March 1999 Motorsport News

01.03.99 - F1: THE AUSTRALIAN GP
Michael Schumacher has pledged his future to Ferrari even if he fails to end their 20-year quest for the drivers' title this season. Schumacher insists he will not walk away from a team that he is determined to restore to their former glories. The German said: "If we do not win it this year then I will try again like I have done in the last two years. I will try again in 2000 and 2001. I am not here for a single year - I have a contract for another four years."

The first race of 1999 takes place on Sunday and this season promises to be just as dramatic as recent years. Mika Hakkinen secured the title on the last day of the 1998 campaign in Japan, finishing ahead of Michael Schumacher. In 1997, Schumacher missed out again in the last race - this time to Canadian Jacques Villeneuve in Jerez. A year earlier it was Damon Hill's turn to triumph at the final hurdle when he outgunned Williams team-mate Villeneuve in Suzuka.

McLaren's Mika Hakkinen is aiming to become the first man since Michael Schumacher to win back-to-back titles. Schumacher, who was the Finn's main rival last season, won the drivers' crown with Benetton in 1994 and 1995. He followed in the footsteps of the late, great Ayrton Senna, who drove McLaren to the titles in 1990 and 1991. The Brazilian's main rival Alain Prost, who now runs his own Formula One outfit, also did the double for McLaren in 1985 and 1986.

World champion Mika Hakkinen will not give up his crown without a fight but does not feel under any pressure ahead of Sunday's race. He stated: "I am very relaxed about the championship. I am not worried about the past. "I enjoy being world champion and I want to stay champion. Last year was the pinnacle of my career and gave me a great sense of pride and achievement. "This year will be more difficult so I have worked harder."

Ferrari star Michael Schumacher is confident that pre-season problems will not hinder his chances on Sunday. This season the Italian team will be bidding to land their first drivers' title since 1979 and they last won the constructors' crown in 1983. Schumacher said: "Certainly we had problems with the new car in recent tests but this is the reason for making tests - find problems and solve them. "I am confident that we will be competitive from the first race."

Michael Schumacher warmed up for Sunday's opener Down Under by playing football in Italy. As Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine completed tests in the F399, the German played in a match between players of Serie A outfit Bologna. The 30-year-old's side won 5-3 and he scored two goals. "I was a guest and they let me score," said the two-time world champion. "I like football and I enjoyed it before the start of my real job."

Eddie Irvine cannot be far off notching his first victory after becoming a regular visitor to the podium in 1998. The Ulsterman has risen above all the speculation about his position with Ferrari in recent years to become one of the top drivers on the circuit. Ferrari are known to value his contribution and he is the perfect foil for team-mate Michael Schumacher. Irvine's consistency also ensured the race for the Constructors' Championship went down to the wire last year.

McLaren look to have the superior car yet again this season and David Coulthard will be looking to make more of that advantage this time around. The Scot handed victory to team-mate Mika Hakkinen in Australia in 1998 and then only won one race - in San Marino. Coulthard is unlikely to repeat the favour for Hakkinen at Albert Park. He helped McLaren to the constructors' crown and he was third overall but a good start will prevent the usual rumours about his place in the team.

Williams have been working to a tight deadline in pre-season as they bid to put their 1998 display behind them. Williams did not achieve a single win last year and with the number of test days reduced for 1999, they have been battling to get everything on track. They have an all-new driver line-up of Alex Zanardi and Ralf Schumacher and there have also been rule changes. For instance, an extra groove has been introduced to the front tyres as the FIA try to slow down the cars.

CART Champ Car champion Alex Zanardi will be aiming to make a bigger impression on Formula One on his return to the discipline with Williams. The Italian has not raced in a grand prix since 1994 and has never driven at Albert Park. However, he insisted: "I am quite confident. "I believe that because of the work we have done over the winter I can go home with a smile on my face. "Once I have done the first lap I will get even more confident - or less."

Williams driver Ralf Schumacher has not had the best of luck in Melbourne. He raced at Albert Park on two occasions while with Jordan but a technical failure led to a retirement in 1997. Meanwhile, last year he went off on the second lap after an accident with Stewart's Jan Magnussen. "Melbourne is one of the most exciting grands prix of the year," he said. "I hope to have more luck after not seeing the chequered flag there before."

Damon Hill is optimistic that Jordan can make a successful start to 1999. Hill was eighth in Australia last year and his then team-mate Ralf Schumacher did not manage two laps. After testing in Barcelona, Hill revealed: "It was immediately obvious that this chassis package was a great deal better than last year. "The car is quite quick but we all want more because we know that there is a huge difference between being numero uno and one of the rest."

Former world champion Damon Hill is banking on Jordan putting more pressure on Ferrari and McLaren in 1999. "I feel far more positive at the start of this season from how I felt in 1998," he explained. "We ultimately want to have the car challenging for the front row every time in qualifying and leading races. "We want to be up there putting pressure on the McLarens and Ferraris. We want to be on the podium and in with a shout of winning a couple of races."

Eddie Jordan believes the first race of the season on Sunday will be an "entralling encounter". The Jordan team boss said: "If winter testing is anything to go by, there are four to five teams who will be battling it out behind McLaren and Ferrari. "Jordan did not make a very impressive start in our first week of testing in Barcelona but after subsequent work in the drawing office our times improved. "Both drivers seem very happy with the car and have been on excellent form."

Ex-Williams driver Heinz-Harald Frentzen is relishing the opportunity of a fresh start with a new team. The German replaced his current Jordan team-mate Damon Hill at Williams but failed to make a big impression. He is looking forward to Melbourne and said: "I have many good memories of this race. "We have done some good work in testing and the car feels good." Frentzen's race engineer Sam Michael added: "Since the team win at Spa things have become more serious."

Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz have been through an intense physical training programme as part of their pre-season regime for Benetton. The team hope it will help the drivers both physically and mentally. Benetton have had a month less to develop the car than in previous years but are confident that they have achieved most of their objectives. However, problems could occur on Sunday because it will be the first time the cars have run in hot conditions.

British American Racing are aiming to put the row over their cars' liveries behind them and concentate on results. Formula One's newest team had hoped to field cars with different designs but the idea went against FIA regulations. Managing director Craig Pollock said: "An unbelievable amount has been accomplished here in the last 15 months by a dedicated group of individuals. "Ultimately, it is on the track where BAR must make their mark. I believe we are capable of doing that."

Much is expected of former world champion Jacques Villeneuve and his new British American Racing team. New teams are not often tipped to shine in their debut seasons but BAR could create a few surprises. Their Reynard-designed cars, which are powered by Supertec Sport engines, have shown up well in testing. Villeneuve's final season with Williams was disappointing and his last victory was in Luxembourg in 1997 - the year he took the title.

Stewart are hoping that the arrival of Johnny Herbert will be the catalyst for success at the British team. After his wilderness years at Sauber, Herbert will be aiming to give Stewart a boost in their third year on the grand prix scene. After the boost of a second place in Monaco in their debut season, last year was disappointing by comparison. Herbert last won a grand prix in Italy in 1995 but the aim for Stewart will be consistent points finishes.

Pre-season gearbox problems ensured Prost were always lagging behind their rivals last year and 1999 could be termed a make-or-break season. However, the team with former world champion Alain Prost at the helm are reported to be reasonably happy with the car after last-minute testing. They have been working on the chassis for Olivier Panis' Melbourne car at the Lurcy-Levis track. Panis, who did not win a point in 1998, was pleased with the APO2 chassis 3.

Prost team supremo Alain Prost believes the French outfit are almost ready to live up to their expectations. "We have the means to have a good car," he confirmed. "We have worked a lot and filled the gap between ourselves and the teams who we want to compete with. "It is not quite enough yet and we still have deficiencies but we know where they are and what they are. We leave France fairly confident and more comfortable with the potential of the car."

McLaren: Still appear to have the best car, despite a few testing problems. Mika Hakkinen proved he could handle pressure when taking the 1998 world crown but David Coulthard will be out to improve on his single win last year.

Ferrari: It is 20 years since they took the drivers' title and consistency could see them end the the drought. At times the pressure got to Michael Schumacher last year but he is still the man to beat, especially in the wet. Eddie Irvine should land his first win.

Williams: Williams were very much the 'bridesmaids' to McLaren and Ferrari last year and it was their first season without a win for 10 years. The all-new driver line-up of Ralf Schumacher and Alex Zanardi will have much to prove.

Jordan: No longer have to live with the pressure of trying to claim a win and if they start 1999 as they finished 1998, Jordan could cause shock waves. Damon Hill's replacement at Williams, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, joins the team.

Benetton: Failed to live up to expectations last year but the young driver line-up will have benefited from the experience. Giancarlo Fisichella and Alexander Wurz will need to combine their pace with good race judgement.

Sauber: Are boosted by the use of a Ferrari engine and Jean Alesi is sure to create the occasional upset. One of the sport's characters, Alesi is paired with Pedro Diniz, who is keen to rise above his paying participant tag.

Arrows: Likely to be an intermediate campaign, despite the backing of Prince Malik Ado Ibrahim, because the engine capability is still not good. Pedro de la Rosa will be joined in the team by Toranosuke Takagi.

Stewart: The car has looked useful in testing but they must overcome the lack of reliability that hit them last year. The amiable Johnny Herbert will be out to put his barren Sauber years behind him and his arrival may push Rubens Barrichello into finding his form.

Prost: Last season the French team were always playing catch-up because of earlyseason car problems so the pressure is on team boss Alain Prost. Olivier Panis was often overshadowed by Jarno Trulli in 1998 and much will depend on the Peugeot engine this year.

Minardi: The perennial minnows but pre-season testing suggests the M199 is a better car than its predecessors. Marc Gene is new to the discipline but has impressed in the build-up, while Luca Badoer brings in the experience.

BAR: Tipped as the dark horses because of the Reynard-designed cars and the acquisition of Jacques Villeneuve. The team who bought out Tyrrell are new to the game but they have built up a platform for the talents of former world champion Villeneuve. Grand prix rookie Ricardo Zonta is likely to have to adopt an Eddie Irvine-type number two role.

