Monday, June 25, 2007

Monza: Round four preview

Racing series FIA-GT
Date 2007-06-22

On to Monza for the fastest weekend of the season !

After the traditional June break, the 2007 season of the FIA GT Championship will get underway again with the fourth round, at the Autodromo Nazionale di Monza, near Milan, in Italy. This historic and extremely popular track, the fastest visited in the season, has hosted the Championship on six previous occasions, the most recent being the thrilling season-opener in 2005.

In the past, Monza has seen two wins from Chrysler Vipers (Chrysler Viper Team Oreca in 1999, and Carsport Holland in 2000), one victory from the Lister Storm in 2001, and three wins for a Ferrari 550 Maranello : twice for BMS Scuderia Italia in 2003 and 2004, and once for Larbre Competition in 2005. It is therefore a near certainty that this year will see a new winner at Monza. But will it be an Aston Martin DBR9, a Corvette, a Lamborghini Murcielago or a Maserati MC 12 which steps up to the top of the podium ?

After three races, the points situation in GT1 could hardly be closer : a grand total of 18 drivers are separated by just ten points. The first three races have seen three different winners, and only two cars have managed two top-three placings : current Championship leaders Christophe Bouchut and Stefan Mucke in the Racing Lamborghini Murcielago, and PK Carsport's Corvette C5 duo of Anthony Kumpen and Bert Longin, who are currently tied in second place with Vitaphone's Thomas Biagi, who was victorious in Silverstone. A further two points behind are Scuderia Playteam Sarafree's all-Italian duo, Andrea Piccini and Andrea Bertolini, who won the Bucharest street race.

With two wins to date, the Maserati MC 12 has taken the lead in the Manufacturers Cup, while Vitaphone Racing has a healthy lead in the Teams Championship. Back in 2005, on the last visit to Monza, a Maserati quartet chased home the winning Ferrari of Gardel and Lamy, after the Corvette C5, making an astonishing debut, had to retire just laps from the chequered flag.

So who is likely to triumph in Monza ? Championship leaders Bouchut and Mucke will be carrying a total of 70 kg in their Lamborghini Murcielago, which could be telling on the fast, heavy braking circuit. As for the Maserati MC 12 cars, 2005 proved that the circuit suited them; Scuderia Playteam Sarafree will be keen to do well at home, while Vitaphone Racing Team should see the return of team leader Michael Bartels to the nr 1 car. The Corvettes have been strong this season, with a total of four podium appearances for PSI, PK Carsport and Carsport Holland; a first win must surely be on the cards soon. And the Aston Martin DBR9 is also looking for a first win of 2007. Jetalliance was extremely strong in Bucharest, with Robert Lechner qualifying extremely well and Wendlinger leading the race for much of the first hour. And Aston Martin Racing BMS will be on home territory, at a track where they triumphed in the past with their Ferrari : Monza would be a perfect place to claim their first win with the DBR9.

In total, 19 cars are due to compete in GT1 at Monza, while 11 in GT2 and G2 should give a grid of up to thirty cars, which should make a fine show for the spectators at this legendary circuit. Among the GT1 and G2 cars, up to seven Citation Cup competitors will battle for the magnificent trophy presented by the Cessna Corporation. SRT's Tom Cloet, current leader, will be paired for Monza with frequent FIA GT racer Mauro Casadei, and will be keen to claim the third win for his Corvette C5. But the competition will be fierce, with two JMB Racing Maserati MC 12 cars, two Ferraris -- a 550 Maranello from Solution F, and a 575 M Maranello from GT3 leaders Kessel Racing, a possible second Corvette from PSI and the Red Racing Chrysler Viper, G2 class winner in Silverstone.

While variety is the watchword in GT1, GT2 has seen some tremendous battles in the extremely high-quality field of Ferrari and Porsche cars, but has, to date, had just one winner : the AF Corse Motorola Ferrari 430 GT2 car of Dirk Muller and Toni Vilander. The runaway Championship leaders will have the maximum of 50 kg penalty weight -- plus 28 kg for having two professional drivers -- on board their car, which could make Monza more difficult. There are plenty waiting to claim their crown, including their team-mates Bruni and Ortelli in the nr 51 Ferrari, the two Scuderia Ecosse Ferrari cars, which should see the return of Tomas Enge, and the two Racing Team Edil Cris cars, which made an excellent debut in Silverstone. The Porsche contingent should not be ruled out either : BMS Scuderia Italia's Collard and Malucelli are currently third in the points, and were second in Bucharest, while Tech9 Motorsport has put in some excellent performances for its first season in GT2. Ebimotors were third here in 2005, behind the two GruppeM cars, and will be keen to repeat that podium performance. Monza will also see the debut of Belgian team Prospeed, entering a Porsche 997 GT3 RSR for Franz Lamot and Rudi Penders, who have both competed at Spa in previous years.

An extremely close and open field, plenty of excitement, and two hours of thrilling racing : round four of the 2007 FIA GT Championship should live up to all expectations !

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