A brace of exclusive chauffeurs were to be seen at the wheel of the BMW M3 GTR this week: on Wednesday and Thursday respectively, Ralf Schumacher and Gerhard Berger put the BMW M3 GTR through its paces at Italy's Monza circuit. The star of the BMW WilliamsF1 Team and the former BMW Motorsport Director enjoyed an outing in the muscular 450 bhp GT sports car on the race track in Monza's Royal Park.

Schumacher clocked up a total of 37 laps. "It was a fun event for which I have to thank BMW," he said. "Of course the driving experience is totally different to Formula One - this is no open-top, and it's practically like driving in a cage. You get pretty hot under the helmet. Those laps certainly had their appeal."

Berger was no less enthusiastic: "Looking back on my touring car days, I have to say the M3 GTR is a very powerful and fast car. Compared with Formula One, of course, it doesn't quite have the same performance. I very quickly settled into the car and clocked some good times," said the Austrian, adding with a grin: "And thanks to power steering, you don't have to work as hard as you used to."

The idea for this twofold test drive was hatched at the BMW Motorsport Party held in early December at Seefeld. BMW Motorsport Director Mario Theissen: "It was very late, and Ralf, Gerhard and I had gravitated to the M3 GTR on display at the venue. Our shared enthusiasm for the car culminated in the decision that the two drivers simply had to take it out for a few fast laps. Schnitzer team manager Charly Lamm was there like a flash to turn the idea into reality."

In 2004, BMW Motorsport is fielding two BMW M3 GTRs in the 24-hour events at the Nürburgring/North Loop (12th/13th June) and at Spa-Francorchamps (31st July/1st August) under the direction of Schnitzer Motorsport and race strategist Lamm.

Test drives and fitness training for ETCC drivers.

Monza was an obvious choice for this special outing by Schumacher and Berger since, alongside development testing for the BMW M3 GTR from 25th to 27th February, the BMW drivers of the European Touring Car Championship (ETCC) were also carrying out test drives in the BMW 320i. Dirk and Jörg Müller were out on the track in the two-liter touring cars fielded by Schnitzer for BMW Team Deutschland. Alessandro Zanardi (ITA) and Antonio Garcia (ESP) were at the wheel of the BMW 320i for BMW Team Italy/Spain run by Roberto Ravaglia.

Alex Zanardi was visibly delighted at the special modifications made to the BMW 320i on his behalf: "The new adjustments to the car are just brilliant. I have a very good feeling about the car - I am confident I will be competitive."

BMW's goal for the ETCC 2004 - the season kicks off on 28th March in Monza - is to defend its Manufacturers' title and win the Drivers' title. That's what the touring car drivers will be gearing up for when they move on to Tuscany after their test drives to take part in BMW's fitness training session from 28th February to 3rd March.