The season wonít be all red!
The podium was a sea of red after the opening round of the 2003 FIA GT
Championship season, at Barcelona. BMS Scuderia Italia claimed the top three
positions overall, while JMB won the N-GT class chased by two Maranello
Concessionaires Team Veloqx Ferraris. Scuderia ItaliaĎs pairing of Matteo Bobbi
and Thomas Biagi went on to win the first five races of the season, virtually
clinching the championship by the halfway point. Sweeps donít get any cleaner
Despite the omen of Sundayís Australian Grand Prix, I donít think that the 2004
season will be quite so benign to the Ferrari teams in either of the FIA GT
Saleen and Lister, rejuvenated during the winter season, looked fast, strong and
purposeful during the FIA tests at Monza last week. Uwe Alzen blasted his way to
the top of the time sheets in Franz Konradís Vitaphone Saleen S7-R chased hotly
by Tommy Erdos in a Ray Mallock Saleen, and by the Dutch ace Tom Coronel who
replaces Jamie Campbell-Walter as lead driver in Laurence Pearceís Lister
Storm GT team. I will be surprised if Alzen, Erdos and Coronel donít win a couple
of races apiece, leaving Scuderia Italia, GPC Squadra Corse and JMB Racing to
share five or six victories between themselves.
Safety in Numbers
Numerically, Ferrari dominates the top GT class. Three BMS Scuderia Italia
Ferrari 550s, built by Prodrive and leased from Care Racing, head the list, but they
will come under heavy attack from two JMB Racing Ferrari 575s, and two more
from the newly formed GPC Squadra Corse Ferrari team owned by GianPaulo
Interestingly, the Scuderia Italia and JMB Ferraris race on Michelin tyres, still
supposed to be the best, while Coppiís team has a major contract with Pirelli (as
will the Maserati team, when it joins the series midway through the season).
Franz Konrad has switched from Dunlop to Pirelli, while RML and Lister remain
faithful to Dunlop.
GT champion Bobbi has a new co-driver, the Swiss Gabriele Gardel, from the
Freisinger Porsche team, following the defection of Biagi to the Barron Connor
Ferrari 575 team contesting the Le Mans Endurance Series. Fabrizio Gollin and
Luca Capellari, unlucky to win only once last season, might prove to be the
stronger pairing, but donít discount the lively trio Lilian Bryner, Enzo Calderari and
Stefano Livio, second in the Spa 24-Hours and second again at Monza last
JMB didnít turn up for the Monza test, but Jean-Michel Bouresche has confirmed
two Ferrari entries and assures organiser Stephane Ratel that all is well; Bert
Longin is the only driver so far named. Coppi, Bourescheís former co-director,
went back to Italy to form his own team employing Fabio Babini and Philipp Peter
in one Ferrari 575, Emanuel Naspetti and Joel Camathias in the other.
GPCís one Ferrari present at Monza was about 1.7 seconds off the pace of the top
three cars, and I am not convinced that the 575 is going to demonstrate a great
superiority. Its early victory last year, at Estoril (Babini and Peter) was due in part to
the strange decision of the FIA not to impose the 50 kg weight penalty which the
regulations demand of new entries, to the great annoyance of Augusto Mensiís
Scuderia Italia team which duly took its revenge at Monza.
One day, My Prints will Come
The mid-engined Saleens, sooner or later, were going to become regular winners
and I believe their time has come. Last year they shed their weight and air
restrictor penalties, applied because Steve Saleen hadnít made 25 cars, but
Konradís team was blighted by gearbox breakages, consequent on changing
from transverse to longitudinal installation. Prior to Monza, Konradís team
completed a 5,000 kilometre endurance run without any trace of gearbox wear.
Uwe Alzen, a former Porsche factory driver, and Michael Bartels look to be a very
strong, professional pairing. Vitaphone is not a mobile network, by the way, but a
medical appliance which monitors heartbeat, blood pressure and other vital signs
of life. A good sponsor, says Konrad, who has high hopes of his second Saleen
assigned to Walter Lechner Jr and Toni Seiler. The popular Austrian has just
terminated a very unhappy association with sponsor Dark Dog, which left him
US$750,000 out of pocket! Thereís not much charity in motor racing, unfortunately,
but thatís a staggering sum of money for a small, private team to lose.
Best Laid Plans
Konrad Motorsport will also be contesting the Le Mans Endurance Series, when
Konrad will himself co-drive with Lechner and Seiler, and he has Achim Stroth
managing the team. Stroth will be recalled as the longtime manager of the
Kremer Porsche team, who then joined Giovanni Lavaggi for a lean spell.
Ray Mallockís teams are always impeccable, and I would expect to see Tommy
Erdos and Mike Newton running regularly with the top group. Graham Nash left it
to the last minute to enter one of his two Saleens, without naming any drivers, and
he too will also tackle the LMES.
A black storm cloud frequently shrouded Laurence Pearceís pits last season, but
at Monza the Lister team was all sweetness and light. The 2003 season was
difficult in all sorts of ways, the team badly overstretched as it developed the
Storm LMP prototype while keeping a sometimes unruly GT team under control,
but Pearce gives the impression of one who has come through the maelstrom
stronger then ever.
He and Jamie Campbell-Walter have parted company amicably after a five-year
relationship that ended under strain. Both parties agreed that "itís time to move
on", Pearce adding that "we were beginning to get on each otherís nerves a bit.
We were arguing over silly things." He is not just pleased, he is thrilled to have
signed Tom Coronel for two years.