M Hakkinen    Fin  McLaren
D Coulthard   GB   McLaren
M Schumacher  Ger  Ferrari
E Irvine      GB   Ferrari
A Zanardi     It   Williams
R Schumacher  Ger  Williams
D Hill        GB   Jordan
H-H Frentzen  Ger  Jordan
G Fisichella  It   Benetton
A Wurz        Aut  Benetton
J Alesi       Fr   Sauber
P Diniz       Brz  Sauber
P de la Rosa  Sp   Arrows
T Takagi      Jpn  Arrows
J Herbert     GB   Stewart
R Barrichello Brz  Stewart
O Panis       Fr   Prost
J Trulli      It   Prost
M Gene        Sp   Minardi
L Badoer      It   Minardi
J Villeneuve  Can  BAR
R Zonta       Brz  BAR

Sunday's race will be the fourth Formula One grand prix to be staged at Albert Park. David Coulthard won in Melbourne in 1997 and fellow Briton Damon Hill was first in 1996. Albert Park is 3.274 miles in length and Sunday's grand prix is scheduled to last for 58 laps. Bridgestone are the sole tyre manufacturers for 1999, following Goodyear's decision to pull out, and will be a leveller for the teams.

           David      Eddie   Damon  Johnny
           Coulthard  Irvine  Hill   Herbert
Age:        27         33      38     34
GP starts:  74         81     100    129
Poles:       8          0      20      0
Wins:        4          0      22      2
Points:    173         99     353     83
position:  3rd        4th     6th  =15th

         Alex     Pedro  Marc  Luca    Ricardo
         Zanardi  de la  Gene  Badoer  Zonta
Age:       32     28     24    28      22
Starts:    25     0      0     34      0
Best       6th    n/a    n/a   7th     n/a
Points:     1     0      0     0       0
1998     CART    Jordan  Open  Ferrari World
record:  champ   test    F'tna test    GT
                 driver  champ driver  champ

AUSTRALIAN GRAND PRIX, Melbourne - 1998 race result:
  1 M Hakkinen    Fin McLaren (pole)
  2 D Coulthard   GB  McLaren (2)
  3 H-H Frentzen  Ger Williams (6)
  4 E Irvine      GB  Ferrari (8)
  5 J Villeneuve  Can Williams (4)
  6 J Herbert     GB  Sauber (5)
  8 D Hill        GB  Jordan (10)
RET M Schumacher  Ger Ferrari (3)
Fastest race lap: Hakkinen 1:31.649

March 7  Australia GP, Albert Park
April 11 Brazilian GP, Interlagos
May 2    San Marino GP, Imola
May 16   Monaco GP, Monte Carlo
May 30   Spanish GP, Barcelona
June 13  Canadian GP, Montreal
June 27  French GP, Magny Cours
July 11  British GP, Silverstone
July 25  Austrian GP, Spielberg
Aug 1    German GP, Hockenheim
Aug 15   Hungarian GP, Budapest
Aug 29   Belgian GP, Spa-Francorchamps
Sept 12  Italian GP, Monza
Sept 26  European GP, Nurburgring
Oct 17   Malaysian GP, Kuala Lumpur
Oct 31   Japanese GP, Suzuka

02.03.99 - F1
Ferrari star Eddie Irvine is aiming to claim his first grand prix win this season - if Michael Schumacher allows him to taste success. Irvine is very much a back-up driver to Ferrari number one Schumacher. However, if the German breaks down or achieves a big enough championship lead to start repaying favours, Irvine could finally reap rewards. "I want to win that first grand prix this season," said Irvine. "Victory is the only way I can improve at Ferrari."

F1:- McLaren chief Ron Dennis has not ruled out using controversial team orders in Sunday's Australian Grand Prix. A row erupted at Albert Park last year when David Coulthard handed victory to team-mate Mika Hakkinen and there were calls for team orders to be banned. However, Dennis said: "There is not a grand prix that we contest that does not take place under team orders. It has been the case since I took over at McLaren in the early 1980s and will continue to be the case."

TOURING CARS:- The 1999 Auto Trader British Touring Car Championship will be contested by six top-class, two-car manufacturer teams when it begins next month. Seven independent drivers will also contest the 26-race series. All six manufacturers - Ford, Honda, Nissan, Renault, Vauxhall and Volvo - won races last year. TOCA chief executive Alan Gow said: "We have retained the regulation changes that brought us nine different race winners last year."

1999 entry list:
 1 R Rydell      Swe Volvo S40
 2 A Reid        GB  Ford Mondeo
 3 J Thompson    GB  Honda Accord
 4 A Menu        Swi Ford Mondeo
 5 J Plato       GB  Renault Laguna
 6 D Leslie      GB  Nissan Primera
 7 Y Muller      Fr  Vauxhall Vectra
 8 J Cleland     GB  Vauxhall Vectra
11 V Radermecker Bel Volvo S40
15 M Blair       GB  Vauxhall Vectra *
17 R Spence      GB  Renault Laguna *
18 G Howell      GB  Ford Mondeo *
19 C Gallie      GB  BMW 320i *
22 P Cook        GB  Honda Accord *
23 L Aiello      Fr  Nissan Primera
33 P Kox         Hol Honda Accord
37 J-C Boullion  Fr  Renault Laguna
77 M Neal        GB  Nissan Primera *
99 L Brookes     GB  Honda Accord *

* Registered for Independents Cup

F3 (Oulton Park):- Kristian Kolby topped the times in the first official FOTA test ahead of this year's F3 championship. Kolby, driving on his home circuit, was fastest in both the wet morning and dry afternoon sessions.

Leading testing times:        min secs
1 K Kolby        Fortec       1:31.734
2 M Davies       Fortec       1:31.850
3 L Burti        Stewart      1:31.976
4 M Hynes        Manor        1:32.244
5 T Scheckter    Speedsport   1:33.334
6 T Sriachavanon Manor        1:33.488

David Coulthard led the way at the end of practice on the opening day of the Formula One season at Albert Park. Coulthard went fastest right at the end of the second session after seeing Mika Hakkinen involved in a 100mph crash. The world champion escaped unhurt after sliding into a perimeter fence at the start of the home straight but still finished with the second fastest time. Rubens Barrichello came next followed by Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Johnny Herbert and Damon Hill.

David Coulthard admitted he was surprised after his McLaren team finished the session more than a second quicker than their closest rivals. He said: "I was surprised to see such a gap but this is early days. We should not be counting our chickens. It's good to be in front but I've got to keep it in perspective." Teammate Mika Hakkinen escaped in a 100mph smash and said: "I'm okay but I damaged the car quite badly. I'm sure the mechanics will be able to fix it."

Friday's practice times:
 1 D Coulthard   GB  McLaren  1:31.971
 2 M Hakkinen    Fin McLaren  1:31.985
 3 R Barrichello Brz Stewart  1:32.947
 4 H-H Frentzen  Ger Jordan   1:33.029
 5 J Herbert     GB  Stewart  1:33.166
 6 D Hill        GB  Jordan   1:33.420
 7 M Schumacher  Ger Ferrari  1:33.576
 8 J Trulli      It  Prost    1:33.870
 9 A Zanardi     It  Williams 1:33.951
10 R Schumacher  Ger Williams 1:33.957
11 A Wurz        Aut Benetton 1:34.046
12 G Fisichella  It  Benetton 1:34.135
13 J Alesi       Fr  Sauber   1:34.541
14 E Irvine      GB  Ferrari  1:34.595
15 O Panis       Fr  Prost    1:34.693
16 J Villeneuve  Can BAR      1:34.695
17 P Diniz       Brz Sauber   1:35.253
18 T Takagi      Jpn Arrows   1:35.699
19 P de la Rosa  Sp  Arrows   1:35.756
20 M Gene        Sp  Minardi  1:36.481
21 L Badoer      It  Minardi  1:37.958
22 R Zonta       Brz BAR      1:38.075

F.VAUXHALL JNR:- Marino Franchitti, who is the 20-year-old younger brother of Champ Car star Dario, has joined the John Village Automotive team. He will contest the Formula Vauxhall Championship after impressing in the Formula Vauxhall Junior winter series. "I want to learn as much as possible this season," he said.

World champion Mika Hakkinen snatched pole position for Sunday's race from McLaren teammate David Coulthard. The Scot looked to have secured top spot at the front of the grid with a time of 1:30.946 with just two minutes of the qualifying period left. Finn Hakkinen squeezed in one final lap though and clocked 1:30.462 to take the 11th pole of his career. Ferrari's Michael Schumacher was a massive 1.3 seconds further back in third spot while Damon Hill was ninth.

Qualifying times:
 1 M Hakkinen    Fin McLaren  1:30.462
 2 D Coulthard   GB  McLaren  1:30.946
 3 M Schumacher  Ger Ferrari  1:31.781
 4 R Barrichello Bra Stewart  1:32.148
 5 H-H Frentzen  Ger Jordan   1:32.276
 6 E Irvine      GB  Ferrari  1:32.289
 7 G Fisichella  It  Benetton 1:35.540
 8 R Schumacher  Ger Williams 1:32.691
 9 D Hill        GB  Jordan   1:32.695
10 A Wurz        Aus Benetton 1:32.789
11 J Villeneuve  Can BAR      1:32.888
12 J Trulli      It  Prost    1:32.971
13 J Herbert     GB  Stewart  1:32.991
14 P Diniz       Brz Sauber   1:33.374
15 A Zanardi     It  Williams 1:33.549
16 J Alesi       Fr  Sauber   1:33.910
17 T Takagi      Jpn Arrows   1:34.182
18 P de la Rosa  Sp  Arrows   1:34.244
19 R Zonta       Brz BAR      1:34.412
20 O Panis       Fr  Prost    1:35.068
21 L Badoer      It  Minardi  1:35.316
Did not qualify:
   M Gene        Sp  Minardi  1:37.013
Mika Hakkinen admitted he feared he had lost the first qualifying battle of the season to teammate David Coulthard. Hakkinen repeated his performance of last year by clocking the fastest qualifying time and said: "I knew I had to get it right and managed it. "When David went fastest I knew I had only one lap left and it is never easy doing better on just one lap. The gap was quite comfortable in the end, but I was not enjoying it while qualifying was on."

