ETCC: Oschersleben: Round eight preview

What a difference a race makes ! The first race back after the long summer break, Anderstorp, had a significant effect on the Championship classifications in all three major series running as part of the LG Super Racing Weekend series. The teams...

What a difference a race makes ! The first race back after the long summer break, Anderstorp, had a significant effect on the Championship classifications in all three major series running as part of the LG Super Racing Weekend series. The teams and drivers of the FIA GT Championship, the FIA European Touring Car Championship and the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup will be heading for Oschersleben, in the north of Germany, next weekend, for the anti-penultimate round of 2003, with everything still to play for.

Although the GT leaders kept their positions in Sweden, it was not the case in the FIA ETCC, where Gabriele Tarquini lost the lead he had held from Pergusa, after spinning out of the first race and missing the second due to engine damage. Scoring no points at Anderstorp, he dropped back to fourth place, proving how incredibly close this season of the FIA European Touring Car Championship is. Jorg Muller is the new leader, ahead of Nicola Larini, with Andy Priaulx third. The FIA ETCC made its first visit to Oschersleben last year, when the circuit proved to be eminently favourable to the BMW cars. Jorg and Dirk Muller took a win apiece for BMW Team Deutschland in 2002, while Alfa Romeo failed to get on the podium for the first time of the season.

The Oschersleben track is relatively short, tight and twisting, and quite technical. The stadium layout means that it is very good for spectators. However, for the drivers, it can be rather tiring, as there are no long straights, and many corners, giving them no time to relax.

The LG Super Racing Weekend in Oschersleben will also include the Renault Sport Speed Trophy, a single race for the cars from the Renault Sport Clio Trophy and Renault Sport Clio Elf International Cup, with two separate classifications. There will also be two races of the DMSB Formula Renault 2000 Cup.


Jorg Muller is 33 years old, and started his career in single-seaters, winning the Formula 3000 Championship in 1996 and testing for Arrows in Formula One the year after. He moved to Sportscars in 1998, while remaining a Formula One test driver for Sauber, and claimed a number of podium finishes in the FIA GT Championship for Porsche. 1999 brought wins at Sebring for BMW, and he finished 5th overall in the ALMS in 2000 for BMW, winning at Silverstone and Charlotte. In 2001 he moved to the GT category, to drive a BMW M3, remaining with the team in 2002, in the FIA European Touring Car Championship. This marked his return to touring cars for the first time since 1995, when he drove in the German Super Touring Cup. Last year he finished second in the Drivers' classification; with four wins, including the second ETCC race in Oschersleben; he now arrives back at the track as the new Championship leader.

"This is not a high-speed circuit. The top speeds of the ETCC cars are around 200 kmh. Oschersleben has a lot of corners, and some of them are very long. As a result, you are always at the limit and it's very easy to make slight mistakes. As a matter of fact everyone makes mistakes and it's almost impossible to complete a perfect lap. As the straights are not very long, it's impossible to overtake by slipstreaming or outbraking. It is better to concentrate on the guy in front of you and wait for his mistake. One of Oschersleben's most spectacular features is that all the turns may be negotiated following different lines. Therefore it is not difficult to see groups of two or three cars cornering side by side. It's a quite good track for the spectators, as from the hill in the infield is possible to see almost three quarters of the circuit."


The fight for the 2003 European crown is still very close, with the five best-placed drivers covered by only eight points. Jorg Muller leads, with Nicola Larini just two points behind him. Andy Priaulx is lying third, six points from the lead, while Gabriele Tarquini and Dirk Muller are both a further two points adrift. However, in the Manufacturers Championship, BMW leads Alfa Romeo by 38 points.

Despite Alfa Romeo's double win in Anderstorp, the Swedish meeting turned in favour of the German Manufacturer. The faux-pas made in Sweden by Tarquini, who had been leading the Championship since the third meeting in Pergusa, enabled Jorg Muller to jump from second to first in the classification, despite only collecting two fourth places and ten points. The BMW Team Deutschland driver has a very narrow margin, as another Alfa Romeo man, Nicola Larini, is chasing him, two points behind. However, the next meeting is due to favour BMW; last year, during the first FIA ETCC visit to the track, the Motopark proved to suit the German cars much better than the Alfas. It was there that the Italian machines met their worst defeat of the whole season, collecting only a fourth place with Fabrizio Giovanardi and two sixth places with Larini. The BMW drivers dominated the meeting: Carly Motors' Tom Coronel claimed pole position, while Dirk and Jorg Muller were classified first and second in Race One, swapping positions in Race Two.

