Balbiani to make British GT debut at Knockhill

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The Independent Online

Chad Racing has signed Argentinian ace José Manuel Balbiani to partner regular driver Chris Hyman at the wheel of its Ferrari 430 next weekend (13/14 June) at Knockhill, and team boss Piers Masarati is looking for a good result in rounds seven and eight of the Avon Tyres British GT Championship.

"We are delighted that José will be joining us in Scotland," says Piers. "He's very quick, the fastest 430 GT3 driver last year in FIA GT3, and his inclusion in the team will put us on a more even footing with the rest of the field, as most of our rivals have a pro driver in their cars.

"It's nice to give a quick young driver an opportunity in the UK, and while he may have no experience at Knockhill, we have as a team. I won both British GT races there in 2005 and we were on the front row with Matt Griffin last year. We have a good car for Knockhill and good data."

Said Balbiani: "I went to Knockhill once, when I was with my wife touring Scotland, and I took part in the rally experience course, winning driver of the day! But that was on the gravel course outside, not on the circuit...

"I am very pleased to race with Chris because I know him from last year and the Kessel team in FIA GT3. I consider him a very good and consistent driver and I am sure that if I can set up the Ferrari to be consistent from the first to the last lap then we will be on the podium. Knockhill seems to be a perfect track for smaller cars like the 430 or the Ascari, but once the bigger cars get traction on the straight you need to open your doors to stop them overtaking you!

"I am very glad to race in Britain: all the circuits have so much history and to be there in a Ferrari is quite something. I have to thank Piers, Chris and Paul very much for this chance. I will do my best on my debut."

Balbiani, 31, won the Ferrari Cup in FIA GT3 last year and was selected by BMS to drive the team's GT2 Ferrari 430 in FIA GT2 at the last three rounds of the 2008 championship. José will be standing in for Hyman's regular driving partner Paul Warren, who has other commitments. Warren will return for Snetterton and then Balbiani will be back in the Ferrari at Donington, when Hyman has a holiday scheduled.

The Rosso Verde team's Ferrari will also have a different co-driver on board with regular Hector Lester, whose usual running mate, Dane Allan Simonsen, is racing at Le Mans. Stéphane Daoudi, the highly experienced French FIA GT3 pilot and fourth-place finisher at Le Mans in 2008, is the man in the hot seat. "I'm really looking forward to driving with Stéphane," said Lester. "He has the right pedigree and will, I am sure, be a huge asset to the Rosso Verde team."

The Avon Tyres British GT Championship has been nothing if not open this season, with five different driver pairings emerging on top in the six races held so far and GT3 wins for the Mosler, Viper, and Ferrari 430. The championship leader and winner of the most races so far is 17-year-old sensation Daniel Brown, regular pilot of the Momo-backed Rollcentre Mosler. He and Stuart Hall won both the Oulton Park rounds and, last week at Rockingham, Dan teamed up with Gregor Fisken to win round six.

Fisken and Brown share the car again this weekend as Hall is on duty with Aston Martin at Le Mans. The weekend will fill an important gap in Forfar-born Fisken's motorsport CV, for despite vast sports car and historic racing experience the Scot has never competed at Knockhill before.

Says Gregor: "Knockhill is home ground and it will be great to be with the family, but I have to say that I have never driven so much as a lap of the circuit so it's going to be a new experience for me, and one that I am very much looking forward to."

The VRS Ferrari of Phil Burton and Adam Wilcox was on fine form at Rockingham after a season blighted by technical glitches, finishing second to the Lester/Simonsen car in the first of the weekend's races, and ought to be a Knockhill contender. After the mechanical miseries endured last time by the MTECH team and Duncan Cameron/Matt Griffin, they will be hoping for better things from their Ferrari also.

The David and Godfrey Jones Preci-Spark Ascari was rapid at Knockhill last year but was denied its on-road victory by officialdom; the brothers will be keen to make up for that... A winner at Spa and a podium visitor at Oulton and Rockingham, the ABG Viper of Aaron Scott and Craig Wilkins is another strong possibility for top honours.

Completing the GT3 entry is the fabulous RPM Ford GT, which showed promise on its championship debut at Rockingham with Michael Bentwood and Philip Walker sharing the driving.

Provisional GT3 championship placings after round 6:

1 Daniel Brown 39

2= Hector Lester & Allan Simonsen 36

4= David Jones & Godfrey Jones 32

6= Gregor Fisken 31

6= Craig Wilkins & Aaron Scott 31 etc