At the time of writing this blog, there were no confirmed plans of what would happen for 2018. So please, enjoy my round up of what turned out to be the last ever (so far…) TCR International Series event which took place in Dubai…
The ultimate title fight to be staged in the Emirates
The Dubai Autodrome played host to the final event of the 2017 TCR International Series that decided the battles for the Drivers’, Teams’ and Model of the Year titles.
This was the first time that the International Series has visited the Emirates’ circuit that was inaugurated in 2004 and which hosted the first event of the TCR Middle East Series last January. Those two races were won by Luca Engstler and Brendan Gdovic at the wheel of Volkswagen Golf GTI cars run by the Liqui Moly Team Engstler.
Three titles are still on offer in the final event
The season finale in Dubai was the decider for all three titles on offer in the 2017 TCR International Series.
In the fight for the Drivers’ championship, Leopard Racing’s Jean-Karl Vernay took the most out of the previous event in China and regained the lead in the standings with a 29-point margin ahead of M1RA Racing’s Attila Tassi.
Two other drivers were still in contention: the 2015 and 2016 champion Stefano Comini (Comtoyou Racing) and Tassi’s teammate Roberto Colciago; however, with gaps of 42 and 46 points respectively – when 55 are still at stake – they were hoping for a miracle to happen.
With a leading margin of 71 points, M1RA was just one step away from the Teams’ title. Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing lies in second position, but because there are only 95 points to be awarded over the last race weekend, the Hong Kong-based outfit’s chances were more theoretical than real.
The battle for the Model of the Year award was much closer, with the Honda Civic currently followed by the Volkswagen Golf GTI with a gap of only 30 points (and 95 at stake).
Success ballast for Morbidelli, Vernay and Tarquini
None of the drivers would carry the maximum Success Ballast of 30 kilos in the final event of the season at Dubai. In fact, Rob Huff who scored the greatest amount of points at Zhejiang, would not be racing in the Emirates.
The second-best scorer in China, Gianni Morbidelli, carried 20 extra kilos on board his WestCoast Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI, while the 10 kilos for the third best scorer was imposed on the championship leader Jean-Karl Vernay.
Although he was not allowed to score points, because the Hyundai i30 N cars are running under a temporary homologation form, Gabriele Tarquini also had 10 kilos of success ballast on board. This is because he would have been the Chinese event’s third best scorer had he not been ‘transparent’.
In terms of running weights, this means that Morbidelli’s Volkswagen weighed 1285kg (1285kg minimum weight + 20kg Success Ballast – 20kg Balance of Performance adjustment), Vernay’s Volkswagen 1275kg (1285kg + 10kg SB – 20kg BoP) and Tarquini’s Hyundai 1335 kg (1285kg + 10kg SB + 40kg BoP).
Gordon Shedden joins Leopard Racing in Dubai
Triple British Touring Car champion Gordon Shedden joined the Leopard Racing WRT Team for the final event of the TCR International Series at Dubai, where he drove one of the team’s Volkswagen Golf GTI cars alongside Jean-Karl Vernay.
Shedden replaced Rob Huff, who was unavailable due to a clashing commitment, and his mission was to help Vernay in his attempt to secure the Drivers’ title.
The 38-year-old from Edinburgh has established himself as one of the most successful BTCC drivers ever, with 48 race wins in twelve seasons and three titles in 2012, 2015 and 2016, becoming the third Scotsman to win the championship after Jim Clark and John Cleland. Shedden also finished second twice (2011 and 2013) and third three times (2007, 2010 and 2014) in the championship.
He said: “I’m excited to join Leopard Racing and WRT where I will use all my experience to help Jean-Karl secure the Championship. The TCR International Series looks really competitive but I am looking forward to the challenge!”
M1RA calls up Josh Files for the season finale
Josh Files was called up by M1RA to race in a third Honda Civic car at the Dubai Autodrome, for the final race meeting of the TCR International Series.
The Briton joined team regulars Attila Tassi and Roberto Colciago, with the task of supporting them in the fight for the Drivers’ and Teams’ titles.
During the last two seasons, Files has emerged as one of the most successful drivers in TCR cars, having twice won the ADAC TCR Germany title (2016 and 2017) and the inaugural TCR Middle East title (2017). Most recently, he was classified third in the TCR Europe Trophy at Adria after winning the first race.
Files said: “This will be my third straight year contesting the final round of the TCR International Series. I’m thrilled to be doing it and am aiming to challenge for victories and to help M1RA and Honda achieve their title ambitions, despite the circuit being new to me. M1RA have done a superb job in their first year, have an incredible record for such a young team and always field fast and well-presented cars. I can’t wait to get going.”
TCR Europe Trophy winner, Comte joins DG Sport in Dubai
The winner of the TCR Europe Trophy, Aurélien Comte, made his TCR International Series debut at Dubai.
The young Frenchman was Mat’o Homola’s teammate at the wheel of an Opel Astra TCR for DG Sport Compétition. Comte has driven for the Belgian team throughout the season in a Peugeot 308, finishing third in the TCR Benelux series (with three race wins) and clinching the TCR Europe Trophy at the Adria International Raceway two weeks ago.
Team manager Christian Jupsin commented: “I wish to thank Monsieur Demoustier and his company Eurodatacar for supporting this initiative. I am delighted to offer Aurélien the opportunity to make his debut in the TCR International Series. He has completed a fantastic season at the wheel of our Peugeot 308.
We are aware that it won’t be possible to judge his performance at Dubai in a car he doesn’t know and against drivers who are used to the races of the International Series. But we are confident that he will approach this event with the right spirit, to fully benefit from this end-of-season bonus.”
Benjamin Leuchter to drive for WestCoast Racing
WestCoast Racing named Benjamin Leuchter as Gianni Morbidelli’s teammate for the final event of the TCR International Series at Dubai.
Leuchter is one of the most experienced Volkswagen Golf GTI TCR drivers and this year, as well as his role as an instructor with the brand, he celebrated five class victories in the VLN endurance series at the legendary Nürburgring Nordschleife. Last year he competed in the ADAC TCR Germany series and finished fifth in the championship.
“I’m really happy to join WestCoast Racing for the final round of the TCR International Series,” said Leuchter. “After winning the TCR class in the VLN and in the Nürburgring 24h, it will be another highlight for me to come back to sprint racing in the Golf TCR. I’m really looking forward to work with such a professional team like WestCoast Racing. I don’t know the Dubai track, so this will be an extra motivation for me.”
Tarquini and Menu return with the Hyundai i30 N cars
After a successful debut in the previous event at Zhejiang, the BRC Racing Team returned racing the new Hyundai i30 N TCR cars for Gabriele Tarquini and Alain Menu.
The Korean car made a strong impression on its maiden appearance in the TCR International Series, as Tarquini claimed an authoritative win in the first of the Chinese races, despite his 13th position on the starting grid.
After observing a drive-through penalty for causing a collision in Race 1, his teammate Menu confirmed the potential of the Hyundai i30 N by recovering from 14th at the start to fourth position at the end of the race. His performance was no less impressive, considering that both his and Tarquini’s cars were laden by 40 kg of success ballast after the first race.
Three weeks after that resounding debut, Tarquini encored in the TCR Europe Trophy at Adria, where he finished second in Race 1 and won Race 2, for an impressive 50% winning score of the new car.
At Dubai, just as in Zhejiang and Adria, the two Hyundai cars were not be eligible to score points as they are still accepted with a temporary homologation document. This also means that they will not be eligible to qualify for Q2.
Shedden and Vernay lock out the front row for Leopard Racing
For the second consecutive event, Leopard Racing locked out the front row for Race 1. After Rob Huff and Jean-Karl Vernay qualified first and second in Zhejiang, TCR newcomer Gordon Shedden and Vernay claimed the same result at Dubai in the TCR International Series finale.
Once again it was an extremely close session, with 17 cars in the same second.
The result also meant that Vernay moved even closer to securing the Drivers’ title. The four points for second place in Qualifying helped the Frenchman to stretch his lead in the standing to 25 points ahead of Attila Tassi, who will start the second race from pole position thanks to the reverse top-ten grid.
Now Vernay has a great opportunity to wrap up the title fight in Race 1, especially since the Honda cars struggled to be on the pace with both Josh Files and Roberto Colciago failing to go through to Q2.
On his first TCR appearance, Shedden was able to claim pole position. Using his vast experience in touring car racing, the triple BTCC champion completed a perfect lap in Q2. Which was also something of a surprise, considering that he had been the last driver to make the cut in Q1, only 26 thousandths of a second faster than Files.
Benjamin Leuchter provided the icing on the cake for Volkswagen Motorsport, placing his WestCoast Racing Golf GTI in third position. It was a great result for the young German driver, winner of the TCR class in the VLN endurance series.
The two Hyundai i30 N cars of Gabriele Tarquini and Alain Menu will start both races from 13th and 14th as they are still running with a temporary homologation form and therefore were not eligible to qualify for Q2. They posted the second (Tarquini) and fourth (Menu) fastest laps in Q1 and the whole paddock is curious to see if they will be able to elbow their way through the field, just like Tarquini did in China where he won Race 1.
Qualifying 1: Dupont beats Tarquini
Denis Dupont continued to impress and set the fastest lap in the first part of Qualifying, stopping the clock at 1:28.154 under the chequered flag, beating Gabriele Tarquini’s 1:28.403. Benjamin Leuchter set the third fastest lap (1:28.425) ahead of the second Hyundai car of Alain Menu (1:28.431).
Championship leader Jean-Karl Vernay was fifth fastest (1:28.457), while his competitors in the title fight, Comini and Tassi, ranked sixth and eighth respectively.
Several drivers had lap times disallowed for not respecting track limits, including Tarquini, Nash (twice), Morbidelli (twice), Comte, Kajaia, Borković and Files.
With the two Hyundai i30 N cars of Menu and Tarquini not eligible to qualify for Q2, Comte and Shedden (13th and 14th fastest respectively), took the last two places for the second part.
The following drivers went through to Q2: Dupont, Leuchter, Vernay, Comini, Lloyd, Tassi, Morbidelli, Oriola, Vervisch, Nash, Comte, Shedden.
Among those who did not make the cut were Josh Files (with gearbox problems), Borković, Homola (with engine problems) and Colciago,
Qualifying 2: Shedden claims his first TCR pole
After qualifying for Q2 by the skin of his teeth in 14th place, Gordon Shedden claimed the pole position on his first appearance in a TCR car. His first lap out of 1:28.055 had already placed him on top of the time sheet, but the Scotsman was able to improve further to 1:27.848; the only driver to break the 1:28 barrier.
Eventually his teammate Vernay climbed to second with a lap of 1:28.045, with Leuchter third (1:28.119) and Pepe Oriola fourth (1:28.179).
Dupont was not able to repeat his Q1 performance and qualified in fifth position; he also stopped on the track on his last attempt due to driveshaft failure.
Tassi and Comini posted the 10th and 9th fastest laps respectively so that they will fill the front row on the reverse grid for Race 2.
Quotes after the Qualifying Session
Gordon Shedden (pole position): “It took a lot of time this morning to understand the car, we struggled quite a bit with the set-up, so I wasn’t expecting at all to be on pole. My first very good lap was at the end of Q1 and I went out quite early in Q2 to set up a time that was not beaten. Everything was new for me: the series, the car, the tyres and the team. Everything is quite different from what I am used to, but I am enjoying a lot this first TCR experience. The quality and the level of the series is very high, and the car is fun to drive. I am here to help the team and Jean-Karl, although he is very capable himself. I’m here to do the best job I can for them.”
Jean-Karl Vernay (2nd): “It’s again a great result for Leopard Racing, and I congratulate Gordon for clinching the pole in his first TCR appearance. Not a real surprise, we know what he is worth… Starting from the first row tomorrow will be very good, I just hope we’ll pass first corner unscathed. A strategy is never easy to do, but the key will be to stay patient and be smart. I am confident in our car, in the team and in my ability, so I will approach things avoiding useless pressure.”
