ETCC: Spa: Free practice sessions summary

FIRST SESSION: EKBLOM SETS THE PACE Fredrik Ekblom, at the wheel of the BMW Team Belgium BMW 320i, emerged as the fastest driver in the first practice session. >From the very first laps, the Swede proved to be very effective on his team's home...


Fredrik Ekblom, at the wheel of the BMW Team Belgium BMW 320i, emerged as the fastest driver in the first practice session. >From the very first laps, the Swede proved to be very effective on his team's home track, and after eight minutes he managed to clock a time of 2:36.019, which nobody was able to beat. As the other drivers learnt the track and set up their cars up, their times gradually improved, closing in on Ekblom.

At the same time as Ekblom set his time, Dirk Müller claimed provisional second place with a time of 2:37.740, with Rydell third with a lap of 2:37.938. Current Championship leader Fabrizio Giovanardi was lapping faster and faster, moving up to fourth before setting his fastest time of 2:36.980 to claim the provisional second position.

Nicola Larini and Rydell were the leading players in the final ten minutes. The Alfa Romeo man, currently second in the drivers Championship, set a time of 2:37.297 and climbed up to third, before being ousted by Dirk Müller's 2:37.159.

With only four minutes left in the session, Larini improved again to 2:36.236, securing second position behind Ekblom. Just afterwards the Volvo S60 of Rydell made a huge improvement, setting a time of 2:36.350 and allowing him to overtake Giovanardi for third place.

Local driver Pierre-Yves Corthals, a newcomer to the Championship, was classified 15th in his Carly Motors BMW 320i.

There were no serious technical problems for the 22 cars that took part in the session, although Tom Ferrier's Dart Racing Alfa Romeo 156 Gta and Tom Coronel's Carly Motors BMW 320i both returned to the pits with front right punctures.


Jörg Müller was fastest in the second free practice, setting a provisional best time of 2:36.143 only five minutes into the session. He then improved to 2:35.851 eight minutes before the end, which no-one else could beat. He was followed by another BMW driver, Tom Coronel, who confirmed his Oschersleben pole position with a time of 2:35.838, set halfway through the session.

Third, and the first non-BMW driver, was Nicola Larini, despite an early spin at the Pif-paf corner. The Alfa Romeo man managed to set his best time of 2:36.037 two minutes before the end of the session. Ekblom and Dirk Müller set the fourth and fifth times respectively, just ahead of Rydell's Volvo S60.

After a promising start, when he set a provisional fastest time, Giovanardi finished in seventh position, after going off at the Double Left and remaining stuck in the gravel trap for the rest of the session.

The only Belgian driver, Corthals, suffered a front-right tyre puncture during the session, but managed to break into the top-ten as the chequered flag dropped, with a time of 2:38.361.


Fredrik Ekblom -- nr 10 BMW Team Belgium: "The team and myself worked very well and we are happy to be at the top of the timesheets in the first practice. We struggled to stay on the pace in the first half of the season, but now we are really starting to catch up. The car is really good and things are looking good too. This morning Larini and Rydell were very close to me and I did not expect to have a bigger gap; so far I am in front of them and it's enough. I know that they will be improving and they also have a good qualifying speed, but we'll keep concentrating on our car and see what happens."

Nicola Larini -- nr 2 Gta Racing Team Nordauto: "Honestly I did not expect Ekblom to be so fast, even if he's driving for a Belgian team. I quickly managed to find a good feeling with the track. Now we have to work on the cars' set up. We started practicing with the adjustements chosen after Giovanardi's test in Balocco, now we are ready for changing something to take the most out of our car's characteristics. We have to improve mainly the rear stability.."

Rickard Rydell -- nr 60 Volvo S60 Racing Team: "I think it will be a very tough weekend. Some of the BMW cars will be very strong and for sure Larini and Giovanardi in the Alfa cars will be quick too. Particularly on the long straight as the Alfa engine is a little bit better than ours. But our car is very good in the corners, so I think that we will be very close to them. I expect to stay in the top three."

Pierre-Yves Corthals -- nr 22 Carly Motors: "I still have a lot to learn. I drove the car just for twelve laps in Zandvoort and I did only four today. I'm trying to do what I can but it's very difficult because I'm facing a bunch of drivers who are the best Touring Cars drivers in the world. The ratios in the gearbox I am using are too long, and we will switch to a new gearbox and also to a new differential before the second session. We also have to change something in the set up as the car was rolling too much. I am confident we can improve very much our times, but basically I need more time in the car."


Jörg Müller- nr 42 BMW Team Deutschland: "I set the best time today, but this is not really significant. We still have two days to go and nobody knows the conditions of other drivers' tyres today. What I know for sure is that I have a very nice car, capable of lapping consistently with good times. It is quite well prepared, at least for the races, but as times had shown today it should be also good for qualifying. Now it's up to me. I think I can go for pole position tomorrow and I can go for victory on Saturday."

Fabrizio Giovanardi -- nr 1 Gta Racing Team Nordauto: "I completely changed the set up after the first session and I found that my car was really good. I then pushed from the first laps even if I was running on used tyres. I set a very good time on my first flying lap, then I made a mistake on the second. I lost the back of the car whilst negotiating the Double Left and went sideways into the gravel trap. I was lucky not to roll. Despite this I am confident. I have a good feeling with the car and I had set my best first-split time just before going off."

Tom Coronel -- nr 7 Carly Motors: "My car was really good after the changes we made between the two sessions. The handling has improved significantly and now I can go flat out in most of the high speed corners. And the times are there to prove we are competitive. Anyway, today's times will be easily improved tomorrow when we will run on new tyres for the qualifying. I guess that pole position will be at least one second faster than today's best time."

Pierre-Yves Corthals -- nr 22 Carly Motors: "It is not bad to be tenth. That was my goal for today, though if I consider all the problems I had in the second session I am a bit disappointed. The team changed the gear ratios which were too long in the first session, but they then proved to be too short. We have to find a compromise solution. Then I was in trouble with my fifth gear, which was extremely hard to shift. Finally my front right tyre exploded at the Pif-paf corner and I was lucky not to damage the car when I touched the wall."


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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Dirk Müller , Tom Coronel , Jorg Muller , Rickard Rydell , Nicola Larini , Pierre-Yves Corthals , Tom Ferrier