With three rounds to run, the effect of a minor technical change and a race in Sweden has changed the complexion of the FIA GT Championship, making the end-of-season run-in a lot more appealing for almost everybody.

Anderstorp saw Lister Racing finally break the BMS Scuderia Italia dominance, while EMKA Racing took its second win of the season in N-GT. While BMS and Freisinger Motorsport kept their respective points leads, their rivals are closing in behind.

BMS Scuderia Italia's run of wins finally came to an end in Sweden, in part perhaps because of the revised air restrictor rules imposed on its three Ferrari 550 Maranellos, allowing Lister Racing to take a long-awaited first victory of the season. With Jamie Campbell-Walter and Nathan Kinch finishing ahead of the Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7-R of Franz Konrad, Toni Seiler and Walter Lechner Jr - and the second Lister finishing in third place - the drivers' championship has closed up considerably.

After Thomas Biagi and Matteo Bobbi's Ferrari 550 Maranello was spun out at the start, the two drivers now have a lead of just seven points over BMS team-mates Fabrizio Gollin, Luca Cappellari, Lilian Bryner and Enzo Calderari, while Lister Racing's Andrea Piccini is only thirteen points in arrears. In the teams' championship, BMS still leads Lister Racing by thirty points, with 54 remaining in play.

In N-GT, EMKA Racing's Porsche took its second win of the season, while, with second place, Freisinger Motorsport further extended its lead in both the teams' and drivers' championships. Stephane Ortelli and Marc Lieb have a lead of 16.5 points over Jamie Davies, while the German outfit has a lead of 26 points over Team Maranello Concessionaires.

Oschersleben should see the return of both Eurotech Porsche 996 GT3-RS cars, while J?rgen von Gartzen's JVG Racing will also make a welcome return to the championship with two Porsche 996 GT3-RS cars - one for Mark Mayall and Ian Khan, the other for frequent GT competitors Horst Felbermayr and Horst Felbermayr Jr. This should bring the field up to 32 cars, with 33 expected for the next round at Estoril and 36 for the Monza finale, both of which should feature the new Lamborghini Murcielago.

Despite not standing on the podium at Anderstorp - for the first time in seven races this season - the various BMS drivers refuse to be downhearted.

"It was bad luck for us, but good for the championship," a rueful Thomas Biagi explained, "I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to drive there in the race, but these things happen. Matteo and I have already set a record for consecutive wins in our first season, and we are quietly confident for Oschersleben, where we'll only have 20kg penalty. I think the circuit will be good for the car, better than Estoril and Monza, where our smaller restrictors might be more penalising."

Biagi is familiar with the circuit too, having raced there in F3000 during the same meeting as the first FIA GT Championship race in Germany in 1998.

"I have some good memories, as I started 19th on the grid, and finished fourth in the rain - after overtaking Juan Pablo Montoya, among others!" he smiled.

Ferrari's biggest worry will more than likely come from the resurgent Lister Racing team, which finally took its first win of the season at Anderstorp, after suffering bad luck while dominating in a number of previous events.

"It was more of a relief than anything for [team boss] Laurence [Pearce], myself and the team," Jamie Campbell-Walter explained, "But for Nathan [Kinch], it was his first win, so he is over the moon! It's a good result, and one we should have had a long time ago."

Campbell-Walter and erstwhile tem-mate Nicolaus Springer finished a strong second at Oschersleben last year, just behind his current team-mate Andrea Piccini, then driving for BMS.

"I'm looking forward to Oschersleben," JC-W continued, "It's a good track for us, nearly all corners, so I think we'll be okay.

"It's quite a strange track, with long radius corners, which means it is quite hard to get the car set up correctly. But I'm sure the front-runners will all be up to speed. The tyres were fantastic in Sweden and, if we can have the same performance for the next race, who knows? We're on a roll, and hope to continue. It's going to be an interesting end to the championship."

David Sterckx is likely to be alongside Andrea Piccini in the #15 Lister Storm after a good performance in Sweden.

Konrad Motorsport, which scored its first podium finish in Sweden, will be on home territory for the next race - with Franz Konrad describing the circuit as his second home - and could be a dark horse for victory if wither BMS or Lister slip up.

"I know the circuit very well, as I have raced for a number of years in Germany," said Walter Lechner Jr, who was drafted into the line-up and took pole in Sweden, "We saw at Anderstorp that the car is good in and out of corners, and the Oschersleben corners are similar, just a bit slower. If we can get the car set up as well as it was at Anderstorp, then I think we really have a good chance of a result."
Oschersleben will also be the 'home' round for German team Wieth Racing and its heavily reworked Ferrari 550 Maranello.

