ETCC: Magny-Cours: Round two preview

With a win apiece for Alfa Romeo's Gabriele Tarquini and BMW Team Deutschland's Dirk Muller, the season got off to a fine start in Barcelona. BMW leads the Manufacturers' points table, while Tarquini currently leads the Drivers' classification,...

With a win apiece for Alfa Romeo's Gabriele Tarquini and BMW Team Deutschland's Dirk Muller, the season got off to a fine start in Barcelona. BMW leads the Manufacturers' points table, while Tarquini currently leads the Drivers' classification, ahead of Dirk and Jorg Muller, and all three will carry penalty weight for the second meeting. Barcelona was also a good meeting for some of the newcomers, with both Antonio Garcia and Andy Priaulx achieving podium finishes for their first races in the FIA European Touring Car Championship, while Giovanardi finished second in Race 1 in his first race for BMW.


For the first time the new FIA ETCC success ballast system will be applied. Unlike the past season, when 30, 20 and 10 kg were imposed to the first three drivers classified in the previous meeting, now the system is based on two different handicaps. The first set of handicap weights is determined by the race results from the previous meeting, with the second depending on the current Championship classification. The first three drivers classified in the previous meeting (taking into consideration the sum of the points they scored from the two races) will receive 30kg, 20kg and 10kg respectively, as in 2002. However, the leading three drivers in the Championship classification will also receive similar amounts. Obviously, for the second race meeting of the season, this means the same three drivers: Gabriele Tarquini (who scored the most points in Barcelona and leads the Championship), Dirk Muller (second in the opening meeting and in the Championship) and Jorg Muller (third and third). According to the new system, Tarquini, Dirk and Jorg should be carrying 60, 40 and 20 kg respectively, but as the regulations has set the maximum handicap weight applicable to 40 kg, both Tarquini's Alfa Romeo 156 Gta and Dirk Muller's BMW 320i will carry 40 kg, with Jorg Muller on 20 kg.


After the first meeting, BMW is leading the Manufacturers' Championship, thanks to a collective effort which saw five of its drivers finish on the podium. Dirk and Jorg Muller, who are currently second and third in the Drivers' Championship, spent one day testing at the Austrian A-1 Ring. "Jorg and I tested many different set up configurations," said Dirk Muller "And we have the feeling we were working in the right direction. This is very important, because Magny-Cours is a strange track, with a lot of slow and fast corners, and needs a special set up." Because of the new success ballast system, Dirk's car will be loaded with a 40-kg ballast, the same as on Tarquini's Alfa. "I'm quite disappointed. Why should I carry the same ballast when he's leading the Championship and I'm second? With that weight it will be much harder than it was in Barcelona. This year, the competition in the Championship is really close, much closer than last season. For this reason, the ballast will have a much greater effect in terms of changing the cars' performances. In Barcelona, I discovered that it is possible to win a race from the 12th spot on the grid, but in Magny-Cours my target will be different: to collect points for the Championship. I like the French track very much and last year I was the only BMW driver able to chase the Alfas, but next weekend I will be lucky to win a race with such a weight onboard!"

Reigning ETCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi, currently fourth on points, was also testing his Ravaglia Motorsport-built car in Adria. "We are still in a hurry to complete our testing programme. We were not at 100 per cent on the first meeting in Barcelona, and therefore my second place in Race One was not a bad result. I am pretty confident for Magny-Cours, because I am sure my car will be in better shape and, more importantly, I won't be carrying any ballast, while my toughest rivals are all carrying handicap weight," Giovanardi commented.


Alfa Romeo won the first round of the season in Barcelona and one of its drivers, Gabriele Tarquini, is now leading the Championship classification by one point. The Italian Manufacturer's works team, Autodelta, did not waste any time and went to the Adria Raceway for testing. "In spite of the rain we have worked a lot on new set-up solutions, which were developed further to our Barcelona experience," Tarquini revealed. "We knew from the beginning that, although our car performs well in qualifying, it might have some consistency problems over the race distance. Thanks to the testing done before the Spanish meeting, our car was better than expected in the races. But still was far from the standard needed to win the Championship. Therefore, we are now focusing on the optimisation of certain details, such as starting, braking and front tyre wear. As a result, we'll go to Magny-Cours with a front suspension set up we had never used before." Magny-Cours has good memories for Tarquini, who won both the 2001 FIA European Super Touring Championship races there. At the time he was driving for Honda against Fabrizio Giovanardi, who was then at Alfa Romeo. "Life is so strange. We are still on opposite sides, him at BMW, me at Alfa. I'm looking forward to Magny-Cours, because I like the track and I know it won't be so penalizing as Barcelona for the front-wheel-drive cars in terms of front tyre wear. On the other hand, it will be much harder on the brakes. And this will mean problems for me, due to the 40-kg handicap weight I'll carry onboard."


