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Preview: Alfa faces up to BMW threat

Alfa Romeo has dominated the resurrected European Touring Car Championship over the past few years, but despite the withdrawal of their closest rivals - the works Honda squad - for 2002, BMW has launched a massive offensive to regain its crown as the continent's tin-top champions.

BMW signed up to the new Super 2000 rules package at the last minute, but has since produced arguably the strongest squad of cars. All eight of the 320i machines entered for the opening round at Magny-Cours this weekend have realistic chances of winning, led by the crack Schnitzer squad.

Schnitzer not only has Jorg Muller and Dirk Muller, but also their fellow American Le Mans Series team-mate Fredrik Ekblom in a satellite car run by RBM. Another strong trio is the Team Isert-run Carly Motors squad of last year's Super Production champion Peter Kox, Tom Coronel and former Ferrari F1 driver Gianni Morbidelli. If that wasn't enough, Ravaglia Motorsport fields Jordi Gene (the vastly underrated brother of Williams F1 test driver Marc) and Fabrizio De Simone. Strength in depth indeed.

Alfa Romeo is not about to let its title slip, however, and reigning champion Fabrizio Giovanardi is once again joined by Nicola Larini and female racer Romana Bernardoni in its sleek, Nordauto-run 156 Gta cars. Back-up comes in the shape of Scuderia Bigazzi, who run updated Super Production cars for Frenchman Eric Cayrolle and Spain's Luis Villamil. Look out too for young Brit Tom Ferrier in a car run by Dart Racing, an offshoot of Honda works outfit JAS Motorsport, and Paolo Ruberti in an AGS-run 156.

Volvo returns to the ETCC for the first time since the successful days of the 240 Turbo, and former BTCC champ Rickard Rydell leads the line with another English youngster James Hanson. Although the Prodrive-run squad will only field two cars, expect them to feature at the sharp end of the grid sooner rather than later.

Nissan is represented by privateer squad RJN Motorsport, which runs Primeras for Tommy Rustad and Chris Buncombe. Rustad was a star in the Super Production class last year, but should find the competition much harder this time around.

A late entry to the series is a pair of JAS-built Honda Civic Type-Rs, run by BMW stalwarts CiBiEmme. The Italian team will start out with Super Production machinery at Magny-Cours, but hope to have its Super 2000 cars ready for Salvatore Tavano and Sandro Sardelli at Silverstone next month. Despite its link with Dart, JAS has retained its Honda ties and could run another Civic later in the season.

For an in-depth preview, including the thoughts of reigning champion Fabrizio Giovanardi, see this week's AUTOSPORT magazine.

2002 Entry list
1 Fabrizio Giovanardi (I) Nordauto Alfa Romeo 156 Gta
2 Nicola Larini (I) Nordauto Alfa Romeo 156 Gta
3 Romana Bernardoni (I) Nordauto Alfa Romeo 156 Gta
5 Jordi Gené (E) Ravaglia BMW 320i
6 Fabrizio De Simone (I) Ravaglia BMW 320i
7 Tom Coronel (NED) Carly/Team Isert BMW 320i
8 Gianni Morbidelli (ITA) Carly/Team Isert BMW 320i
9 Peter Kox (NED) Carly/Team Isert BMW 320i
10 Fredrik Ekblom (S) RBM BMW 320i
11 Tommy Rustad (NOR) RJN Motorsport Nissan Primera
12 Chris Buncombe (GB) RJN Motorsport Nissan Primera
14 Paolo Ruberti (I) AGS Motorsport Alfa Romeo 156 Gta
15 Luis Villamil (E) Scuderia Bigazzi Alfa Romeo 156 Gta
16 Eric Cayrolle (F) Scuderia Bigazzi Alfa Romeo 156 Gta
18 Salvatore Tavano (I) CiBiEmme Team Honda Civic Type-R
19 Sandro Sardelli (I) CiBiEmme Team Honda Civic Type-R
20 Tom Ferrier (GB) Dart Racing IP Alfa Romeo 156 Gta
42 Jörg Müller (D) Schnitzer BMW 320i
43 Dirk Müller (D) Schnitzer BMW 320i
60 Rickard Rydell (S) Prodrive Volvo S60
61 James Hanson (GB) Prodrive Volvo S60

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