"The car is now beginning to be really competitive, as could be seen by the lap times in Anderstorp," team manager Florian Hebel explained, "During the first part of the race, Wolfgang [Kaufmann] had no problems following the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari driven by Fabrizio Gollin, even though he had flat-spotted his tyres due to braking hard to avoid being part of the first-corner crash. His lap times have made us really confident for Oschersleben, where we will have a lot of important guests."

The name of Kaufmann's team-mate for the eighth round will be announced shortly.

While the 550 Maranello continues to ply its trade in the FIA GT series, the racing version of its successor, the Ferrari 575 Maranello, was on display at the IAA Frankfurt Motor Show.

French team JMB Racing plans to enter the new car for the last two races of the year - becoming the first FIA series team to run one, but is hoping that Oschersleben will allow it to say a positive farewell to an oft-recalcitrant 550.

"We had a number of minor problems during the race in Anderstorp, which meant we could not do as well as in free practice or the warm-up," Philipp Peter explained, after the team took one point for eighth place, "But we are definitely progressing. We hope to test the 575 shortly and run it at Estoril and Monza but, as for Oschersleben, it is a tight circuit where you need a good-handling car. I'm sure the Saleen and Lister cars will be the favourites, but we will try to be up there, and to really finish a race competitively. We would like to go out on a high point before moving over to the new 575."

In the N-GT Championship, JMB Racing is lying third, with Fabrizio de Simone fourth in the drivers' points. At Anderstorp, the #52 Ferrari 360 Modena was competitive all weekend, but dropped out of contention after a throttle problem struck mid-race.

"We were increasingly competitive, and it could have been our race," de Simone sighed, "I really hope that the car will be as good in Oschersleben. The track should suit us, but as it's in Germany, the Porsche cars will be keen to win. In terms of the championship, we are a long way behind, but we will do all we can to go for the wins!"

German team Freisinger Motorsport heads for its home race with a good lead in both classifications. The team scored twelve points in Sweden, with a hard-earned second place for the #50 Porsche 996 GT3-RS of Stephane Ortelli and Marc Lieb, and a fifth-place finish for the #51 car, driven by Bert Longin and Gabriele Gardel.

"I think this result was achieved by hard work more than speed, but it is good for the championship," team manager Michael Hinterberg commented, "Oschersleben is not a good Porsche circuit, with no long straights, and lots of corners, and Ferrari were strong there last year. But it's Germany, and it's most probably going to rain - so that could be another story."

With third place at Anderstorp for the #88 Ferrari 360 Modena, Jamie Davies moved ahead of JMB's Fabrizio de Simone in the points race to become the closest rival to points leaders Ortelli and Lieb. Team Maranello Concessionaires, despite only one car finishing, also maintained second place in the teams' championship.

"Team Maranello Concessionaires is enjoying a productive year in the FIA GT Championship," team spokesman John Newman explained, "We came to the series having achieved success in British GTs in 2002, and fully committed to being competitive in our first full year of the European series. After seven rounds, we find ourselves in second place in the teams' classification behind last year's champions and our driver is also second behind the leading pair in the drivers' championship.

However, whilst being competitive is gratifying, our aim is to ensure that we arrive in Oschersleben for round eight fighting fit and ready to challenge for the top step of the podium. Our confidence level is as high as ever and our people are motivated, as always."

The British team will carry backing from the film 2Fast2Furious at Oschersleben and hopes to be rather more of the former than the latter!

The Oschersleben track is relatively short, tight and twisting, and quite technical. The stadium layout means that it is very good for spectators. However, for the drivers, it can be rather tiring, as there are no long straights, and many corners, giving them no time to relax.

The Motopark opened in 1997, and the FIA GT Championship was the first international series to race there, in early 1998, returning in 1999 and then again last year. On the third occasion, the circuit saw a fantastic race between the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello and the Lister Storm, with Piccini and Jean-Denis Deletraz crossing the line with a lead of only a second ahead of Campbell-Walter. In N-GT, Peter and Toto Wolff won in an Autorlando Porsche, ahead of RWS' Horst Felbermayr Jr and Antonio Garcia.

Having failed to finish the last two races, the points leading #23 Ferrari 550 Maranello will only carry 20kg of ballast in Oschersleben, with the #22 car on 55kg after a fourth-place finish in Sweden. The #14 Lister will have 40kg, with the #2 Konrad Saleen on 30kg and the #15 Lister on 20kg. In N-GT, Freisinger Motorsport's #50 still has the maximum penalty weight of 50kg, while EMKA Racing and MENX will both be on 20kg and the #99 RWS Yukos Porsche on 35kg. The #88 Team Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari will carry 10kg after finishing third in Anderstorp.

 

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