Theyíre both racers of the best sort. "Tommy did a 1:44.1 with a bit of traffic, but he
did a did a string of 44s which is 1.5 seconds quicker than the car went last year,
in exactly the same trim" says Pearce. "He is on the limit, exploring the
boundaries, which is where I want my lead driver to be all the time. This shows us
how to develop the car. Itís going to go faster and faster this year. I am very
confident about the Lister Prototype, too. Tommy will drive it with Nathan Kinch,
and I really do expect results with it."
Campbell-Walter won the British GT Championship with Julian Bailey in 1999,
and won the FIA GT Championship superbly with Bailey in 2000. But, for the last
three seasons he has been allocated a whole raft of co-drivers, Coronel once or
twice, Mike Jordan for a memorable win at the Nurburgring, financial backer
Nicolas Springer in 2002 and Nathan Kinch in 2003.
I suspect that the thought of driving with Paul Knapfield in 2004 spelled another
year of unrewarding graft for Campbell-Walter, who must feel that he needs to
move on to give his professional career a kick-start. Mike Jankowskiís Creation
Autosportif team has a very different atmosphere and the DBA-Zytek is a proven
winner, a real threat to the pukka LMP900s in the Le Mans Endurance Series.
Coronel, middle name Romeo, really doesnít care who Pearce allocates as his
co-driver. "Iíve always got on well with Laurence, heís a great boss and I trust him
to give me the best. If I have to do all the hard work, thatís great!"
The smiley Dutchmanís Japanese programme with Honda fell apart after a single
season ("the boss went to prison, you know"), so Pearce has given him a
tremendous life-line in Europe. Itís probably not so well paid, but itís a whole lot
better than the Zandvoort job centre.
Coronel keeps his job with the Carly Motors BMW team (always racing last yearís
cars, unfortunately) and will have to do some super quick changes when he gets
to the GT podium. The European Touring Car Championship cars will be
warming-up for the next race, and I have visions of Tommy stripping off his black
Lister overalls and donning a white BMW suit while on the rostrum. Either that, or
his twin brother Tim will have to appear on the podium (or do the BMW warm-up)!
Pearce insists that Coronel will drive the first and third hours, "of course", as is
customary for the lead driver, leaving Knapfield to drive the middle stint.
As a PS, Carly Motors has taken Paulein Zwaart, daughter of Klaus, as its second
BMW driver for the season, replacing Duncan Huisman. Duncan, meanwhile, is
on the roster for Creation Autosportif, as is Nicolas Minassian, either of whom
would keep Campbell-Walter on his toesÖwhich is exactly what he wants.
Turning briefly to the N-GT category, the absence of JMB Racing and Maranello
Concessionaires Team Veloqx Ferrari 360s creates a huge hole in the entry list.
There have been rumours of Ďpoliticsí within the Ferrari camp, averted by the late
entry of a 360 GTC by the new GPC Squadra Corse team for Christian Pescatori
and Fabrizio de Simone, two men who deserve absolutely to be in the top
category, going for outright wins.
Only they can keep Manfred Freisingerís Porsche team honest, in a field that now
has just eight entries. Three of them are brand-new, Yukos (Russian oil)
sponsored GT3 RSRs with factory backing, and Michelin tyres to go with the deal.
Stephane Ortelli, champion for the last two years, has Emmanuel Collard as his
co-driver, Lucas Luhr and Sascha Maassen share the second car, Nicolaj
Fomenko and Alexei Vasiliev the third.
Top Porsche engineer Norbert Singer was keeping an eye on the Freisinger team
at Monza, one of the new 911s bothering its drivers with a vibration, and is likely to
be seen on occasions during his retirement year, most certainly at the Spa 24-
A brand-new, factory built TVR T400R made a surprise appearance with the RSR
Racing team, driven by Nigel Greensall and Lawrence Tomlinson. They are
regulars in the Radical Championship, Greensall the champion in fact, and they
have not forsaken the little motorcycle engined cars.
But, in their spare weekends, they will contest the Le Mans Endurance Series
and a couple of rounds of the FIA GT Championship, hence their wide-eyed
appearance at Monza, preparing for the first LMES race on May 9. The TVR was
brand-new, painted Chameleon Orange, a colour Iíd find it difficult to admire, and
neither had ever been to the Monza Autodrome so their exploratory times are sure
to be bettered next time out.
Monza GT test times, March 4-5:
|Michael Bartels||Konrad Vitaphone Racing Saleen S7R||1m 43.988s|
|Mike Newton||RML Saleen S7R||1m 44.048s|
|Luca Capellari||BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550||1m 44.119s|
|Paul Knapfield||Lister Storm GT||1m 44.159|
|Gabriele Gardel||BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550||1m 44.678s|
|Enzo Calderari||BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550||1m 44.979s|
|7||Walter Lechner Jr/|
|Toni Seiler||Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7R||1m 45.491s|
|Philipp Peter||GPC Squadra Corse Ferrari 575||1m 45.741s|
|Patrick Pearce||Lister Storm GT||1m 48.233s|
|10||Robert van der Zwaan/|
|Arjan van der Zwaan||Chrysler Viper GTS-R||1m 48.237s|
|Alexei Vasiliev||Yukos Freisinger Porsche RSR||1m 50.340s|
|Luigi Moccia||Autorlando Porsche GT3RS||1m 52.039s|
|Massimo Monti||MasterCar Ferrari 360||1m 52.509s|
|Lucas Luhr||Yukos Freisinger Porsche RSR||1m 52.242s|
|Diego Alessi||Auto Palace Ferrari 360||1m 53.949s|
|Lawrence Tomlinson||RSR Racing TVR T400R||1m 57.400s|