ETCC: Pergusa: Round eight preview

The long summer break is drawing to a close, and next weekend the teams and drivers of the LG Super Racing Weekend series will be meeting up at the Italian track of Pergusa. Situated near the town of Enna in central Sicily, the 4.950 km circuit ...

The long summer break is drawing to a close, and next weekend the teams and drivers of the LG Super Racing Weekend series will be meeting up at the Italian track of Pergusa. Situated near the town of Enna in central Sicily, the 4.950 km circuit encircles a volcanic lake, and is almost an oval, with added chicanes. The track has a long history of hosting international motorsport, including seven rounds of the FIA European Touring Car Championship between 1977 and 1984, and until recently rounds of the FIA Formula 3000 Championship. As well as marking the return of the FIA European Touring Car Championship after an 18-year break, this will be the FIA GT Championship's first visit to Sicily.

In the FIA European Touring Car Championship, wins for Larini and Jörg Müller at the Belgian circuit have reduced Giovanardi's lead to just 10 points, with Alfa Romeo leading the Manufacturers classification by 36 points. Gta Racing Team Nordauto will surely hope to make the most of their home advantage to increase their lead.


The FIA European Touring Car Championship is returning to Sicily after an 18-year break. The Pergusa track used to be a regular venue between 1977 and 1984, hosting seven rounds of the series. This year, it will host the fifteenth and sixteenth rounds of the Championship, which has grown closer and more exciting as the season has progressed. For this round, Jörg Müller will carry 30 kg penalty weight, with 20 kg for Nicola Larini and 10 kg for Rickard Rydell.

Alfa Romeo and Gta Racing Team Nordauto are determined to defend their lead in both the FIA European Touring Car Drivers' and Manufacturers' Championships. From Pergusa onwards, they will be entering a fourth Alfa Romeo 156 Gta for Roberto Colciago. The 34-year-old Italian will support Nordauto's regular drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi and Nicola Larini, currently first and second in the Championship classification. Colciago was a regular competitor and race winner in last year's FIA European Super Touring Championship, at the wheel of an AGS-run Audi A4 Quattro; he also won the Swedish Touring Car Championship, which he is defending this season. "I am really happy with this unexpected call. It's no secret that my goal is to get back to the ETCC and now I have a great opportunity with the championship's leading team. It's just for the three final events, but this might lead to something else for next year. I will do my best to be up to the task and hopefully I will make a contribution in the title battle," Colciago said, after testing his new car at the Alfa Romeo test track in Balocco. "I don't think it will be difficult for me to be fast. The only problem is the gearbox; after using a sequential box for many years, I have to remember how to use a H-pattern."

GIOVANARDI'S WINNING TRADITION (1st in the Drivers Championship, 86 points)
Current ETCC leader Fabrizio Giovanardi has a longstanding tradition of victory in Pergusa, where he has been undefeated in Touring Car competitions since 1997. At the wheel of Nordauto-run Alfa Romeo 155 and 156 cars, the Italian driver won six rounds of the Italian Super Touring Championship between 1997 and 1999, followed by two rounds of the 2000 European Super Touring Cup. "In motorsport you cannot rely on tradition. Past events will not count at all for next week's races. It is certainly a track I like, and I have always felt comfortable there, which makes me confident, but you never know. Particularly considering what has happened to me over the two most recent events, where I have only scored five points from four races. Obviously I am going to Pergusa to win, and I think that having Colciago with us will be very helpful" said Giovanardi, who tested in Balocco a few weeks ago. " We worked on optimising the car's performance - we just need to concentrate on being competitive and claiming good results. Pergusa is a very fast track and it should suit our car very well, as it has always proved to be the fastest on the straight. The crucial points are the chicanes. You have to brake as late as possible, but you must be very careful not to hit the tyre barriers."

LARINI: "PERGUSA IS THE TURNING POINT" (2nd in the Drivers Championship, 76 points)
Nicola Larini's triumphs in Pergusa date back to over ten years ago, when, between 1988 and 1990, he won four rounds of the Italian Touring Car Championship at the wheel of the powerful Alfa Romeo 75 Turbo. "I really love Pergusa, as it reminds me of many good races, and also because you can really feel the enthusiasm of the fans," Larini explained. "The Super Racing Weekend is the most important motorsport event in Sicily and I'm sure that a lot of people from the whole island will come to watch us. It will also be a very important event also for Alfa Romeo and for myself, because it might mark the turning point in the title fight. Over the last two meetings, BMW has closed the gap, and now we need to extend or at least to maintain our margin for the final rush. I hope to score two wins and overturn the classification, because I guess that after Pergusa, Alfa Romeo will adjust their strategy, giving priority to the driver who is leading." Larini's car will also be 20-kg heavier than his team-mate's due to the handicap weight. "I also have to admit that Fabrizio seems to be even stronger when he races here. He fights like a lion in Pergusa. Generally speaking the 20-kg handicap would not make a big difference on such a track, but it's clear that applying it to two equal cars, it will count. Nevertheless I'm confident. After four years finishing as runner-up to Fabrizio, I really want to beat him!"

30-KG HANDICAP FOR JÖRG MÜLLER (3rd in the Drivers' Championship, 61 points)
With a win and a second place in Spa, Jörg Müller managed to close on the Alfa Romeo men in the Championship classification. But he also 'won' the 30-kg handicap weight for the meeting in Pergusa. "I will feel it in Pergusa, particularly under braking. Luckily the Schnitzer team also runs Dirk Müller's car, which will not carry any penalty in Pergusa. So maybe it will be difficult for me to fight with Giovanardi and Larini, but hopefully Dirk will score some good points for BMW in the Manufacturers Championship." The German driver last raced in Pergusa in 1996, the year he won the FIA F3000 Championship, when he finished second behind Marc Goossens in the Sicilian round. "It was not bad. As far as I remember you need a special set-up for Pergusa: good balance under braking and a suspension adjusted for jumping over the kerbs of the chicanes. We have to concentrate on this. I guess that the Alfa Romeo cars will be faster than ours on the straight, but we should be able to close the gap under braking and in the chicanes. I think we will be equally competitive." The Schnitzer team has just completed a two-day test at the A1 Ring in Austria. "We tested a lot of new things for next year; nothing that will be used this season. But it was good anyway, because every hour I pass at the wheel improves my feeling and the team's experience with the ETCC cars."

RYDELL: "PERGUSA IS UNKNOWN TO ME" (5th in the Drivers Championship, 41 points)
With six podium finishes so far this season, including two at Spa, Rickard Rydell is still looking for Volvo's first win in the Championship. "It's difficult to say if I might have a chance to win in Pergusa, because I have never been there before," Rydell explained. "Obviously we know more or less what to expect, but I really don't know how our car will adapt to the track. It should be very good as usual under braking and in the chicanes, but if the track is really as fast as they say, then I am afraid that Alfa Romeo cars will dominate easily. I hope that a couple of the chicanes might prove tricky, so that I could do something to fill the gap. But I will only have the full picture on Saturday morning, after free practice," said Rydell. The Prodrive team spent a couple of days testing at Snetterton with Rydell, followed by tests at Silverstone with James Hanson. "The team worked mainly on improving the set-up. The engine should give the same performances as in the previous races," Rydell concluded.

Pergusa will see Gianluca De Lorenzi make a one-off appearance in the 2002 FIA European Touring Car Championship. He will drive a third BMW 320i, entered by Ravaglia Motorsport, alongside the regular BMW Team Spain drivers Jordi Gené and Fabrizio De Simone. Last year, De Lorenzi was a regular ETCC competitor, taking part in the Super Touring Championship at the wheel of a GDL Racing-run BMW 320i. He finished on the podium twice,placing him seventh in the Championship and runner-up to Sandro Sardelli in the Michelin Amateurs Trophy. This year, concentrating on managing his own team - his driver Massimo Pigoli is leading the Italian Super Production Championship in a BMW 320i - De Lorenzi opted to reduce his driving activities. However, he won two rounds of the Italian Touring Master Cup: the 2 Hours of Vallelunga and the 2 Hours of Adria. At Pergusa, De Lorenzi's car will be backed by the Sicilian BMW Dealers. "I am very excited about this opportunity, because I really wish to return to international racing. I am also happy that BMW Italy wanted me to drive the car, I suppose it is like a reward for the job I'm doing as team manager and tuner in the Italian Championship," he said. De Lorenzi will be driving the car that was driven by Norman Simon in the 2001 FIA European Super Production Championship; he has the opportunity to test it in Adria a few days ago. Roberto Ravaglia also gave the FIA GT Championship's rising star, Andrea Piccini, an opportunity to do a few laps. "He only did twenty laps, but it was enough to impress me with his professional approach," Ravaglia commented.

Salvatore Tavano was busy during the first week of September. Not only did he take part in the Varano round of the Italian Super Production Championship, driving an Alfa Romeo 147, in which he claimed an excellent third place, but he also tested his ETCC CiBiEmme-run Honda Civic Type-R in Adria. "I was definitely impressed. I expected some improvements on the car, but not that many. In cooperation with JAS Motorsport, the team made many major changes to the car: suspension mountings, front chassis' frame, torsion bars and so on. The results were excellent and the Civic has drastically improved in traction and handling. Finally I feel we can be competitive with the Alfa Romeo, BMW and Volvo cars," said Tavano who will be one of the men to watch in Pergusa. Born in Siracusa, he is the only Sicilian driver to compete regularly in the Championship, and will surely have the support of the local fans. "I really hope to reward them with a good result, although the track should not suit our car particularly. In Spa, we saw that the Civic is not as fast as the other cars on the straight. It is very good until 200 km/h, but then struggles to get more speed. This is due to an aerodynamics problem. For this reason we will test a new front splitter and rear wing in Vairano a few days before the race. If we manage to find a solution, I would hope to fight for the top positions in Pergusa."

A few months ago, in March, Eric Cayrolle and Sandro Sardelli shared a Düller Motorsport BMW M3 to win the 24 Hours of Sicily at Pergusa. But for the FIA ETCC meeting they will find themselves on opposite sides. Frenchman Cayrolle will be at the wheel of a Scuderia Bigazzi Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, while Sardelli will drive a CiBiEmme team Honda Civic Type-R. "I am very pleased to race in Pergusa, because I like the track and I also know it very well, having raced twice in the 24 Hours of Sicily," said Cayrolle who has twice finished in seventh place this season, just outside the points. "I sincerely regret the second race in Spa, as I made a silly mistake which cost m fourth place. We had a few technical problems in the first part of the season and I made some mistakes. I would like to recover in the three final meetings and I will do my best to collect as many points as possible in Pergusa." As for Sardelli, he is also looking for his first ETCC points: "All the team is working hard for this goal and we would be delighted to break into the top six at the Italian event. The cars have made progress with the stability, traction and aerodynamics; and we will have a further engine improvement, with some more power compared to Spa. We hope that, added to our experience of the track, this might prove effective."

A last minute change has meant that local driver Domenico Guagliardo will be replacing Paolo Ruberti at the wheel of the yellow AGS Motorsport Alfa Romeo 156 Gta. "It's a shame that Ruberti could not find the money to finish the season, because he has proved to be competitive, scoring points on four occasions," team owner Guido Tritto commented. Guagliardo, 38-year-old from Palermo, is a very popular driver in Sicily. "I know that a lot of my friends and fans will come to Pergusa to support me on my first FIA ETCC appearance," Guagliardo explained. "This track is my own playground and I have won no fewer then twenty races here, including competitive series like the Italian Touring Car Championship and the Ferrari Challenge. Obviously I'm not saying that I will be in a position to win the FIA ETCC races too, but I will be there to do the best I can. I really would like to score points to help Alfa Romeo in the title fight, and I think it might be possible, because the car I will drive proved to be good enough." This season, Guagliardo is fighting for the Stilo Abarth Rally Trophy Italian crown. He has won three rounds so far and is currently second in the classification, two points behind the leader.

34-year-old English driver Robert Collard will be making his FIA ETCC debut in Pergusa. He will drive RJN Motorsport's second Nissan Primera, which was driven by Chris Goodwin in Anderstorp and Chris Buncombe in Spa. "Rob tested the car at Snetterton last week, completing 50 laps. He did a good job and made no mistakes. As he was happy with the car, we have signed a deal for Pergusa and Donington. After the British meeting we will make a decision about Estoril," team manager Bob Neville said. Collard is a former race winner in the British Touring Car Championship Production class. In 2000, he won a race with a Bintcliffe Motorsport-run Nissan Primera, claiming a second win this year at Brands Hatch, in the first round of the season, driving a Renault Clio RS run by his own team. A number of engine failures forced him to retire from BTCC and look for an alternative. During the Snetterton test, RJN Motorsport also tested a new air intake that will be used for the first time at Pergusa. The team's main driver, Tommy Rustad, also drove the new Nissan Primera for the first time in Super 2000 specification.


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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andrea Piccini , Dirk Müller , Norman Simon , Jorg Muller , Chris Goodwin , Rob Collard , Eric Cayrolle , Rickard Rydell , Paolo Ruberti , Jordi Gene , Salvatore Tavano , Nicola Larini , Chris Buncombe , Roberto Colciago , Roberto Ravaglia , Tommy Rustad