FREE PRACTICE 1: TARQUINI FASTEST IN THE WET The drivers left the pit lane very cautiously for their eight o'clock session, as the track was still wet after it rained all night. It took ten minutes before any of the drivers were able to go under...
FREE PRACTICE 1: TARQUINI FASTEST IN THE WET
The drivers left the pit lane very cautiously for their eight o'clock session, as the track was still wet after it rained all night. It took ten minutes before any of the drivers were able to go under the 2:10 barrier, with Jörg Müller setting a time of 2:09.669. Halfway through the session, the Gerrnan driver was able to improve and by then was one second faster than the rest of the field. But as the racing lines were drying, the Alfa Romeo drivers broke into the top positions.
First, Gabriele Tarquini set a provisional fastest time of 2:08.699, which was soon replaced by Nicola Larini's time of 2:07.959. Five minutes before the end of the session, Tarquini recovered the lead for good with a lap in 2:06.732 and, just when the chequered flag ended the practice, Roberto Colciago set the second fastest time with a time of 2:06.978. Larini was ranked third (2:07.256), with Andy Priaulx fourth (2:07.732), the best of the BMW drivers. Fabio Francia emerged as the fastest of the Independents, setting the seventh fastest time at 2:08.789. Despite the tricky conditions only one incident was reported: Duncan Huisman's BMW was beached in the gravel trap at the Château d'Eau bend. Miguel Ramos had his first drive in the second PRO Motorsport Honda Civic who will drive in the event; the Portuguese driver will have a very busy weekend, jumping back and forth from the Honda to the Saleen he usually drives in the FIA GT Championship.
FREE PRACTICE 2: COLCIAGO OUSTS LARINI
The rain resumed mid morning, and the track remained wet for the second practice. Ten minutes into the session Priaulx emerged as the fastest driver, lapping in 2:07.636; but he was immediately ousted by Larini's 2:07.268, a time which no-one was able to beat for most of the session. Tarquini tried hard and set a provisional third-fastest time (2:07.866), but immediately afterwards went off and remained stuck in the gravel trap.
Finally, Colciago managed to set the session's fastest time with a lap of 2:07.245, beating Larini's time by a mere 0.023 seconds. Dirk Müller was clocked at 2:07.560, the third-fastest time, only slightly faster than Priaulx (2:07.636), Tarquini (2:07.866) and Jörg Müller (2:07.923). Paolo Ruberti was ranked seventh and first of the Independents, with a time of 2:08.735. Tom Coronel missed the whole session due to a broken airbox .
QUALIFYING: LARINI CLAIMS HIS FIRST POLE OF THE YEAR
Very heavy rain disturbed the qualifying session; most of the track was flooded, making life hard for the ETCC drivers and widening the gaps between the drivers' times, which are usually very close.
At the wheel of his Autodelta Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, Nicola Larini proved to be the most capable in these difficult conditions, and he set provisional pole position in the early stages of the session.
His time of 2:08.338 was almost three seconds faster than everybody else's. Despite this comfortable lead, Larini made another attempt ten minutes into the session and managed to improve by another six tenths of a second, claiming the pole position for good - his first pole of the season.
With Larini virtually untouchable, the other drivers began to fight for the second spot on the grid. Just after Larini's record lap, his Autodelta team-mate Gabriele Tarquini set a provisional second-fastest time of 2:09.336, but a few seconds later third Autodelta man Roberto Colciago and BMW Team Deutschland's Dirk Müller pushed the championship leader down to fourth place, setting times of 2:08.993 and 2:09.018 respectively.
There were no more changes in the top positions until the final eight minutes of the session. Then Dirk Müller was able to improve by another three tenths of a second, lapping in 2:08.747, which was enough to steal the second position from Colciago. The Italian driver was not in a position to strike back, as he had damaged the front of his Alfa 156 going off the track and into the gravel. In the final part of the session Andy Priaulx of BMW Team Great Britain and Jörg Müller of BMW Team Deutschland, claimed the fourth and fifth positions respectively (2:09.137 and 2:09.166) pushing Tarquini down to sixth place.
