2016 TCR International Series: Imola

International touring cars return to Imola after seven years

The fourth race meeting of the TCR International Series takes place this week at Imola, on another legendary racetrack in motorsport history that is named after Enzo and Dino Ferrari.

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

The event marks the return, after seven years, of an international Touring Car series to the Italian circuit that was home of the 1980 Formula 1 Italian Grand Prix and the San Marino Grand Prix between 1981 and 2006.

Inaugurated in 1953 as a semi-permanent road course, the circuit hosted in 1963 an F1 non-championship race won by Jim Clark’s Lotus-Climax and in 1968 the Cycling Road World Championship with the victory of Italy’s Vittorio Adorni. The layout of the track was redesigned in 1972 and then it was slightly modified twice in 1994 and 2006.

The whole TCR International Series action took place on the Sunday, with only one 60-minute Free Practice in the early morning, followed by Qualifying in the late morning and the two races that ran back-to-back in the early afternoon.

Alain Menu and Mikhail Grachev join WestCoast in Imola

WestCoast Racing has significantly reshuffled its driver line-up for the upcoming TCR International Series event that takes place at Imola.

Touring Car legend Alain Menu and Mikhail Grachev replace Aku Pellinen and Kevin Gleason at the wheel of two of the team’s three Honda Civic TCR cars; they will join Gianni Morbidelli who is currently third in the Drivers’ Championship.

According to the team, after winning his maiden TCR race in Spa, Pellinen cited budget complications after his key sponsor was no longer able to commit to the series as the reason for his departure, TCR regular and race winner Gleason has also been forced to step down while negotiations with a key backer continue.

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

Returning to the championship after a couple of appearances last year in the Top Run Subaru, Menu said: “It’s nice to be back and I am grateful for this opportunity. WestCoast is one of the top teams in the series with one of the front running cars, so I am very much looking forward to it, although it will be tough as I haven’t had any opportunity to test the car ahead of what will be a single day event.”

As for Grachev, he has switched from the Liqui Moly Team Engstler for which he had driven since the past season: “For me it is important to grow as a driver and in a team such as WestCoast with an experienced team mate such as Gianni Morbidelli now I fully have it.”

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

Team Owner Greger Petersson commented: “Grachev has shown commitment to the TCR International series and we are delighted that he sees WestCoast as a team that can help him meet his racing goals. And with Alain we add great experience in Touring Cars that would be a benefit to any team. Of course we are very disappointed to have lost Aku and Kevin with Aku, but this is the reality of racing where commercial partners are needed to meet budgets and hopefully both of them will be able to return to us and the series soon.

Liqui Moly Team Engstler hires Jordi Gené for Imola

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

Experienced Spanish Touring Car driver Jordi Gené has been hired by the Liqui Moly Team Engstler for the TCR International Series event at Imola.

Gené replaces Mikhail Grachev and joins Davit Kajaia in the second Volkswagen Golf Gti TCR run by the German outfit.

The Spaniard was one of the leading players in last year’s TCR International Series; he scored three race wins for Craft-Bamboo Lukoil at Sepang, Sochi and Singapore, and eventually was classified third in the Drivers’ Championship.

He also knows the Golf Gti TCR very well as he took part in the technical development of the German car.

 Carlotta Fedeli and Diego Romanini join with B.D. Racing

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Two Italian drivers will join the TCR International Series field for their home event at Imola. Carlotta Fedeli and Diego Romanini will drive a couple of SEAT León cars run by B.D. Racing Motorsport.

Fedeli, 24 years old from Rome, has built enough experience in recent years, taking part in SEAT Italia’s one-make trophies. She was classified a brilliant sixth in the 2014 Ibiza Cupra Cup and improved to fifth last year; in both seasons she managed to claim podium results at Imola.

She has been upgraded to the León Cup for the current season, achieving an outstanding third place for B.D. Racing in the opening round at Adria.

A former competitor in the FIA Touring Car championships and the Superstars Series, the experienced Romanini will return to the TCR International Series after making a few appearances last year in a Ford Focus.

B. D. Racing will field a León TCR for Fedeli and a Cup Racer for Romanini; the team directed by Davide Bernasconi had already visited the TCR International Series last year, running Antonio D’Amico’s SEAT at Monza.

Jordi Oriola rejoins the championship at Imola

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After taking part in the TCR International Series opener at Bahrain, Jordi Oriola will make his return to the championship at the wheel of a Honda Civic TCR run by Target Competition.

Target team manager Walter Gummerer explained the situation: “Following the decision taken by Opel Motorsport to have a break from racing and focusing on testing to develop the Astra TCR, we have been looking for an alternative solution that could enable Jordi to rejoin the championship. Now the plan is to race at Imola and Salzburgring with the Honda. Afterwards we will reconsider the situation according to any further developments.”

Success ballast for Pepe Oriola and Jean-Karl Vernay

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It would have been the WestCoast Racing Honda Civic of Aku Pellinen to carry the maximum 30-kilos of success ballast at Imola. In fact, the young Finn was the highest point scorer in Spa, with a victory (his maiden one in TCR) and a fifth place in the two Belgian races that, added to third in qualifying, granted him 38 points. However, Pellinen will not take part in the event.

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This will leave Craft-Bamboo Lukoil’s Pepe Oriola – who retook the championship lead in Spa – and Leopard Racing’s Jean-Karl Vernay – the other rookie winner in Belgium – as the only drivers with the ballast. Oriola will carry 20 extra kilos on board his SEAT León, while the remaining 10 kilos will be imposed to Vernay’s Volkswagen Golf Gti.

In terms of the title fight, Oriola’s closest competitors – his team-mate James Nash and WestCoast Racing’s Gianni Morbidelli – will have the advantage of driving ballast-free cars on the ups and downs of the Italian racetrack.

Morbidelli was on pole position for his home event

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

Italian fans’ favourite Gianni Morbidelli achieved his first pole position of the season for his home event at Imola. The former F1 driver set the pace throughout the Qualifying session, posting the fastest laps in both Q1 and Q2.

His best lap of 1:53.228 was only 0.057 faster than Pepe Oriola’s 1:53.285, which promises a very close fight between them in Race 1.

Davit Kajaia and Stefano Comini will fill the second row of the grid, while Mikhail Grachev and Mat’o Homola will share the third row.

The Qualifying session was also incredibly close, with the nine fastest drivers covered by less than eight tenths.

Jordi Gené and Sergey Afanasyev qualified in tenth and ninth respectively and will be on the front row of the top-ten reversed grid for Race 2. Actually James Nash had posted the ninth fastest lap, but he was demoted to 11th after the Stewards disallowed his fastest lap for trespassing the track limits.

Morbidelli said: “I think this was the maximum we could do and we scored five points for the championship, so I am happy. I wasn’t able to do better than this, even though I expected a little bit more, but when the temperature goes high for us it’s a little bit complicated. The SEAT is very close, even when Oriola has extra kilos, it’s unbelievably quick; twenty kilos in Imola is worth around half a second. Let’s see in the race. Imola is my home circuit and the atmosphere is good so we are happy. Up until now we’ve done a good job but we have to carry on.”

Comini and Grachev shared race victories in eventful day

The all-in-one-day event at Imola provided plenty of drama, glory for new faces and a shake-up on top of the Drivers’ Championship.

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Stefano Comini (Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf Gti) and Mikhail Grachev (WestCoast Racing Honda Civic) shared the race victories. It was the first one in the season so far for Comini and the first one ever for Grachev.

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

Two other drivers were able to achieve the first podium results for themselves and their teams: Mat’o Homola (B3 Racing SEAT León) who was second in Race 2, and Davit Kajaia (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf Gti) who finished third in Race 1.

The dark side of the day consisted in the merciless bad luck that hit Gianni Morbidelli and James Nash. They both had arrived in Imola with the hopes to move further up in the standings, but eventually came away empty-handed, and not because of their faults.

Pepe Oriola was able to stay away of troubles and scored precious points that stretched his leadership to 15 points ahead of Comini, who is now his closest competitor.

Maybe it a prelude to a repeat of last year’s duel that ended up only at the last race in Macau. But it’s not granted, because the fight is closer than ever and provides continuous surprises as it is proved by the fact that seven different drivers in three different types of cars have been victorious in the eight races held so far.

Stefano Comini wins a Race 1 full of drama

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Reigning champion Stefano Comini claimed his first victory of the season at the end of a race that was plenty of drama and gave Leopard Racing amd Volkswagen their second consecutive win after Jean-Karl Vernay’s in Spa Race 2.

The outcome of the first race in Imola spoke in favour of Pepe Oriola as far as the title fight is concerned, because the Spaniard’s closest rivals – Gianni Morbidelli and James Nash – were both scoreless. The Italian seemed on the way to secure a comfortable win when a power steering failure resulted in a dramatic incident that involved his own team-mate Alain Menu. As for Nash, he was first slowed down by engine misfire and then hit by another car.

Door-to-door fights resulted in a number of contacts and clashes that eliminated or slowed down some of the top players such as Jordi Oriola, Borkovi ć and Vernay .

The Frenchman was later demoted from 6th to 12th by the Stewards who imposed him a double penalty for trespassing the limits of the track and for his incident with Borkovic.

Attila Tassi, Carlotta Fedeli and Alessandra Neri managed to finish in seventh, ninth and tenth positions respectively and scored their first points in the championship.

Race One Key facts:

Start: Morbidelli takes the best start ahead of Comini, Kajaia and Pepe Oriola who nearly stalled the engine

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Lap 1: Comini tries to overtake Morbidelli on the outside line at the Tosa, but to no avail

Lap 2: Kajaia defends third place from P. Oriola; Nash drops with his rear bumper hanging loose

Lap 3: Kajaia struggles to keep P. Oriola behind; Grachev is fifth right behind them

Lap 4: P. Oriola tries an overtaking move but drives wide at Rivazza 2 and drops to fifth

Lap 5: Morbidelli struggles with power-steering problems, slows down before the Variante Alta and is hit by Menu; they both are out of the race

Lap 6: Comini is now leading from Kajaia, P. Oriola and Grachev

Lap 7: The safety car is deployed to recover Menu’s car

Lap 8: The race resumes and P. Oriola manages to steal second from Kajaia

Lap 9: Homola and J. Oriola make contact and the latter retires

Lap 10: P. Oriola sets fastest lap and chases Comini

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Lap 11: Grachev makes a mistake and drops from fourth to ninth

Lap 12: Genè defends fourth place from Afanasyev, Borkovi ć and Vernay

Lap 13: Gené also makes a mistake and drops to seventh; Borkovi ć and Vernay have a tough fight for fifth, they make contact at Rivazza 1 and Borkovi ć spins off onto the gravel

Lap 14: Comini wins from P. Oriola and Kajaia; Afanasyev finishes fourth ahead of Homola, Vernay and Gené.

Mikhail Grachev claims first victory in new car

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

Motorsport can be funny sometimes. The very same car that had won Race 1 in Spa, was victorious in Race 2 at Imola, but with a different driver: Mikhail Grachev who has just joined WestCoast Racing in the place of Aku Pellinen.

The Russian had reasons to rejoice, as this move granted him that first TCR race win he was chasing since last year. And the icing on the cake for him was that he took the lead overtaking the very same car he had driven until the previous event.

Mat’o Homola finished second and climbed on the TCR podium for the first time, while Stefano Comini secured third place after an epic battle with Pepe Oriola.

With both, Gianni Morbidelli and James Nash sidelined by technical issues, Oriola and Comini are now first and second in the Drivers’ Championship, separated by only 14 points.

Race Two Key Facts:

Grid: Borkovic and Nash are missing, as their cars could not be repaired; Menu takes the start from the pit lane

Start: Gené darts from the pole, followed by Grachev, Tassi and Homola; Afanasyev retires with a broken drive-shaft

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Lap 1: Morbidelli recovers to 10th after starting from 13th

Lap 2: Morbidelli slows down and retires with brake problems

Lap 3: Tassi tries to defend the third position, but is passed by Homola and Pepe Oriola

Lap 4: Grachev steals the lead from Gené

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

Lap 5: Comini and Vernay run abreast fighting for sixth; Homola and P. Oriola overtake Gené moving up to second and third

Lap 6: Gené drops further down behind Tassi and Comini

Lap 7: Gené and Vernay overtake Tassi who drops to 7th; Vernay passes Gené for 5th

Lap 8: Kajaia skids wide over the gravel at Villeneuve, but rejoins

Lap 9: the leading quartet – Grachev, Homola, P. Oriola, Comini – is covered by 1.5 seconds

Lap 10: Grachev creates a gap; Homola is chased by P. Oriola and Comini

Lap 11: Comini overtakes P. Oriola for third at Rivazza 2; Kajaia passes Jordi Oriola for eighth

Lap 12: P. Oriola loses also the fourth place to Vernay

Lap 13: Grachev takes the chequered flag ahead of Homola, Comini, Vernay and P. Oriola

What the two race winners had to say

Stefano Comini, Race 1: “The most important thing about this victory was from Leopard Racing. They did an incredible job with the Volkswagen; now the car is competitive. To win here in Imola is like winning at home, since Lugano is really nearby. The race was quite perfect – I managed my tyres as I didn’t want to stress them too much, the car was consistent and I think I did a perfect job. It’s good for me, good for Leopard and good for the Championship because I was the Champion last year and I want to be Champion again this year. The fight with Pepe was very fair and quite fun. I wanted a little more combat with him, but I was faster as I think he had stressed his tyres. I wanted more of a show for the people watching at home and the people here in Imola.”