Benjamin Leuchter (3rd): “I am very happy to be here and grateful to WestCoast Racing. It’s nice to be back to sprint racing, after a season in VLN. Of course, I know the Golf well but everything in today’s qualifying exercise was completely different from what I have done this year on the Nordschleife. It’s a great result for the Golf cars and after struggling a bit with the set-ups this morning, we found a good compromise, thanks to the excellent work of the team. Tomorrow? I’ll just go flat-out!”
Attila Tassi (10th): “We had a difficult morning, but things went better in Qualifying. I had a good pace in Q1 and could have done better but when I was told on the radio that P10 was secure, I lift off. It will be crucial to start from pole in Race 2 and I hope we can keep the title battle alive until the very end!”
Vernay is crowned Drivers’ champion as Oriola and Comini share race victories
The 2017 TCR International Series’ final event at the Dubai Autodrome was a thrilling decider for all three titles on offer.
Jean-Karl Vernay was crowned the new Drivers’ champion, while M1RA and the Volkswagen Golf GTI claimed the Teams’ and Model of the Year awards respectively.
Vernay settled the matter in the first race and in his way: a display of clean and faultless driving, in full control of his only real competitor Attila Tassi and patiently waiting for the opportunity to strike the winning blow.
That opportunity came on the penultimate lap when the Frenchman overtook James Nash for third, crushing Tassi’s last remaining hopes. Vernay’s success also meant that the alliance between Leopard Racing and WRT successfully took one of their drivers to the title for the second consecutive year.
Pepe Oriola and Stefano Comini ended the season on a high note, winning one race apiece. Oriola proved that the SEAT León – the first ever TCR car – is still very competitive on its third racing season. Comini – who wanted to abdicate in style while handing the title to his former teammate – was tantalisingly close to securing the second place in the standings, but he eventually lost it to Tassi by a single point.
The young Hungarian had high hopes before Dubai, but he failed to keep the title fight alive until the last race. He was also denied victory in the second race from pole position as he was punished for a jump-start. However, finishing as the vice-champion in such a competitive series at the tender age of 18, means he already owns the skills to become one of the leading Touring Car drivers in the years to come.
In Race 2, the WestCoast Racing duo of Gianni Morbidelli and Benjamin Leuchter scored the points that helped the Volkswagen Golf to beat the Honda Civic in the Model of the Year Trophy by just five points. Consolation for the Japanese brand came from the Teams’ title that was won by M1RA, which was a great result for the Hungarian team founded by Norbert Michelisz in its maiden season.
Race 1 – Oriola wins, Vernay secures the title
Jean-Karl Vernay of Leopard Racing claimed the 2017 TCR International Series Drivers’ title by finishing third in a race that was dominated by Pepe Oriola.
The Spaniard’s winning move was a perfect start that propelled him from fourth on the grid to first at Turn 1, ahead of the pole sitter Gordon Shedden and his teammate Vernay.
For the rest of the race, Oriola was very focused and managed to never offer Shedden the hint of a gap to try an overtaking manoeuvre.
Behind them, Gabriele Tarquini elbowed his way through the field, from 21st on the grid up to third, only to retire on the penultimate lap with a puncture.
The title fight drew the most attention as Vernay was lying fourth, closely chased by Attila Tassi. The Frenchman kept his cool, driving without mistakes and eventually settled the matter by moving up to third and placing James Nash between himself and Tassi.
Race 2 – Comini abdicates with victory
Double TCR champion Stefano Comini abdicated in style, as he won the International Series’ final race in his Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS.
The Swiss driver inherited the lead when Attila Tassi observed a drive-through penalty for a jump-start, and then crossed the line ahead of Gianni Morbidelli. Josh Files completed the podium after a brilliant fight with Denis Dupont who eventually failed to finish due to a flat tyre.
Tassi managed to recover from 17th to 12th – that was actually 10th because of the ‘transparency’ of the two Hyundai cars – scoring a single point that salvaged his second place in the Drivers’ championship ahead of Comini.
