12.10.2005 New Alfa Romeo CEO Antonio Baravalle has giveN the go-ahead for the Alfa 159 to take on BMW in the 2006 FIA World Touring Car Championship

New Alfa Romeo CEO Antonio Baravalle has given the go-ahead for the Alfa 159 to take on its arch rival BMW and race in the 2006 FIA World Touring Car Championship. Barely days after his switch from running Lancia, Baravalle gave Fiat's competitions department N.Technology the green light to begin preparations for a campaign in next year's FIA-sanctioned World Touring Car Championship with the new Alfa 159. This year (the inaugural running of the world series, which has grown out of the now-discontinued FIA European Touring Car Championship) has seen the factory Alfa Romeo Racing Team taking on its BMW and SEAT rivals with the outgoing Alfa 156 'SuperTourer'. With just one race remaining (the famous historic Macau street encounter, on 20th November) Alfa Romeo's Fabrizio Giovanardi is still in with a shot at the title, as he is only five points adrift of BMW's Dirk Muller, with a maximum of 20 points remaining on offer from the double header.

The new series has been a resounding success by all accounts (unlike the single previous attempt at a WTCC in 1987, which collapsed in acrimony) with the factory Alfa Romeo, BMW, SEAT, Ford and Chevrolet teams, visiting exotic new destinations, such as Mexico and Turkey. Next year is expected to see even more manufacturers committing themselves to join the fray, and so Alfa Romeo's decision is a welcome boost for the fledgling series and for enthusiasts of the marque - bred on a diet of motor racing success - alike.

Former Alfa Romeo CEO Karl-Heinz Kalbfell had vetoed the Alfa 159 for touring car use, stating that due to its prestigious image he didn't see it being rightly marketed as a racing car. As the Alfa 159 goes head-to-head with the its bitter rival, BMW 3-series, in the marketplace, and the fact that the image-conscious BMW factory are quite happy to campaign the car in the glare of the WTCC, Kalbfell's opinions certainly seemed slightly odd.
 

Matilde Tomagnini

As controlling costs will a major factor in the touring car attack, Autosport also report that Fiat competitions' boss Matilde Tomagnini (above, at the Frankfurt IAA last month) could sanction the team being run by Maserati Corse in 2006

Alfa Romeo 159 SuperTourer

Alfa CEO Antonio Baravalle has give the go-ahead for the Alfa 159 to race in the 2006 FIA World Touring  Car  Championship


Couple up the fact that Alfa Romeo's long line of successful road models throughout their illustrious history have always proved their pedigree in competition on the major race tracks of the world, Baravalle's decision is without doubt very welcome news. However, with the go-ahead having only just been given to N.Technology to begin development, it is expected that they will have to begin the 2006 WTCC season using the existing Alfa 156 for the opening few races. Much work will need to be done by the firm's engineers to pare down the weight of the rather heavy Alfa 159 to get it to racing standards, while thoughts immediately turn to homologation negotiations with the FIA, and whether the Alfa 159's all-wheel drive system can be adapted to provide rear wheel drive. Currently, the Alfa 156 touring car racer hands a certain distinct advantage to the rear wheel drive BMW 3-series on the race track.

Meanwhile, highly respected Autosport magazine offer further thoughts on next year's Alfa Romeo touring car programme in their current issue. They believe that - to trim costs - the current four car set-up will be reduced to either three, or even just two cars, with only the highly experienced Italian Fabrizio Giovanardi, and the team's young upcoming Brazilian star Augusto Farfus Junior, being assured of getting seats. Englishman James Thompson, who joined the team full-time this year, will get the chop, while long-time Alfa Romeo touring car driver Gabriele Tarquini is also unlikely to feature.

As controlling costs will a major factor in the touring car attack, Autosport also report that Fiat competitions' boss Matilde Tomagnini could sanction the team being run by Maserati Corse, from their Modena facility, thus bringing the programme in-house. If Maserati start to wind down the Maserati MC12 sportscar programme at the end of this year (and it seems very unlikely that Maserati Corse will return to the American Le Mans Series in 2006) running the Alfa Romeo factory team from Modena could neatly slot into the available capacity.
 

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Alfa Romeo's Fabrizio Giovanardi kept his FIA WTCC title hopes intact after two difficult races in Valencia on Sunday

Image: AlfaRonny / 2005 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed