ETCC: Oschersleben: Saturday notes

WEATHER: Sunny with a dry track; temperatures were cool during the morning's first practice session, but became hot for the second session and the qualifying. FREE PRACTICE 1: BMW DRIVERS SET THE PACE Confirming all expectations, BMW drivers...

WEATHER: Sunny with a dry track; temperatures were cool during the morning's first practice session, but became hot for the second session and the qualifying.

FREE PRACTICE 1: BMW DRIVERS SET THE PACE

Confirming all expectations, BMW drivers set the fastest times in the session, but both Alfa Romeo and Volvo were close to the German cars. Andy Priaulx created a surprise by emerging as the fastest man; the Briton, who had never seen the Oschersleben track before, constantly improved his lap times and was eventually clocked at 1:34.124 with three minutes left in the session. He topped BMW Team Deutschland's Dirk and Jörg Müller by a few tenths. Dirk had set a provisional fastest lap early in the session, at 1:34.676; he later improved twice to 1:34.614 and finally to 1:34.365, which remained the fastest time until Priaulx posted his 1:34.124, beating Dirk's by 0.241 seconds. Jörg set the third best lap in 1:34.534, with a 0.410 gap, and was closely followed by Tarquini, the fastest of the Alfa Romeo men, who was clocked in 1:34.608. BMW Team Italy-Spain's Antonio García was ranked fifth (1:34.841) and Rickard Rydell placed his ART Engineering Volvo S60 in sixth (1:34.980). Both the SEAT Sport Toledo Cupra cars of Frank Diefenbacher and Jordi Gené suffered from set up problems, while independent Alfa Romeo drivers Alessandro Balzan (Scuderia Bigazzi) and Fabio Francia (Clever Cats R&M) missed most of the session due to technical problems. Balzan had an early spin while testing new brake pads, while Francia broke a piece of the front suspension.

Tom Coronel of Carly Motors, who set pole position last year, confirmed the German track suits him, as he set the pace for the Independent drivers at 1:35.300, which was good for the tenth position overall. German newcomers Sebastian Stahl (Autodelta Alfa Romeo 156 Gta) and Reinhard Huber (Scuderia Bigazzi Alfa Romeo 156 Gta), were classified 13th and 16th.

FREE PRACTICE 2: TARQUINI CLOSES THE GAP

Dirk Müller set the fastest time, however, his best lap of 1:34.276 could not match Priaulx's time of 1:34.124, obtained in the first session, which remained the fastest free practice time. In the second session the Briton was clocked at 1:34.611, which gave him the third position, behind Tarquini. At the wheel of his Autodelta Alfa Romeo, Tarquini improved his fastest lap on four occasions, to 1:34.702, 1:34.504, 1:34.404 and finally 1:34.318; which represented a 3-tenth improvement from the first session, reducing his gap to a mere 0.042 seconds.

Current Championship leader Jörg Müller and García posted the fourth and fifth-fastest times respectively; Rydell confirmed his sixth place from the first session. Tarquini's team-mate and Championship runner-up Nicola Larini, was ranked eight in the time sheet, just ahead of the best Independent driver, Duncan Huisman.

SEAT Sport's Diefenbacher and Gené were classified 14th and 15th, while Stahl and Huber occupied the 16th and 18th positions.

QUALIFYING: JÖRG MÜLLER BEATS TARQUINI BY 9 THOUSANDTHS

In an incredibly close session, three drivers contended for the pole position until the last moment. Gabriele Tarquini had set the mark, with a time of 1:33.462, improving by half-a-second Tom Coronel's 2002 pole position. The Alfa Romeo man kept the provisional pole until the final two minutes, when Jörg Müller completed a lap in 1:33.453, ousting Tarquini by only 9 thousandths of a second, to claim his first pole position of the season. But the session was not yet over, as Andy Priaulx started his final attempt a few seconds before the chequered flag was waved. The Briton was clocked at 1:33.483, a time which was enough for the third position on the grid, but cost him the pole by only 3 hundredths.

As frequently happened during the season, a large group of drivers qualified within a narrow gap. Only four tenths separated the seventh-placed Roberto Colciago from the pole, and thirteen of the twenty-one cars taking part in the event, were covered by one second.

Behind the top three, Antonio García posted the fourth fastest time with a lap in 1:33.668, which was exactly one tenth faster than his team-mate Fabrizio Giovanardi's best time; the reigning FIA ETCC champion qualified in fifth position.

The other Autodelta drivers, Nicola Larini and Colciago will fill the 6th and 7th positions on the grid for tomorrow's race one, just ahead of Dirk Müller. The German youngster could not complete the session, as the Stewards stopped him with 12 minutes left. Dirk went off in a chicane, and his BMW remained stuck in the gravel trap. This caused the session to be red-flagged for a few minutes. Finally Dirk managed to exit from the gravel trap, but because he was responsible for the red flag, the Stewards sent him straight to the parc fermé.