Mikhail Grachev, Race 2: “I am very, very happy with this victory. I’m afraid I don’t have the words to say how happy I am, as I’m not used to saying this! I will have to learn some more English words, I think. The deal for me to drive the Honda was quite late in being done, so I have to thank WestCoast Racing for all their hard work and for welcoming me. We had a problem with the car after we tested, so they had to put in a lot of work to fix the problem. I want to thank them and say well done to the team for this result. It was somehow strange to chase what was my car until the previous race, but it made things easier because I know it well and figured out where and how to overtake it.”

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

VERNAY’S PENALTY MEANT POINTS FOR B.D. RACING GIRLS

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

Jean-Karl Vernay was stripped of his sixth place in today’s Race 1 after the Stewards imposed him a double penalty for not respecting the track limits and for causing the incident that eliminated Dušan Borkovic.

This dropped the Frenchman down to 12th and promoted a number of other drivers, including the B.D. Racing pair of girls: Carlotta Fedeli and Alessandra Neri.
Even without Vernay’s penalty, Fedeli would have pocketed one point for her tenth place, but she was eventually promoted to ninth and scored two.

TCR series Imola, Italy 22 May 2016

As for Neri, who was also commentating the race live from the inside of the cockpit on SKY Italia Formula 1 HD channel, she advanced to tenth and scored as well. Considering how many drivers, with much more experience than them, ran into troubles in today’s races, the two girls deserved the respect of the paddock.

The series will resume in fifteen days at the Salzburgring, Austria, on June 4 and 5, for rounds 9 and 10. (One of my personal favourite tracks that often lends itself to fast and furious racing action, plenty of slipstreaming and overtaking…)

As per usual, I will be keeping things up to date on here with the blog as well as the members of the TCR Talk Facebook Group who will also be sharing their thoughts as well as any news from the series.

Until next time, all the best!

Phil!!!

2016 TCR International Series: Belgium…

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The third weekend of the 2016 TCR International Series took place at the historic Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and it played host to two cracking races which further gave insight as to how tough the fight for the Drivers Championship is this season…

Lets see how it panned out…

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TCR drivers face the legendary track in the Ardennes hills

The third race meeting of the TCR International Series takes place this week at Spa-Francorchamps, a legendary racetrack in motorsport history.

The 7-kilometre circuit – one of the longest permanent tracks – winds up the Ardennes hills in South-East Belgium.

Inaugurated in 1922 as an open-road course, the circuit underwent many changes during the years; the current layout dates back to 2007. It has been home to 49 editions out of 61 of the F1 Belgian GP, from 1950 to 2015.

During the weekend the TCR International Series was part of the 6 Hours of Spa, second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. And this resulted in an adjustment of the usual format.

The drivers will hit the track first on Thursday, for two 30-minute Free Practice sessions; the Qualifying will take place Friday in the early afternoon, followed by the first Race in the late afternoon. Race 2 will start on Saturday at lunch time.

Sébastien Loeb Racing at Spa with two Peugeot 308 cars

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The Belgian event will mark the first appearance of the Peugeot brands in a TCR competition.

Two Peugeot 308 Racing Cup cars have been entrusted by Peugeot Sport to the Sébastian Loeb Racing for racing at Spa, and the team has chosen Grégory Guilvert and Jimmy Clairet to drive the two Peugeot 308 Racing Cup cars in the TCR International Series event, next week at Spa-Francorchamps.

“We are proud that Peugeot Sport has entrusted the two cars to our team for their maiden appearance in the TCR International Series. We hare happy to take this responsibility, as our team is ambitious and always looking for delivering the best performance. Thanks to Peugeot Sport we may count on the experience of Guilvert who has developed the car. As for Clairet, he’s a young and fast driver, and very motivated. We have a strong pair of drivers that will help us to make a good job,” said the team’s sporting director Franck Tiné.

The 34-year-old Guilvert is a test driver for Peugeot Sport and took part in the technical development of racing cars such as the RCZ Racing Cup, the 208 T16 Pikes Peak and, more recently, the 308 Racing Cup. His racing CV includes the title in the 2009 Peugeot Spider Cup and race victories in the French Supertourisme, the European GT Championship and the Blancpain Endurance Series.

“As test driver of the 308 Racing Cup I am thrilled to drive the car in an actual race meeting. We have to face a unique racetrack and a top-level championship, which makes me approach this task humbly, but with a lot of motivation because I very much wish to show the potential of the car in both, performance and reliability,” he said.

Clairet, 25-years old, only began racing in the 2013 Peugeot 208 Racing Cup in which he finished as vice-champion in 2014, behind his brother Teddy. Last year he was classified 6th in the French Renault Clio Cup.

“I am excited by the opportunity of driving the 308 Racing Cup. Especially because it is a car entrusted directly by Peugeot Sport to Sébastien Loeb Racing. This is a prestigious step in my racing career. I can’t wait to race at Spa and I will do my very best to achieve a good result,” echoed Clairet.

Corthals and Buri join the field at Spa-Francorchamps

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The TCR International Series welcomes two new drivers for the Belgian event at Spa-Francorchamps. Local hero Pierre-Yves Corthals and Finland’s Antti Buri will join the field this weekend.

One of the most experienced touring car drivers in Belgium, Corthals (in the picture) was crowned champion a stunning six times in the national and international Renault trophies; he also claimed victories and podium results in Super Production championships as well as competing in the European and the World Touring Car championships.

‘Pilou’ – as he his better known – returns to circuit racing after a break and will be at the wheel of a SEAT León of the Netherlands-based Ferry Monster Autosport that will also run Loris Hezemans’ sister car. Corthals’ car will sport the colours of the new TCR Benelux series.

