eventually finishing second.

The FIA European Touring Car Championship regularly visited the circuit between 1981 and 1988; the track is also visited by most of the national Championships, meaning that not only the drivers from the British Isles but former British Touring Car competitors, such as former Champions Rydell and Tarquini know it well.

In the FIA European Touring Car Championship, Fabrizio Giovanardi has extended his margin over his team-mate Nicola Larini, while Alfa Romeo has closed in on the title. With Gta Racing Team Nordauto bringing not only Swedish Touring Car Champion Roberto Colciago but also 1994 British Touring Car Champion Gabriele Tarquini into the team to optimise their title chances, an excellent battle should be in prospect.

FIA EUROPEAN TOURING CAR CHAMPIONSHIP


After a seven-year break, an FIA Touring Car Championship is returning to Donington Park. The International Touring Car Championship raced at the beautiful Derbyshire track in 1995, when Bernd Schneider, driving for Mercedes, won both races. Donington Park was also a regular venue for the FIA European Touring Car Championship between 1981 and 1988, and hosted the 1994 FIA Touring Car World Cup, when forty of the best Super Touring drivers from around the world were entered by twelve different Manufacturers for a breathtaking 25-lap race. New Zealander Paul Radisich emerged as the winner at the wheel of a Ford Mondeo, confirming his success in the previous year's edition at Monza. Four of the drivers who took part in that event will return to Donington next weekend - three of them still behind the wheel, Gabriele Tarquini and Luis Villamil in the FIA ETCC and Marc Duez in the FIA GT Championship, plus Roberto Ravaglia, who now manages BMW Team Spain.

TARQUINI JOINS ALFA ROMEO DREAM TEAM
Donington will see the return of highly regarded Touring Car driver Gabriele Tarquini not only to the FIA European Touring Car Championship, but also to Alfa Romeo, following a six-year absence. He will be taking the wheel of Romana Bernardoni's Nordauto-run Alfa Romeo 156 Gta alongside Giovanardi, Larini and Colciago. "My priority will be to help the team to score the last points they need to beat BMW," Tarquini explained. "Hopefully this will happen in the first race, so that we can be let free to do our own races in the second. At the moment I have signed only for Donington; we'll see afterwards if I will drive in Estoril or not." A former Formula One driver, Tarquini drove Alfa Romeo works cars from 1993 to 1996 in the Italian and British championships and also in the 1996 FIA International Touring Car Championship. From 1997 he drove for Honda in the German and British championships. Last season, at the wheel of a JAS Motorsport Honda Accord, he was a strong title contender in the FIA European Super Touring Championship, finishing third to Giovanardi and Larini despite nine race wins. "This is a big opportunity for me to rejoin the Championship. I am slightly worried because I haven't raced at all this season and my participation will create a lot of interest. But I definitely want to impress, because a good result in Donington might be very important for me to finalise the contacts I have for a full-time return in 2003." Tarquini is also a great favourite of the British fans, dating back to when he won the BTCC title for Alfa in 1994. "We could not have chosen a better race for my ETCC comeback. The British fans went mad when I drove a Giulia TZ in the Goodwood Festival, and they will be delighted to see me again in a real Alfa Romeo racing car. But this also means I will have a lump in my throat, because of all the good souvenirs I have of my times in the BTCC and in Alfa cars."

GIOVANARDI: I WILL BE VERY RELAXED (1st in the Drivers' Championship, 106 pts)
After Pergusa, Fabrizio Giovanardi has a solid lead in the Drivers' Championship. He has a good chance to secure the European crown in Donington, extinguishing the last hopes of his team-mate Larini and of BMW's Jörg Müller. "To be honest I'm not worried by Müller. I need only two points to beat him, even if he manages to win all the four remaining races. So it does not make a lot of sense to focus on him, but rather on Nicola (Larini)," said Giovanardi whose last race in Donington was in Formula 3000 back in 1991. "It's not a very difficult track, though I don't know how the front-wheel-drive touring car will react in the fast downhill corners. I guess the BMW cars will have an advantage in cornering, like in Oschersleben and Spa. But I will be very relaxed there, much more than I was in the previous three meetings." At Donington, Giovanardi will carry the maximum 30-kg handicap weight on his car, the first time he will be carrying penalty ballast since it was adopted in Oschersleben. "In Pergusa I used a full-attack strategy, in Donington I will adapt it to the circumstances. If I am competitive and can race for a win, I will attack. Otherwise, if the 30-kg ballast penalises my car, and I am afraid it will, it would be silly to take risks. Then my strategy will be to score the two points I need to put Müller out of the game and to follow Nicola closely."

LARINI'S LAST CHANCE (2nd in the Drivers' Championship, 85 pts)
Giovanardi's double win in Pergusa spoiled his team-mate Nicola Larini's hopes of re-opening the title fight. With a second and a fourth in the Sicilian races, Larini saw his gap from the lead stretched to 21 points. "Donington is definitely my last chance. I will be forced to attack from the beginning, trying to score two wins. But it won't be easy, because I have never raced in Donington in a front-wheel-drive car and I guess that the track will suit the BMW cars better than ours. I also have to carry 20 kilos of ballast, like I did in Pergusa, but it will be much more penalizing in Donington, because of the uphill part and slow corners. Even if I try my best this might not be enough. After Pergusa, I believe that Fabrizio (Giovanardi) is in a position to play defence. He does not have to take risks, he can just wait and see what happens. Only bad luck should prevent him from clinching the title in Donington. I am not discouraged or de-motivated, I am just acknowledging that my chances are really slim."

A DIFFICULT TASK FOR MÜLLER (3rd in the Drivers' Championship, 68 pts)
BMW Team Deutschland went straight from Pergusa to the Pannonia Ring in Hungary for a one-day test. After finishing fourth and third in the two Sicily races, Jörg Müller is now on the verge of being pushed out of the title fight, with BMW's chances of clinching the Manufacturers' Championship also fading. "Now our only goal is to score some more wins, but it will be very difficult. In Pergusa, it was perfectly clear that Alfa Romeo has worked a lot on their cars. Before, they had a better engine and we had a better chassis, but they made big improvements on the 156 Gta chassis and Giovanardi, Larini and Colciago were able to fly over the kerbs in Pergusa without any problems," Jörg explained. However, in Donington, the BMW cars are expected to be on the pace. "I'm not hundred percent sure about this. In Spa our performances were quite level, but after Pergusa it seems we have again a big gap to fill. Even a track like Donington, with a lot of corners, could not be enough for us. Obviously we will do our best to win, but it seems that Alfa Romeo does not want to leave us any chance. Now they have signed Tarquini and that will mean four fast cars."

RYDELL IS READY FOR THE RAIN DANCE (5th in the Drivers' Championship, 41 pts)
Rickard Rydell and Volvo had one of their most disappointing weekends of the season in Pergusa. After technical problems spoiled his free practice, the Swede crashed his S60 at the beginning of qualifying. The team managed to repair the car, but the races were not much better for Rydell, who had to fight hard to stay in the top-ten positions. "I am very disappointed. We knew that the engine is our weak point, and the engine is very important on a track like Pergusa. But I did not expect to be so far behind." Donington is one of Rydell's favourite tracks, the Swede having competed in the BTCC from 1994 to 2000, winning the 1998 Drivers' Championship for Volvo. "Before going to Pergusa I thought that Donington would be our best chance to win a race. But now I'm not so confident. The track will definitely suit our car better, as it gains in cornering and loses on the straights. But we still don't have the engine developments we were waiting for and the others, Alfa Romeo and BMW, have made a lot of progress over the summer and managed to increase the gap. I think a podium could be possible, but not a win, unless it rains. Our car has a good chassis and should be competitive in the wet."

CORONEL: BACK ON TRACK FOR A PODIUM (11th in the Drivers' Championship, 11 pts)
Tom Coronel was forced to miss the meeting in Pergusa because of a strange accident. "I was working as an instructor in a BMW driving course and I was hit by a car. I flew into the air and fell on my head. Luckily nothing was broken, but I was aching everywhere and I could not drive," Coronel explained. Missing Pergusa was a shame, as he had claimed his first FIA ETCC podium at Spa. However, the Dutchman will be back on track at Donington Park, at the wheel of the Carly Motors BMW 320i backed by BMW Team Great Britain. "I spent five days in intensive physiotherapy and now I'm ok. I will be in perfect shape for Donington and my goal is to repeat at least the results we had in Spa. The English track will suit the BMW very well. The Alfa Romeo cars have more traction, but the BMWs are quicker in negotiating the corners. Carly Pellinkhof is working very hard on our engines and we should be at the same level as the Schnitzer cars." Carly Motors will enter two cars in the meeting, one for Coronel and the other for Duncan Huisman, who is currently leading the Dutch Touring Car Championship.

BRITISH DRIVERS WANT TO MAKE UP FOR PERGUSA
Tom Ferrier, James Hanson and Robert Collard, the three British drivers taking part in the FIA European Touring Car Championship, all had very disappointing weekends in Pergusa. But they all are determined to make up for what happened in Sicily. Ferrier, at the wheel of his Dart Racing Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, was 14th in qualifying and in both races. "It is hard to say what exactly my ambitions are for Donington. I'd like to repeat my Silverstone fourth position in qualifying, but the BMW cars are quicker than they were then. It's good that not many of the other drivers had been to Donington before, so I could be aiming for a top-six position or a bit better." In Pergusa, Hanson struggled against the Volvo S60's lack of power and finished by crashing at the Schumacher chicane: "Luckily my car was not badly damaged, but the suspension broke. We knew that Pergusa was going to be difficult, but not that bad. We definitely paid for the lack of power. Donington will be another story. Power doesn't really count there, as it's more important to have good speed in cornering, which our car has. We should be very competitive and able to fight for podium positions." Making his FIA ETCC debut in a RJN Motorsport Nissan Primera, Collard was stopped by engine problems in practice, then crashed in Race 1 and could not take the start of Race 2: "My crash was due to a puncture. It was a shame, because after the problems on Saturday I was going very well. Before the crash I overtook a few cars, including my team-mate Rustad. I am very confident for Donington. I know the track and the Primera will not be as disadvantaged as it was in Italy. I would be very happy to break into the top-ten."

-fia-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Bernd Schneider , Robert Collard , Paul Radisich , Duncan Huisman , Rickard Rydell , Gabriele Tarquini , Marc Duez , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago , Roberto Ravaglia , Tom Ferrier