David Coulthard was disappointed to have been pipped to pole position. The Scot led the times with two minutes of qualifying remaining only for Mika Hakkinen to go faster late on. Coulthard said: "I am very disappointed not to be on pole and I don't think the gap between myself and Mika is a true reflection. I am surprised at the gap we have over the rest but now it is up to me to make the best of that in the race and try and beat Mika."

Michael Schumacher has no plans to quit Formula One when his contract with Ferrari ends. The German is contracted until the end of the 2002 season, by which time he will have earned around 150m from his time with the Italian team. Schumacher's future was plunged into doubt when his manager Willi Weber suggested he might then retire. He said: "I have read the reports but they're wrong. As long as I am having fun I will continue."

Britain's Damon Hill blamed traffic for his poor showing in qualifying at Albert Park. The 1996 world champion only managed to clock 1:32.695 to take ninth position and admitted: "Ninth is disappointing. The car is capable of doing better but I was badly held up with traffic. I never had an opportunity to find out what I could do with the car." Hill's teammate Heinz-Harald Frentzen claimed fifth spot and added: "It is great to be up in front on the grid."

Positions after 5 special stages:
1 Petch/Croft     Ford Esc    38:36
2 Thompson/H'cock Ford Esc    39:11
3 Buckley/Ewing   Mitsubishi  39:13
4 E'stone/E'stone Ford Esc    39:46
5 Green/Capstick  Ford Esc    39:49
6 Sisson/Wh'lock  Mitsubishi  39:50

Eddie Irvine gave Ferrari a massive boost in the opening race of the season by securing his first grand prix win. After taking the front row of the grid, McLaren duo Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard had been expected to shine but they both failed to finish. Michael Schumacher started from the back after stalling and he was hit by the gearbox problem again in the race. He was eighth but Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished second in his first race for Jordan and Ralf Schumacher was third.

McLaren's hopes of repeating last year's one-two at Albert Park were dashed when Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard failed to finish. Coulthard retired with an hydraulic problem and then Hakkinen dropped down the field from first place after the safety car had made an appearance. It followed a spin by Jacques Villeneuve that ended his race. Hakkinen carried on after a visit to the pits but he too was eventually forced to retire with throttle leakage.

Michael Schumacher had to start from the back of the grid for the second race in a row. The German stalled in the final grand prix of last year and it happened again this time at the beginning of the parade lap on the restart. At the end of lap five, Schumacher had charged up to 12th spot but was 30 seconds down on Mika Hakkinen. Meanwhile, Damon Hill's 100th grand prix ended when he was forced into the gravel by Jarno Trulli on lap one.

Johnny Herbert's Stewart career got off to a disastrous start in the first race of the 1999 campaign. The Briton was hoping for a change of luck after his barren Sauber years but smoke poured from his car just as the race was set to get underway. His team-mate Rubens Barrichello suffered a similar problem and the start was aborted. The Brazilian had qualified in fourth place and took the spare car, leaving Herbert out of the race.

British teams Jordan and Stewart were boosted by points finishes. Stewart's Johnny Herbert did not start the race and Jordan's Damon Hill went out on lap one. However, Rubens Barrichello battled his way up to fifth place after having to start the race in the pit-lane, while Heinz-Harald Frentzen was second. Williams also got in on the act, with Ralf Schumacher finishing third in his maiden race for the team, and Arrows' Pedro de la Rosa was sixth.

Ulsterman Eddie Irvine modestly thanked all the people who have helped him during his career after claiming his first win at the 82nd attempt. "I would like to thank everyone who has helped me, all the way up from Formula Ford," he revealed. "They know who they are. If I named them all I would be here for a few hours. I needed a lot of help. It is a fantastic feeling to get a win and to do it with Ferrari after all this time."

Michael Schumacher was last home in eighth placec as Ferrari team-mate Eddie Irvine notched his first win. "Firstly, I must congratulate Eddie," said Schumacher. "Like the rest of the team, I am very happy he has won his first race. He really deserves it. "At the first start I could not engage first gear because of a problem on the steering wheel but when we changed the wheel it came back to normal. "At least we both finished so it is a better start than last year."

Mercedes-Benz Motorsport manager Norbert Haug has admitted that McLaren will have to work on reliability. Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard both retired at Albert Park and Haug added: "Naturally it is a pity that we could not run further. "However, I think we have proved that we are on target as far as performance is concerned. Of course now all we must do is to make sure we can last a race distance with reliability."

Johnny Herbert was philosophical after car problems ensured he did not start the race. He had to leap from his Stewart-Ford at the start and the Briton admitted: "I could smell burning. The wires were burnt through and so my throttle did not work." Herbert's team-mate Rubens Barrichello was hit by a similar problem. He took the spare car and had to start from the pit-lane.

Damon Hill's weekend was summed up by his retirement on lap one. After failing to impress in the qualifying session, Hill was pushed out of the race and he admitted: "It has been a really bad day. "I was barged out of the way by someone who outbraked himself. It is a shame because I had a brilliant start. I had moved up two places." It was the former world champion's 100th grand prix but will be one he wants to forget.

Heinz-Harald Frentzen finished second Down Under but his boss Eddie Jordan also had another reason to smile. The top six drivers out of the eight finishers once drove for his team. He said: "Heinz-Harald did a remarkable job. He seems to enjoy the workings of our team and I believe we have a real champion here. All of the top six drivers today have driven for Jordan, which is quite a statistic. It is just a pity Eddie Irvine beat us to first place."

Alex Zanardi was baffled after his first 1999 appearance for Williams ended after 20 laps. The Italian said: "It was difficult at the start but once it cleared and I was all by myself I lost the car. "I do not know what happened. I had a lot of problems and was quite a few seconds off the pace. I just turned into a corner and lost the back end." His Williams team-mate Ralf Schumacher was third and he added: "The car was well balanced and I was happy with it."

Jacques Villeneuve's first race for British American Racing ended with a retirement on lap 14. The ex-world champion spun out when his rear wing failed and he said: "That is not the way I would have liked my first race of the season to end. "The crash probably looked worse than it was because I just headed straight towards the wall." Team-mate Ricardo Zonta also failed to finish but added: "Overall I am happy with my first race."

Benetton star Giancarlo Fisichella achieved what he set out to do by finishing fourth. He said: "It was a great but very hard race for me. On the first corner I locked my wheels and I got a flat tyre on the spot. This caused vibrations which I had to fight against for 17 laps. I was hoping to finish fourth or fifth and we achieved this objective. I am happy that we have a competitive car with a lot of potential."

Rubens Barrichello had mixed feelings after managing to take fifth place, despite a 10-second stop-go penalty. "I am happy to score two points but am also a little upset because I felt like I could have won," he confirmed. "The 10-second penalty was tough because I had nowhere else to go when I overtook Michael Schumacher under the yellow flags. Something happened ahead of the pack. Michael slowed and I went to the right of him to avoid him."

Arrows were delighted with their start to the new campaign. New drivers Pedro de la Rosa and Toranosuke were sixth and seventh respectively and rookie de la Rosa admitted: "I am delighted, very happy. "It was impossible without the hard work of the team. I stayed out of trouble and the car was reliable." The team's backer Prince Malik Ado Ibrahim said: "It has been a fantastic result for the team, who have worked hard to produce a relible car."

Ron Dennis has defended the decision to risk the untried McLaren in Australia after both cars failed to finish. "We would not be professional if we did not go back and examine the decisions we made," he said. "But I believe we were right to bring the new car here even if we did not win this time." David Coulthard feels the result still went their way. "In the absence of a McLaren one-two it's the perfect result with Michael Schumacher not scoring."

Result after 57 laps:        Hr min sec
 1 E Irvine      GB  Ferrari  1:35.01.6
 2 H-H Frentzen  Ger Jordan      @ 01.0
 3 R Schumacher  Ger Williams    @ 07.0
 4 G Fisichella  It  Benetton    @ 33.4
 5 R Barrichello Brz Stewart     @ 54.6
 6 P de la Rosa  Sp  Arrows    @ 1.24.1
 7 T Takagi      Jpn Arrows    @ 1.26.2
 8 M Schumacher  Ger Ferrari    one lap
Race reduced by one lap to 57

DID NOT FINISH:         Laps completed
 9 R Zonta       Brz BAR          48
10 L Badoer      It  Minardi      42
11 A Wurz        Aut Benetton     28
12 P Diniz       Brz Sauber       27
13 M Gene        Sp  Minardi      25
14 J Trulli      It  Prost        25
15 O Panis       Fr  Prost        23
16 M Hakkinen    Fin McLaren      21
17 A Zanardi     It  Williams     20
18 D Coulthard   GB  McLaren      13
19 J Villeneuve  Can BAR          13
20 D Hill        GB  Jordan        0

21 J Alesi       Fr  Sauber
22 J Herbert     GB  Stewart

1 E Irvine      GB   Ferrari   10 pts
2 H-H Frentzen  Ger  Jordan     6
3 R Schumacher  Ger  Williams   4
4 G Fisichella  It   Benetton   3
5 R Barrichello Brz  Stewart    2
6 P de la Rosa  Sp   Arrows     1

1 Ferrari       10 pts
2 Jordan         6
3 Williams       4
4 Benetton       3
5 Stewart        2
6 Arrows         1

08.03.99 - F1
Ferrari have told Melbourne winner Eddie Irvine he can go for the title if he keeps on beating Michael Schumacher. "It's clear we have a team strategy that in certain positions Eddie has to allow Michael through," said Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn. "But if Eddie proves he can win the title and win races consistently then maybe the situation will change. It's up to him now. He gets the same equipment as Michael so has complete compatibility there."

Australian Grand Prix winner Eddie Irvine believes McLaren will still be the team to beat in Brazil, despite a disappointing performance in Melbourne. McLaren duo Mika Hakkinen and David Coulthard had dominated the weekend and led the Albert Park race by some margin before mechanical problems struck. Irishman Irvine admitted though: "The tortoise beat the hare this time. "We (Ferrari) have to find more power before we go to Brazil otherwise the McLarens are going to kill us again."

F1:- British American Racing have tied up an exclusive shock absorber supply partnership with the Dutch-based specialists Koni. Koni will be reunited with BAR chief designer Malcolm Oastler and driver Jacques Villeneuve. The partnership combined to win the Indianpolis 500 and IndyCar World Series in 1995.

VAUXHALL RALLY OF WALES:- The 1999 British Rally Championship gets underway on Saturday with the Vauxhall Rally of Wales. The event is based in Wrexham and involves nine gravel, special stages totalling 132.08 competitive miles. Leg one starts in Wrexham at around 9am on Saturday and the competitors are due to end the day at around 9pm. On Sunday, the second leg begins at around 6am, with stages in Myherin, Sweet Lamb and Hafren forest and the estimated finish time is 1.30pm.

More than 150 cars will be competing in this weekend's rally and 89 crews will be battling for glory in the British Rally Championship. British champion Martin Rowe won this event last year. This year he faces strong opposition from Welsh star Gwyndaf Evans and 1997 British champion Mark Higgins. Vauxhall Astra drivers Jarmo Kytolehto and Neil Wearden and British women's champion Barbara Armstrong will also be targeting glory.

Martin Rowe believes he must go "flat out from the start" if he is to repeat last year's victory. The 27-year-old is now in his third season behind the wheel of Renault's Maxi Megane and he confirmed: "The stakes are much higher this year. "Last year was very tough but many driver-team combinations were new to each other so took time to gel. Now they will be more confident. I will be looking out for Gwyndaf Evans and Jarmo Kytolehto."

Gwyndaf Evans would appear to have his best chance of winning his home event for the first time after achieving some encouraging pre-season test results. The Welshman is quietly confident that his SEAT Ibiza Evo 2 kit car can claim top spot. "We will start the 1999 British Rally Championship confident that we have done everything we possibly can to prepare for the new season," he said. "We have made a considerable number of improvements to the car."

Volkswagen are set to drive into the record books when the Golf TDI becomes the first diesel car to contest the British Rally Championship. Lancashire's Neil Simpson will be driving the car. He revealed: "It may lack the outright power of the two-litre petrol cars but it has the same level of torque as that enjoyed by world rally cars." Mark Higgins and Raimund Baumschlager will lead the petrol-powered challenge for Volkswagen.

The Peugeot Sport 106 Maxi team are looking for Ferodo Super 1600 Cup success this weekend. Stockbridge driver Justin Dale was delighted with a two-day test in Wales recently and admitted: "I am very happy with the car. We were testing various suspension settings and working specifically on trying to get more traction, despite the pouring rain throughout the test. We made excellent progress and I am really looking forward to the rally."

The Skoda Trophy, Britain's longest running one-make rally series, gets underway at the weekend. Dave West, James Slack, Steve Head and Kevin Gibbs are among the favourites for the event. Proton's works team are sending their two Compact SRi's for the opening round of the British Rally Championship. Mats Andersson and Jenny Davies will be hoping to build on the experience gained last year and Andersson said: "I have a feeling it will be a good year."

F.RENAULT:- Carl Breeze, who is advised by ex-Formula One driver Martin Brundle, will contest the 1999 Formula Renault Sport series with Haywood Racing. His team-mate is Finland's Kimi Raikkonen, who has made the move from karts and is tipped to follow the success of compatriot Mika Hakkinen.

LE MANS:- Cadillac will compete in the Le Mans 24-hour race for the first time in 50 years in 2000. The Cadillac Northstar Le Mans prototype will represent the company, who last competed in the event in 1950, when they were 10th and 11th.

TOURING CARS (Donington Park):- The teams enjoyed their first testing session in Britain after practising in sunnier climes. David Leslie clocked the fastest lap of the day, half a second ahead of new teammate Laurent Aiello. The works Nissans were separated by the Independent Primera of Matt Neal, who is tipped for honours this season. The teams head for Silverstone on Thursday and will be hoping to complete some more significant running as they prepare for the new campaign.

Leading testing times (Wed): mins:secs
 1 D Leslie          Nissan   1:16.418
 2 M Neal            Nissan   1:16.439
 3 L Aiello          Nissan   1:16.908
 4 A Menu            Ford     1:16.968
 5 Y Muller          Vauxhall 1:17.047
 6 A Reid            Ford     1:17.299
 7 J Plato           Renault  1:17.542
 8 J Cleland         Vauxhall 1:17.547
 9 R Rydell          Volvo    1:17.711
10 J Thompson        Volvo    1:17.983

Wednesday testing times: mins secs
 1 M Hynes        GB      1:14.960
 2 K Kolby        Den     1:15.389
 3 L Burti        Brz     1:15.610
 4 T Scheckter    SA      1:15.639
 5 M Davies       GB      1:15.646
 6 T Spouge       GB      1:15.704
 7 M O'Connell    GB      1:15.831
 8 N Karthikeyan  Ind     1:15.888
 9 J Button       GB      1:15.911
10 D Bell         GB      1:16.052

F1:- The British American Racing team have apologised to Formula One bosses after their lawyers filed a complaint against them to the European Commission. Team chief Craig Pollock said lawyers had acted without his instructions and a number of declarations in the document did not reflect his views. BAR had been angered by the FIA's refusal to let them race cars in different sponsorship liveries. However they have since withdrawn their complaint and accepted the decision.

FORMULA PALMER AUDI:- Northern Ireland driver Richard Lyons set the pace in Friday's testing session at Snetterton. The 19-year-old recorded an impressive time of one minute, 4.617 seconds to beat Damien Faulkner by 0.214 seconds. There will be further testing sessions at Snetteron on Monday and Thursday.

Friday's testing times:  mins:secs
1 R Lyons                 1:04.617
2 D Faulkner              1:04.831
3 R Tarling               1:04.884
4 T Mullen                1:04.956
5 J Keen                  1:05.128
6 R Dumas                 1:05.233

F3000:- Nicolas Minassian, Andrea Piccini and Kid Jensen Racing set impressive lap times during the second official Formula 3000 pre-season test in Jerez.


(after 6 of 9 stages)         hr min sec
 1 D HIGGINS     Subaru        1:33:51.7
 2 ROWE          Renault       1:33:52.8
 3 LAUKKANEN     Renault       1:34:10.5
 4 M HIGGINS     Volkswagen    1:35:14.5
 5 BUCKLEY       Mitsubishi    1:35:22.5
 6 KYTOLEHTO     Vauxhall      1:36:40.8
 7 PERROTT       Mitsubishi    1:36:49.9
 8 EASSON        Mitsubishi    1:36:56.3
 9 MANN          Proton        1:37:17.2
10 WEARDEN       Vauxhall      1:38:10.9
David Higgins ends leg one in the overall lead in his Subaru Impreza. The 27-year-old is brother of 1997 champion Mark, who lies fourth. He took the lead from Martin Rowe on stage five, when Rowe suffered a puncture and some gearbox problems. Higgins said: "I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The car ran well. The last stage was in darkness by the time we went through and very difficult. I'm looking forward to tomorrow."

The SEAT team have had a bad day, losing Gwyndaf Evans with engine failure in stage four. Barbara Armstrong also started the day with problems, but changed the differential after stage two and has since been climbing up the leaderboard. The third SEAT of Mike Brown lost a rear wheel on stage three and he lost several minutes. The SBG Sport SEAT, driven by Berger Gundersson also retired, with clutch failure.

The Peugeot Sport 106 Maxi rally team ended Leg 1 with Justin Dale in the lead of the Ferodo Super 1600 Cup. The Stockbridge driver was slowed on the first three stages by catching the slower SEAT's of Mike Brown and Barbara Armstrong. Dale commented: "I certainly can't complain about our placing, but it was frustrating to pass the same vehicles on three consecutive stages. We'll adopt a more relaxed approach on Leg 2 to ensure we score points."

After a puncture filled start both the Vauxhalls have picked up the pace and started to climb up the leaderboard. Neil Wearden, on his debut championship event for Vauxhall started cautiously, aiming for a finish in the points. After two punctures on the first stage he was delighted to have improved his Gartheiniog time by 37 seconds on the second run. After stage two Neil admitted that he was "starting to enjoy himself now."

Proton have also had a mixed day on the Vauxhall Rally. Mats Andersson retired after an accident on stage two. After the demise of Andersson, teammate Jenny Davies is concentrating on reaching the finish and is currently lying second in the Ladies Cup. Renault have had the most successful day so far with Martin Rowe leading F2 and Tapio Laukkanen lying third. Laukkanen has expressed his intention to give it his best shot on Sunday and challenge for the lead.

Mark Higgins was delighted to be in third overall with the all-new Volkswagen Golf Gti. "I said before the rally that I'd be happy with fifth, so to find ourselves third is great. "We've had problems, the power steering has played up and probably cost us about a minute." Baumschlager also suffered the power steering problem, compounded by gear selection difficulties. He ended the day 15th overall.

The Skoda Trophy joins the Mobil 1 British Rally Championship for the full season this year, using each leg of the two day events as scoring rounds. Warrington brothers Daniel and Clive Dunbabin won the opening round of this year's Skoda Trophy by over two minutes from Darren Wilcox. Pre season favourite Steve Head, from Carnforth, held third at the start of stage three, but a drive shaft failed losing him valuable points.

David Higgins held off the two hard charging Renaults of Martin Rowe and Tapio Laukkanen to win round one of the Mobil 1 Rally Championship. He kept the Barratts Subaru on the pace and, after taking the lead on stage five, never lost the advantage. It was his first British Championship win and he said: "The stages were fast. We did not think we would stay ahead of the Renaults so it is a great result. The car was on track all day and I have really enjoyed the event."

Martin Rowe's second place on the Vauxhall Rally gives Renault maximum driver and manufacturer points and an excellent start to his title defence. Rowe commented: "On Sweet Lamb I had to take some chances as Tapio was getting close to me. I pushed very hard and although I went off the road a couple of times the move paid off. I tried to keep out of trouble on the last stage and I am delighted to have come through to win F2."

Despite a puncture on the last stage, Jarmo Kytolehto managed to keep the Vauxhall Astra ahead of team-mate Neil Wearden to take fourth in F2. "I am almost pleased. We have a lot of work to do to catch up with the Renaults," said Kytolehto. Wearden was on his first Championship event for Vauxhall and was very pleased to have been on the pace throughout. "We've made a few changes to the car over today and I've learned a lot. My confidence is up," he revealed.

Mark Higgins fought power steering problems thoughout the event to bring the new Volkswagen Golf Gti into fourth overall and third in F2. "My wrist is very sore. Without the steering problems we would have been a lot quicker but I am really pleased with third," he admitted. "When small problems have been ironed out we'll definitely be on the pace." After David's win, he added: "Great to see my kid brother win his first international - the first of many."

Justin Dale extended his lead in the Ferodo Super 1600 Cup with a faultless run in his Peugeot 106 Maxi. He finished over five minutes ahead of nearest rival Don Whitehurst in the Honda Civic. Dale was understandably delighted and said: "This really shows how far we have come with the car. "The extra work really paid off and the car ran like a dream all weekend. I wish the Pirelli was next week instead of a month away."

Warrington brothers Daniel and Clive Dunbabin secured maximum points in the Skoda Trophy on the Vauxhall Rally of Wales. Dunbabin overcame engine immobiliser problems to maintain his lead in the Trophy, which runs alongside all the Mobil 1 Championship events this year. A consistent pace through leg two earned James Slack a 12-point advantage over Dunbabin. Martin Newcombe from Plymouth lies in third place.

Gwyndaf Evans retired his SEAT Cupra Sport Ibiza 'Evo 2' Kit Car on stage four of the Vauxhall Rally of Wales. "Retiring on the opening round of the Championship is a big disappointment for the team," he said. "Obviously everyone at SEAT Cupra Sport is very disappointed. We've worked so hard over the winter months and I don't think any of us deserved this. Tomorrow is another day. We're looking forward to the Pirelli Rally. We won it last year, so why not again this year?"

Gavin Hutton was reported to be in a stable condition after crashing at Gartheiniog on Saturday's opening leg. The 29-year-old Rugby driver was airlifted to Royal Shrewsbury Hospital following an accident in his Mitsubishi Lancer on stage four. Hutton was later transferred to North Staffordshire Royal Infirmary where he was being treated for a spinal injury. Hutton's co-driver Mark Lewis was unhurt in the crash.

RESULT after 9 stages:        hr min sec
 1 HIGGINS       Subaru        2:22:00.4
 2 ROWE          Renault       2:22:13.4
 3 LAUKKANEN     Renault       2:22:27.6
 4 BUCKLEY       Mitsubishi    2:24:18.2
 5 HIGGINS       Volkswagen    2:24:57.5
 6 KYTOLEHTO     Vauxhall      2:26:59.7
 7 WEARDEN       Vauxhall      2:28:02.9
 8 EASSON        Mitsubishi    2:28:04.4
 9 TUTHILL       Subaru        2:28:18.7
10 EGGLESTONE    Ford          2:28:48.9

 1 Rowe         32
 2 Laukkanen    28
 3 M Higgins    25
 4 Kytolehto    22
 5 Wearden      20
 6 Egglestone   18
 7 Baumschlager 16
 8 Gundersen    14
 9 Porter       12
10 Dale         11

 1 Renault      16
 2 Volkswagen   12
 3 Vauxhall      9
 4 Peugeot       7

F1:- Michael Schumacher has twisted an ankle and will miss Tuesday's test session for the new F399 car. The Ferrari driver picked up the injury while jogging near his home but it is thought that the problem is not serious and he is expected to recover quickly. Schumacher also missed Monday's session but his team-mate Eddie Irvine was able to test a new absorbent asphalt at the Monza circuit. Australian race winner Irvine said: "Visibility and grip were perfect."

BRITISH F3:- The new season begins on Sunday and the high standard of entries looks set to ensure that the championship will be as competitive as ever. Paul Stewart Racing and Promatecme have dominated the sport in recent years but Manor Motorsport will also be aiming to make an impression in 1999. The Sheffield team will be making their debut and their pre-season testing form suggests they could make a mark. PSR's Luciano Burti is favourite to follow Mario Haberfeld to the crown.

Paul Stewart Racing have failed to win the championship only once in the last seven years and Luciano Burti is tipped to triumph for them this year. The 24-year-old claimed two wins in 1998 and was third overall and he is favourite to give the team their fourth straight crown. Brazilian Burti is joined in the Stewart Racing team by Scottish driver Andrew Kirkaldy. Kirkaldy, 23, was runner-up in last year's Formula Opel Euroseries.

Promatecme Renault are likely to be the strongest challengers to Stewart. Jenson Button, 19, will drive for them after dominating the British Formula Ford series and he is joined by Formula Renault Sport champion Aluizio Coelho. Fortec Motorsport are hoping Kristian Kolby will be a contender after he impressed in the latter rounds in 1998. Matt Davies returns to Britain with Fortec after taking the French Formula Ford and Formula Renault crowns in the previous two campaigns.

Toby Scheckter will be bringing a famous name to the Championship. The 20-year-old is the son of the ex-Formula One world champion and Ferrari star Jody. Toby was a race-winner in the 1998 Formula Opel Euroseries and will be eager to outdo his father, who was third in the 1971 Lombank F3 series. Ireland's Warren Carway joins Scheckter with Speedsport, moving up to championship class after finishing runner-up in the 1998 national class.

The British Formula Three Championship has consistently proved to be a stepping stone to Formula One. Mika Hakkinen was the 17th British Formula Three graduate to take the Formula One title last year. Meanwhile, Allan McNish took the 17th Le Mans 24-hour victory for a former British Formula Three driver in 1998. British F3 graduates have won more than 200 grands prix, claimed more than 200 grands prix pole positions and won two US IndyCar Championships.

1999 provisional entry list:
Luciano Burti      Brz Stewart Racing
Andrew Kirkaldy    GB  Stewart Racing
Matt Davies        UK  Fortec Motorsport
Kristian Kolby     GB  Fortec Motorsport
Aluizio Coelho     Brz Promatecme UK/Ren
Jenson Button      GB  Promatecme UK/Ren
Alex Yoong         Mal Alan Docking
Toby Scheckter     SA  Speedsport F3
Warren Carway      Ire Speedsport F3
Warren Hughes      GB  Ralt Engineering
Narain Karthikeyan Ind Carlin Motorsport
Michael Bentwood   GB  Carlin Motorsport
Tim Spouge         GB  SS Sport
Doug Bell          GB  SS Sport
Marc Hynes         GB  Manor Motorsport
Tor Sriachavanon   Cz  Manor Motorsport
One other driver to be arranged

1999 provisional entry list:(National class)
Martin O'Connell  GB  Rowan Racing
John Bender       US  Carlin Motorsport
Jeremy Smith      GB  Jeremy Smith Rac
John Ingram       GB  Speedsport F3
One other driver to be arranged

RALLY OF PORTUGAL:- The Rally of Portugal runs from Sunday to Wednesday and consists of three legs over the four days. There is a single 3.2km superspecial stage on Sunday and leg one continues on Monday with a further eight stages totalling 159.38km. Tuesday's leg two contains 10 stages totalling 180.28km. The third and final leg takes place on Wednesday and is the shortest of the event, with a final four stages are completed before the end.

Britain's Colin McRae goes into the event chasing back-to-back wins in the 1999 series. After car regulation problems had threatened to scupper his title hopes, the Scot got back on track in the Safari Rally with Ford. The former Subaru driver has been playing down his chances with his new team and with the new Focus car. However, his win in Kenya will have boosted Ford and McRae tasted success in Portugal last year with Subaru.

Colin McRae believes he has a chance of winning the title, despite insisting earlier this year that it would be a development year for his Ford team. The Scot won the last round in Kenya and admitted: "I have not ruled out winning the championship. I now think that is it a realistic goal. "We thought it would take us the first half of the year to make the Focus truly competitive. Our Safari win has shown us the car is much closer to front-running pace."

World champion Tommi Makinen will be aiming to put the disappointment of the last round behind him in Portugal. After finishing second in the Safari Rally, the Mitsubishi driver was excluded for receiving outside assistance while repairing punctures. Makinen won in Portugal in 1997 and will be hunting a repeat display in the first true gravel rally of the year. "I have won it once and I like these stages," he said. "They are not so rough so you can go flat out."

Rising star Marcus Gronholm will drive for Mitsubishi in the Rally of Portugal, which begins on Sunday. He replaces Freddy Loix, who is sidelined after suffering cracked vertebrae and a damaged sternum in the Safari Rally in Kenya. "This is a very good opportunity for me," Gronholm admitted. "I have been doing a lot of testing lately so it will be good driving in a rally again. I will be driving in Portugal to help Mitsubishi, not to do my own thing."

Norwegian Petter Solberg will drive the second Ford Focus car in round four of the World Championship. He was fifth on his debut for the team in the Safari Rally last month after stepping in at the 11th hour to replace the injured Thomas Radstrom. Team director Malcolm Wilson said: "His result exceeded expectations and this is an ideal opportunity for him to increase his level of experience. We are not putting any pressure on him and a points finish would be a bonus."

Richard Burns will be aiming to better his highest finish in Portugal in round four of the World Championship. Oxford's Burns, who is in his first season with Subaru, has not finished higher than fourth. Burns went close to giving his team a victory in the Safari Rally in the last round in February. However, he was forced to retire with car problems while leading the event and it came a year after he triumphed in Africa.

Subaru driver Richard Burns believes his car will be suited to the challenge presented by this round. "The Subaru is the car for Portugal," he confirmed. "After our test I can confidently say that in the rough, power-sapping terrain that typifies Portugal we will be the pick of the bunch. "Both Sweden and the Safari have given me satisfaction bench-marking myself against my team-mates. A win is a realistic ambition."

The Portuguese round is relatively new to SEAT drivers Harri Rovanpera and Piero Liatti. Between them the duo have only competed in the event three times but Liatti's co-driver Carlo Cassina guided Miki Biasion to glory in 1988. Cassina revealed: "Since my victory in 1988, only one special stage remains the same." Liatti added: "Having only done the event once I do not know the stages very well but I like gravel rallies."

Skoda Motorsport are set to tackle seven of the World Championship rounds this season and the Rally of Portugal marks their second 1999 appearance. Armin Schwarz and Manfred Hiemer will drive the leading entry, while Emil Triner and Milos Hulka will make their debut in the second Octavia WRC. Since the Monte Carlo Rally the team have been rigorously testing the car. "Every time I drive the car it gets better and better," said Schwarz. "I am looking forward to Portugal."