As for the 27-year-old Buri, he will drive a Volkswagen Golf Gti run by the Belgian outfit WRT. The young Finn is in great form; he is taking part in the new ADAC TCR Germany with a LMS Racing SEAT León and last Sunday at the Sachsenring claimed a brilliant victory in the fourth round of the championship.

Top Run Motorsport and Mulsanne Racing skip Belgium

Both Top Run Motorsport and Mulsanne Racing have elected to skip the next event of the TCR International Series that takes place this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps.

The two Italian outfits – that are developing and running a Subaru WRX STi and an Alfa Romeo Giulietta respectively – have chosen to take a break and focus on upgrading their cars.

Top Run team manager Renato Russo explained: “Following the meeting we had in Tokyo with Subaru STi, we agreed on some technical improvements and we were also provided some new parts that are better suited to the TCR regulations. Therefore, bearing in mind the advice we received from Luca Rangoni after the races in Portugal, we have reluctantly decided to skip Spa and produce the maximum effort to run the final version of the TCR car in the following event.”

A press release from Romeo Ferraris engineering company stated: “Our Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR hit teething problems in the first two events of the season. Problems have been identified and are about to be solved. However we need to check these technical solutions and will do it in the next weeks. For this reason we have taken the hard decision of not racing in Spa and come back in the following events with a more competitive car.”

TCR promoter Marcello Lotti commented: “We know that it takes time to develop new racing cars. The growth of TCR has been so quick that some of the companies that are building them struggle to keep up with the pace. For a team is always tough to elect to skip a race weekend, so these decisions show how much Top Run and Mulsanne are keen to make their cars efficient and reliable. It’s true that we currently lack some cars, but it is clear that the field will be growing as the season goes on.”

30 kilos of success ballast for Gianni Morbidelli

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After taking the lead of the Drivers’ championship with a victory and a second place in Estoril, Gianni Morbidelli will race at Spa carrying the maximum success ballast of 30 kilos on board his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic TCR.

The Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf Gti TCR of 2015 champion Stefano Comini, that finished third and second in the Portuguese races, will be laden by 20 extra kilos.

The lightest success ballast of 10 kilos will be imposed to James Nash’s SEAT León TCR of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil; the Briton won the second race at Estoril and is now second in the Drivers’ championship, only one point short of Morbidelli.

Qualifying: Borković beats Oriola in the fight for the pole

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Dušan Borković gave B3 Racing Team its second consecutive pole position in the TCR International Series after that won by Mat’o Homola at Estoril two weeks ago.

After being stripped of the fastest Q1 lap by a penalty, the Serbian driver posted an impressive 2:33.065 in Q2, beating Pepe Oriola by a bit more than two tenths. “It’s great to get the pole, it was a good reward for the team after the difficult weekend in Portugal. Considering the car that has done the pole here is exactly the same that suffered the accident at Estoril, you realize how well the boys worked. Today, everything worked well: car, tyres, strategy… I just tried to keep calm after one of my best laps in Q1 was deleted and remain focused,” Borković said.

 Him and Oriola locked the front row on the Race 1 grid for SEAT. Aku Pellinen’s Honda Civic qualified in third, the only car able to compete with the Spanish machine for the top positions.

The first Volkswagen Golf – Stefano Comini’s – qualified in eighth, while the other two Honda cars of Kevin Gleason and championship leader Gianni Morbidelli surprisingly did not make the cut for Q2.

An impressive Jimmy Clairet managed to qualify 11th in his Peugeot 308, while local hero Pierre-Yves Corthals posted the tenth fastest lap and won pole position on the top-ten reverse grid for Saturday’s Race 2.

Aku Pellinen signs maiden win under the Belgian sun

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Aku Pellinen has joined the club of TCR race winners, after taking a clear win in Race 1 at Spa, on a sunny Friday afternoon. Once again, the young Finn of WestCoast Racing took an excellent start from row 2 and kept the lead throughout the entire race with his Honda Civic TCR.

Pepe Oriola and Dušan Borković concluded in second and third, after the Spaniard passed the Serbian on lap 1, both achieving their main goal of scoring heavy points. Mat’o Homola, Gianni Morbidelli, Kevin Gleason and Davit Kajaia took positions from 4th to 7th, after Jean-Karl Vernay and James Nash had ended their duel with a contact that cost several positions to the Briton (he eventually finished 8th) and a drive-through to the Frenchman, who dropped from fourth to 14th.

The last points were scored by Sergey Afanasyev and Antti Buri who both had stalled at the start. It was an even worse day for Stefano Comini, as the reigning champion’s car was stopped by a broken driveshaft before joining the grid.

The young Attila Tassi had a scary shunt in the last lap, caused by a puncture, but luckily he escaped unhurt.

Today’s result have closed the gap at the top of the points standings, with Morbidelli leading now only by 2 points on Oriola and 6 on Nash.

Race One Key facts

Grid: Comini’s car stops at the bottom of the pitlane and is pushed back to the pits with a drive-shaft problem

Start: Excellent start of Pellinen from row 2; the Finn takes the lead ahead of Borković , Oriola, Nash, Homola and Tassi; Afanasyev and Buri stall on the grid

Lap 1: Oriola passes Borković for second ; Tassi drops 4 positions.

Lap 2: Vernay passes Homola for 5th at les Combes; Morbidelli is already behind them

Lap 3: Pellinen leads by 2.5 seconds from Oriola, Borković , Nash, Vernay, Homola, Morbidelli, Gleason and Tassi; Hezemans, Corthals, Afanasyev and Guilvert fight for the 11th position

Lap 4: Hezemans is given a drive-through for a track limits infringement; Corthals pits with turbo issues

Lap 5: Vernay is putting pressure on Nash for 4th; Tassi is also given a drive-through penalty for track limits 

Lap 6: Both Hezemans and Tassi serve their drive-through

Lap 7: Vernay and Nash make contact at the Bus Stop; Nash goes wide and rejoins in eighth position

Lap 8: Oriola closes the gap on Pellinen; Vernay is given drive-through for the incident with Nash and drops to 14th

Lap 9: Pellinen wins from Oriola and Borković , while Kajaia passes both Afanasyev and Nash for 7th; Tassi pèrovides the last thrill, crashing into the barriers at turn 12

Race 1 – Quotes from the podium finishers

Aku Pellinen (winner): “It wasn’t an easy win, despite the appearances, but it was a nice one. I took again a perfect start as soon as the lights went off; it seems I’m getting good at this… The plan was to push in the opening laps and then try to preserve the tyres. The car was very good today but as expected, I started to struggle with the front tyres after mid-race. The last two laps were very tough and I tried not to look to the mirrors, stay focused on my driving and avoiding mistakes. It went well and this first win is quite a relief. It definitely will help building self-confidence. We still have some work to do on the car, but the speed now is there and I thank the team for the excellent work.”

Pepe Oriola (second): “I am happy but I also have some regrets because of the bad start. I think that with a better start, I could have won, because I had a better pace than Aku. Still, it is a good result, as I am getting much closer to Gianni (Morbidelli) in the championship.”

Dušan Borković (third) : “Third is a good result, I am satisfied, I got the heavy points I was looking for, but it could have been a better day. Unfortunately I had a very bad start and Aku pulled away immediately. I probably got a little bit nervous and made a small mistake getting into the Esses, which allowed Pepe to pass me. I had some oversteer, but I could keep a good pace and almost catch Pepe again. But I knew I could not pass him and preferred to lift off a bit in the final laps.”

A triumphant day for Vernay and Leopard Racing

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For a maiden win, it was a real triumph! Leopard Racing conquered its first TCR success very close to its Luxembourg headquarters and signed a stunning 1-2-3 with its three drivers: Jean-Karl Vernay, Stefano Comini and guest TCR Germany racer Antti Buri.

It was also the first victory of the year for the Volkswagen Golf Gti cars and the maiden TCR success for Vernay. The Frenchman has proven a quick adaptation to touring car racing and took a well-deserved victory after a close duel with teammate and reigning champion Comini.

Mat’o Homola and Aku Pellinen took fourth and fifth respectively after a relatively trouble-free race, while James Nash, Pepe Oriola, Kevin Gleason and Sergey Afanasyev animated the final laps with a close fight the for sixth position. Local hero Pierre-Yves Corthals took the last point in a race that saw much action at the back of the field, with the Peugeot 308 cars shining in the first part of the race, when Jimmy Clairet ran as high as eighth.

Following the two races, the situation in the championship is closer than ever, with the three first drivers (Oriola, Nash and Morbidelli) covered by only 4 points. 

 Race Two Key facts

Start: the Leopard Racing cars take a brilliant start, with Vernay ahead of Buri (they make contact before La Source) and Comini

Lap 1: Vernay leads but is chased Buri; Comini, Homola, Pellinen, Nash, Oriola, Afanasyev and Clairet follow

Lap 2: Comini passes Buri for second; Borković and Morbidelli make contact: the Serbian retires in the pits while the Italian loses a tyre and stops on the track

Lap 3: Homola passes Buri for third at Les Combes, but goes wide and hands the position back to the Finn; Gleason passes Clairet for ninth  

Lap 4: Comini steals the lead from Vernay with a beautiful move at Les Combes; Kajaia hits Tassi at Blanchimont during a three-way fight with Hezemans

Lap 5: Vernay retakes the lead from Comini with the same manoeuvre at Les Combes; Grachev outbrakes himself and goes straight at the bus stop

Lap 6: Kajaia and Tassi are given a drive-through for trespassing the track limits

Lap 7: Grachev retires in the pits with brake problems

Lap 8: Tassi, Clairet, Hezemans and Guilvert are in a close fight for 11th

Lap 9: Vernay wins from Comini, Buri, Homola and Pellinen; Nash claims sixth beating Oriola by a small margin, while Gleason overtakes Afanasyev for eighth.

Race 2 – Quotes from the podium finishers

Jean-Karl Vernay (winner): “It was a great day for the team. We knew victory was going to come, but now it’s done and this will release pressure and encourage us for the forthcoming races. It’s a very good team, very professional and very motivated. You see it in the way we are making the car progress outing after outing. This first win is great for me too, adaptation to touring car racing and front-wheel drive cars has been smoother than expected, thanks also to the support from the team and my teammate. The race has been lively: I took a good start, the contact with Buri was completely accidental, I was looking in my mirrors and probably moved, then I had a good fight with Stefano. He passed me but I could repass him, it was all very fair and I could stay in front.”

Stefano Comini (second): “A very good team effort and a brilliant success. We needed something like this and I am very happy for everybody. The fight with Jean-Karl at the beginning was fun, but I did not want to push too much not to kill the tyres. I knew that otherwise I would be penalized in the second part of the race because of the 20-kg ballast. Now comes Imola and I really want to win there!”

Antti Buri (third): “It was a good result and a good race for me. My start wasn’t very good, once again, and soon after that Homola passed me too, with a great move, but I could pass him again. Then, I mostly tried to protect my podium position. The car felt good but it was my first time with the Golf and find it different from the León despite they share the same basis. My main programme this season is TCR Germany but I hope there will be other opportunities to come to the International Series, which I enjoyed very much.”

Unshaken Attila Tassi hopeful to race tomorrow 

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Attila Tassi was the lucky guy today in Spa-Francorchamps, as he suffered no consequences after a violent shunt in turn 12 (Pouhon) during the last lap of Race 1.

The fearless young Hungarian seemed not shaken by the incident and even minimized what occurred: “Actually the accident was more spectacular than severe”, he explained. “I had a puncture in one of the front tyres and went off. There was nothing I could do to avoid going straight into the tyre-wall. It was a big shunt but, luckily enough, the tyres are quite thick there and that limited the damage, although images on TV were quite dramatic.”

The relaxed attitude of the 16-year-old driver contrasted completely with the expression on the faces of the B3 Racing crews, still scared and relieved to see the jockey-sized Attila in one piece.

“The most important thing is that Attila is ok. Even the car doesn’t look too damaged and we’ll do everything we can to repair it for tomorrow”, confirmed team manager David Bári. After Tassi’s accident in Bahrain and Borkovi ć ’s shunt in Estoril, another long night of work awaits the mechanics of the Hungarian team.   

Imola to host the Italian round in two weeks

The Italian round of the 2016 TCR International Series will take place in two weeks at Imola, on May 22.

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The timetable of the event will be concentrated in one day only, on the Suday, with the aim to make the most out of the promotion and gather as much public as possible during what will be a mid spring weekend.

TCR promoter Marcello Lotti explained: “We are grateful to the Municipality of Imola and Formula Imola for offering us this opportunity to bring an international touring car series back to this glorious and demanding racetrack. And we are currently meeting with a lot of interest from Italian teams and drivers that want to join for the event.”

