ETCC: Estoril: Round ten finale preview

The season might be nearly over, but much needs to be decided before the teams and drivers taking part in the LG Super Racing Weekend series break up for the winter. The final round of 2002 will take place at the Portuguese track of Estoril, ...

The season might be nearly over, but much needs to be decided before the teams and drivers taking part in the LG Super Racing Weekend series break up for the winter. The final round of 2002 will take place at the Portuguese track of Estoril, situated 30 km from Lisbon, and 7 km from the coastal resort of Cascais. So close to the Atlantic, the weather is notoriously changeable, and rain has dogged the FIA GT Championship races held at the circuit over the past two years. The track, 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.

As for the FIA European Touring Car Championship, although Fabrizio Giovanardi claimed the Drivers' Championship at Donington, helping Alfa Romeo to clinch the Manufacturers' title. The main battle at Estoril will be between Nicola Larini, Jörg and Dirk Müller, all still in contention for second place in the Championship. Last year, Yvan Muller (Alfa Romeo) and Matt Neal (Nissan Primera) won the two FIA Super Touring races,while Gianni Morbidelli was victorious in the FIA Super Production race.

This year will mark the FIA European Touring Car Championship's eighth visit to Estoril, with the first visit dating back to 1977. After a long break, the new FIA ETCC came back to Estoril last year, for three incident-packed races, which decided the title fights in both the FIA Super Touring and the FIA Super Production Championships. French guest driver Yvan Muller won the first Super Touring Race in an Alfa Romeo 156, while Englishman Matt Neal won the second in a Nissan Primera; the title going to Fabrizio Giovanardi. The Super Production race was won by Gianni Morbidelli in a BMW 320i, with Dutchman Peter Kox claiming the Championship. None of the three race winners from last year will be at Estoril this year, but two excellent races should take place round the 4.182 km track.

After running four cars in Pergusa and Donington, Gta Racing Team Nordauto will be returning to its previous three-car formation for Estoril, with Fabrizio Giovanardi, Nicola Larini and Romana Bernardoni behind the wheel. "We signed Roberto Colciago and Gabriele Tarquini to help us to secure the European Drivers' and Manufacturers' titles," team manager Monica Sipsz said. "They accomplished this task brilliantly, scoring important points, for which we thank them very much. But we also have an obligation to Romana, who has been part of our team for three years, and who agreed to hand her car over to Tarquini. We would have liked to run four cars in Estoril too, but Nicola's 156 Gta was too badly damaged in his first-lap crash at Donington. The chassis is twisted and it will be impossible to repair it in time, as the team went directly from Donington to Estoril." Will the team give priority to Larini in his fight to finish second in the Championship? "Of course. We really want Nicola to finish second behind Fabrizio and we will make every effort to help him."

GIOVANARDI: I WILL HELP LARINI (1st in the Drivers' Championship, 112 pts)
Having won the FIA European Touring Car Championship for the second consecutive year, Fabrizio Giovanardi is looking forward to the season's final meeting in Estoril. "I would like to close the Championship on a high note, because in Donington I had to focus on scoring the points I needed to secure the title. Now that I have claimed it, the next race is a completely different story. I will be aiming for a double win in Portugal, although my priority will be to help Nicola (Larini) to maintain his second position in the Drivers' Championship. Over the last five years he has been a fantastic team-mate. We fought each other sometimes, but every time I needed it, he did everything he could to help me." At Estoril none of the Alfa Romeo cars will carry any handicap weight, with BMW drivers being the top scorers in Donington. "However, Estoril is a better circuit for them than for us. Whenever we have raced on a twisty track, the BMW cars set the pace. The ballasts should make the competition equal, but it will be tough, because we saw in Donington that even Tarquini, who was not carrying any handicap weight at all, he struggled to stay with the Müllers and Huisman."

LARINI: I'LL FIGHT TO THE FINISH (2nd in the Drivers' Championship, 85 pts)
Nicola Larini's last title hopes vanished when his Alfa Romeo 156 Gta was involved in a crash at the start of the first race in Donington, forcing the Italian driver out of both the 17th and 18th rounds. After Jörg Müller won the second race in Great Britain, Larini is in danger of losing his second position in the Drivers' Championship, as his margin has been reduced to five points. "I'm still very angry, because it was a very bad way to lose a championship, as I could not even make an attempt to win. I couldn't be more unlucky. I was so upset after my crash that I said to Mauro Sipsz that I wanted to stop racing in the FIA ETCC immediately. But this is the kind of things you say in the heat of the moment. Now I'm already focusing on finishing second in the Championship. It won't be easy. Estoril is not a good track for the front wheel drive cars, because its sharp corners make front tyres wear out quickly. But Jörg Müller has to carry 20 kg of ballast and this will play in my favour. I am ready to fight to the finish and the team will surely help me."

