ETCC: Teams ready for 2003 season opener

The first round of the 2003 season of the LG Super Racing Weekend series is fast approaching. This year, the seventh season of the FIA GT Championship and the third year of the FIA European Touring Car Championship will share the top billing with...

The first round of the 2003 season of the LG Super Racing Weekend series is fast approaching. This year, the seventh season of the FIA GT Championship and the third year of the FIA European Touring Car Championship will share the top billing with the brand new Renault Formula V6 Eurocup. Support events will include the Renault Sport Clio Trophy and the Renault Sport Clio Elf International Cup. At Barcelona, the Trofeo Maserati will also be on the agenda, and other exiting events will join the schedule through the year.

SEAT STARTS TESTING HYBRID CAR IN CALAFAT

FIA ETCC from eurostc.com SEAT's plans to enter the 2003 FIA European Touring Car Championship have now entered the operative phase, with the first test of a hybrid version of the car taking place at the Spanish track of Calafat a few days ago. Jordi Gene, one of the two official SEAT drivers, was at the wheel of a Leon Cupra Cup car, fitted with several components developed for the ETCC Toledo.

"We are rushing to get ready for the beginning of the season, but there is not much time. The decision to join the FIA ETCC was taken last year in late summer and we decided to start the programme straight away and to develop the car during the 2003 season," said SEAT Sport director Jaime Puig. The new Toledo race car, conforming to the Super 2000 specification, should start testing by the end of January. "Our plan is to test in Barcelona with a prototype, but the final car will be ready only towards the end of February. We are aware that we will be late; we are joining the championship with a lot of things still to be done, while the other Manufacturers are already experienced. Our goal is to improve, race after race, and possibly to claim some podium finishes in the second part of the year."

This is also the first time that a Spanish Manufacturer has signed up a Spanish driver to race in an FIA Championship. "I'm very excited by this new challenge. This is the first time in my career that I've been involved in a works programme from the start. That means I have a lot of responsibility in the car's development. And this gives me further motivation to do my best. We have great expectations and I hope we can do a good job," Jordi Gene commented.

INTENSIVE TESTING PROGRAMME FOR ALFA ROMEO

The defending FIA European Touring Car champion, Alfa Romeo, is working hard to develop the 156 Gta car for the coming season. N.technology, the Italian Manufacturers' racing department, started testing in December, having replaced the five-speed H-pattern gearbox derived from the production model, with a new Hewland six-speed sequential gearbox.

Testing continued in January, with the suspension undergoing a few more mechanical changes. "We have planned an intensive testing programme on different Italian tracks, because we wish to arrive at the first meeting of the season with the best chances of defending our position at the top," designer Sergio Limone said. Unlike BMW, Alfa Romeo is not homologating a new car for the 2003 season, but only two or three new technical features.

"At the moment we have decided to homologate a new aerodynamic package and, obviously, the sequential gearbox," Limone revealed. But the Alfa 156 Gta is also undergoing a substantial revision of its suspension. While BMW decided to stick with the five-speed H-pattern gearbox and benefit from a 30-kg reduction in the car's minimum weight, Alfa Romeo will use the sequential gearbox option now offered by the FIA Super 2000 rules. "We believe this is the best way to go. It will help us to improve our performances a little, thanks to new and shorter gear ratios. But it will also significantly improve the cars' reliability and the drivers' confidence, reducing the chances of making mistakes while shifting gears." Alfa Romeo tested again earlier this week in Magione and will return to Vallelunga in February.

During the tests at Magione, Nicola Larini set a time of 1:17.1, one-tenth of a second faster than Fabrizio Giovanardi in the Ravaglia Motorsport BMW 320i. "I am happy with the test," Larini said afterwards. "We had a further suspension improvement on the car, and it worked really well. We are still only half-way towards the 2003 car, but the lap times and long runs are already very good."

BWM NEW BOYS

Two new faces will be joining the BMW team in the FIA ETCC this season, with British driver Andy Priaulx driving the RBM-run car for BMW Great Britain, and Antonio Garcia, from Spain, joining BMW Team Italy Spain, alongside reigning Champion Fabrizio Giovanardi.

ANTONIO GARCIA
Born : 5th June 1980, Madrid
Nationality : Spanish
Career Highlights :
1994 : World Karting Champion
1997 : European Karting Champion
2000 : Open Telefonica Champion
2001 : F3000 Championship; FIA GT Championship with RWS Motorsport (1st N-GT, Proximus 24 Hours of Spa ; pole position at Estoril)
2002 : 5th, World Series by Nissan. FIA GT Championship with RWS Motorsport , 2 pole positions, 3 podiums

Antonio Garcia will be moving into touring cars after two years of combining single-seaters with the FIA GT Championship. "It was not a difficult decision to make," Antonio explained. "Every year, it has been more difficult to get a good single-seater drive. So when the opportunity came up to sign for BMW, I did not want to let that opportunity pass."

