ETCC: Monza: Season finale race report

RACE 1 & RACE 2 WEATHER: Sunny, with a dry track. Tarquini wins the drivers' championship by one point as James Thompson and Jörg Müller take a win apiece BMW wins the manufacturers championship. In front of a crowd of 30,000, the FIA ...

RACE 1 & RACE 2

WEATHER: Sunny, with a dry track.

Tarquini wins the drivers' championship by one point as James Thompson and Jörg Müller take a win apiece BMW wins the manufacturers championship.

In front of a crowd of 30,000, the FIA European Touring Car Championship lived through an absolutely dramatic final meeting in Monza. Reversing the negative results of qualifying, Gabriele Tarquini claimed the Drivers' title in his Autodelta Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, beating BMW Team Deutschland's Jörg Müller by only one point after twenty rounds. However BMW won the Manufacturers' Championship, heading Alfa Romeo by 41 points. These were the 12th ETCC titles for both Manufacturers.

In the first race, after eight cars were involved in a massive pile-up at the start, Roberto Colciago was the first to cross the line, but was later excluded for having punted Dirk Müller off the track. James Thompson inherited the win, from Andy Priaulx and Tom Coronel, first of the Independents. Tarquini obtained a precious fourth place, while Jörg Müller lost an almost sure third position with only one lap to go due to a puncture. These results gave Tarquini a provisional 101-point lead, with Priaulx second at 97 and Jörg Müller third at 96.

The second race offered a fantastic, close and absolutely fair fight between Jörg Müller, Coronel and Tarquini, who finished in the order after four leader changes. After the race, the Stewards rejected a protest lodged by Duncan Huisman against Tarquini, because of a first-corner collision. The Carly Motors driver appealed against this decision. The results remain therefore suspended, also pending the fuel test results and ECU examination on Tarquini's, Coronel's and Jörg Müller's cars.

The final classification in the Drivers' Championship sees Tarquini first with 107 points, Jörg Müller second with 106 and Priaulx third with 100.

WARM UP: COLCIAGO FASTEST, BEATS CORONEL BY TWO THOUSANDTHS

None of the two Alfa Romeos, which were crashed during qualifying took part in the warm up. Fisichella's car was withdrawn, as it was too badly damaged, while Larini's car returned to the track after overnight repairs at the Autodelta workshop in Cremona.

Giovanardi ran in a new engine in his BMW 320i, meaning that he lost his 15th position on the grid; the Italian driver set a promising seventh fastest time in the warm up.

Colciago set the fastest time in the session, with a lap in 2:01.250, beating Coronel by only two thousandths of a second. Tarquini was classified third, 0.116 behind, with Dirk Müller in fourth (0.168 his gap) and Priaulx fifth.

The Genè, in the fastest SEAT Toledo, was ranked ninth, while Zanardi confirmed his 11th position.

Pole sitter Jörg Müller set only the 18th fastest lap: "When I tried to push a bit I had a flat tyre. But the car was OK, and there were no reasons to take risks."

RACE 1: THOMPSON WINS AFTER COLCIAGO'S EXCLUSION

Ruberti's Alfa 156 Gta was towed back to the pits after it stopped along the track with gearbox problems. At the start, a massive pile-up involved eight cars: García, Diefenbacher, Francia, Zanardi, Couto and Yvan Muller were forced to retire, Huisman rejoined at the back of the pack, while Gené pitted for repairs. The Dirk Müller-Jörg Müller tandem set the pace, chased by Colciago, Thompson, Priaulx and Coronel. Twentieth on the grid, Tarquini completed the first lap in eighth position after he managed to escape the carnage at the first chicane.

On lap 4, Colciago was catching the Müllers. On lap 5, Jörg jumped into the lead; a few moments later, Colciago was alongside Dirk at the exit of La Roggia chicane. The two cars clashed, Dirk's BMW spun and crashed into the barrier. During the following lap, Colciago and Thompson got past Jörg Müller, demoting him to third. The positions seemed frozen, with the Colciago-Thompson duo in a comfortable lead and the BMW trio Jörg Müller-Priaulx-Coronel behind. However Tarquini was closing the gap. Suddenly, on the 8 lap, Jörg Müller slowed down due to a puncture, and was forced to get back to the pits. This promoted Priaulx, Coronel and Tarquini to third, fourth and fifth. Colciago won the race on the track, but the Stewards later excluded him because of the accident with Dirk Müller, meaning that Thompson claimed his first ETCC win, with Priaulx and Coronel joining him on the podium.

Huisman, Giovanardi. De Micheli and Engström scored the remaining points, which were the first for both De Micheli on his first race in the Scuderia Bigazzi Alfa 156 and Engström in the PRO Motorsport Honda Civic.

RACE 2:

Jörg Müller wins the battle, but Tarquini wins the war.

Nineteen cars took the start. Those of García, Couto and Dirk Müller did not, as they were too badly damaged to be repaired. At the start Giovanardi took the lead, darting ahead of pole sitter De Micheli. Again, there was a collision at the first chicane: Tarquini hit Huisman who spun, collecting Priaulx. On lap 2, Giovanardi was leading, closely chased by Tarquini, Jörg Müller and Coronel. On lap 3, Tarquini overtook Giovanardi for the lead at the first chicane; a few moments later Jörg Müller and Coronel also got past the 2002 ETCC champion. On lap 4, Thompson retired from seventh, due to a blown engine.

