WEATHER: Sunny, with a strong wind and a dry track. ALFA ROMEO TRIUMPHS AND TARQUINI JOINS JÃ–RG MÃœLLER IN THE LEAD AS THE THOMPSON-JÃ–RG MÃœLLER FIGHT RAISE ISSUES The 17th and 18th rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Championship ...
WEATHER: Sunny, with a strong wind and a dry track.
ALFA ROMEO TRIUMPHS AND TARQUINI JOINS JÖRG MÜLLER IN THE LEAD AS THE THOMPSON-JÖRG MÜLLER FIGHT RAISE ISSUES
The 17th and 18th rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Championship turned into an Alfa Romeo triumph. The red Autodelta 156 Gta cars dominated both races with evident ease, and their regular drivers, Gabriele Tarquini, Nicola Larini and Roberto Colciago, monopolized the podium positions. The three of them finished in the very same order in both Race 1 and Race 2. These results enabled Tarquini to equal Jörg Müller on 96 points in the Drivers' Championship; however, the Italian is the new leader, having won six rounds compared to the German's four. Andy Priaulx has slipped down from second to third, seven points behind, while Larini is in fourth position a further two points adrift. This means that the title-fight is still wide open, with four contenders within nine points.
Despite the technical domination, Alfa Romeo's great day was not totally spotless. The fight between Autodelta's new driver James Thompson and leading BMW driver Jörg Müller, which started in the first race and continued during the second, caused controversies. The two drivers struggled hard, for the fourth position in Race 1 and for the fifth in Race 2. On both occasions these fights were ended by collisions, which resulted in Thompson spinning and losing positions. Jörg Müller accused the Briton of having deliberately blocked him in order to assist his new team-mates, while Thompson responded that he drove defensively and was hit by Müller several times. After the second race, the Stewards heard the drivers and their team-managers, and after long deliberations decided to take no further action.
In the Manufacturers' Championship, Alfa Romeo closed up to BMW by 18 points, but the Bavarian make is still leading with a margin of 35 points, meaning that it just needs to score two points in Monza to become champion. However, the Independents Trophy has already been claimed to Carly Motors' driver Duncan Huisman. The 31-year old Dutchman managed to won both races, also finishing twice in the overall points (fifth and sixth). Huisman stretched his leading margin to 43 points over his team-mate Tom Coronel, whose second position is still threatened by Paolo Ruberti, Alessandro Balzan and Fabio Francia.
Today's results remain provisional, pending the fuel test results on Tarquini's, Diefenbacher's and Jörg Müller's cars
WARM UP: LARINI REMAINS ON TOP, DIRK MÜLLER MOVES UP TO THIRD
Alfa Romeo men Nicola Larini and Gabriele Tarquini set the fastest times in the warm-up. Tarquini was the first driver close on to the 1:48 mark, with a lap in 1:48.132, but a few moments later Larini broke that barrier when he was clocked at 1:47.638. The Italian driver completed three timed laps, all under 1:48, and all within two tenths of a second. As the session progressed, Tarquini improved again to 1:47.922, which enabled him to keep the second position, only a five thousandths of a second ahead of Dirk Müller (1:47.927). The German driver managed to split the Alfa Romeo pack, relegating Roberto Colciago (1:48.378) to fourth place.
Independent Clever Cats R&M's driver Fabio Francia set an outstanding 1:48.514, to place himself fifth, ahead of Autodelta newcomer James Thompson (1:48.646), with Jörg Müller seventh (1:48.650).
André Couto's Honda Civic suffered again from engine problems; the team decided to change the engine; meaning that the Macanese driver lost his 19th position on the starting grid.
RACE 1: JÖRG MÜLLER PREVENTS AN ALFA 1-2-3-4 FINISH
Colciago made the best start and jumped into the lead, while Dirk Müller tried, in vain, to keep Tarquini and Larini behind him. On the first lap, Thompson overtook Jörg Müller for fifth position. García, Coronel, Ruberti and Gené were fighting for the seventh place. On lap 2, Tarquini and Larini got past Colciago, moving up to first and second. At Turn 8 Dirk Müller hit Colciago from the back, the Italian drove wide and fell from third to seventh. Couto came back to the pit, with an oil pressure alarm on, but rejoined after two laps. Tarquini and Larini had built a narrow margin ahead of Dirk Müller; Thompson was struggling to keep Jörg Müller and García behind him. On lap 4 the fight intensified, as the Briton and the German had their first door-to-door clash, with García, Colciago and Coronel closely chasing them.
