ETCC: Pergusa: Race notes

TWO WINS FOR ALFA ALLOWS TARQUINI TO JOIN JÖRG MÜLLER IN THE LEAD The Alfa Romeo domination at Pergusa, which has lasted since 1997, is still intact despite a strong effort from BMW. The red 156 Gta cars run by the Autodelta works team, and ...

TWO WINS FOR ALFA ALLOWS TARQUINI TO JOIN JÖRG MÜLLER IN THE LEAD

The Alfa Romeo domination at Pergusa, which has lasted since 1997, is still intact despite a strong effort from BMW. The red 156 Gta cars run by the Autodelta works team, and loudly supported by the 40,000 spectators around the track, won both the fifth and sixth rounds of the Championship. Roberto Colciago, who had proved since Saturday, beyond any doubt, that he was the man to beat in this weekend, won Race 1 after an exciting 11-lap battle with Dirk Müller and Gabriele Tarquini. The latter came back to win the second race from Colciago - his second win of the season after taking victory in the opening round in Barcelona. These results have enabled Tarquini to join Jörg Müller in the lead of the Drivers' Championship, while Alfa Romeo has reduced its gap from BMW in the Manufacturers' Championship to only five points.

This was not a rewarding weekend for BMW. Dirk Müller, a close second in Race 1, was immediately eliminated in Race 2, while his team-mate Jörg Müller briefly led the second race before being stopped by a technical failure. As for Fabrizio Giovanardi, for the first time in a BMW at Pergusa, he experienced a very negative weekend and saw his winning streak on the Sicilian track come to an end. As for SEAT, it was hit by bad luck at the start of the first race when Frank Diefenbacher's and Jordi Gené's Toledo Cupras were involved in the same accident; in the second race Diefenbacher made a good recovery, setting the sixth fastest lap of the race.

An impressive Alessandro Balzan drove his Scuderia Bigazzi-run independent Alfa Romeo to an outstanding third position overall, while Fabio Francia won the Independents' Race 1, finishing fifth overall in his Clever Cats R&M Alfa.

WARM UP: COLCIAGO STILL ON TOP, FOURTH TIME FOR BALZAN

Despite Dirk Müller's efforts to break Alfa Romeo's domination so far this weekend, Roberto Colciago continued to set the fastest times around the Pergusa lake. With two minutes left in the session, the Autodelta driver topped the warm-up with a time of 1:46.586, pushing Dirk Müller's BMW down to second, with his best lap of 1:46.664. Gabriele Tarquini was third fastest (1:46.920), closely followed by Scuderia Bigazzi's independent driver Alessandro Balzan, who lapped in 1:47.318 to be ranked in a brilliant fourth position. Nicola Larini and Jörg Müller, currently second and third in the Championship, set the fifth and sixth fastest times respectively, just ahead of SEAT's Frank Diefenbacher and reigning ETCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi.

RACE 1: COLCIAGO-DIRK-TARQUINI IN A BREATHTAKING RUSH

Colciago sprinted to take the lead from the pole position, ahead of Dirk Müller, Tarquini and Giovanardi. Francia made a bad start and lost two positions, from fourth to sixth. At the first braking, Diefenbacher's SEAT spun and hit Gené's sister car; both the Toledos rejoined at the back, but with extensive damages.

The leading trio of Colciago, Dirk Müller and Tarquini, was chased by a group of five drivers: Giovanardi, Priaulx, Francia, Jörg Müller and Larini. Behind them, Balzan, Coronel and García were fighting for the ninth position. At this time, Dirk Müller and Tarquini were chasing Colciago's tail and putting pressure on him.

At the same time Francia was closely chasing Priaulx, and Larini was attacking Jörg Müller. On the third lap, Diefenbacher came back to the SEAT garage and retired. His team-mate Gené followed his example a few moments later and the Spanish team started repairing the cars for the second race. On lap 4 Giovanardi hit the tyres at the Schumacher chicane, damaging the front splitter of his BMW; at the same time his team-mate García managed to steal the tenth place from Coronel. At the end of the fifth lap, Colciago, Dirk Müller and Tarquini were within just 0.8 seconds, and they had managed to build up a small margin ahead of their pursuers. With his car unbalanced, Giovanardi lost four positions to Priaulx, Francia, Jörg Müller and Larini, slipping down from fourth to eighth.

On lap 5 Couto retired due to brake problems; two laps later Cayrolle stopped after his car hit the barrier due to a puncture to the front left tyre. The fight for the lead intensified: Dirk Müller drove beyond the kerbs at the first chicane, while Colciago went wide at the exit of the Schumacher; the gap between them was reduced to 0.172 seconds at the end of the eighth lap. The three leaders continued to chase each other until the final lap, when Dirk tried a last attack, risking losing his car at the fast chicane. They dived together onto the finish line: Colciago scored his first win as an Alfa Romeo driver, with Dirk Müller and Tarquini second and third. Priaulx managed to defend his fourth position from Francia, who obtained an excellent fifth place overall and also won the Independents' race. Jörg Müller and Larini were classified sixth and seventh, with Balzan in eighth, scoring the last point and claiming pole position for the second race.

RACE 2: ALFA 1-2-3 WITH TARQUINI, COLCIAGO AND BALZAN

Cayrolle and Sardelli did not make the grid: the Frenchman following his Race 1 accident, the Italian driver due to an engine failure occurred on his Volvo S60.

Balzan started well from the pole and took the lead, while a problem to the starting-light system caught a few drivers by surprise. Larini stalled his engine from the second spot of the grid and this caused a collision between the cars of Francia and Dirk Müller. At the exit of the first chicane, Jörg Müller jumped into the lead overtaking Balzan, while Tarquini passed Priaulx and moved on to third. At the end of the first lap Francia and Dirk Müller both retired due to the consequences of their collision. Jörg Müller was pushing hard, but Tarquini came from behind: the Italian driver overtook Balzan for second position on lap 2 and managed to close onto the BMW's tail. Also on the same lap, Colciago stole third place from Balzan.

On lap 3 Jörg Müller began having power-steering problems, due to a broken alternator belt, and Tarquini was able to pass him at the fast chicane. The German driver lost second place to Colciago at the following Schumacher chicane, then went into the gravel at the last chicane and finally came back to the pits and retired.

On lap 4, Giovanardi spun at the first chicane while he was chasing Huisman for the eighth position. The Tarquini-Colciago duo now had a comfortable lead, while Balzan was fighting hard to defend his third position from Priaulx. The latter was chased by Larini in fifth position. A few metres behind, Ruberti, Coronel, Huisman, García and Diefenbacher were battling for the sixth position. Couto retired, his Honda Civic still plagued by brake problems. On lap 7 Rydell retired due to an engine problem. On lap 8 Gené was also forced out of the race after he hit the tyres in a chicane. At the same time, SEAT's other driver, Diefenbacher managed to break into the point-zone; he overtook Huisman and then Coronel, moving up to eighth. His moment of glory did not last long, because immediately afterwards he went off when a front tyre failed.

While Tarquini and Colciago were cruising nose-to-tail to claim another win for Alfa Romeo in Pergusa, Priaulx tried a final move to pass Balzan for third, but the young Italian managed to resist, claiming his first podium in the championship and Scuderia Bigazzi's best result since the ETCC adopted the Super 2000 regulations. Balzan also won the Independent drivers' classification. Larini, Ruberti, García and Coronel claimed the final points positions.

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Dirk Müller , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago