Fiat finally back in the TC2000 winners circle as the Linea claims first win
Nineteen years after Fiat last graced the winners circle of the prestigious Campeonato Argentino de TC2000, the Turinese brand was back there on Sunday after racing to a stunning victory at the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo in the first of the season's three endurance rounds. It has been a long wait for the multitude of Fiat racing enthusiasts in Argentina, and the gap between wins stretches back to 29th November 1990 when Osvaldo Cocho López raced to victory at Balcarce behind the wheel of the legendary Fiat Regatta.
Sunday's triumph sets many records straight, and comes five races into the return of the Fiat brand to the top level TC2000 (Turismo Competición 2000) series just as the Italian brand celebrates its 90th year in the Latin American nation. The win went to the #47 Fiat Pro Racing run Fiat Linea which was shared by Omar Martínez and Mariano Altuna in this first of the series' endurance rounds this year.
'Guri' Martínez is one of TC2000's household names and was the series champion in 1998, then driving a Honda Civic for the Pro Racing team, and it had been hoped that his recent drafting in to the team after several years away from the touring car series would play a key part in the drive for honours. This was just his second race for the team having made his debut in the Linea at the last round of the series held at the Autódromo Jorge A. Pena in San Martínez on 31st May. Before Sunday's win Martínez' last victory in TC2000 had come on 2nd November 2003 at San Luis at the wheel of a Toyota Corolla. Altuna meanwhile holds the record as the youngest ever victor in the Campeonato Argentino de TC2000 an honour he earned on 29th August 1999 at the wheel of a VW Polo while just 17 years old.
After steadily improving during the first four races of the year, the Fiat Pro Racing Team headed for the Autódromo Termas de Río Hondo, located at Río Hondo, Santiago del Estero, for the first of three endurance headers that are slotted into the 12-round calendar (the other two are the "200 Kilómetros de Buenos Aires" on 16th August and at Potrero de los Funes, San Luís, on 22nd November). In the #46 Linea, 33-year old Emiliano Spataro from Monte Grande, Buenos Aires would be joined by Brazilian Felipe Maluhy, the 31-year-old from São Paulo an experienced "Stock Car" hand in his native land, and having already taken part in a handful of TC2000 events previously. In the #47 car the hugely experienced 43-year-old Omar Martínez from Paraná who made his TC2000 debut at the Tucumán circuit way back on 30th June 1991 would be joined by fellow countryman Mariano Altuna from Lobería, Buenos Aires. The experienced Altuna made his TC2000 debut on 22nd August 1999 at Bahía Blanca in a VW Polo, and his first series win came just five weeks later at Trelew, again driving the Polo.
The Campeonato Argentino de TC2000, which is reserved for cars with 2.0-litre normally aspirated engines and places strict limits on the technology, such as outlawing anti-lock brakes, traction control and variable valve timing, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The TC2000 specification Linea has approximately 310 bhp which it feeds to the wheels through a six-speed Xtrac transmission and it weighs in at 1080 kgs.
Fiat went into the weekend's race with a strong history of competing in the The Campeonato Argentino de TC2000 and was represented at its inception in 1979 with the 125 Coupé. That car ran in private hands until 1981 before from 1983-85 the Fiat 128 was the brand's contender. However Fiat's greatest success in TC2000 would come when Osvaldo Antelo split with Renault and began preparing a Fiat Regatta to be raced by Cocho López. In 1989 the new car achieved excellent results and in 1990 López claimed four wins (three consecutively) and three pole positions. This awakened the interest of Fiat and for 1991 an official team was formed with Hugo Olmi piloting a second car. However the competiveness failed to match the previous year and a switch to the Tempra in 1993 didn't improve matters before an off track tragedy in 1995 helped to seal Fiat's exit from the series. The Fiat Marea was raced by private teams between 1997 and 1999 before in 2004 Fiat returned officially to TC2000 with the Stilo. However a lack of meaningful results saw the Stilo programme (by now in private hands) wrapped up by the end of 2006.
The Fiat operation this year for the brand's heralded return to the series is being run by the ProRacing Team (Pro Competiton S.A.) based in Malagüeño in the outskirts of Villa Carlos Paz, Córdoba. Pro Racing Team is a highly respected Argentinean outfit that brings with it all the ingredients for on track success: it has won the TC2000 championship in three of the last five years [2004, 2006 and 2007] all with Chevrolet. It also has claimed five drivers' titles [1998, 1999, 2004, 2006 and 2007] and will run this year under the name Fiat ProRacing Team.
The Fiat Pro Racing team has been working its way forward during the first four races and the first sign that more progress had been made was the top three lap time that Martínez/Altuna set in the first free practice session on the 4,275 metre track. However while the pair were fast through all the free sessions, they only managed the 22nd quickest time in the first grid shootout and were immediately eliminated. Twelfth quickest time however put Spartaro and Maluhy comfortably through to the next stage and and an impressive fifth quickest in Q2 saw them safely through to the top-10 shootout. A best lap of 1:35.388 then put them onto the third row of the grid (in fifth place), just 0.731 of a second adrift of pole winner José María López who was sharing the Equipo Petrobras entry with guest driver Anthony Reid for the weekend.
However Spataro and Maluhy's good progress deserted them in the race and they lasted just 11 laps and 17 minutes of racing of the 70 lap race, which featured driver and tyre changes and refuelling, before retiring. Meanwhile Martínez had been fighting his way up the field and a clever strategy by the Fiat Pro Racing team saw the experienced pilot coming in at the optimum point to hand the car over to Altuna. With several teams making a hash of their own stops, as the action shook up Altuna was second, behind the 'virtual' leader Camilo Tiago who has taken over the Renault from Matías Rossi. A good bit of wheel-to-wheel rubbing and the Brazilian was through and the Fiat Linea was able to race to the chequered flag after 1 hour and 56 minutes of racing and rightly carve its name into the prestigious history books of the Campeonato Argentino de TC2000 as a winner.
Twenty points for Fiat thanks to this win propels the Italian manufacturer onto a respectable 24 points in the standings. At the top of the leaderboard Honda (163 points) put even more ground on its rivals on Sunday and now has almost triple the points of second-placed Toyota (57). Renault (53) in third, Ford (49) in fourth, and Chevrolet (40) in fifth, plug the gap between the top-two and Fiat. The other manufacturer to join the series this year alongside Fiat, is Peugeot but it has collected just 3 points so far.
In the TC2000 drivers' championship Martínez collected 32 points for the long-distance race win and it not only gets him off the mark and but puts him into seventh place in the classification with seven rounds remaining. The clear points leaders after five races are the Equipo Petrobras drivers' Juan Manuel Silva José and María López who have 72 and 57 points respectively. Spataro meanwhile is in twentieth place with 5 points. Finally in the teams' championship Fiat Pro Racing (24 points) move up to sixth place. The runaway leader of the teams' championship is Equipo Petrobras (153); they are now a long way ahead of the Renault Lo Jack Team (53) and Toyota Team Argentina (45). In the TC2000 endurance 'mini' championship series, that comprises of the calendar's three long-distance events, Martinez/Altuna are now the clear points leaders after the first round, with 32 points, ahead of Silva/Bueno (21), Rossi/Tiago (16) and Fineschi/Suarez (12).
Nieuws, uitslagen e.d. m.b.t. toerwagenraces.
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