The Hyundai Motorsport team will be celebrating the anniversary of their World Championship debut at the event. They committed themselves to the Two- Litre Cup for Manufacturers (Formula Two) but they are still looking for their maiden win. Driver Kenneth Eriksson said: "Portugal is a difficult rally because it it so hard on cars." His team-mate Alister McRae added: "Hopefully we can come back with the F2 win that the team deserves."

RENAULT SPIDER CUP:- Mark Cole will drive for race-winning Spider Cup team Orbit Motorsport in this year's championship. Michael Nippers, who won Formula Renault Sport's winter series BARC division, will contest every round.

F1:- Ferrari's Eddie Irvine maintained his good form this season when he topped testing times at the Circuit de Catalunya in Spain. Briton Irvine clocked one minute 23.967 seconds around the Barcelona track as he continued to impress after claiming a maiden victory in the Australian GP. Jean Alesi of Sauber was second in 1:24.053 with Heinz-Harald Frentzen (1:24.103) third for Jordan. David Coulthard out-paced Mika Haakinen at Silverstone for two days running.

PORSCHE CUP:- Former Renault Clio driver Adam Simmons is graduating to the Pirelli Porsche Cup with a Porsche Carrera 993 run by Mike Pickup's PK Sport operation. Former Porsche Classic racer Julian Wiley joins him in the competition, taking over the ex-Michael Salmon Carrera 993 for Redline Racing. Meanwhile Stuart Hellon and Paul Martin join class three of the Cup.

RALLYCROSS:- The British Rallycross Championship starts this weekend at Croft having undergone some radical changes. Two classes - Supercars and Modified - have replaced the original eight-class structure, aimed at providing a greater and more varied competition. Helmut Holdfield will return to defend his title in his Peugeot 306, which has been totally rebuilt over the winter.

RALLY OF GREAT BRITAIN:- The 1999 Network Q Rally of Great Britain will retain the basic three-day format pioneered last year. The Rally, which is based at Cheltenham once again, has been reduced by over 220 miles though and some service areas have been moved. Rally manager Malcolm Neill said: "Rule changes under discussion at the FIA may compel us to make major changes to the format and timetable next year. "Under the circumstances, we have opted for minimal changes this year."

Testing times:              secs
 1 D Leslie   Nissan Prim  58.853
 2 M Neal     Nissan Prim  58.942
 3 J Thompson Honda Acc    59.011
 4 Y Muller   Vauxhall Vec 59.143
 5 P Kox      Honda Acc    59.148
 6 A Reid     Ford Mond    59.262
 7 L Aiello   Nissan Prim  59.318
 8 A Menu     Ford Mond    59.343
 9 V Rad'cker Volvo        59.571
10 R Rydell   Volvo        59.832

20.03.99 - CHAMP CARS
Dario Franchitti was second in practice for Sunday's opening race of the season in Homestead. Franchitti clocked a fastest lap time of 25.518 seconds, 0.158 seconds behind Mexico's Adrian Fernandez of Mexico. Mark Blundell was sixth in 25.601 despite some niggling problems which dogged him throughout the afternoon session of practice. Blundell said: "Despite our misfortune we're quick and I'm confident that we'll do well on Sunday."

Friday's practice times:
lap time                     (seconds)
 1 A Fernandez    Ford         25.360
 2 D Franchitti   Honda        25.518
 3 P Carpentier   Mercedes     25.537
 4 J Montoya      Honda        25.540
 5 G Moore        Mercedes     25.547
 6 M Blundell     Mercedes     25.601
 7 M Gugelmin     Mercedes     25.619
 8 M Papis        Ford         25.000
 9 M Andretti     Ford         25.685
10 G de Ferran    Honda        25.724

BRITISH F3 (Donington Park):- British teenager Jenson Button claimed second place on his debut. The 19-year-old started on pole but was unable to hold off the challenge of Marc Hynes, only two years his senior. Button said: "The track was a bit damp at the start and I got a little wheelspin, which let him take the lead. It's a good start but I want wins." Toby Scheckter, son of 1979 world champion Jody, who was forced to retire early with a broken front wing, paying the penalty for reckless overtaking.

Result of round 1 (Sun):  mins secs
 1 M Hynes       Honda    29:58.171
 2 J Button      Renault  30:02.049
 3 L Burti       Honda    30:04.056
 4 N Karthikeyan Honda    30:07.566
 5 K Kolby       Honda    30:09.831
 6 D Bell        Opel     30:15.334
 7 M Bentwood    Honda    30:16.829
 8 A Coelho      Renault  30:17.442
 9 A Kirkaldy    Honda    30:20.868
10 T Spouge      Opel     30:41.842

RALLY OF PORTUGAL:- Colin McRae launched his Rally of Portugal challenge with victory on the opening stage. McRae clocked the fastest time on the only stage of the day to see off Carlos Sainz in their head-to-head on the 1.8 mile long course near Porto. The Scot finished 0.4 of a second ahead of Marcus Gronholm with Sainz nearly a a second down in third spot. Didier Auriol was fourth while Finland's world champion Tommi Makinen was in fifth place.

Colin McRae was a happy man after he and co-driver Nicky Grist had won the opening round of the event. The spectators were treated to some spectacular driving as McRae battled it out with Finland's Marcus Gronholm before the Scot came out on top. "That was good fun. It's a nice stage to drive but very dusty," said McRae. But McRae was realistic enough to admit: "Now the fun is over and the rally starts properly tomorrow with long and demanding stages.

Colin McRae was a happy man after he and co-driver Nicky Grist had won the opening round of the event. The spectators were treated to some spectacular driving as McRae battled it out with Finland's Marcus Gronholm before the Scot came out on top. "That was good fun. It's a nice stage to drive but very dusty," said McRae. But McRae was realistic enough to admit: "Now the fun is over and the rally starts properly tomorrow with long and demanding stages.

Colin McRae's co-driver Nicky Grist has written off the Scot's Portuguese hope. He said: "Our car is too heavy, it's 60 to 70kg overweight. That's going to be a big problem when it comes to the really competitive stages." Grist knows that the conditions they will face could hardly be different to last month's Safari outing. The longest stage less than 17 miles, turning it into a series of gravel- based sprints where the extra weight will be a burden.

Leading positions after 1 stage:
                          min secs
 1 C McRae     Ford         3:12.3
 2 M Gronholm  Mitsubishi   3:12.7
 3 C Sainz     Toyots       3:13.2
 4 D Auriol    Toyota       3:14.3
 5 T Makinen   Mitsubishi   3:14.4
 6 J Kankkunen Subaru       3:14.9
 7 A Schwarz   Skoda        3:15.5
 8 M Martin    Ford         3:15.9
 9 P Liatti    SEAT         3:16.2
10 H Rovanpera SEAT         3:16.6
12 R Burns     Subaru       3:16.8
30 A McRae     Hyundai      3:29.2

CHAMP CARS (Homestead):- Scotsman Dario Franchitti had to be content with seventh on the grid for the opening race of the season. But his effort was considerably better than Mark Blundell, who qualified back in 13th having endured some problems. "We've been very strong all weekend so I'm a little disappointed with our qualifying run. We made some small changes that didn't get the results. The car was bottoming at both ends and I had to lift off the throttle. I'm surprised we did as well as we did."

Qualifying times:               secs
 1 G Moore      Can Rey-Merc   24.886
 2 A Fernandez  Mex Rey-Ford   24.934
 3 P Carpentier Can Rey-Merc   25.068
 4 H C-Neves    Brz Lola-Merc  25.082
 5 M Andretti   US  Swift-Ford 25.108
 6 C da Matta   Brz Rey-Toyota 25.193
 7 D Fr'hitti   Sco Rey-Honda  25.202
 8 J Montoya    Col Rey-Honda  25.285
 9 J Vasser     US  Rey-Honda  25.294
10 M Gugelmin   Brz Rey-Merc   25.296

Colin McRae clocked a series of best times to secure a commanding lead at the end of the second day in Porto. McRae won four of the eight stages and was joint fastest in another along with fellow Briton Richard Burns, who is second overall for Subaru. Spain's Carlos Sainz is less than a second further back in third followed by Toyota team-mate Didier Auriol. World champion Tommi Makinen was badly hit by transmission problems and is just over two minutes adrift in ninth.

Colin McRae said he was surprised to be heading the field after the second day's action. McRae leads fellow Briton Richard Burns by 49 seconds and said: "When I started out this morning I had absolutely no thoughts of being able to win the race. "But by the end of the third stage we knew the car was competitive here. I have pushed as hard as I can all day. The car feels great and if everything holds together there is no reason why we can't win on Wednesday."

Leading positions after 9 stages:
End of second day)        hr:min:secs
 1 C McRae     Ford        1:49:45.0
 2 R Burns     Subaru      1:50:34.2
 3 C Sainz     Toyota      1:50:35.1
 4 D Auriol    Toyota      1:50:39.5
 5 M Gronholm  Mitsubishi  1:50:58.5
 6 J Kankkunen Subaru      1:51:25.6
 7 H Rovanpera SEAT        1:51:40.9
 8 P Liatti    SEAT        1:51:43.4
 9 T Makinen   Mitsubishi  1:51:46.1
10 B Thiry     Subaru      1:52:17.5
20 A McRae     Hyundai      @ 7:38.6

F1:- The Williams team have decided to rename themselves WilliamsF1 in a bid to attract new backers when the sport gives up tobacco sponsorship. Head of marketing Jim Wright said he expected technology, telecommunications and computer companies to be attracted by the new image. "We have a simple choice," he said. "Do we continue with tobacco sponsorship until we are prevented from doing it? Or do we say it will run out soon and we should now seek other sponsors?"

RALLY OF PORTUGAL:- Colin McRae still leads at the end of the third day, but his lead had been cut back to 33 seconds when the last two stages of the day were cancelled. Officials took the decision to cancel due to fears over spectator safety after a large number of fans gathered to watch the event. Spain's Carlos Sainz is putting McRae under pressure at the top. Didier Auriol of France is only two seconds behind Sainz, while Richard Burns is just 23 seconds further back.

Colin McRae said he agreed with the officials who cancelled the day's last two stages on safety grounds. McRae retained the lead on day three and said: "I support the decision to cancel the stages though I think I may have pinched back some time on them. We have lost around 18 seconds of our lead today and that was entirely down to the difficulty of running first on the road. We expected to lose time but we have not lost as much as we feared."

Leading positions after 17 stages:
(Day three)               hr:min:secs
 1 C McRae     Ford        3:23:22.6
 2 C Sainz     Toyota      3:23:55.6
 3 D Auriol    Toyota      3:23:57.5
 4 R Burns     Subaru      3:24:20.3
 5 T Makinen   Mitsubishi  3:24:51.1
 6 B Thiry     Subaru      3:29:42.2
 7 V Isik      Toyota      3:31:33.7
 8  Kahle      Toyota      3:31:46.5
 9 R Madeira   Subaru      3:32:14.0
10 P Solberg   Ford        3:32:45.4
Rovanpera/Gronholm retired on stage 16
British rally star Colin McRae is to be offered the chance to test drive for Formula One team Stewart-Ford. Martin Whitaker, Ford's director of European motor sport, said: "We will give him a test drive later this year. If he's quick enough ... well, wait and see. The test is not for fun. Colin is like Michael Schumacher. They are both good in all conditions. Colin is streets ahead of F1 drivers in that he is more complete."

RALLY OF PORTUGAL:- Britain's Colin McRae triumphed in Portugal to give his Ford team their second successive rally victory. McRae, who won the last round of the World Championship in Kenya, moves up to second in the standings as the Ford Focus begins to make an impact. The Scot finished just over 12 seconds ahead of Spaniard Carlos Sainz and Frenchman Didier Auriol was third and Oxford's Richard Burns was fourth. McRae's brother Alister won the two- litre category by finishing 13th.

Britain's Colin McRae was delighted after clinching victory for Ford in the Rally of Portugal. McRae said: "We thought we'd got enough in hand to win. "But we couldn't afford to take it easy on the final day. The road surface is covered in loose gravel which we swept away for the cars behind. We knew they'd be going faster than us and so we just had to hang on and hope for the best," added the 1995 world champion from Scotland.

Final positions after 23 stages:Hr min sec
 1 C McRae     GB  Ford       4:05.41.7
 2 C Sainz     Sp  Toyota     4:05.54.0
 3 D Auriol    Fr  Toyota     4:05.58.2
 4 R Burns     GB  Subaru     4:06.37.1
 5 T Makinen   Fin Mitsubishi 4:06.46.1
 6 B Thiry     Bel Subaru     4:13.11.4
 7 V Isik      Tur Toyota     4:15.07.5
 8 M Kahle     Ger Toyota     4:15.15.9
 9 R Madeira   Por Subaru     4:15.51.5
10 L Climent   Sp  Subaru     4:17.10.3
13 A McRae     GB  Hyundai

1 T Makinen    Fin  Mitsubishi  22
2 C McRae      GB   Ford        20
3 D Auriol     Fr   Toyota      17
4 C Sainz      Sp   Toyota      16
5 J Kankkunen  Fin  Subaru       7
6 R Burns      GB   Subaru       5

1 Toyota         33 pts
2 Ford           27
3 Mitsubishi     22
4 Subaru         13
5 SEAT           12

TOURING CARS:- Michelin are to sponsor the Independents' Cup, which is part of the British Touring Car Championship.

SALOON CARS:- Proton Cars UK are backing Frenchman Richard Cuene-Grandidier, who will be driving his Proton Coupe in this season's National Saloon Cup. The Bristol-based arm of the Malaysian manufacturer have decided to support a number of privately-run teams.

F1:- Eddie Irvine has revealed that even ifhe is leading next month's BrazilianGrand Prix he will be prepared to let Michael Schumacher through to win.Ulsterman Irvine leads the championship after winning the opening race in Australia but he said he will respect Ferrari's team orders."I would move over and let him throughbecause that is in my contract,"admitted Irvine.He dismissed a newspaper story that said he did not get on with Schumacher.

BRITISH GT CHAMPIONSHIP:- The 1999 Privilege Insurance British GT Championship begins on Sunday and round one heads the Microprose Spring Trophy meeting at Silverstone.Reigning champions Steve O'Rourke and Tim Sugden will be aiming to make a good start to their title defence in asix-litre, BMW-powered McLaren F1-GTR.Chris Goodwin and James Munroe will provide stiff opposition. They set the fastest lap time in last week's session in their McLaren ahead of the 11-round series.

Le Mans 24-hour race-winner StephaneOrtelli will contest the opening roundof the 1999 campaign. He will partner David Saunders in the Gaumont/Parr Motorsport Porsche 911.Ortelli and Scotland's Allan McNish triumphed in the 1998 Le Mans event ina works-entered Porsche 911.Saunders admitted: "It is a one-off arrangement at the moment.He has a very busy schedule but wouldlike to race in the British series."

GT1 entries:

S O'Rourke      McLaren F1 GTR  Emka
T Sugden                        Racing

J Munroe        McLaren F1 GTR  AM
C Goodwin                       Racing

M Wallinder     Porsche 911     Blue C
G Lister                        Slick 50

T Thyrring      Porsche 911     G Force
J Greasley                      M'sport

D Saunders      Porsche 911     Gaumont/
S Ortelli                       Parr

J Masarati      Porsche 993     RMA
G Mortimer                      Racing

B Shepherd      Harrier LR10    SRS
TBA                             M'sport

J Bailey        Lister Storm    Newcastle
J Campbell-Walker               Utd LS

GT2 entries:
R Schirle       Porsche 911     Cirtek
D Warnock                       M'sport

J Saunders      Porsche 911     Gaumont/
S Day                           Parr

C Ellis         Venturi LM400   
M Vergers                       Haines

R Rex           Ultima Sports   Chas
TBA                             Berger

P Fuller        Porsche 911     PK Sport
M Fothergill

J Wyatt         Marcos LM500    GW Racing

S Griffiths     Darrian T90     Anglo
TBA                             American

D Welz          Porsche Turbo   DWR

N Brito e Cunha Porsche RSR     VPM
G Reeder                        Racing

P Cope          Venturi LM400   Riverside
G Dudley

K Konig         Chrysler Viper  Brookspeed
C Hayles                        Racing

T Erdos         Marcos LM600    Marcos/
A Purvis                        NCK

N Cunningham    Chrysler Viper  Brookspeed
TBA                             Racing

1999 calendar:
March 27/28       Silverstone
May 2/3           Oulton Park
May 30/31         Snetterton
June 19/20        Brands Hatch
July 8-11         Silverstone
August 7          Donington Park
August 8          Donington Park
August 21/22      Silverstone
September 4/5     Croft
September 25/26   Spa (Belgium)
October 9/10      Silverstone

BRITISH F3 (Silverstone);- Marc Hynes was quickest in testing ahead of Sunday's second round. Kristian Kolby was second fastest and Toby Scheckter third and the quickest times were set in the morning session when the track was drier.

Test times (Thurs):           min sec
1 M Hynes     GB  Manor      1:15.926
2 K Kolby     Den Fortec     1:16.210
3 T Scheckter SA  Speedsport 1:16.371
4 N K'rthkyan Ind Carlin     1:16.467
5 M Davies    GB  Fortec     1:16.484
6 M O'Connell GB  Rowan      1:16.524

MGF CUP (Silverstone):- The MGF Cup enters its second season on Saturday and Sunday. Last year's series went down to the wire before James Rhodes took the crown but Team Firstair's Warren Hughes appears to be the favourite this year. Three women will also be battling for honours in the 190bhp single-seaters, which are competition-prepared versions of the road-going MGF sports car. They are Brentwood's Annie Templeton, Chesterfield-based Judith Forro and 18- year-old Katherine Legge from Surrey.

RALLYING:- Colin McRae is targeting a hat-trick of rally wins after following up his victory in Kenya by triumphing in the Rally of Portugal on Wednesday. Next on the agenda is the Catalunya Rally in April and the Scot confirmed: "I will be going all out for the victory in Spain." The form of McRae and the Ford Focus means he is just two points behind championship leader Tommi Makinen. "Certainly the world title is a real possibility," added McRae.

CHAMP CARS:- Al Unser Jr has been released from hospital two days after surgeons put a metal plate into his broken ankle. The two-time Indianapolis 500 winner was hurt in a crash in the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami on Sunday but he could be back in four to six weeks.

The BTRDA series moves to Hull this weekend with 120 crews taking part in the seven hours of racing.The meat of the rally takes place takes place on the super-fast stages on the North York Moors. The firest car away will be the Peugoet 306 of former BTRDA Gold Star championRicky Evans.Martin Meadows' Proton Compact scored maximum points in the category last time and Brian Bell will want to follow up his win on the Wydean Stages Rally.

BRITISH GT CHAMPIONSHIP (Silverstone):- Chris Goodwin ensured that the McLarenF1-GTR took pole for Sunday's race with a lap of one minute 15.189 seconds. Goodwin, who is teamed with James Monroe, said: "We are pretty confident for the first race."The Lister Storm of Julian Bailey and Jamie Campbell-Walter qualified in second place, while Tim Sugden and Steve O'Rourke were just behind them. UK-based Brazilian Thomas Erdos topped the times for the GT2 class in hisMarcos LM600.

BRITISH F3 (Silverstone):- Kristian Kolby took pole position for Sunday's second round.The Fortec Motorsport driver outgunnedMarc Hynes and Luciano Burti and said:"I was quickest in both sessions whichis great. "The car is working really well. It was not the quickest session this afternoon but I wanted to set the best time to prove it was not a fluke. I did it quite comfortably without driving to the max. I do not see why I cannot take my maiden victory."

Qualifying times (Sat):        min sec
 1 K Kolby       Den Honda    1:15.466
 2 M Hynes       GB  Renault  1:15.701
 3 L Burti       Brz Honda    1:15.895
 4 J Button      GB  Renault  1:15.912
 5 M Davies      GB  Honda    1:16.114
 6 A Coelho      Brz Renault  1:16.285
 7 A Kirkaldy    GB  Honda    1:16.369
 8 Y Igarashi    Jpn Honda    1:16.409
 9 N Karthikeyan Ind Honda    1:16.415
10 M O'Connell   GB  Toyota   1:16.473

Saturday's result:                       min sec
1 W Philliskirk/E Evans       MG Metro     42.09
2 B Bell/P Spooner            Ford Escort  42.17
3 J Thompson/D Hancock        Ford Escort  42.39
4 P Litler/A Marchbank        Ford Escort  42.58
5 M Watson/S Lancaster        Ford Escort  42.47

BRITISH GTs (Silverstone):- Steve O'Rourke and Tim Sugden took the spoils in round one of the series. After 50 minutes of flat-out racing their McLaren F1-GTR finished just 2.3 seconds ahead of the Porsche of Magnus Wallinder and Geoff Lister. The Lister Storm of Julian Bailey and Jamie Campbell-Walter was third, while in the GT2 section, Jason Saunders and Stephen Day took the honours. Second in the class was David Warnock, who won the Daytona 24 Hours this year. He was partnered by Claudia Hurtgen.

Round one result after 38 laps (Sun):
                              mins secs
 1 O'Rourke/S'gdn McLaren  GT1 51:09.82
 2 Wall'r/Lister  Porsche  GT1 51:12.22
 3 Bailey/C-W'ltr Lister   GT1 51:12.36
 4 S'ndrs/Ortelli Porsche  GT1 51:43.36
 5 Munroe/Goodwin McLaren  GT1 52:31.61
 6 Thyrring/G'ley Porsche  GT1 one lap
 7 Saunders/Day   Porsche  GT2 2 laps
 8 Hurtgen/W'nock Porsche  GT2 2 laps
 9 Erdos/Purvis   Marcos   GT2 2 laps
10 Fuller/F'thrgl Porsche  GT2 3 laps

BRITISH F3 (Silverstone):- Marc Hynes remains unbeaten in 1999 after triumphing in the second round. He crossed the line just two 10ths of a second ahead of Kristian Kolby in what was one of the closest finishes in the history of the Championship. Hynes led into the first corner from second on the grid and then he was never headed in the 22-lap event. "Just like last week the race was won at the start," he said. "It will not be as easy in the next race as, being a new team, we have no data on Thruxton."

Race result (Sun):           mins secs
 1 M Hynes       GB  Renault 28:12.036
 2 K Kolby       Den Honda   28:12.253
 3 L Burti       Brz Honda   28:27.553
 4 M O'Connell   GB  Toyota  28:30.085
 5 M Davies      GB  Honda   28:35.698
 6 J Button      GB  Renault 28:36.637
 7 A Kirkaldy    GB  Honda   28:41.771
 8 D Bell        GB  Opel    28:43.249
 9 Y Igarashi    Jpn Honda   28:47.454
10 T Scheckter   SA  Honda   28:51.968

1 M Hynes       GB  41pts
2 L Burti       Brz 24
= K Kolby       Den 24
4 J Button      GB  23

MGF CUP (Silverstone):- Brian Heerey, who finished ninth in round one of the MGF Cup on Sunday, has been excluded from the race because of a technical infringement on his car.

Amended result:     mins secs
 1 W Hughes          19:36.984
 2 P Johnson         19:37.374
 3 M Kelly           19:40.152
 4 N Carr            19:42.840
 5 D Loudoun         19:50.712
 6 H Kangas          19:51.642
 7 A Lyall           19:52.616
 8 M Hazell          19:53.029
 9 R Armes           19:59.881
10 I Gibbons         20:02.561

RENAULT SPIDERS:- This year's Renault Spider Cup will feature three-time winner in 1998 Duncan Vercoe with the Orbit team and Simon Hill for Andy Welch Racing. The first round of the series is at Donington Park on Easter Monday.

BRITISH TOURING CARS:- The 1999 British Touring Car Championship gets underway on Easter Monday and pre-season testing suggests the series may produce a few surprises. Just three-quarters of a second separated the top 13 drivers in last week's session. Rickard Rydell secured the driver honour last year, while Anthony Reid was a close second. Both are taking up the challenge once again but are set to be pushed hard by a number of drivers.

Rickard Rydell will open the defence of his title on Easter Monday and he is targeting a history-making campaign. The Swede is aiming to become the first driver in the modern super touring era to retain the crown. "The week after we won the title, we set ourselves the goal of defending it," revealed the Volvo star. "History shows us that it is going to be tough this year but we have retained all the key personnel from last year. The team is extremely motivated."

Nissan's David Leslie believes the 1999 season will provide him with his best chance of taking the title. He is in his third year with Nissan and revealed: "I have never had a better opportunity to win the title." The team produced the car of the year in 1998 but the Scot added: "There is a huge amount of pressure that comes with being favourites. We know that we have to keep pushing ahead with our development programme if we are to stay competitive."

Honda are optimistic they can make an impact with the all-new Accord. James Thompson, who finished in a best- ever third place in 1998, topped the timesheets on both days of the last test at Brands Hatch. The Yorkshireman said: "We are the only team with a new car but the Accord has been very quick out of the box. We now have to make sure that everything is fully sorted before Donington because reliability can often bring rewards in the early races."

Vauxhall are targeting a repeat result in front of the cameras on Monday. When Donington was shown live on the BBC last year, John Cleland beat the sodden conditions and ex-Formula One star Nigel Mansell to take the race. Indeed, the Scot won two of the four races at the circuit in 1998 and said: "I think I have won more Donington races than any other current driver. I think aerodynamically the Vectra is much improved this year. I think we have got the car to do the job."

Ex-French touring car champion Yvan Muller is relishing the chance of his first competitive action for Vauxhall. The 29-year-old said: "The first race is always a bit more exciting because we really get to see how well we are doing compared to the others. At the moment I think it is difficult to say how good or bad everyone is because you do not know what everyone is doing in testing. We have made progress with the car but do not have the right ingredients yet."

Williams-Renault dominated the 1997 Championship but their hopes for this year have been hindered by the late delivery of their car. Jason Plato and Jean-Christophe Boullion have the chance to impress at the wheel of their Lagunas. Plato has triumphed in three races over the last two years and is likely to be up with the pace on Monday. Meanwhile, Frenchman Boullion brings with him his experience as a Formula One test driver.

Former BTCC champion Alain Menu and Scot Anthony Reid are heading the Ford Mondeo assault on the series. 1998 runner-up Reid switched from Nissan in the close season and hopes are high for the team, with the Mondeo showing up well in testing. Menu, the 1997 champion, achieved some competitive test times following Ford's high-finance switch to Prodrive. Reid is a Donington specialist, having worked at the circuit's racing driver school for several years.

Anthony Reid won at Donington last year and is confident of success ahead of the opening races on Easter Monday. Reid said: "We completed a very successful testing session at Donington a few weeks ago, lapping 0.7 seconds faster than a Mondeo has done before. "Underneath the bodywork we have a radically reworked V6 engine." His Ford team-mate Alain Menu added: "When I joined the team I thought Ford, Cosworth Racing and Prodrive would come up with the goods. They have."

Matt Neal is the favourite for the Michelin Cup for Independents but may also be a force in the main event. Alan Gow, the chief executive of series organisers TOCA, has offered a 250,000 prize to the first independent driver who wins a round in 1999. Team Dynamics star Neal is keen to claim the cash at Donington and said: "Our best chance of winning a race is probably at the start of the season. I am feeling confident and I cannot wait to take the money off Alan Gow."

Britain's leading female driver Paula Cook will be mounting a challenge for DC Cook Motorsport in the Michelin Cup for Independents. She won the final round of the Independents' Cup at Silverstone last year but she is playing down her chances in a season-long campaign. "I am with a winning team and they will want to stay that way," she confirmed. "We are working hard to produce a car worthy of racing but when the lights go out I am on my own."

Ex-French and German touring car champion Laurent Aiello will be aiming to make a quick impression as he joins the series. Aiello, who won the Le Mans 24-Hours last year, is tipped to be a major force for Nissan. BBC Grandstand will be showing the action live on Easter Monday. Monday's meeting consists of an 18-lap Sprint race, followed by a 36-lap Feature race. A bumper crowd is expected at Donington Park.

1999 entry list:
 1 R Rydell      Swe Volvo S40
 2 A Reid        GB  Ford Mondeo
 3 J Thompson    GB  Honda Accord
 4 A Menu        Swi Ford Mondeo
 5 J Plato       GB  Renault Laguna
 6 D Leslie      GB  Nissan Primera
 7 Y Muller      Fr  Vauxhall Vectra
 8 J Cleland     GB  Vauxhall Vectra
11 V Radermecker Bel Volvo S40
15 M Blair       GB  Vauxhall Vectra *
17 R Spence      GB  Renault Laguna *
18 G Howell      GB  Ford Mondeo *
19 C Gallie      GB  BMW 320i *
22 P Cook        GB  Honda Accord *
23 L Aiello      Fr  Nissan Primera
33 P Kox         Hol Honda Accord
37 J-C Boullion  Fr  Renault Laguna
77 M Neal        GB  Nissan Primera *
99 L Brookes     GB  Honda Accord *
* Registered for Independents Cup


 4/5  Donington Park (National circuit)
17/18 Silverstone (Int'nal circuit)

 2/3  Thruxton
15/16 Brands Hatch (Indy circuit)
30/31 Oulton Park (Fosters circuit)

19/20 Donington Park (National circuit)

3/4  Croft
17/18 Snetterton
31/1  Thruxton

14/15 Knockhill
29/30 Brands Hatch (Indy circuit)

11/12 Oulton Park (Island circuit)
18/19 Silverstone (Int'nal circuit)

1999 BATHURST 1000
2/3 OCTOBER  Bathurst (Australia)

RALLYING:- SEAT drivers Gwyndaf Evans and Barbara Armstrong will contest the Steyr-Puch Manx Rally on May 8. They need to test their cars in preparation for the three asphalt events which comprise the second half of this year's British Championship.

Testing times:    mins secs
1 M Burton         1:30.765
2 S Clarke         1:31.240
3 G Howell         1:31.524
4 D Gibson         1:31.718
5 J Butcher        1:32.040

Testing Times:     mins sec
1 M Ambrose        1:12.708
2 C Murray         1:12.879
3 N Kiesa          1:12.892
4 G Caton          1:13.500
5 R van der Ende   1:13.595

31.03.99 - F1
Minardi driver Luca Badoer will miss next month's Brazilian Grand Prix after fracturing a bone in his right hand. The Italian was injured in testing at Fiorano after crashing into a tyre and later had surgery. His replacement will be announced later this week.