The 2003 season is drawing to a close ... but there is still a lot to be decided before the garage doors shut on another sucessful season of the LG Super Racing Weekend series. For the last action-packed weekend of racing of the year, the teams...
The 2003 season is drawing to a close ... but there is still a lot to be decided before the garage doors shut on another sucessful season of the LG Super Racing Weekend series. For the last action-packed weekend of racing of the year, the teams and drivers will be meeting up at the Italian circuit of Monza, located near Milan, in Italy.
The circuit has a special significance for the multi-series platform, as it hosted the first-ever event in this format, in 2001. Since then, however, the circuit has undergone renovations, both to the infrastructure, and to the track itself, which is now 5.77 km long, and which remains one of the fastest circuits in Europe.
With a bumper pack of 24 cars, including two guest superstars, Giancarlo Fisichella and Alessandro Zanardi, the FIA European Touring Car Championship will contest the nineteenth and twentieth rounds of 2003. The series was revived in Monza back in 2001, and now, three years down the line, it is thriving. Everything remains to play for, and although BMW only needs two points to take the Manufacturers' title, the Drivers' Championship is closer than ever. BMW Team Deutschland's Jörg Müller and Autodelta's Gabriele Tarquini are tied on 96 points, with Britain's Andy Priaulx and second Autodelta driver Nicola Larini trailing by seven and nine points respectively. Any of the four could take the title, and all the Manufacturers have been drafting in help to strengthen their sides. As well as BTCC runner-up James Thompson, Formula One star Giancarlo Fisichella will be joining Autodelta in Monza, marking his return to touring car racing after seven years. Also making a return - to racing - will be double CART Champion Alessandro Zanardi, who will join BMW Team Italy-Spain in a specially adapted car.
The inaugural Champion of the Eurocup Formula Renault V6 should be known after the last two races in Italy. José Maria Lopez, from Argentina, has taken an option on the title, but his closest rival, Tristan Gommendy of France, has vowed to fight until the end. This round will also see the Renault Sport Clio Trophy come to an end, category legend Luca Rangoni having claimed his fourth successive title. As for the Renault Sport Clio Cup, the runaway leaders are Michael Rangoni and Stéphane Lemeret, and although Rangoni has a lead of 28 points, Belgian driver Lemeret is still in with a mathematical chance.
Other support races in Monza will include the European Alfa Challenge, and the deciding round of the Italian Formula Renault 2000 Championship.
MONZA - ACCORDING TO GABRIELE TARQUINI
Joint leader of the FIA European Touring Car Championship, Gabriele Tarquini has had a long career in both Formual One and Touring cars. In 1994, he won the British Touring Car Championship for Alfa Romeo; in 2001, he came close to winning the FIA European Super Touring Championship, losing out to Fabrizio Giovanardi at the final round.
"This is definitely the fastest circuit we have in the Championship. It is not fun to drive, because you spend most of the lap time giving full throttle on the straight, rather than negotiating corners. However, it is very difficult, because the smallest hesitation can cost you a lot. A slight mistake at the exit of a chicane or the Parabolica, would result in a significant loss of speed on the straight. You need to maintain maximum concentration for the whole race, particularly at the braking points. FIA ETCC cars have small brake discs, however we can brake at the 130-metre mark before the first chicane; during the races we have to manage the brakes in order to save them, but in the final laps our braking points will be up to twenty or thirty metres earlier. Set-up is another challenge. You should have a very stiff car here, because of the high speed, but it is better to find a compromise, in order to have a more efficient car that can jump over the kerbs. In this respect, touring cars are better than singleseaters. As for overtaking, you choose a place and dive inside. The only place where it is impossible to pass is between the two Lesmos."
Giancarlo Fisichella and Alessandro Zanardi will burst into the FIA European Touring Car Championship as the title fight comes down to the final shoot-out in Monza. On the superfast Italian racetrack, where average lap speed of the 2-litre ETCC cars will exceed 170 kph, Alfa Romeo and BMW will face each other, both eager to win.
In the Drivers' Championship, both Manufacturers still have two men in contention, as the first four are within just nine points of each other. Gabriele Tarquini and Jörg Müller are both on 96 points each; however, Tarquini is the leader, having won six rounds so far, compared to Müller's four. The two other contenders are Andy Priaulx, who is seven points behind, and Nicola Larini, a further two points adrift. Despite the fact that twenty points are still at stake, their chances are hanging by a thread. On the contrary, BMW is only two points from claiming its 12th Manufacturers' title in the European Touring Car Championship; the last won by the Bavarian make dates back to 1979.
All the title contenders will be carrying ballast for Monza: Taquini has the maximum 40 kg, Jörg Müller and Larini have 20, Priaulx has 10, as does Roberto Colciago.
GABRIELE ABOUT JÖRG AND THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Jörg's strong point: he's fast, and has the experience to control the final part of the races; he's fully backed by BMW.
Jörg's weak point: sometimes he makes mistakes, but I do too^Å
The Championship: we will be fighting on equal terms; our chances are fifty percent each.
JÖRG ABOUT GABRIELE AND THE CHAMPIONSHIP
Gabriele's strong point: he's a fair driver, but he can be very tough during the race; he's the only Alfa driver able to finish the races without any significant drop off
Gabriele's weak points: I haven't seen any yet
The Championship: after Estoril it's going to be tough for me, but it's not over yet...
