After two events in the north of Europe, the LG Super Racing Weekend series moves south for the final two rounds of the 2003 season, first to the Portuguese track of Estoril this weekend, and then to the historic circuit of Monza, with a lot still to be decided in the FIA GT Championship.

After an action-packed race in Germany, the GTs head for Portugal, and the circuit which has hosted the final round during the past two years. Experienced local driver Pedro Chaves has been competing alongside two of his compatriots - Ni Amorim and Miguel Ramos - in the #8 Graham Nash Motorsport Saleen S7-R this season, and is looking forward to going home.

"Estoril is a very nice circuit," he said, "It was even better in the old days, before they changed the corners and slowed it down, but it is still very good. It's a grand prix circuit, with a very good surface, two very challenging corners and with modern, good facilities. It gives me special pleasure to drive there, as it is my own country, and also because I started racing back there in 1985, and it gives me a nice feeling to be racing there again."

The 2003 GT classification remains provisional, pending an international appeal following the exclusion of the #14 Lister in Germany. That incident saw the BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari of Matteo Bobbi and Thomas Biagi provisionally inherit the win, taking the squad closer to the drivers' title. In N-GT, a Ferrari one-two-three saw a second win for JMB Racing, with Team Maranello Concessionaires in second and third places. Freisinger Motorsport continues to lead both title chases, however.

With its seventh win of the season, BMS Scuderia Italia has provisionally claimed the GT teams' championship, subject to Lister Racing's appeal against their exclusion from the Oschersleben round. The British team had originally claimed its second consecutive win of the season, but the #14 Storm was penalised by the stewards following a collision with the #4 Force One Festina Chrysler Viper of Philippe Alliot and David Hallyday, which could keep the French crew out of action this weekend.

Bobbi and Biagi inherited the win, while Creation Autosportif took its first-ever podium, with Bobby Verdon-Roe and Marco Zadra finishing second. The Care Racing Ferrari 550 Maranello took its fourth podium of the season, propelling Lilian Bryner and Enzo Calderari into the position of leading rivals to Bobbi and Biagi in the drivers' championship fight.

Andrea Piccini's title hopes ended with a pierced radiator, however, meaning that, whatever the outcome of the Lister appeal, the drivers' title will almost certainly be won by one of the drivers of the #21, #22 or #23 Ferrari 550 Maranellos. Bobbi and Biagi have 60 points, with Bryner and Calderari eleven points behind, and Fabrizio Gollin and Luca Cappellari 17 points off the lead.

In N-GT, an all-Ferrari podium, with JMB Racing finishing ahead of the two Team Maranello cars, has closed up the rivals for the titles, although Freisinger Motorsport still has a 17-point lead in the teams' classification, while Stephane Ortelli and Marc Lieb are 12.5 ahead of Jamie Davies, and 15 ahead of Fabrizio de Simone.

Although it is still running at the front of the pack and winning races, the Ferrari 550 Maranello will be given a reprieve at Estoril, after the GT Commission Bureau decided to rewind its decision to increase the cars' air restrictor size. Having checked the performance of the #22 and #23 cars in Germany, and in order to achieve a balance of performance with the new cars, the Bureau has suggested that they be allowed to revert to the original size of restrictors - 32.1mm - instead of the 31.6mm units they had for Anderstorp and Oschersleben.

"It is great that we will not have the smaller restrictor any more," BMS team spokesman Marco Streparava explained, "This is excellent news for us, as Estoril has a long straight, and we will really need the power. We realise that we have provisionally won the championship, depending on the Lister appeal, but the team has continued to work hard. Although we will have nothing new for Estoril, the main factor is that, with no restrictor, we have good chance to have the cars running at 100 per cent of their capacity."

It is not only Chaves, Amorim and Ramos who will be racing at 'home' this weekend as Bobby Verdon-Roe, British-born but now based in Portugal, considers Estoril his local circuit as well. BV-R will be heading for the race in the knowledge that his team, Creation Autosportif, has finally claimed its first podium of the season.

"We are all thoroughly excited after the excellent Oschersleben result," he explained, "However, we are still slower than the Lister Racing Storms, and need to gain a second a lap. I know we can do it and, this weekend, we will be joined by my former engineer Alan Mugglestone, who was with me when I won the Formula Renault championship in 1991.

Estoril was to have seen the debut of two new cars this weekend - with the regular mix of Chrysler Vipers, Ferraris, Listers and Saleens due to be joined by the Lamborghini Murci?lago R-GT and the Ferrari 575 Maranello. However, following a successful roll-out at Vallelunga last week, Reiter Engineering has decided to delay the R-GT's entry until Monza, leaving just the new Ferrari to make its debut in Portugal.

