ETCC: Spa 24: Round six preview

A month after the fifth round at Donington, the teams and drivers taking part in the LG Super Racing Weekend series will be heading for Belgium, for an exceptional weekend of action, including the longest round of the FIA GT Championship, the ...

A month after the fifth round at Donington, the teams and drivers taking part in the LG Super Racing Weekend series will be heading for Belgium, for an exceptional weekend of action, including the longest round of the FIA GT Championship, the Proximus 24 Hours of Spa. The track, nearly 7 kilometres long, is one of the most beautiful and challenging in the world, with some legendary corners, such as the Raidillon and Eau Rouge. Located 15 km from the town of Spa, the circuit has a notoriously variable climate, with rapid changes of weather due to the surrounding Ardennes forests.

The FIA European Touring Car Championship has a long association with Spa-Francorchamps, as the 24 Hours of Spa was an integral part of the Championship between 1964 and 1988. Last year, when the Championship returned to the track for the first time since its renewal, Nicola Larini narrowly won Race 1 from Jörg Müller and Fredrik Ekblom, while Jörg Müller claimed Race 2 from Rickard Rydell and Tom Coronel. This year, with a fierce battle underway for the points lead , and both the Volvo and Honda cars finishing in the points at Donington, the Championship is closer than ever before, and two fine races are in prospect.

As well as the FIA GT and ETCC, there will be one round of the Formula Renault V6 Eurocup, when Neel Jani will be hoping to repeat his 2002 Eurocup win, while support events include the Renault Sport Clio Cup and Trophy cars competing together in the Renault Sport Speed Trophy, a round of the Belgian Clio Cup, the European Alfa Challenge and the Mini Cooper Cup.


Bert Longin is currently the highest-placed Belgian driver competing in the FIA GT Championship. At the wheel of the nr 51 Freisinger Motorsport Porsche 996 GT3-RS, his third-place finish in the previous round in Donington helped to take the German team to the top of the N-GT Teams Classification. Bert, in his second season in international competition, shares his car with former single-seater driver Gabriele Gardel, from Switzerland.

"The 24 hours race in Spa-Francorchamps is certainly the highlight of the FIA-GT season for me. Last year, I finished fifth overall and third in the N-GT class, winning the Coupe du Roi as well. But I would like to go one better this time and aim for the win. The car is competitive and reliable as we recently proved in Donington with a third place. And this is my favorite track. Spa is an amazing and very beautiful circuit. Not only because it is my home track, but because it is very exciting and fast with places like Eau Rouge and Blanchimont where good drivers with guts can make the difference. Concerning the track I can also say that it is possible to pass if you take the Bus-stop and the Eau Rouge without braking. As for La Source, you need to go as near to the concrete wall as possible."

For rounds 11 and 10, the FIA European Touring Car Championship will be returning to the challenging Belgian circuit of Spa-Francorchamps. After 10 rounds, Gabriele Tarquini and his Autodelta Alfa Romeo 156 Gta lead with a score of 54 points, three points ahead of Jörg Müller's BMW Team Deutschland BMW 320i. The German driver is himself seven points ahead of his team-mate Dirk Müller. Currently placed in fourth and fifth position of the Drivers Championship are BMW Team Great Britain's Andy Priaulx and Autodelta's Nicola Larini, both having collected the same number of points scored by Dirk Müller. This means that five drivers are currently separated by only ten points.

Alfa Romeo and BMW are also fighting for the Manufacturers Championship, with the German make leading the classification by 32 points. Unlike the FIA GT Championship, the FIA ETCC cars will carry ballast for this race. Both Championship leader Gabriele Tarquini and top Donington points scorer Jörg Müller will carry the maximum of 40 kg, while Nicola Larini and Dirk Müller will be given 20 and 10 kg respectively. Because of the long climb from Stavelot to La Source, these extra weights might be particularly penalising in both qualifying and the two races. For this reason, those drivers whose cars are currently unballasted are aiming for a win:Priaulx, Autodelta's third man Roberto Colciago and the BMW Team Italy-Spain's duo of Fabrizio Giovanardi and Antonio Garcia. However, as Spa is a difficult racetrack and weather conditions might change quickly, a number of outsiders could create a surprise, such as ART Engineering's Rickard Rydell, who claimed his first podium in Donington at the wheel of his Volvo S60, SEAT Sport's Jordi Gené and Frank Diefenbacher, or even Carly Motors' independent drivers Duncan Huisman and Tom Coronel, both from the neighbouring Netherlands.