Morbidelli’s second place, combined with the sixth position achieved by his WestCoast Racing teammate Benjamin Leuchter earned the ‘Model of the Year’ trophy for the Volkswagen Golf by five points ahead of the Honda Civic.
Quotes from the podium finishers in the two races
Jean-Karl Vernay (third in Race 1 – 2017 Drivers’ champion): “I don’t know yet how I feel… but obviously, it is great to be champion! I am very happy for Leopard Racing, WRT and Volkswagen. My start today was poor, so the race wasn’t easy. Strategy did not work, as there was another car between Shedden and me, so I had to do things on my own… I fought with Nash and had Tassi pushing behind, but I remained calm. Towards the end, Nash was slower because his tyres were gone, so I knew I could pass him, but waited until the last lap not to create a new fight. Personally, this title means a lot to me, as it comes after titles in LMP, GT and single-seaters, proving that I can will with all sorts of cars.”
Pepe Oriola (winner of Race 1): “I am really happy with this win, it was about time. I won at first event and now at last, it’s a pity we had such bad luck in-between… My start was really great, I was at the edge of stalling, but luckily it didn’t happen. I saw enough space close to the wall and just kept going, as I had nothing to lose. All this put me in P1 at first corner, but it was a very tough race as gaps were always very close, given also the safety-car period. Shedden was faster than me in some points, especially in turn 7, but I knew I could control the situation. Nothing bad happened this time and it is really nice to finish the season on a high.”
Stefano Comini (winner of Race 2): “It’s nice to finish the season on a high and to hand over the crown to Jean-Karl Vernay with a win. It has been a very tough year for us, but it was great to be part of the Comtoyou project, which only took off two weeks before the start of the season. Race 2 was pretty good; it generally is when you start at the front and have no extra weight! Missing the runner-up position in the final standings by only one point is not a problem: second is always the worst place to be, but to be on top of the final podium is a good reward for everybody in the team and at Audi.”
Gordon Shedden (second in Race 1): “Being my first race in TCR, with this car and these tyres, I am happy with the result. My start wasn’t terrible but not very good either, clearly I lack some experience with TCR cars, but after, I could keep a good pace, trying not to do anything stupid. The car performed well, although I lost an aero part at some point, and I am very happy the team secured the title already in Race 1. Now we can have fun in Race2.”
Gianni Morbidelli (second in Race 2): “I am happy to finish the season with a second place. It’s a very good result, considering the 20 kilos of Success Ballast we had; on a circuit like this you can really feel the difference. It’s also nice to finish the season like that, after a very difficult first part, when we had to learn the car and come to grips with it. We really did a very good work with Volkswagen and WestCoast Racing, and I am really proud of what we achieved together. I’m also proud to have scored the points that earned the Volkswagen Golf the Model of the Year award.”
Josh Files (third in Race 2): “It’s the end of a very busy and intense TCR season for me, which started here by winning the Middle East series, an excellent way to prepare the season. Then came a second title in the TCR Germany, the toughest TCR series, after a long and closely-fought season. I was in contention also for the Europe Trophy in Adria, finishing on the podium, and here I am again on the podium in the closing round of the TCR International. I thank M1RA for inviting me. Of course, the objective was to help Attila Tassi in his title quest, but it turned out it was not to be for him. In Race2, I had fun battling with Dupont, I knew he had a puncture and I would pass him, but it was intense and fun the entire race.”
As per usual, I will be keeping things up to date on here with the blog as well as with the members of the TCR Talk International Facebook Group & the TCR Talk UK Facebook Group & The TCR UK Fans Group who will also be sharing their thoughts as well as any news from The TCR International Series, Domestic Series and any news on the TCR UK Series that starts in 2018.
I’m also pleased to announce that The Checkered Flag will be covering both the TCR International Series and the TCR UK Series with the talents of Alessio Campigotto and Tim Lumb at the helm. I’ll be continuing my World RX and Euro RX duties at the site, however please give these two gentlemen a follow for all the up to date news.
Please note that all images are used courtesy of WSC/TCR International Series.
Until next time, all the best!