Imola’s circuit, named after Enzo and Dino Ferrari, was built in 1952, along the Santerno river; it underwent a complete reconstruction in 1979 and hosted both the Italian and San Marino F1 Grands Prix between 1980 and 2006. The racetrack was further modified and its facilities rebuilt in 2010.

The lap distance is 4.5 kilometres; TCR competitors will complete 14 of those laps in each race.

Corthals plays ambassador role for TCR Benelux

Pierre-Yves Corthals is more than ‘local hero’ this weekend at Spa. The Belgian is also the unofficial ambassador of the TCR Benelux, the new regional series that will kick-off in two weeks, precisely at Spa.

No surprise then that the SEAT León of Pilou Corthals is sporting the logos of the new series, the RACB, and of the innovative ‘Make the Grid’ concept that the TCR Benelux will inaugurate.

‘Make the Grid’ will allow everybody, from team members and partners to family, friends and fans, to determine, through their vote, the grid of the Qualifying Long Race at each event. The voting application, ½Make the Grid½, is integrated in the Facebook account of the series, and has been developed in cooperation with Live Buzz. The vote will be open 15 days ahead of each Qualifying Long Race up until the race day. Voters will also participate in a draw for prizes.

The championship heats up after the Belgian round

The 2016 TCR International Series’ first visit to Spa-Francorchamps resulted in an exciting weekend that heated up the championship further.

After Aku Pellinen had claimed his maiden TCR victory in yesterday’s Race 1 at the wheel of a WestCoast Racing Honda Civic, today it was Jean-Karl Vernay’s turn to score a first win for himself and Leopard Racing. It was also the first success of a Volkswagen Golf Gti in the current season.

These results meant that five different drivers and three different brands of car manufacturers have won in the six races held so far.

Quite obviously the Drivers’ championship’s classification is extremely close. After Gianni Morbidelli had managed to jump on top of the standings at the end of Race 1, Pepe Oriola retook the leadership after Race 2. The Spaniard has now a two-point margin ahead of James Nash, while Morbidelli is third, two further points adrift.

But the others are not far away. Pellinen, Stefano Comini, Vernay, Sergey Afanasyev, Mat’o Homola and Dušan Borković fill the positions from fourth to ninth, with the latter having a gap of 37 points from the leader.

The championship will resume at Imola, Italy on May 22, for rounds 7 and 8.

As this was the third weekend of TCR International Competition, no doubt there will be many more announcements to come and I will try to share as many as possible both on here and in the TCR Talk Facebook Group.

All the best!!

Phil!!

2016 TCR International Series: Estoril…

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The second round of the 2016 TCR International Series took place at the former Grand Prix venue of Estoril in Portugal

Heres how things panned out…

The most famous Portuguese racetrack hosts second event

Three weeks after the season kicked off in Bahrain, the TCR International Series is heading to Portugal for rounds three and four.

The event will take place at Circuito Estoril, arguably the most famous Portuguese racetrack that was built in 1970 and hosted the Formula One Grand Prix between 1984 and 1996.

After adapting its format to the F1 timetable in Bahrain, the International Series reverts to its standard scheme with both races on Sunday, each over a distance of 60 kilometres.

The drivers will hit the track first on Friday afternoon, for a 30-minute Free Practice session; the second Practice will be run on Saturday morning, followed in the afternoon by the Qualifying, split in Q1 (20 minutes) and Q2 (10 minutes, for the twelve fastest in Q1).

The focus is on testing for the Opel Astra TCR

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Following its first appearance in the TCR International Series at the Bahrain International Circuit, the new Opel Astra TCR will continue its technical development within the next few months and will come back to competition after finalizing its test programme.

Jörg Schrott, Opel Motorsport Director, stated: “The event in Bahrain, where the Astra TCR competed as part of our test and development programme, provided us with some valuable results. The race weekend under special climatic conditions proved that the development of the Astra TCR is not finalized yet, so we will now thoroughly continue the test and development programme. As soon as it is completed, we will start the delivery of the Astra TCR to our customers.”

TCR promoter Marcello Lotti added: “The Astra TCR it is one of the most beautiful and eagerly-awaited cars in the field, but Opel Motorsport needs to focus on testing in order to finalize its technical development. We are well aware that when a new racing car is built to comply with a brand new set of rules like TCR’s – that is only in its second season – it takes some times before this phase is completed. We have seen this happening with other brands that have recently joined the series. We hope Opel will complete the development soon and look forward to seeing the three Astra TCR cars run by Target Competition join the TCR International Series for good.”

The Volkswagen Golf Gti is given a 30-kilo weight break

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The TCR International Series technical department has revised the Balance of Performance on the basis of the TCR International Series results in Bahrain.

For the Portuguese event, the Honda Civic TCR and SEAT León TCR remains the heaviest cars and keep on carrying 40 extra kilos that bring their running weight from 1285 to 1325 kilos, including the driver.

The Volkswagen Golf Gti TCR cars were given a 30-kilo weight break and will now run at the minimum weight of 1285 kilos as per the Technical Regulations.

A weight reduction will be also applied to the Opel Astra TCR and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR cars; they will run at 1265 kilos, just like the Subaru STi TCR.

The weight of the SEAT León Cup Racer cars remains unchanged at 1250 kg.

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The success ballast is applied on top of these weights. Following the Bahrain results, in Portugal Pepe Oriola, James Nash and Dušan Borković will carry 30, 20 and 10 extra kilos respectively.

Baporo Motorsport with Hezemans and Mora

SEAT specialist Baporo Motorsport will make its first appearance in the TCR International Series at Estoril, running two Le ó n cars for teenagers Loris Hezemans and Francisco Mora.

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Both drivers have already tasted TCR on a few occasions last year. Hezemans, 18-year-old from the Netherlands, took part in the events of Singapore and Buriram, claiming a brilliant second position in Thailand. As for the 19-year-old Portuguese Mora, he had joined in Algarve and Macau; his best result was eighth in the second race at Portim ã o.

The Spanish team has entered one Le ó n updated to 2016 TCR specifications with sequential gearbox for Hezemans and one Le ó n Cup Racer with DSG gearbox for Mora.

“Our plan is to be in the TCR international series for the remainder of the season. I am very happy to be back in the same car that last year gave me my first TCR podium and also I’m pleased to compete yet again in the TCR international series. My goal for Estoril will be to qualify within the top-three and reach the podium in at least one of the races,” said Hezemans. 

Mora added: “This is an important challenge for me, as the TCR International Series is a kind of world championship: top-level competition with the some of the best touring car drivers and you have to learn everything quickly. It is not going to be easy for me, as I will drive the car for the first time after Macau. But I’m very motivated, because it will serve me as a training in view of my participation in the TCR Portugal with the same car.

Cooperation between Top Run and Subaru gains force

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Top Run Motorsport’s programme with the Subaru STi TCR received an important boost from Team Manager Renato Russo’s recent visit to the headquarter of Fuji Heavy Industries in Japan.

“We were invited by Makoto Shimamura, managing director of all Subaru motorsports activities and I met him and Yosuke Takahashi who is in charge to follow the TCR programme,” explained Russo who added. “Shimamura-san congratulated us for thefar-sightedness in committing with the Subaru brand to the TCR International Series that is already creating a growing interest in Japan with teams and fans. As a matter of fact, this meeting was prompted following different enquiries about TCR that Subaru STi received from the Japanese media.”

The Italian team continues to develop the Subaru TCi TCR that will be driven by Luca Rangoni in the upcoming Portuguese weekend at Estoril. Top Run Motorsport is working in cooperation with Subaru’s STi department and their joint efforts are now aiming to field the final update of the Japanese car in the Italian event of the TCR International Series in May.

Mat’o Homola on pole after breathtaking qualifying

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Mat’o Homola and B3 Racing Team won their first pole position on their second appearance in the TCR International Series.

Once again it was a very close session, with the ninth fastest drivers covered by only six tenth and three different brands – SEAT, Honda and Volkswagen – filling the top-three positions within three tenths.

The young Slovak and his SEAT edged out the rest of the field with an impressive lap of 1:48.518 that was posted on their first run in Q2. Gianni Morbidelli placed his WestCoast Racing Honda in second position, only 0.155 seconds behind the poleman (1:48.673). The Leopard Racing duo of Jean-Karl Vernay and Stefano Comini fought for the third position until the very end; eventually the Frenchman’s 1:48.860 beat the reigning champion’s 1:48.965 by one tenth.

After topping the time sheet in Q1, Pepe Oriola qualified in a disappointing seventh position, while Loris Hezemans was classified tenth and won pole position on the reverse grid for the second race .

Qualifying 1: One lap is enough for Oriola

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It took only one lap to Pepe Oriola for posting the fastest lap at the beginning of the session. His time of 1:49.231 was nearly two tenths faster that everybody else’s. Jean-Karl Vernay (1:49.424) climbed to second fastest in the latest moments, demoting Mat’o Homola (1:49.479) to third. After aborting one attempt due to a mistake, Gianni Morbidelli salvaged the situation with a last lap of 1:49.508 that placed him in fourth, ahead of Stefano Comini and James Nash.

The leg was disrupted by the red flag after only four minutes, when Dušan Borković lost his car and hit the barrier head-on at Turn 3. The following drivers advanced to Q2: Oriola, Vernay, Homola, Morbidelli, Comini, Nash, Afanasyev, Gleason, Pellinen, Hezemans, Kajaia and Tassi. They were all covered by only nine tenths of a second.

Qualifying 2: SEAT beats Honda and Volkswagen

Mat’o Homola’s SEAT set an impressive fastest lap of 1:48.518 that was good enough for claiming pole position.

The other drivers did their best and improved their times, but not enough. Gianni Morbidelli managed to post the second best lap (1:48.673), while Jean-Karl Vernay (1:48.860) beat his team-mate Stefano Comini (1:48.965) for third.

Quotes from the fastest qualifiers

Mat’o Homola (pole position): “I’m very happy with pole position in only my second TCR Qualifying. I’d like to thank my team B3 Racing, because they’ve done an amazing job since Bahrain where I didn’t have very good pace. We tested on Wednesday and I wasn’t so sure that we had a good setup, so we had to make some changes and clearly it was a good move and a good step forwards. I’m very happy with the car. From my point of view, it was a normal lap; with the new tyres, I had a lot more grip and I could push more. Maybe there could have been a few more tenths.”

Gianni Morbidelli (2nd fastest): “I have to be happy because I wasn’t here on Wednesday for the test. We were quite unlucky yesterday because the weather didn’t help me make some laps and today I didn’t have much time. We struggled with the power steering and I’m a little bit worried about it. I didn’t expect to be so quick so I’m happy for the team as we scored some points for the Championship. Now we have to solve the power steering issue. Behind me I have a good team and I believe in them, so I know they will do everything they can for me.”

Jean-Karl Vernay (3rd fastest): “It was a really good performance and we are not that far compared to the others so it’s a big improvement. We saw that we still have lots of work to do on the car to come back on the SEAT and the Honda so that we can fight for the pole but it’s really good and Stefano is also really close, so it’s good for the team. We gained two or three tenths thanks to the BoP and it’s good for the championship to have different cars fighting for the win.”

B3 Racing at work to repair Dušan Borković’s car

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Dušan Borković escaped with only a few bruises by a spectacular crash during today’s Qualifying session at Estoril.

In the early stages of Q1, on his first flying lap, the Serbian lost the back of his SEAT León and crashed head-on into the Armco barrier at Turn 3.

“I don’t really know what happened. I was not pushing particularly hard, I was on my racing line, but all of a sudden there was a lot oversteer. I lost the back of the car and hit quite heavily. I still don’t know if the damage is repairable,” he said.

The B3 Racing Team crew is already at work to try repairing the car that suffered from extensive damage to the front right.

Loris Hezemans wins pole position for Race 2

On his comeback to the TCR International Series, Loris Hezemans set the tenth fastest lap in Q2 Qualifying, which will earn him pole position on the reverse grid for tomorrow’s Race 2.

The Baporo Motorsport driver said: “Surprisingly, perhaps, I’m actually not that pleased with today’s results. The bad weather in Free Practice 1 meant I changed to slicks just as the rain started, so I only had the second practice to learn the track. We made some changes for Qualifying but we had a really bad understeer problem, especially power understeer out of the corners. I’m happy that I’m able to start from pole position in Race 2, but we need to fix this issue, otherwise I won’t be able to hold that position. I’m confident we’ll find something so hopefully I can be on the podium at least.”