On lap 5, Jörg Müller jumped into the lead, overtaking Tarquini at the Ascari. On lap 6, Coronel stole second position from Tarquini at Lesmo. Colciago, who had recovered to fifth position, went off at La Roggia. Tarquini recovered second place at the Parabolica.

Tarquini tried to pull out, but at the beginning of the eighth, and last-but-one lap, Jörg Müller and Coronel performed a perfect slipstreaming manoeuvre on the straight, and both managed to pass the Italian at the braking of the first chicane. This was for good, Jörg Müller claimed his fifth win of the season from Coronel and Tarquini, who secured the Drivers' Championship by only one point. Larini, Giovanardi and Priaulx were classified fourth, fifth and seventh, with the Briton claiming the third position in the Championship classification. Alex Zanardi obtained a remarkable seventh place, which gave him two championship points, while De Micheli score another point by finishing eighth.

After the race, Huisman lodged a protest against Tarquini, referring to the collision at the first chicane. After having heard the drivers and seen the video, the Stewards decided that it was a normal race accident and did not take any action.

RACE NOTES AND QUOTES

Gabriele TARQUINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta; 2003 FIA ETCC Champion: "It was a fantastic season, it was very tough, but the best memories will be the last few laps, with Tom and Jörg. It would have been easy pushing off each other, but it was very fair, and I would like to thank them for these laps. I wanted to win this race, because I was maybe a little faster than Jörg, especially in the last part of the race, but from the pits they told me slow down, slow down, not to go for the victory but for the title, which was much more important. It is very good to win a title after my last one in 1994 BTCC, the only one in my career, and this victory is very important to continue, because normally at the age of 41, people ask you to stop racing, and I want to race again. I think I had a really good season, with a lot of victories, some mistakes, in Anderstorp, and yesterday, when I made a really stupid one Today I was just very lucky because Jörg had a puncture in the first race."

Jörg MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland; 2nd in the Drivers Championship: "For me it was a sweet weekend because we came to Monza without any expectations. We thought it would be Alfa Romeo in positions one to five, and the first BMW something like sixth - I hoped to be sixth. We were surprised with our performance in free practice and qualifying, and I am quite happy to be vice-champion, by just one point. It was a good weekend for us on a circuit which does not suit the BMW, so I am happy. Talking about winning the Championship, I am sure I could have done it, but Andy could have won it too. You don't know what happens during a season. Talking about a Championship at the last race is very difficult. In the first race I had a slow puncture; I felt my car was not good any more, so I let Dirk pass. It was a good weekend for BMW, we won a race in Monza on a circuit that is an Alfa Romeo circuit, so let's be happy."

Andy PRIAULX, BMW Team Great Britain; 3rd in the Drivers Championship: "It has been a brilliant year. Motor-racing is full of surprises, and that is what happened today. I've got to be pleased with what we've done, with three race wins and fighting for the Championship after twenty races. I'm very pleased and hopefully next year will be as good or even better. My title hopes vanished in the second race; unfortunately, when there is contact, sometimes you get away with it and sometimes you don't. I'm not disappointed because we ended the season with a strong performance and it's one of those things. Some times before I've been lucky, today I was unlucky, but that's life."

James THOMPSON, Alfa Romeo Autodelta; 1st in Race 1: "It's been fantastic. Obviously I came across in 2001 to support Gabriele with the Honda, and at the time we did not manage to do it. So it's been fantastic to come here and to Estoril and to finally feel we've contributed a little to help him win the Championship. So I'm very pleased. It was quite tough because I've never been to Monza before, so it was nice to come and learn a new circuit and put in a new showing. I'm disappointed for Roberto (Colciago) of course, but I'll take a win anyway it comes. I think Monza suits racing; there is a big gain from the slipstream and it was a fantastic battle at the front of the field. It's been a fantastic race weekend."

Tom CORONEL, Carly Motors; 3rd in Race 1, 2nd in Race 2: "I think that the second event with the 2003 car helped me a lot, especially here in Monza. In Estoril the car was like a kangaroo and I lost a lot of grip, even on the straight it was hitting the rev limiter. Here the car was really good, it was unbelievable. I was very lucky to go through all the mess because in the first two corners there was a lot of touching. Of course I tried to help Jörg a little bit, that's what it's all about. Alfa is driving with four people, so why not with two in front to be with Jörg. I really had a good race. I'm happy because the crowds were going crazy and it was one big show. That's important too."

Alessandro ZANARDI, BMW Team Italy-Spain; 7th in Race 2: "My second race was better than the first one. I am not super happy because that would have been if I won the race. I am still encouraged to see where I am after these very few days of practice and very little time in the car this weekend, because we had trouble, not only in race one but also in the first practice, which didn't help at all. Andy Priaulx gave me a hard time in race two, but he apologised. It's okay. I know he normally races clean, and that is something he did in the blink of an eye. He said he realised himself that it was unnecessary. From my point of view it was fine. As for people who's asking if I am going to come back, I don't have an answer for them now."

Mauro SIPSZ, Alfa Romeo N.technology chairman: "This is the seventh consecutive title in Touring Cars for us. I am very happy for the drivers, but also for my people in the factory, because they work hard, and this victory is important for them. Yesterday I was not so happy but the people worked hard all night to ensure this result."

-etcc-

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Series General
Drivers Andy Priaulx , Dirk Müller , Alex Zanardi , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Yvan Muller , James Thompson , Duncan Huisman , Gabriele Tarquini , Roberto Colciago