After making its FIA ETCC debut in Barcelona, SEAT Sport continued its test programme, in order to improve its Toledo Cupra cars. The Spanish team spent one day in Jerez de la Frontera. "We have done a lot of work on the chassis, testing many different set-up possibilities and new suspension parts. We are going to Magny-Cours with the same engines we have used in Barcelona and this means we will have the same speed handicap on the straight compared to the Alfa Romeo and BMW cars. Nevertheless we are expecting a global improvement in our performance. Not a big step forward, but enough to close the gap a bit more," declared Frank Diefenbacher. The young German driver was very impressive in Barcelona, bringing the SEAT Toledo closer than ever to the top cars, especially in free practice and qualifying. "Those performances proved that our car has good potential. It's only a matter of developing it. And it takes time. It's clear that we are here to learn and we are not in a hurry to look for the results at any cost. We are working to improve a bit more every time. How the Magny-Cours track will suit our car is the biggest question mark, but I am quite positive. My aim is to finish both races and to get in as many kilometres as possible with the car." Jaime Puig, SEAT Sport Motorsport Director said: "Everyone was very pleased with qualifying in Barcelona. We need to work on getting both cars to the end of both races next and try for better race results. It's a balance between race results, which are very easy to focus on, and the long- term progress. We have made changes to the cars and have strong hopes for a good performance in France."


As the only French driver in the Championship, Eric Cayrolle is expected to be in the limelight at Magny-Cours. In order to keep himself in training, Cayrolle will be competing in the first round of the French GT Championship, in Nogaro on Easter Monday, at the wheel of a Chrysler Viper. "I have great expectations for Magny-Cours," he said. "Things did not work properly for us in Barcelona, but this was mainly due to a late start of the programme, and our car was still in 2002 spec. I now know that we'll have the latest suspension developments in Magny-Cours, and that we will receive the 2003 engines in time for Pergusa. Considering all of this, I'm quite confident that we can be much more competitive than we were in Spain, and we can aim for some good results." Magny-Cours is one of Cayrolle's favourite racetracks. "I won many French races here. I know it very well, while I did not know Barcelona at all. Though I have to say that I haven't seen how the Chicane has been modified and I'll be discovering it like all the other drivers. I don't want to fix any particular goals for myself, but I'm obviously aiming to break into the top independent drivers. And who knows? Two years ago, in the European Super Touring round, I was able to fight against the works drivers. I would be very pleased to do it again--"


Rickard Rydell and ART Engineering had an up-and-down weekend in Barcelona. The Swedish driver's Volvo S60 proved to be very fast in the first free practice session, but then its performances dropped back in qualifying and in the races. "We are still fighting against the same problem we had last year: straight line speed," Rydell said. "The car is good in cornering, even better than it was in last season, but all the three Volvos were at the bottom of the speed trap time sheet. I really hope that the weather will be cold in Magny-Cours, because the S60 works much better when temperatures are cooler." ART Engineering was the third ETCC team (after Autodelta and Ravaglia Motorsport) to test in Adria; Rydell and his new team-mate Sandro Sardelli took turns with the same car. "Nothing really excited happened," Rydell stated. "No new tyres, no new engines. We only tested in order to solve some problems we had in Barcelona with the water temperatures." Last year in Magny-Cours, Rydell claimed two fourth-place finishes on Volvo's first appearance in the FIA ETCC. "This year the Championship is more competitive than ever, with almost fifteen cars within the same second. For us, a bit more of speed would mean an improvement of several positions. In Magny-Cours the speed is not as important as in Barcelona and that's why I'm cautiously confident," said the Swedish driver.


The group of the ETCC Independent drivers is stronger than ever. In Barcelona they proved good enough to fight for points, and Carly Motors' Tom Coronel was classified eighth in both races and scored 2 Championship points. But Coronel was not the only independent driver on the pace. Alfa Romeo young lions, Paolo Ruberti, Fabio Francia and Alessandro Balzan were all very competitive. Ruberti set the 9th fastest qualifying time, only 0.6 seconds from the pole, although a broken driveshaft prevented him from claiming good results in the races. His good times did not escape Alfa Romeo's attention, and they have decided to entrust Ruberti with a new 2003-spec car from Magny-Cours onwards. Both Balzan and Francia were very consistent, and were able to challenge the works drivers; Francia was impressive in the second race, in which he finished 9th, ahead of Colciago and Rydell. Another independent driver who shone -- briefly -- in Barcelona, was Andre Couto. He missed the Saturday practices and qualifying due to an engine bug, but when this was solved, his Honda Civic set the fifth fastest time in the warm up. Unfortunately Couto's race did not last long, as he crashed on the first lap of the first race, following a collision with Jan Nilsson's Volvo, and could not take the start for Race 2. In Magny-Cours the Macanese driver will have a new Xtrac sequential gearbox fitted on his car. The name of his team-mate has not yet been announced by PRO Motorsport. Nilsson's Volvo S60 did not suffer much damage from its roll in the second race, and is currently committed to an intensive testing programme. "As a matter of fact, by the first race at Magny-Cours the car will have completed more kilometres than during the whole 2002 season," Nilsson said.


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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Eric Cayrolle , Andre Couto , Rickard Rydell , Paolo Ruberti , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini