ETCC: Spa 24: Friday practice, qualifying notes

FREE PRACTICE 1: DIRK MÜLLER SMASHES TRACK RECORD Dirk Müller set the fastest lap in the first free practice session with a time of 2:33.392, literally smashing last year pole position (2:34.201). The BMW Team Deutschland driver ousted Andy ...


Dirk Müller set the fastest lap in the first free practice session with a time of 2:33.392, literally smashing last year pole position (2:34.201). The BMW Team Deutschland driver ousted Andy Priaulx from the top of the time sheet with six minutes left in the session. At the wheel of his BMW Team Great Britain car, run by the Belgian RBM Team, Priaulx was provisionally the fastest driver with a time of 2:34.616, which he soon improved to 2:33.866, already faster than the best time in 2002. Eventually the British driver was classified second in the session, 0.4 seconds behind Dirk Müller, with Jörg Müller completing a BMW trio at the top, with a time of 1:34.318. Just before the chequered flag dropped, Clever Cats R&M's independent driver Paolo Ruberti created a surprise by setting the fourth-fastest time in 2:34.599. In his Alfa 156 Gta, Ruberti managed to outpace the Alfa Romeo Autodelta works drivers: current Championship leader Gabriele Tarquini (5th in 2:34.633) and Nicola Larini (6th in 2:34.939).

André Couto's PRO Motrorsport Honda Civic Type-R and Rickard Rydell's ART Engineering Volvo S60 were classified 8th and 10th respectively: Couto clocked his fastest lap in 2:35.164, and Rydell in 2:35.490.


Gabriele Tarquini set the fastest time in the second free practice session, however his time of 2:34.146 was not as fast as Dirk Müller's 2:33.392 from the first session. It was a sweet and sour session for Alfa Romeo works team Autodelta, as both their other drivers met with problems. Nicola Larini went off at Pouhon on his first flying lap and remained stuck in the gravel trap for the rest of the session. Roberto Colciago did not post a time, as he was forced back to the pits with an oil leak, which was the consequence of an excursion off the track.

Andy Priaulx and Jörg Müller were classified second and third in the session, clocking times of 2:34.651 and 2:34.753 respectively. After Ruberti 's fourth-fastest time in the first session, the Independent drivers confirmed their good shape: Carly Motors and Clever Cats R&M cars all broke into the top-eight. Duncan Huisman set the fourth-fastest time, Fabio Francia the 5th, Tom Coronel the 7th and Paolo Ruberti the 8th. Scuderia Bigazzi's Alessandro Balzan was not able to do so well, because his Alfa stopped on the track at the very beginning of the session with a broken driveshaft. Jordi Gené and his SEAT Toledo Cupra drastically improved their first session time by 1.2 seconds and were ranked 9th, while Rickard Rydell repeated his 10th position.


Twenty minutes into the qualifying session, BMW Team Great Britain's driver Andy Priaulx made a perfect lap and clocked an outstanding time of 2:32.217. This not only was a massive 2-second improvement compared to last year's pole position, but also enabled Priaulx to oust BMW Team Deutschland's Dirk Müller, claiming the pole position for good. This is his first pole position since joining the FIA ETCC. Priaulx's exploit pleased RBM team manager Bart Mampaey. "Despite the fact that my team, which is based 150 km from the track, has won several races in Spa, we had never managed to claim a pole before. I'm so grateful to Andy for this, and I hope we can continue like this tomorrow," Mampaey commented.

Dirk Müller may have lost the pole, despite a very quick lap in 2:32.948, but he finally maintained the second position on the grid, completing an all BMW front row to please a special guest such as BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen.

But Alfa Romeo is not far away. Current Championship leader Gabriele Tarquini set the third-fastest lap with a time of 2:32.971, only 23 thousandths of a second behind Dirk Müller; despite carrying the maximum 40-kg ballast on board his car. His Autodelta team-mate Nicola Larini was fourth-fastest with a time of 2:33.495. Fifth on the grid will be reigning ETCC champion Fabrizio Giovanardi in his BMW Team Italy-Spain car, with Jörg Müller (also carrying 40 extra kg) alongside him. Clever Cats R&M's team-mates Paolo Ruberti and Fabio Francia emerged as the fastest independent drivers and they will share the fourth row of the grid. Rickard Rydell's Volvo and Antonio García's BMW completed the top ten.

SEAT Sport drivers Jordi Gené and Frank Diefenbacher had a troubled day. A driveshaft joint broke on the Spaniard's Toledo during qualifying, while the team had to change the engine on Diefenbacher's car. This means he will be demoted to the back of the grid for Race 1. Another disappointed driver was Roberto Colciago, who completed only four laps in the third Autodelta works car, due to an oil leak from the gearbox. As for Eric Cayrolle, he was slowest in the session because of persisting engine problems plaguing his Scuderia Bigazzi Alfa Romeo.


Andy PRIAULX, BMW Team Great Britain, 1st: "The team is very experienced here and they know the circuit well. They gave me a good car and made my job that little bit easier. My pole position lap was one of those laps where you felt you could have gone a little bit faster but it was better not to overdo it. I was surprised to be quickest by seven tenths, but it is a long lap round here and the difference would be more like two or three tenths on a normal length circuit. I didn't follow anyone closely so I don't know where I was quicker, I just concentrated on getting clear laps."

Dirk MÜLLER, BMW Team Deutschland, 2nd: "Congratulations to Andy, his time was really impressive! I think I was one of the first to go on new tyres so when I saw my time I was really pleased, as I did not think anyone would be able to beat it. As a matter of fact, without Andy's time I would have been really happy. Now we will have to look at the data to see if we can find another two or three tenths."

Gabriele TARQUINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 3rd: "I tried very hard. I was happy with my time, but Andy did a really good time; I was surprised when I saw it. I did a good lap with the extra 40 kg ballast, and I only missed the second spot on the grid by inches. But I feel confident for tomorrow. Normally our front-wheel-drive cars have an handicap at the start; but here the grid is downhill, and this will help me."

Nicola LARINI, Alfa Romeo Autodelta, 4th: "My qualifying results were surely affected by the fact that I entirely missed the first practice, when I went off due to a technical problem. The consequence was that I had no time for making a proper test on new tyres. I have yet to find the feeling with my car when the qualifying started, and when I tried to negotiate the Eau Rouge the way I think you have to do, I nearly lost the car. I was lucky to avoid the crash, but I was forced to slow down and set my fastest time on the second lap."

Fabrizio GIOVANARDI, BMW Team Italy-Spain, 5th: "I have mixed feeling. I have the impression that my car is perfectly balanced and I think I did not make significant mistakes. I'm fifth on the grid, but I really don't know where to look to reduce the gap from the BMWs ahead of me. I'm really puzzled, because if you have a problem you know where you have to improve. However in this case we know that something is wrong, but we don't know what is."

Paolo RUBERTI, Clever Cats R&M Team, 7th: "I'm obviously quite happy to be first of the Independents and seventh overall. However I have the feeling I could have done better, because I set my time by myself, without aspiration. I'm confident for the races, because we were very good on used tyres during this morning's practice."


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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Eric Cayrolle , Duncan Huisman , Andre Couto , Rickard Rydell , Paolo Ruberti , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago , Mario Theissen , Bart Mampaey