The current situation with the handicap weights sees Larini with the maximum 40-kg ballast on board his Alfa 156 Gta, while Jorg Muller has 30, Antonio Garcia 20 and Priaulx and Colciago with 10 kg each. Dirk Muller and Tarquini will not be carrying any handicap; for the Italian, this will be the first time since the beginning of the season.


BMW could not ask for more: Jorg Muller is back in the lead of the Drivers Championship, and Oschersleben will host the 15th and 16th rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Championship. Jorg and his team-mate Dirk Muller are eager to race on their home track. "This is definitely a track for BMW, although I don't expect our cars will dominate as they did last year," Jorg said, adding: "The race in Oschersleben is mainly braking and accelerating; ballasts will make the difference and in this respect Dirk and Tarquini will have a good chance." And Dirk commented: "I'm really looking forward to Oschersleben. I really have to take the most out of this meeting, in terms of results and points. I would be pleased to get a win and a second place like I did last year."


According to the results of the rounds disputed so far, it seems doubtful that BMW's life will be as easy in Oschersleben as it was last year. The Alfa Romeo Autodelta team completed a lot of testing, focusing on a specific set up for the twisty German track. The team's best-placed drivers in the Championship agree. "I have the maximum ballast onboard on a track where our cars will suffer from understeer. And this means that tyre wear will be crucial. On paper, we should be losers in Oschersleben, although the situation will not be as bad as it was last year, when we had problems in setting the new differentials up. I want to fight until the end," stated Nicola Larini, while Gabriele Tarquini said: "I want to forget Anderstorp. Obviously the positions in the Championship are different, and now I have to catch up. And I have to say that the role of the chaser suits me. The positive thing is that I don't have ballast, for the first time this year, and this should help me."


For the meeting in Oschersleben, the Autodelta team has entered a fourth Alfa 156 Gta for Sebastian Stahl, step brother of German Formula One stars Michael and Ralf Schumacher. Stahl, who will be 25 the day after his FIA ETCC debut, is currently committed to the German Alfa 147 JTD Cup, in which he won a race at the Salzburgring. "I am very excited, because I have never driven in such a professional championship before. For me, it is a dream. To race an Autodelta Alfa Romeo in the FIA European Touring Car Championship, would be like driving in Formula One, because this represents the top for a driver like me, who is used to racing in the Alfa JTD Cup."


Further a test in Calafat, SEAT Sport may decide to fit the new rear axle on the Toledo Cupra cars of Jordi Gene and Frank Diefenbacher. "The new axle worked very well, and I really hope we'll use it in Oschersleben. But our technicians will take the final decision on Monday, because they want to change a couple of things," Gene revealed. This should drastically enhance the Spanish cars' performances and also the team's expectations for the race in Oschersleben. Diefenbacher pointed out: "I think this will be the best opportunity for us in the whole season, because the circuit's long corners should suit our cars. We saw in Anderstorp that the SEAT Toledo was very quick in the Karusell, and Oschersleben has a few corners like that. I also like the track, and I wish to do well in my home race. If we'll manage to find the right set up, I think I could be in a position to fight for the eighth place in the first race. And this would mean the pole for the second. That is my goal."


Since the beginning of his first ETCC campaign, and despite his brilliant results, BMW Team Great Britain's Andy Priaulx has always said he wanted to carry on race-by-race, without thinking of the Championship. After Anderstorp, where he was placed second in the second race, moving up to third in the points, he put his cards on the table: "I have very high expectations, because I know that Oschersleben suits BMW a lot more than Anderstorp. Last year my team was very competitive with Ekblom, who was leading the race. My aim is to qualify in a better position than in Anderstorp and to have two good results instead of just one. I'm looking forward to closing the gap on Jorg."


With two wins in Anderstorp at the wheel of his Carly Motors BMW 320i, Dutch driver Duncan Huisman has stretched his leading margin in the Independents Trophy to 20 points. Clever Cats R&M's Paolo Ruberti and Huisman's team-mate Tom Coronel are fighting for the second place, separated by only four points. Among the Independent drivers, Tomas Engstrom is once again expected to race the second PRO Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R, in which he made an impressive FIA ETCC debut in Anderstorp. During the second race, the Swedish driver was classified ninth, coming close to scoring his first ETCC points. As for the second Scuderia Bigazzi Alfa 156 Gta, its driver will be announced by the beginning of the next week. The team is currently in touch with three Italian drivers.


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Series General
Drivers Ralf Schumacher , Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Duncan Huisman , Paolo Ruberti , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini , Sebastian Stahl
Teams Sauber