Maseratis fail to shine

Maserati's much-heralded debut in the FIA GT Championship, at Imola this weekend, began on a surprising note with neither of the Italian manufacturer's controversial MC12s making a big impression in qualifying

Maseratis fail to shine

The fastest of the two cars, run by the AF Corse squad which prepares the cars for the Maserati Trofeo series, driven by test drivers Mika Salo and Andrea Bertolini, could only manage eighth on the grid. Their fastest time was nearly 1.4s slower than pole lap of 1m45.593s, set by the championship-leading BMS Scuderia Italia Ferrari 550 Maranello of Luca Cappellari and Fabrizio Gollin.

The second Maserati, crewed by Johnny Herbert and Andrea de Simone was further back in 12th, was another four tenths off the pace.

Many series insiders had feared that the dramatic looking blue cars would dominate the event, but the signs were there in free practice yesterday when the fastest MC12, driven by Salo, could not match the pace of the Konrad Motorsport Saleen S7.

Maserati's technical director Giorgio Ascanelli was not too concerned however. "We have to remember that we are making our debut in a new car," he said. "We are very happy with the performance of the tyres and the brakes worked well."

The team's former F1 drivers echoed his view. "I knew this track already and so I concentrated on the set up with Andrea," said Salo after free practice. "I would say that we did a great job.

"We have a lot of penalty on the car. We have a lot of extra ballast due to the FIA rules. We also have a much smaller rear wing than we've been testing before, and all this is new for us. I think that the FIA will soon realise that we are not as fast as everybody feared and hopefully the weight can come off and we can put the original rear wing back on the car.

"Of course, we'll try to win. There's no point in being here otherwise. I think the guys are capable of doing it. I hope that everything will go smoothly with no technical problem, human error or anything. I'm quite confident I can win."

Herbert agreed. "We are very pleased with the progress made," he said. "Remember that we tested for the first time last week. We are happy."

Alongside the BMS Ferrari on the front row is the Konrad Saleen driven by Walter Lechner Jr, Toni Seiler and Franz Konrad. Uwe Alzen's sister Vitaphone S7 was third fastest.

The GPC Giesse Squadra Corse Ferrari 360, comfortably led the N-GT class, ahead of the Stephane Ortelli/Emmanuel Collard driven Freisinger Porsche.

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