Tom Coronel emerged as the fastest of the Independent drivers; his best lap of 1:34.052 was good for the ninth position on the grid. Rickard Rydell and his Volvo S60 completed the top-ten. On his home track, Frank Diefenbacher was the best of the SEAT drivers; he qualified his Toledo Cupra in 12th position, 0.8 seconds from the pole.

Tomas Engström set the 15th fastest time at the wheel of his PRO Motorsport Honda Civic Type-R, while his team-mate André Couto was ranked 21st, his engine plagued by misfire problems. The two German newcomers, Sebastian Stahl and Reinhard Huber qualified 19th and 20th.

QUALIFYING NOTES AND QUOTES

Jörg MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 1st: "It was quite a difficult qualifying for me. I didn't use a new set of tyres at the beginning, just two on one side. It was difficult to drive the car, and after a while we swapped the tyres to the other side, and I spun in the double left. Then I switched to a new set and tried to drive smoother, and it worked. The gap was very narrow, but it was enough. It was just important to be in the front, it doesn't matter by how much. I think that the Alfa Romeos will be very strong in the races, and I hope that a few other BMWs will manage to squeeze between them and me at the start. But even Andy (Priaulx) in a BMW is not going to make my life easy, because he's also fighting to win the Championship."

Gabriele TARQUINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 2nd: "I feel bad because I lost pole position by inches. But I also feel very confident, because my car was very good, on both new and used tyres. I had just one run on new tyres, as on my second one I encountered yellow flags and I decided to save the third set for tomorrow. I'm optimistic for the races, although they will be very difficult, because the track is dusty and it's easy to make mistakes. Having four new tyres would prove crucial, because here it's very important to start the race with new front tyres."

Andy PRIAULX, BMW Team Great Britain, 3rd: "Unfortunately it was the wrong way around - I was fastest in the first practice and third in qualifying, and I would much prefer the inverse. I enjoyed driving here, it's a track that suits BMW and I had a good set up. Today pole position could have gone to any one of us; it was just a matter of hundredths of a second. The races will be also very close, and we can't take anything for granted tomorrow."

Antonio GARCÍA, BMW Team Italy-Spain, 4th: "It was not bad, although I made a mistake. I don't know if this cost me the pole, but as the session was so close, it would be possible. On my best lap, I did not find the second gear at the end of the straight, and my gearbox remained in neutral for a while. Once I found the gear it was too late. I did not even think to improve my lap time with that mistake."

Nicola LARINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 6th: "I completely changed the set up after the free practice. During qualifying I used my first set of new tyres to get my bearings. Unfortunately the session was red-flagged right after I had switched to my second set. This forced me to use the third set. I was pushing very hard: the car was responding perfectly and I felt on the ball. It was an incredible lap until I got to the chicane. I was at the limit and probably I tried to overdo it; I made a mistake and spoiled a lap which could have been good enough for pole."

Dirk MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 8th: "This was the worst-ever qualifying session in my career. At the beginning another car blocked me for two laps, spoiling my first attempt. I was upset, but I knew there was time to recover. I came in, we changed something in the set up, and I went out again. I missed a gear shifting, hitting the first gear instead of third, and I spun into the gravel trap. When I rejoined, they sent me to the parc fermé because I had caused the session to be red-flagged. It was a shame, because I set my 1:33.9 in the traffic, and I know I could have claimed the pole today."

Tom CORONEL, Carly Motors, 9th: "I like the circuit, it suits my driving style a lot. There are a lot of corners and a lot of braking points. And I think these are some of my strong points. To be honest I don't know how I did it, but I just did. I went with the same set up as last year and I had the feeling that my car had a lot of grip."

Frank DIEFENBACHER, SEAT Sport, 12th: "I'm happy. I've never been so close in qualifying, only eight tenths from the pole. I think I really drove to the current limit of our car, and I couldn't improve. To be twelfth on the grid is a good starting point to achieve my goal of finishing the first race in eighth position, which would give me pole for the second race."

Sebastian STAHL, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 19th: "My first day in the ETCC was quite hard. I have only tested the car a few times, and I know I have to learn a lot. Today, with only ninety minutes between practice and qualifying, there was not enough time to get used to the car. Most of the drivers in the Championship are professionals, while I'm just a rookie from the Alfa 147 Cup. However I'm disappointed by my result, and tomorrow I'll do my best to improve."

Reinhard HUBER, Scuderia Bigazzi, 20th: "I had some problems to find a clear lap, between the yellow flags and the red flag. But this is an incredibly competitive Championship, and I hope I will manage to do a better job tomorrow."

Jaime PUIG, SEAT Sport Director: "Today we have used the revised rear axle on Gené's car. We are still in the early stage of its development and we don 't expect major improvements; but it will help us in set-up and consistency in car handling. We are making progress, and our times are closer to those of the front-runners."

-fia-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Duncan Huisman , Andre Couto , Rickard Rydell , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini , Tomas Engstrom , Sebastian Stahl , Reinhard Huber