ETCC: Magny Cours: Rounds one and two qualifying report

The 2002 FIA European Touring Car Championship officially got underway today. Twenty cars passed scrutineering and took part in free practice and qualifying. The only competitor missing from the provisional entry list was Chris Buncombe in the ...

The 2002 FIA European Touring Car Championship officially got underway today. Twenty cars passed scrutineering and took part in free practice and qualifying. The only competitor missing from the provisional entry list was Chris Buncombe in the second RJN Motorsport Nissan Primera. The team manager Bob Neville attributed this absence to budget problems.

WEATHER: bright and sunny with fresh temperatures all day.

FREE PRACTICE: GIOVANARDI TWICE AT THE TOP

Fabrizio Giovanardi's and Nicola Larini's Alfa Romeo 156 Gta cars topped the times in the first practice. The two Gta Racing Team Nordauto drivers were the first to break the 1:48 barrier in cars complying with the new FIA Super 2000 regulations. Larini set a time of 1:47.624, which was later beaten by his team-mate Giovanardi, who set a time of 1:47.463. Jorg and Dirk Muller placed their BMW Team Deutschland BMW 320i cars in third and fourth positions, setting times of 1:48.015 and 1:48.314 respectively. They were followed by Paolo Ruberti's AGS Motorsport Alfa Romeo 156 Gta (1:48.392) and Rickard Rydell's Volvo S60 (1:48.513). Salvatore Tavano's CiBiEmme Honda Civic suffered a brakes failure, while James Hanson's Volvo S60 went off the track at the first chicane during the early stages of the session, but did not suffer from any major damage.

In the second session, Giovanardi was fastest with 1:47.828, ahead of Dirk Muller (1:48.152), Larini (1:48.257), Ruberti (1:48.744), Jorg Muller (1:48.777) and Tommy Rustad's RJN Motorsport Nissan Primera (1:48.923). Rydell did not take part in the session due to electrical problems that prevented his Volvo S60 from starting while Sandro Sardelli's CiBiEmme Honda Civic remained also in the pits for an engine change.

QUALIFYING: ALFAS CONFIRM THEIR SUPREMACY

After dominating free practice, Fabrizio Giovanardi reaffirmed his status as the fastest ETCC driver at Magny-Cours by claiming pole position with a time of 1:47.113, setting the first official lap record for the new FIA Super 2000 category. With only four minutes left in the session, Giovanardi took pole from his team mate Nicola Larini, whose best time was 1:47.326, set halfway through the session.

Larini had previously set provisional pole at 1:48.504, five minutes after the start of qualifying. He immediately tried to improve this time, but his attempt was spoiled when Salvatore Tavano's Honda Civic cut the last chicane in front of his Alfa. A few minutes later Giovanardi ousted Larini from the pole with a time of 1:48.139, improving again to 1:47.732 in the following lap. Larini provisionally regained the lead, before Giovanardi claimed the pole for good

Behind the leading two Alfa Romeo drivers, Dirk Muller, Tommy Rustad, Paolo Ruberti and Tom Ferrier (Dart Racing Alfa Romeo 156) had a very tough fight for the third position on the starting grid. The German driver eventually managed to squeeze into a pack of four Alfas, right behind Giovanardi and Larini, but ahead of Ruberti and Ferrier.

Rustad qualified his Nissan in sixth position, beating Jorg Muller and Rickard Rydell by a very narrow margin. Swede Fredrik Ekblom (BMW Team Belgium BMW 320i) and Frenchman Eric Cayrolle (Scuderia Bigazzi Alfa Romeo 156 Gta) completed the top ten.

As expected the Super Production CiBiEmme Honda Civic of Salvatore Tavano closed the classification in 19th position, while the second Civic of Sandro Sardelli failed to take part in the session due to the engine failure that took place in the morning's free practice.

NOTES AND QUOTES

Fabrizio Giovanardi nr 1 Gta Racing Team Nordauto, "It was a very good fight with my team mate and I would like it to continue like this for the rest of the season, but I'm sure it won't happen-- We did not expect to be so far ahead of the rest of the field. Maybe we were able to find the best set-up for this track, or maybe the others had a few problems. I enjoyed driving the car today, but tomorrow, in the races, it might be totally different. I am a bit worried about the standing start, because BMW used to start better than us, thanks to the real-wheel-drive. It will be the crucial moment and Nicola and I will have to stay concentrated, to avoid mistakes and to try and take the lead".

Nicola Larini nr 2 Gta Racing Team Nordauto, "I tried to be as fast as possible, but I also wanted to save my tyres for tomorrow. When I recovered the pole position midway through the session, I thought that my time was good enough to keep it, but Fabrizio reverted the situation with only four minutes to go. He always does this, stealing the pole from me towards the end. Perhaps I should change my strategy and let him qualify first, and wait until he sets an early pole. It was a very good start for our team, but now we must concentrate on the race strategy. This won't be easy because we don' t know yet how the tyre consumption will be."

Dirk Muller nr 43 BMW Team Deutschland, "I am very proud that I managed to squeeze among the Alfa Romeos. Honestly, I did not expect such a good result for my first ETCC qualifying, because the Alfa cars appear to be very competitive and we have to cope with a brand new car. This is also a totally different racing format for both me and the Schnitzer team, as we were used to long distance races. I tried very hard to achieve a front row position and to break the 1:48 barrier, but I made a little mistake and I had to settle for saving my tyres. It was enough to see that our car has excellent potential and that the team did a very good job. My goal is to finish both races in the points."

Tom Ferrier nr 20 Dart Racing, "We are happy with this result, because we had a lot of problems in testing and that spoiled our hopes of getting more familiar with a car, which I haven't driven before. In the end we are not so far off the Nordauto drivers and we still have a margin of improvement. I have the feeling that the races will be good; I'm looking forward to tomorrow, because I am sure that I will manage to be faster again".

Tommy Rustad nr 11 RJN Motorsport, "I am quite happy to be honest, because our team had done very little testing and we had no time enough to develop the car in the proper way. I had a very good flying lap and I also had the chance to improve a bit my time later on, but I made a mistake in the last chicane. I am confident for the race, because the Primera has a very good engine and I am sure that it will prove to be competitive in the race."

Rickard Rydell nr 60 Volvo S60 Racing Team, "We are still at the beginning of our development and we have to work to catch the Alfas. We only need a little step forward to find a good balance and to stay with the BMWs, but if we look at the speed on the straight, Alfa is far ahead of everybody else. I hope the situation will be more balanced in race conditions, but looking at the times Giovanardi and Larini set all through today's sessions, I believe the best we can do is to fight for third."

Eric Cayrolle nr 16 Scuderia Bigazzi, "It was more difficult than I expected. I believe that the car I am driving can do much better, but I must acknowledge the limits I still have in driving a front-wheel-drive car. After many years of racing in a BMW, I am an apprentice with this kind of car and I still have to find a bit more finesse in my way of driving. Despite this I am not disappointed, I know that I should have been at least three tenths of a second faster, which would have gained me three or four positions on the grid".

-etcc-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Dirk Müller , Jorg Muller , Eric Cayrolle , Rickard Rydell , Paolo Ruberti , Salvatore Tavano , Nicola Larini , Chris Buncombe , Tom Ferrier , Tommy Rustad