ETCC: Estoril: Penultimate round preview

After two events in the north of Europe, the LG Super Racing Weekend series will be moving southwards for the final two rounds of the 2003 season, first to the Portuguese track of Estoril, on the Atlantic coast, and then to the historic circuit of...

After two events in the north of Europe, the LG Super Racing Weekend series will be moving southwards for the final two rounds of the 2003 season, first to the Portuguese track of Estoril, on the Atlantic coast, and then to the historic circuit of Monza, close to Milan, Italy. With just two weekends of action remaining, a lot remains to be decided in the FIA GT Championship, the FIA European Touring Car Championship and the Eurocup Formula Renault V6.

The FIA European Touring Car Championship remains as close as ever, and two of the leading contenders, Jorg Muller and Andy Priaulx , shared the honours in Oschersleben. BMW Team Deutschland driver Muller led the first race from lights to flag, resisting incredible pressure from Tarquini and Priaulx. In the second race, Prialx took the win, followed by Antonio Garcia of BMW Team Italy-Spain, while SEAT Sport claimed its first-ever podium finish, with Frank Diefenbacher finishing a close third. Jorg won an exciting duel with Tarquini, claiming fourth position from him, along with two extra points, that might prove crucial in the title fight. The FIA European Touring Car Championship has visited Estoril during the last two seasons, both times for the final round of the season. Last year, Fabrizio Giovanardi, in an Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, and BMW's Jorg Muller, were victorious in Portugal.

The Estoril, 4.182 km long, has a good blend of fast and slow corners, with changes of elevation and a long pit straight making it generally popular with the drivers.

The LG Super Racing Weekend in Oschersleben will also include the Renault Sport Speed Trophy, the Renault Sport Clio Elf International Cup,as well as the Honda BPI Cup.


Experienced driver Pedro Chaves has been competing this season alongside two of his compatriots, Ni Amorim and Miguel Ramos, in the nr 8 Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen S7-R.

"Estoril is a very nice circuit. It was even better in the old days, before they changed the corners and slowed it down, but it is still very good. It's a Grand Prix circuit, with a very good surface, two very challenging corners and with modern, good facilities. It gives me special pleasure to drive there, as it is my own country, and also because I started racing back there in 1985, and it gives me a nice feeling to be racing there again."


With only two meetings and four races left, it looks as if the FIA European Touring Car Championship crown will go to any of the three drivers currently leading the classification. Although they still have a mathematical chance, with 40 points yet to be awarded, Nicola Larini (fourth, 16 points from the lead), Dirk Muller (fifth, 23 points behind) and Roberto Colciago (sixth, 33 points behind) lost all real hope of taking the crown after the Oschersleben event. Although motor sport remains unpredictable, it is very unlikely that the title will go to anyone but Jorg Muller, Andy Priaulx or Gabriele Tarquini.

Jorg Muller, who jumped into the lead after the races in Anderstorp, has now a slim five-point margin ahead of Priaulx, while Tarquini is third, only eleven points from the leader. The remaining rounds, in Estoril and Monza, therefore promise to be action-packed and breathtaking. "Any of us can clinch the title, and we will only know the name of the champion at the end of the second race in Monza," Jorg Muller declared. The Manufacturers Championship is a different matter, as BMW currently has a comfortable margin over Alfa Romeo; with 72 points still at stake, the German make is leading by 53.

In Estoril, for the 17th and 18th rounds of the season, the situation for the handicap weights sees Jorg Muller and Priaulx forced to carry 40 kg extra on their cars, while Tarquini and Antonio Garcia will carry 10 kg each.


As expected, BMW won both races in Oschersleben. BMW Team Deutschland's Jorg Muller led the first race from lights to flag, resisting the incredible pressure from Tarquini and Priaulx. In the second race, Jorg won an exciting duel with Tarquini, stealing from him a fourth position and two points, that might prove crucial in the title fight.

"I'm a bit concerned about the next meeting in Estoril," said the German driver, who won Race 2 at the Portuguese circuit in 2002. "Undoubtedly the Alfas will be very strong in Portugal, as they were last year: Giovanardi won the first race, and only gearbox problems prevented him from winning the second. They are very well prepared and they won't have problems with the ballast, as only Tarquini will carry 10 kg. It will be very difficult for me. The positive thing is that I don't desperately need to look for a win. I can control the situation, avoiding mistakes and trying to stay in front of the other BMWs. I hope I'll get to Monza still in the lead."


With two strong races in Oschersleben, Andy Priaulx has finally unveiled his title ambitions. A close third in Race 1, behind Jorg Muller and Tarquini, the BMW Team Great Britainìs driver claimed his third win of his FIA ETCC rookie season in Race 2. These results enabled him to squeeze between his rivals in the Championship classification.