On lap 5, Priaulx broke into the top-ten, overtaking Gené. Rydell retired with a blown engine, while Sardelli lost two laps due to a gearbox problem. Colciago overtook García and climbed up to sixth.
On lap 6, Colciago earned another position, getting past Jörg Müller. On lap 7, Dirk Müller paid a drive-through penalty he was given further to his second-lap collision with Colciago, and dropped from third to 17th. At the same time, Colciago overtook Thompson for third.
Jörg Müller was desperately looking for a way to pass Thompson, and hit the back of the Alfa; but the Englishman managed to control his car and stay on the track. Just out of the points zone, Coronel, Francia, Balzan, Gené and Giovanardi were fighting for the 10th position. On lap 8, García's engine started suffering from electrical problems, which demoted the young Spaniard from sixth to eight, behind Huisman and Ruberti. On lap 9, Coronel and Francia collided, which enabled Balzan to pass both, moving up to ninth. On lap 10, Jörg Müller hit Thompson again and sent him into a spin; the Alfa driver slipping from fourth to eighth. On lap 10, García retired with engine problems.
At the chequered flag, Tarquini claimed his fifth win of the year, from Larini and Colciago. Jörg Müller obtained an important, and hard-won fourth place, heading home Huisman and Ruberti. Fifth position also meant another win among the privateers for Huisman, who secured the Independents Trophy crown with three rounds still to go. Priaulx and Thompson were classified seventh and eight.
RACE 2: THE TARQUINI-LARINI-COLCIAGO EXPRESS STRIKES AGAIN
Following their engine problems, Rydell and García's cars did not make the grid for Race 2; neither did Yvan Muller's third SEAT, suffering from electrical problems. Thompson was the pole sitter on the reversed grid, but Priaulx and Huisman dashed in front of him at the start. At the first corner, Jörg Müller and Ruberti hit each other, driving wide and rejoined in ninth and tenth positions respectively. On lap 2, Thompson let Colciago and Tarquini slip through to third and fourth; Larini overtook Coronel for sixth. The Dutchman retired in the following lap, due to a slow puncture. On lap 4, Colciago and Tarquini overtook Huisman, climbing to second and third, and a few moments later they also stole the race lead from Priaulx. Larini passed Thompson for fifth. In the fight for the lead, Priaulx made a mistake and Huisman was forced to brake in avoidance, which cost him two more places. The Dutchman slipped from fourth to sixth, behind Larini and Thompson. At the same time, Jörg Müller, Balzan, Dirk Müller and Engström were fighting for the seventh position. On lap 5, Larini overtook Priaulx for third. On lap 6, Tarquini took the lead, passing Colciago.
On lap 7, Jörg Müller passed Huisman for sixth, and began closing up to Thompson. The German and the Briton resumed their fight where they had left it in the first race. Thompson closed all the gaps, as Jörg Müller was trying to dive inside. On lap 9, Larini overtook Colciago and moved up to second. On lap 10, Thompson and Jörg Müller clashed again, and eventually the Englishman got again the worst of it and drove wide, losing three positions.
Tarquini, Larini and Colciago crossed the line in the same order of the first race. Priaulx was classified fourth, followed by Jörg Müller, Huisman, Dirk Müller and Thompson. During the final lap, Engström overtook Balzan to finish ninth overall, and second in the Independents Trophy race.