FISICHELLA TO DRIVE FOR ALFA ROMEO
Formula One star Giancarlo Fisichella will drive for the Alfa Romeo Autodelta team in the final meeting of the 2003 FIA ETCC. In the attempt to claim another European Touring Car Drivers' title, the Italian team will run a five-car formation, with Fisichella joining the regular trio Tarquini, Larini, Colciago and newcomer Thompson. This is not the Touring Car debut for the F1 driver from Rome, as at the age of 22 he was part of the Alfa Corse 2 team in the 1995 International Touring Car Championship. "It will be like coming back to his roots," said Autodelta team manager Monica Sipsz, "Because I was his team manager then. And our technical director Marco Calovolo was his race engineer." Fisichella's best result was a second position in Mugello with the powerful Alfa 155 V6; he remained at Alfa Corse and in the ITC for the following season, in which he was classified sixth, with six podium results. That same year, his Formula One career took off. Since then Fisichella has driven for Minardi, Jordan and Benetton, before returning to Jordan again. He has competed in 124 grands prix, becoming one of the most popular and fastest drivers in the World Championship. He was classified sixth in the 2000 season and after nine podium finishes, he finally managed to win his first GP this year in Brazil.
ZANARDI: ON THE TRACK AGAIN
Alessandro Zanardi is finally making a racing comeback. The Italian driver will compete in the FIA ETCC finale in Monza, his first race since his horrific crash at Lausitz in 2001. Zanardi's approach to this debut started at the beginning of July, when he tested a specially modified ETCC BMW in Adria. The driver and the team decided to intensify the testing sessions, which have become steadily more serious. Seventy days after his first test, Zanardi officially announced his intention to race in Monza, at the wheel of a third BMW Team Italy-Spain's car, which has been equipped with a system to assist him in driving, designed and realised by the Italian company Fadiel. "I wish to thank BMW and the team for backing me in this fantastic adventure," he said. "To race again is a dream come true. The car is extremely funny to drive, and the FIA ETCC drivers are of top level. It won't be an easy task for me, but I'll try my best to be competitive." Will this race mark the beginning of a new racing career for the 36-year old? "At the moment my comeback in Monza is just a parenthesis, it will open and close. But I'm very excited, because asking me if I'm happy to race again, is like asking a cat if it likes mice. I'm conviced that, with a team like this, I could even achieve to win races again."
PRIAULX AND LARINI: WE DON'T HAVE MUCH HOPE
Andy Priaulx and Nicola Larini are currently placed third and fourth in the Drivers' Championship, seven and nine points behind the leading duo respectively. However, the fact that they are both chasing a driver racing for the same Manufacturer - Jörg Müller in a BMW for Priaulx, Tarquini in an Alfa for Larini - does not give them much confidence concerning their hopes of becoming champions.
"I will be more than happy to stay within the top-three classified at the end," said Priaulx, who has already claimed three race wins on his first FIA ETCC season at the wheel of the BMW Team Great Britain's car. "I think I still have a chance to be the best-placed BMW driver."
As for Larini, who has scored only one win in Anderstorp so far, he declared: "My title hopes were over after Gabriele won both races in Estoril. Now, I think that Alfa Romeo has the Championship under its belt. If Gabriele secures the title after the first race, in the second the team could work to help me finish as runner-up." Larini was already classified second in the 2001 FIA ETCC and third in 2002.
SEAT AND ALFA CONFIRM YVAN MULLER AND THOMPSON
After their joint debut in the previous FIA ETCC meeting in Estoril, the 2003 British Touring Car champion Yvan Muller and runner-up James Thompson will face each other again in Monza. Muller, who claimed his first BTCC title three weeks ago, will drive the third works SEAT Toledo Cupra, alongside regular drivers Jordi Gené and Frank Diefenbacher. The Portuguese meeting was not a lucky one for Muller, whose car suffered from electrical problems in Race 1 and did not start in Race 2; in Monza he will continue his job of assisting SEAT Sport to develop the car. This weekend, his team-mate Diefenbacher is already racing in Monza, taking part in an Touring Car endurance race, sharing a SEAT Toledo Tdi with Gianni Morbidelli. On the Alfa side, Thompson will drive again Autodelta's fourth 156 Gta in order to help the team to win the Championship. In Estoril, Thompson was classified eighth in both races, after two red-hot and much debated fights with Jörg Müller.
DE MICHELI JOINS SCUDERIA BIGAZZI
Adriano De Micheli is the latest addition to the FIA ETCC Independents Trophy, for the final rounds in Monza. De Micheli, 28 years old from Genoa, has been a regular competitor in the Italian Super Production Championship over the last four years. In 2000 he scored two wins and finished as runner-up at the wheel of a Peugeot 306; this year he has joined the Clever Cat's Team in an Alfa Romeo 147, helping his team-mate Salvatore Tavano to clinch the Italian title. He is currently third in the championship classification, with two race wins and one round to go. For his debut in the FIA ETCC, De Micheli will join Alessandro Balzan at Scuderia Bigazzi, driving the team's second Alfa Romeo 156 Gta. With the Independents Trophy already claimed by Carly Motors' Duncan Huisman in Estoril, Monza will see a great fight for the second position, between Huisman's team-mate Tom Coronel (93 points), Clever Cats' Paolo Ruberti (89), his team-mate Fabio Francia (85) and Balzan (85). The two drivers of the PRO Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R cars, André Couto and Tomas Engström (the latter despite only taking part in the final four meetings of the season) will battle for the sixth position in the trophy. Because speed is the Japanese car's strong point, Couto and Engström should be in a position to claim the Civic's first success in the trophy in Monza.