On Tuesday, in Misano Adriatico, Alessandro Zanardi drove a Ravaglia Motorsport BMW 320i. The Italian driver, who lost both his legs in an awful crash during a Champ Car race at the Lausitzring on 15th September 2001, completed 27 laps at the racetrack near Riccione, including a run of 14 laps, equivalent to the normal FIA ETCC race distance. At the wheel of the team's third car, modified with a system built by Faidel for disabled drivers, Zanardi clocked a fastest lap of 1:42.90, which was 3.5 seconds slower than Fabrizio Giovanardi's 1:39.43. However, Giovanardi was driving the 2003 car, while Zanardi was driving a 2001 former Super Production machine, upgraded to Super 2000 specs. "Times were not my priority;" Zanardi said. "We focused on setting the Faidel system up, in order to give me total control on the car. We have planned more tests and only when I will feel confident I will go for lap times. My goal is to reduce the gap from Giovanardi to two tenths." Before going to Misano, Zanardi had already driven the car at Adria for a few laps; he will be back in the BMW at Adria on August 28th. If this test is positive, Zanardi might take the wheel of a third Ravaglia Motorsport car for the final meeting of the 2003 FIA European Touring Car Championship, to be held in Monza on October 19th - which would mark his return to car racing, just two years after his accident.

Current ETCC leader Gabriele Tarquini and the Autodelta team spent two days at the Ferrari circuit in Fiorano, on Wednesday and Thursday. "We have made a number of good long runs and also tested different suspension set-ups that should be particularly effective in Oschersleben," team manager Monica Sipsz said. German driver Sebastian Stahl took part in test too, in view of his possible participation in the Oschersleben round of the FIA ETCC. Tarquini is looking forward to Spa, where he will be defending a slim three-point margin from Jörg Müller's BMW. "We will both have the maximum 40-kg ballast onboard," the Italian driver said. "And we'll feel it, as Spa has a climb that is more than one kilometre long. But I feel confident, because I like the track. I have done good races there: in both Formula 1 and Touring Cars. I am sure I will be in a position to do well in Spa, as I was sure to do well in Donington. I don't know if I can be competitive enough to win, but I'm looking to score good points towards the Championship."

A number of ETCC teams have been testing before Spa. The SEAT Sport team went to Valencia with one of the Toledo Cupra cars in the hands of Jordi Gené. "We had a lot of new components to be tested, such as new suspension parts, clutch and air intakes. On paper, Spa is not the best track for us; speed is important there, and this is our weak point now. The cars will have only minor set-up changes, compared to the previous meeting in Donington. However the Toledo has an excellent chassis and this could help. Normally if you are fast up the Raidillion, the lap time is good. So let's wait and see," Gené commented. Over the same days, Ravaglia Motorsport and Scuderia Bigazzi tested in Misano. After Zanardi's drive, BMW Team Italy-Spain focused on the set-up for Spa, with both Fabrizio Giovamardi and Antonio García, who clocked the same fastest time of 1:39.3. Independent driver Alessandro Balzan, in his Bigazzi Alfa Romeo 156 Gta, completed a best lap of 1:39.9.

At least two drivers taking part in the FIA European Touring Car Championship will have good reason to watch the European Alfa Challenge race on Saturday morning. The race, which is the first meeting between the competitors of the Italian and Dutch Alfa 147 Cups, will see forty drivers at the wheel of the 250-bhp Alfa Romeo 147 Gta. All the top drivers from both Cups will be on track in Spa, including the current point leaders in Italy and The Netherlands: Andrea Larini and Tim Coronel. Andrea is the elder brother of Alfa Romeo ace and former Formula 1 driver Nicola Larini, while Tim is the twin brother of Carly Motors' independent driver Tom Coronel.


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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Frank Diefenbacher , Neel Jani , Duncan Huisman , Rickard Rydell , Gabriele Gardel , Bert Longin , Alessandro Balzan , Gabriele Tarquini , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini , Roberto Colciago , Andrea Larini , Sebastian Stahl