The 22-year old Spaniard was impressed with his new team. "It looks very good, and it is excellent to be racing alongside Giovanardi. BMW Team Italy-Spain will be one of the top BMW teams with a very good driver like him on board - and I really want to make that two very good drivers ! We'll see. There will be a lot of tests before the season starts, which is something quite new for me. I don't think I will ever have been quite so well-prepared."

Garcia recently took part in the Michelin tests at the Italian track of Vallelunga. "The car seems to be very easy to drive; it does not have much power, but there are a lot of very good drivers out there, all very close to each other in performance terms, and with a lot of experience. And the races are short, so I will have to get up to speed very quickly. The driving might be easy - but the racing will be hard. I hope that everything I learnt in GT cars will help for the FIA ETCC. The main thing is the actual race, to get out there and to fight to improve and go fast !"

"The test went very well, it was a good opportunity to learn how to drive the car, and to try the new tyres. It was not a performance test. I was relaxed, and improving lap by lap. We also pinpointed a few changes to make to the car, which will make it more comfortable to drive. I had a few problems with the pedals; I have to know what I want, in order to be confident by the start of the first race. For the moment, I do not have any clear aims for the season -- just to be competitive from the beginning. And then we'll see."

ANDY PRIAULX
Born : 8th August 1974 in Guernsey
Nationality : British
Career Highlighs :
1995 : F1 Hillclimbing RAC(MSA British Champion
1996 : Formula Renault
1997 : British Formula 3 (Speedsport/TOMS GB)
1998 : 2nd, Formula Palmer Audi winter series; Renault Spider Cup
1999 : Renault Spider Cup Champion - 13 poles, 13 wins
2000 : British Formula 3, Renault UK
2001 : British Formula 3, Alan Docking Racing - 2 wins and 2 pole positions
2002 : BTCC, Honda Racing. 1 win, 2 podiums and 2 pole positions

Andy Priaulx will be racing for BMW Team UK this year, after a succesful debut season in touring cars in Britain.

"My career to date has been varied, and not always simple, mainly due to funding questions," Andy Priaulx explained. "I am very pleased that I managed two full years in Formula 3, where I won races during a very competitive year, up against the likes of future Formula One drivers and tests Sato, Lotterer, Courtney and Davison. My first taste of Touring Cars came through a guest drive for Vauxhall in the British Touring Car Championship. I put the car on pole for both races, and came in second in the first race, and led the feature race until mechanical problems stopped me. That led me to a drive with Honda last year, with a brand new car and limited testing. At the start of the season, we were 2 seconds off the pace -- and by the second half I was winning races and was one of the fastest drivers."

"Moving to the FIA ETCC was a great opportunity for me; there was no need to think long about signing ! BMW are a reference in the Touring Car world; they set the level, and are always at the front. I know that it will be a big challenge for me, with a number of new circuits to learn. But I'm always at my best when faced with a challenge ! I know the level will be really high, and I will have to work really hard. Drivers like Giovanardi and Tarquini are guys I've watched over the years, people I've been in awe of, but now I have to try and beat them!"

Andy tried the RBM BMW 320i that he will be driving this season at Jarama, before Christmas. "Unfortunately, it was wet for most of the time, but I was very pleased. I really like Bart Mampay, we've got quite similar natures and I know we will be able to work together. It is important for both of us that we do well this season; we both have a lot to prove. I've moved out of my comfort zone -- I would have been a contender in the BTCC this year. But I am very excited about the series. I will have to let my driving do the talking -- it's worked for me so far. "

BMW Great Britain are pleased with their choice of driver for 2003. " Whilst we really enjoyed working with Tom Coronel last year,who not only gave us some good results in the second half of the season,but also had a great British sense of humour, we felt we needed a British driver to really get our Dealers and British fans behind BMW Team Great Britain in 2003," said Peter Walker of BMW Great Britain. "We believe Andy Priaulx is just the man to do the job for us. He has an excellent track record in Touring Cars in the BTCC and has won several F3 races so he is both used to setting up a car and working with a Manufacturer. He knows the competition will be very tough and he will need to raise his game even higher, learn some of the circuits for the first time and get to know his new Team but I am sure he will be very competitive right from the first race."

-fia-

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Series General
Drivers Fabrizio Giovanardi , Alan Docking , Andy Priaulx , Antonio Garcia , Tom Coronel , Jordi Gene , Nicola Larini