Fabrizio Giovanardi, who was fighting against set-up problems during both practice sessions, qualified his BMW Team Italy-Spain car in seventh (2:09.404) place, just ahead of Fabio Francia (2:09.790), fastest amongst the Independent drivers at the wheel of his Clever Cats R&M Alfa Romeo 156 Gta. Alessandro Balzan (Scuderia Bigazzi Alfa Romeo 156) and André Couto (Pro Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R) made strong performances, completing the top-ten ranking.
SEAT and Volvo were both disappointed by the session's results. On his first experience with his SEAT Toledo Cupra in the wet, Frank Diefenbacher could not do achieve any better than a 15th starting position on the grid for tomorrow's Race one, while his team-mate Jordi Gené missed the session due to an engine problem arisen in the morning practice. At ART Engineering, a wrong set-up choice prevented the Volvo S60 cars of Rickard Rydell and Sandro Sardelli to set faster times; they were classified 17th and 18th, with the Italian driver performing a spectacular 360-degree spin at the Estoril corner.
Another gravel-trap visitor was Duncan Huisman with his Carly Motors BMW 320i; he went off at the Château d'Eau corner, exactly as he had already done during the first practice session.
QUALIFYING NOTES AND QUOTES
, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 1st:
"The qualifying was a nightmare as it came in the worst moment of the day as far as the weather was concerned. We started practicing in the wet, this morning, but that was nothing compared to the conditions we found in qualifying. We did a good job in the morning sessions and my times were very close to Tarquini's and Colciago's. I decided to push more at the beginning of the qualifying session and I was able to create a big gap. I was really surprised by this and I don't have an explanation on how it happened. The track conditions improved in the second part of the session, but nobody managed to get close to my time. In any case, I decided to stay on the track and to find the best lines, but I had mist on my windshield, which prevented me from improving again. I'm quite happy with this pole position, I hope this is just the perfect start of a perfect weekend."
, BMW Team Deutschland, 2nd:
"I was also quite surprised by the gap Larini inflicted on me. It is huge, even in the rain. If I look back at the past season, even in the rain we were not so far behind the Alfa Romeo cars. We now have to check the data logging system and trying to understand. But basically I'm very happy to be second in qualifying here, after I won the second race in Barcelona. It is an improvement for us, particularly when we think I have to carry 40 kg of handicap weight onboard. And I can assure you that I feel every one of those kilos while braking and accelerating. For this reason I expected to qualify in fourth or fifth position; to be second is absolutely fantastic. I'm looking forward to the races very much indeed."
, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 3rd:
"I have to say that, even if there was a lot of water on the track, I felt at ease, because my car was very good. I was the fastest in the second free practice and I knew I could fight for the pole position. Nicola set a fantastic lap time, but I am still convinced that I was in a position to get close to him, or even to beat him. Unfortunately I damaged my car when I went off into the gravel trap. The oil radiator and even the gearbox were damaged. This was the end of my pole position hopes and I even lost the second place to Dirk."
, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 6th:
"I'm really puzzled. My car was very good in the free practice and we haven't made any significant changes. However I had a lot of stability problems in qualifying. We have to understand why this happened and solve the problem, because at the moment my car oversteers too much."
, BMW Team Italy-Spain, 7th:
"This morning I was desperate. I had never had a real test in the wet at the wheel of the BMW. During the free practice sessions I followed the instinct that I have developed in so many races in a front wheel drive car. And it did not work. Everything I tried was wrong and I couldn't simply handle the back of my car. Before the qualifying I had a long talk with my engineers and we started to work on a more scientific basis. We changed a few things, and from the beginning of the session I felt that the car had improved. I could have done better, I know it, but in the end I managed to qualify amongst the usual suspects. And this was a good result, considering that I virtually missed the practice sessions."