The long-awaited Italian car will replace JMB's two 550 Maranello models, which have shown excellent pace at various times during the season, but which have also had a sequence of engine failures and non-finishes. JMB will be the first team to have two of the new Ferrari 575 GTCs.

"We will use these races to get our bearings and to gauge the level of competition," a team spokesperson stated, "This will give us a good opportunity to prepare ourselves for the 2004 season."

In the N-GT category, the team's successful pairing of de Simone and Andrea Bertolini had an excellent weekend in Germany, claiming pole position, the win and the fastest lap during the race. Ten points for the victory allowed JMB, currently lying third, to reduce the gap separating it from the leaders Freisinger, and are currently 30 points behind, with 36 still available.

Crucially, on a day when the Ferraris took the honours in the N-GT category, Freisinger was still able to add five points to its impressive tally, with the #50 Porsche of Ortelli and Lieb claiming fifth place and the #51 of Bert Longin and Gabriele Gardel taking the final point for eighth. This maintained the team in the top place in both the team and drivers' classifications.

Last year, Ortelli put in an amazing performance in the Freisinger Porsche, running away from the rest of the field in wet conditions to win the race and add the teams' championship to the drivers' championship he had claimed in the previous round. This year, it would be possible for Ortelli and Lieb to secure he titles for Freisinger at Estoril, depending on the performance of their closest rivals, TMC and JMB Racing.

"I think Estoril should be a good track for the Porsche," Lieb explained, jetting back in from Miami's ALMS round at the weekend, "The long straight should suit us better than the tight infield, but it is definitely a challenging track. My main aim for the weekend, however, is to win the title!"

Two reliable cars and a careful one-stop pit strategy placed the two Team Maranello Concessionaires Ferrari 360 Modena cars on the podium at Oschersleben, giving the team its best result since the first race of the season and helping to delay Freisinger's coronation.

Scoring higher than any other team during the event, the British outfit closed the gap to the N-GT leaders and, with two races and 36 points remaining in play, TMC is now just 15 points behind. Last year, the team, running as Veloqx Motorsport, competed in the final two rounds, and took its first podium finish at Estoril.

"It is obviously good that we have prior experience with the car there, as we know what is required," championship hopeful Jamie Davies explained, "I presume that the conditions could be changeable like last year, but dry would suit us better than wet, as the wet really suits the Porsches - especially Ortelli. With the championship in mind, we need to try to win and score more points than our rivals, but it is difficult as you cannot risk pushing things too hard. But we will give it our best shot."

And what of the local heroes...

Graham Nash Motorsport had one of its best weekend of the season in Oschersleben, with the two Saleen S7-R cars finishing in fourth and sixth places in the GT category. With three Portuguese drivers in the #8 car, the team is keen to continue the progress which has been clearly visible over the past few rounds.

"We have had some problems this year, but the car is better now," Chaves explained, "It was very good at Oschersleben, but we were unlucky. I am sure the luck will come, and we will be able to get everything together. I really hope for a good result at home - it is important for the future to have good races at the end of the season."

For team-mate Thomas Erdos, the Estoril circuit will be yet another new track this year.

"I haven't driven there before, but I hope qualify in the top three, and to finish in the top six," the Brazilian said, "We have been working hard this year, and I think we are now almost ahead of ourselves. The team has done an excellent job to get us up this far."

For Estoril, provisionally, the #23 Ferrari will have 60kg of success ballast, with the #2 Konrad Saleen and the #6 Lister each on 30kg. The #21 Ferrari will have 20kg for a third-place finish, while the #22 Ferrari has lost 40kg after failing to finish in Germany with a clutch problem, and will only have 15kg. Should the Lister appeal not be heard before the race, the #14 car would carry 80kg.

In the N-GT class, the #50 Freisinger Porsche has lost 15kg to be down to 35, with the #88 Ferrari on 25kg after two successive podium finishes. The Oschersleben winning #52 JMB Racing Ferrari will carry 20kg, the #99 RWS Yukos Porsche 15kg and both the #61 EMKA Porsche and the #89 Ferrari 10kg.

At Estoril last year, BMS Scuderia Italia was victorious, with a fourth win for Andrea Piccini and Jean-Denis Deletraz, while Freisinger won in N-GT after a thrilling race to take the N-GT teams' championship.

 

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