RACE NOTES AND QUOTES
Gabriele TARQUINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta; 1st in Race 1, 1st in Race 2: "It was a fantastic weekend, for me and Alfa Romeo! To be honest, I never imagined a double victory here, but the car was uncatchable all weekend! I would like to thank my team-mates, Roberto (Colciago), who did a good job, and Nicola (Larini). James (Thompson) also did a very good job, especially in qualifying, when he was close to us with 40 extra kg in his car. However, in the race, he felt the handicap weight. It was a very good day for Alfa Romeo. On fast track like this, the 6th gear ratio of the sequential gearbox makes the difference compared to the 5-speed H gearbox. On the long straight, the gap between the gears is much longer than on the twisty tracks. For this reason, we can have such an advantage on the long straight. Now, we are going to Monza, an Italian track, which should be more favourable to Alfa Romeo. All the Alfa Romeo cars will carry handicap weights, and I will have the maximum. I would say that I have a fifty-percent chance to win the Championship title, as does Jörg Müller."
Nicola LARINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta; 2nd in Race 1, 2nd in Race 2: "Despite only being nine points behind the lead, my Championship hopes came to an end here in Estoril. It was due to team orders, because I was half a second faster than my team-mates. I missed the start of the first race, but I was faster in the middle of the race. In the second race, the fire extinguisher in the car went off, filling the cockpit with dust. And therefore I struggled for two or three laps before I managed to get on the pace again. I would say that Alfa Romeo has now a 95-percent chance of claiming the Drivers' Title."
Roberto COLCIAGO, Alfa Romeo Autodelta; 3rd in Race 1, 3rd in Race 2: "I made good starts in both races. I had to back my team mates, so that they can win the Championship, and tried to avoid an accident. Unfortunately, somebody hit me in the first race. But I was able to rejoin and maintain third position. The second race was clearer. I was pushing to overtake the BMWs of Priaulx and Huisman; they both let me pass, seeing that I was faster. They did not try to block me. Monza will be a good track for me, as it is very close to my home. I will try to do my best, but my goal is to help Autodelta Alfa Romeo win the Championship. I am out of contention for the Drivers' title anyway."
Jörg MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland; 4th in Race 1, 5th in Race 2: "I think it was a very fair weekend. I did my best. I was the fastest BMW driver, even with 40 kg of ballast. As you see, there are no team orders, and Andy (Priaulx) did not hand me his fourth position in the second race. It is going to be very tight in the last meeting. Regarding my fight with James Thompson, I can only say that he did a very good job in doing what he was supposed to do. I think that no one should come, two races before the end of the season, to decide the Championship. I am not out of the fight for the title but I lost a lot of points because of him."
Andy PRIAULX, BMW Team Great Britain; 7th in Race 1, 4th in Race 2: "Coming into the weekend I would have been happy with a sixth and a fourth. I achieved a seventh and a fourth, which is good. Unfortunately I selected the wrong ratios, which did not help us, added to the 40 kg of handicap. I've done the best I could, but even if I am third in the Drivers' Championship, seven points behind, I'm afraid I don't have much hope of becoming champion in Monza. My goal is still to finish into the top-three and, possibly, as the best-placed BMW driver."
James THOMPSON, Alfa Romeo Autodelta; 8th in Race 1, 8th in Race 2: "There was no black and white flag, it was all fair. I drove defensively and Jörg behaved very badly, just hitting me in the back, making no effort to overtake. I am very happy with my races today, especially with 40 extra kg on board. I drove my car sensibly and fairly."
Duncan HUISMAN, Carly Motors; 5th in Race 1, 2nd in Race 2: "Our goal for the season was to win the Independents Trophy and I am very happy that we have won it already here! Especially when two years ago, I lost the Super Production Championship here. I am very happy. Now we can go to Monza with a different goal, to finish ahead of the BMW Italy-Spain cars. I drove very carefully, as if I destroy the car, I stay home for the next meeting. Being part of a private team, our goal was to win the Independents Trophy, as it represents prize money. Therefore, I did not fight too hard. I did not want to have too much damage, and the Alfa cars were just quicker. When Gabriele overtook me, he was behind Andy (Priaulx) and Andy made a small mistake before the hairpin. This cost me two places, as I had to go on the left hand side of the track, and then Nicola (Larini) and James (Thompson) overtook me. And then, I got stuck behind the 'English truck'."