24 Ore di Sicilia
For the fourth time in succession, the island of Sicily saw the first European 24 Hour race of the year; the 24 Ore di Sicilia was held on the Autodromo Enna-Pergusa on March 20/21. Regrettably, the field for the 24 hour race as such was somewhat depleted. The race format for this fourth edition of the event was complex; the first six hours were a combined event with the Endurance Touring Car Serie (ETCS), so a number of cars ended their race at 2200 hours. Perhaps next time all the ETCS competitors can make up their minds to contest the whole 24 hours; for some of those who stayed in the race this time, it certainly paid off.

For the 24 Hours, there were three clear favourites, in the familiar shapes of a Porsche 996, a Ferrari 360, and a Lamborghini Diablo. Esselle Competiton Group had a 996 GTS-RS ready for last year's second-placed team Totò Riolo, Mimmo Guagliardo, Carlo Commis and Gianni Ceraulo, hoping to go one better in 2004; Mimmo Schiattarella, Gianni Ferreri, and Michele Miano made up the Diablo crew for Promo Racing Sport; and the F360 was driven by Vincenzo Sospiri, Michele Merendino, and Bernhard Auinger, also a Promo Racing Sport entry.

In perfect weather conditions - unlike last year's race which had had to be red-flagged with five hours to go for heavy fog - the first four hours were an open contest between the three GTs; but as first the Lamborghini, then the F360 succumbed to mechanical woes, the rest of the race was relatively plain sailing for the Esselle 996, as no other car in the race was a direct match for the Porsche's speed.

At the six hour mark, the ETCS race came to a close, and as could be expected from a touring car race, it was a BMW whitewash, with South Racing's Diesel-powered 330d of Giovanni Cassiba, Francesco & Luigi Di Natali, and Francesco Agnello, who stayed in the hunt for the whole 24 hours, leading home the E36-type M3 of W&D Racing (Gian Antono Pennino / Marco Camurri / Allessandro Bollino), and the E46 version entered by the Max Team (Carmelo Scionti /Maurizio Bisegno / Stefano Geraci /Mario La Barbera), the latter also continuing on. The demise of the two Promo Racing GTs played neatly into their hands, and for 14 hours, the Diesel BMW then was the main rival to the leading 996 GT3-RS, all but making up for the power deficit with better fuel economy. On lap 326, they also had to call it a day for technical reasons; and at this point, the contest was practically over. Under no pressure at all now, and with a car that all race long had only required fuel, tyres, and brake pads, the Esselle crew drove home their victory with relative ease. This being Italy, Mimmo Guagliardo dedicated his victory to "la Mamma".

The Max Racing M3 was still circulating steadily and bagged second place, albeit 35 laps - the rough equivalent of an hour - down on the Porsche. In third place, another ETCS team was rewarded for showing competitive spirit, the AVG Motor Sport Renault Clio of Michele & Claudio Alba, Paolo Barone, and Vincenzo Affronto backed up their 2000cc class win in the 6 hour classification with another class win, and third overall in the 24 Hours, another 23 laps back on the second-placed car; not a bad performance at all for a Group N production car.

Plans are under consideration for the relocation of the entire Autrodromo Enna-Pergusa, so next years 24 Ore di Sicilia may already take place on a new track. Perhaps this will bring some more international competitors to sunny Sicily.
Johannes Gauglica

 

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