JÖRG MÜLLER: WE HAVE THE SAME ODDS (3rd in the Drivers' Championship, 80 pts)
Scoring his third win of the season in Donington's Race Two, BMW Team Deutschland driver Jörg Müller managed to reduce his gap to Nicola Larini, currently second in the Championship, to only five points. "My last race in Estoril was a long time ago, in the Formula Opel Lotus Euroseries. But recently I did a lot of Formula One testing there and I can say that I know the track very well. Although I reckon that Larini also knows it as well as me. So we should be equal. After Donington I am quite confident, because our car is very competitive now; but on the other hand I have to carry 20 kg of ballast. This might not affect the qualifying much, but it will make the difference during the races. We already have a lot of difficulties to overtake the Alfa Romeo cars; with the ballast on board it will be almost impossible. In the end I think that Larini and I have the same odds to finish second in the Drivers' Championship."

DIRK MÜLLER: A QUICK SET-UP IS THE KEY (4th in the Drivers' Championship, 70 pts)
Just like his team-mate Jörg, Dirk Müller also claimed his third win of the season at Donington, securing the fourth position in the Drivers' Championship. The young German driver now faces a difficult task in Estoril. "I have never raced there and I have only seen the track layout. According to what I've been told, it sounds similar to Donington. I reckon that the competition will be very equal between Alfa Romeo, Volvo and BMW. The Alfa cars will be strong as usual because of their power, but I think that Volvo will be also good because of their handling. As for us, we have to cope with the handicap weights. The key is to be quick while working on the set-up, as we were in Donington. There we were able to improve the car and managed to recover from disappointing free practice sessions to gain brilliant results in qualifying and in the races," said Dirk, who claimed pole position and won the first race in England.

ENGINE IMPROVEMENTS FOR RYDELL (5th in the Drivers' Championship, 47 pts)
Rickard Rydell and Volvo had mixed fortune in Donington. The first race saw the Swedish driver fighting for the top positions and being rewarded by a brilliant second place behind BMW's Dirk Müller. But Rydell could not achieve another good result in Race Two, as he retired a few metres after the start, following a collision with Tom Coronel's BMW. "I don't think that Estoril will be as bad for us as Pergusa was, but also I don't think it will be as good as Donington. Except for the final one, the corners are not quick enough and there are too many long straights. I know that we are going to change the engine before the meeting and the Volvo technicians have worked on it, making some improvements. I've been told that they found a little bit more power, but I don't know exactly how much. Let's wait and see, maybe it will be better than we expect."

EKBLOM BACK BEHIND THE WHEEL (6th in the Drivers Championship, 17 pts)
Fredrik Ekblom missed the meeting in Donington due to medical reasons, but the Swedish driver will be back at the wheel of his RBM-run BMW Team Belgium car for Estoril. "I'm getting better now. Before leaving for Donington I was suffering from very painful headaches. I underwent a lot of medical tests and eventually they said there that there is nothing wrong. So now I'm ready to come back. I was very disappointed to miss the previous round; it is the first time in my career that this has happened to me. And it was a shame, because I was really looking forward to it. I was sure we were in a position to achieve great results. Therefore, I want to do my best in Estoril, although I have never raced there before. But I definitely wish to forget last week and finish the season with a strong performance."

GENE IS AIMING FOR ANOTHER PODIUM (7th in the Drivers' Championship, 12 points)
At Donington, Jordi Gené claimed his first podium finish in the FIA ETCC, which was also the first of the year for Ravaglia Motorsport. "We are quite happy now. The first half of the season was really hard for us, but the team never gave up and continued working to improve the cars. Race after race our performances got better and better and we managed to close much of the gap between us and the Schnitzer cars. I think we deserved to finish third in Donington, even if it came as a consequence of Tarquini's penalty." As a Spanish driver, Gené has raced many times in Estoril. "Over the two past seasons I have raced there in the Spanish GT Championship. I know the track very well and I like it. I used to be very quick there. Therefore I'm very confident we could be in a position to repeat our Donington result. I would like to say that we could aim for a win, but too many strange things would have to happen to make this dream come true. We are improving, but the works Alfa Romeo cars and the two Schnitzer BMWs are still a step ahead of us."

Despite having made all the arrangements, RJN Motorsport has decided against running a new Nissan Primera in Estoril. "We were fired by enthusiasm, because the car was very good in the first tests," team manager Bob Neville said. "However, thinking calmly, we have to admit that we have not yet tested it enough to take part in a race. It is better to concentrate on the development and to get ready for the next season. But I would like to thank all the FIA ETCC teams that undersigned the document that would have allowed us to race the new car." In Estoril, the British team will race the same two-car formation seen in the two previous meetings, with Tommy Rustad and Robert Collard at the wheel. "We are happy with Collard. He had bad luck in Pergusa, but in Donington he ran very sensibly. In Race One he pitted for a check after a collision, otherwise he could have finished much better than 14th. And he also finished the second race without any problems. I would be pleased to confirm him alongside Tommy in the team for next year."


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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Peter Kox , Yvan Muller , Matt Neal , Rob Collard , Rickard Rydell , Gianni Morbidelli , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago , Tommy Rustad