"I don't know the track, but I'm not worried," the Englishman said. "I did not know Brno and Oschersleben either, but I managed to learn them quickly. Which is what should be expected from a professional driver. I'm rather worried about having the maximum ballast onboard. We had problems in Donington with the same handicap, but it was mainly due to the wrong set up. In Estoril, I hope that we will be able to repeat the fantastic job the Schnitzer team and Jorg (Muller) have done in Oschersleben, althoug it was easier for them, being on their home track. The problem is that we don't have the chance to test with the ballast on until we get to Estoril. It's going to be tough"


The fastest laps Gabriele Tarquini set in the two races at Oschersleben, proved that Alfa Romeo has finally forgotten the defeat suffered at the German track in 2002. Autodelta's leading driver has also forgotten his Anderstorp faux pas, which cost him the Championship lead, and is looking forward to Estoril with confidence.

"Yes, I'm very much looking forward to Estoril," Tarquini admitted. "Although the performances of the Alfa Romeo and the BMW are better balanced this year than they were in 2002, when the 156s proved almost unbeatable on the Portuguese track, we expect to set the pace again. Personally I want to make up for the disappointing event in 2001, when I lost the FIA Super Touring Championship to Giovanardi. My goal for Estoril is to halve the 11-point gap I have from Jorg. I would be very pleased to arrive in Monza, for the last races, only five or six points behind."


The BMW Team Italy-Spain's duo of Antonio Garcia and Fabrizio Giovanardi are both eager to score the team's first win of the season in Estoril. The young Spaniard is definitively challenging Priaulx for the honorary title of "rookie of the year", and completed two excellent performances in Oschersleben, where he finished fourth and second in the two races. As for Giovanardi, the reigning FIA ETCC champion, led the second race after starting from the pole.

"Since the summer break we have managed to stay on the pace with the usual front runners," team manager Roberto Ravaglia said, and Garcia added: "I think that our car is very competitive now. In Anderstorp and Oschersleben I was the fastest BMW driver, and I hope to confirm this status in Estoril. However, we have to wait and see how strong the Alfas will be there."


SEAT Sport has made consistent progress in their first FIA ETCC season. Race after race, the Toledo Cupra cars of Jordi Gene and Frank Diefenbacher have managed to close the gap on the front-runners, and finally, in Oschersleben, the German youngster claimed a third place, SEAT's first podium.

"This was a fantastic result for the team," Gene commented. "I would have liked to have claimed it, but I think we have all contributed. Frank's third place gave us confidence, although we must not think that it will always be like it was in Oschersleben now. In Estoril we will go back to reality, meaning that it will be difficult to fight for the points. However, if we manage to further develop the new rear axle I used in Oschersleben, our car should improve. With the new axle and the new engine step that Frank used in Oschersleben, we expect to make another step forward."


Although no longer backed by the factory, the Volvo S60s run by ART Engineering have given some amazing performances during the season. The leading driver, Rickard Rydell, is constantly fighting for the points, and on two occasions, at Donington Park and Anderstorp he was able to step on the podium. Estoril is another circuit were the Swedish car should be extremely competitive, as it was proved by last year Rydell's pole position.

"I reckon it will be very difficult to repeat that result," the Swedish driver stated. "Simply because we haven't developed the car as much as the others have done. But the Estoril circuit suits the Volvo very well. We should recover what we lose on the long straight in cornering. I am confident that we could fight for a good qualifying position and for the points in both races."


With a series of six wins and two second places in the last eight rounds, Carly Motors' Duncan Huisman has claimed a stake on the Independents Trophy. At the wheel of his BMW, the Dutchman has built a solid margin in the classification, leading the team's other driver Tom Coronel by 28 points. Huisman could claim the Trophy in Estoril, which would partially make up for the FIA ETCC Super Production title he lost there two years ago. As usual Huisman's and Coronel's most serious rivals will be the three Alfa Romeo young lions, Clever Cats R&M's Paolo Ruberti and Fabio Francia, and Scuderia Bigazzi's Alessandro Balzan. However Estoril should also suit the two PRO Motorsport Honda Civic cars of Tomas Engstrom and Andre Couto; the latter, a Portuguese from Macau, will be the spectators' favourite.


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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Ni Amorim , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Pedro Chaves , Miguel Ramos , Duncan Huisman , Andre Couto , Rickard Rydell , Paolo Ruberti , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Nicola Larini , Tomas Engstrom , Roberto Colciago , Roberto Ravaglia