Pepe Oriola endures difficult qualifying session

Current championship leader Pepe Oriola had a difficult qualifying session today at Estoril and ended up with only a seventh position on the grid for tomorrow’s Race 1.

After posting the fastest lap in Q1, Oriola had his best time in Q2 disallowed for not respecting the track limits. This provisionally placed him in ninth place. However, the Stewards of the meeting reviewed their decision after the end of the session and reinstated the young Spaniard in seventh position.

Oriola said: “Q1 went really well; I did almost the perfect lap. I really thought I could get pole position because I had made some mistakes on my flying lap. So I knew I could go two or three tenths faster. Somehow the other drivers found one second from their pockets and then my lap got cancelled. On the last lap, my engineer told me that I had to finish the lap because I was in P12 and I managed to move up to P9.”

FIA Vice President Carlos Gracia visited Estoril

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Carlos Gracia, President of the Spanish National Sporting Authority (RFEdA) and Vice President of the FIA, was one of the guests who visited Estoril today. He had the opportunity to meet with all key players of the different series that are racing in Portugal.

Gracia also spent some times in the paddock, talking with Jaime Puig (SEAT Sport director), Marcello Lotti (TCR promoter) and Jesús Pareja (GT Open and Euroformula promoter).

Morbidelli takes series lead by one point over Nash

TCR drivers treated the Portuguese fans to a pair of exciting races that saw Gianni Morbidelli (WestCoast Racing) and James Nash (Craft-Bamboo Lukoil) claim one victory apiece and jump to the top of the Drivers’ Championship, with the Italian leading the Briton by only one point.

The close fights in both races – but also in Saturday’s qualifying session – that involved Honda, SEAT and Volkswagen cars, proved that the latest revision of the Balance of Performance had hit its target in equalizing the three fastest models in the field.

That factor also enabled a number of other drivers to shine. Some of them were able to capitalize in terms of results like the Leopard Racing duo of Jean-Karl Vernay and Stefano Comini who drove their Golf Gti cars to podium finishes. Others were only capable of coming close to those exploits, like Mat’o Homola who lost a possible win and even a podium position in the final laps of the first race.

Pepe Oriola, who had dominated the season opener in Bahrain, had a very disappointing weekend. Only seventh in qualifying, he was betting everything on the reverse grid of the second race, but a clash with Loris Hezemans unbalanced his car and jeopardized his hopes. He is now third in classification, 14 points off the lead.

The TCR International Series will resume on May 6 and 7 at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, for rounds 5 and 6.

Race 1 – Gianni Morbidelli steals victory from Mat’o Homola

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Gianni Morbidelli and his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic took their first win of the season in a lively Race 1 at Estoril, which heated up in the second half. Despite having had less practice mileage than his direct rivals, the Italian put in a great performance, trailing Mat’o Homola, who led most of the race.

The Slovak defended his position hard, but from mid-race onwards he struggled with the deterioration of the front tires and eventually had to surrender 3 laps from the end. Later he lost two more positions to Leopard Racing’s Volkswagen Golf cars of Jean-Karl Vernay and Stefano Comini, who clinched their first podium finishes of the year.

The Craft-Bamboo Lukoil duo of Sergey Afanasyev and James Nash took 5th and 6th, followed by Aku Pellinen and Pepe Oriola.

On his comeback to the series, Loris Hezemans was a good 9th, while the other Baporo Motorsport SEAT of local hero Francisco Mora took the last available point.

Oriola and Morbidelli are now on top of the standings on equal points.

Key facts

Start: Morbidelli takes the best start ahead of Homola, Vernay, Pellinen, Comini, Afanasyev, Nash and Oriola

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Lap 1: Borkovi ć recovers to 10th after starting from the back of the grid

Lap 2: Homola attacks Morbidelli at the beginning of the second lap and takes the lead; Gleason pits with engine problems

Lap 3: Pellinen is passed by both, Comini and Afanasyev; Cerruti pits with transmission problems; Kajaia goes very wide on the grass but rejoins

Lap 4: Nash takes 6th from Pellinen; Mora passes Rangoni for 13th.

Lap 6: Rangoni stops at Turn 10 with an open wheel (front left); Cerruti rejoins the race

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Lap 7: Grachev passes Borkovic for 10th, while Mora fights with Kajaia for 12th

Lap 8: Hezemans chases Oriola, who is eighth and hits the tyre pack at Turn 9

Lap 9: Morbidelli is closing in on Homola and tries a first attack at the “esses”

Lap 11: The fight between Homola and Morbidelli heats up, with the two making contact and driving abreast in the “esses”

Lap 12: Morbidelli eventually manages to pass Homola in Turn 3; the latter is unable to resist also to Vernay

Lap 13: Comini passes Homola for third

Lap 14: Grachev passes Hezemans for 9th and they make contact

Lap 15: Morbidelli wins from Vernay, Comini and Homola; the last thrill is a contact between Borkovi ć and Grachev who were fighting for ninth with Hezemans and Mora.

Race 1 – Quotes from the podium finishers

Gianni Morbidelli (winner): “Winning is always the best thing, so I am quite happy! I knew that it was key to preserve the tyres in the first part of the race and that is what I did. I also saw that Homola was a little bit harder on his tyres and figured that he would be in trouble. It was a nice and fair fight, because he was faster on the straights and defended very well his position, but eventually he started to feel the pressure and I could pass. It was about time, because Vernay and Comini were getting very close and I was in the uncomfortable position of having to attack and defend at the same time. The car felt good and I thank the team for the good work done to solve the power steering problem we had in practice and qualifying.”

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Jean-Karl Vernay (second): “It’s a good result, the best possible in this race, and it’s good to score my first points. I had a good start but like Morbidelli, tried not to stress the tyres. The duel between him and Homola allowed me to get closer to them. Unfortunately, at some point, they had a contact and debris broke my windscreen, so I had to close my helmet visor to continue. Towards the end I was well-placed to use any opportunity that may come from the fight between the first two and eventually, I could pass Homola, even if I didn’t want to take any risk.”

Stefano Comini (third): “After free practice we completely changed the set-up of the car, and it proved the right thing to do. The car felt much better. My start wasn’t great as I wanted to avoid any problems and lost one position. The first half of the race was a little bit boring, but then things got livelier. I managed to overtake Pellinen and then Vernay and I joined the two leaders. Third is a good result, but we still have a lot of work to do.” 

Race 2 – James Nash claims dominant victory

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It did not take much time to James Nash to find his way to victory in his return to Touring Car racing. After an excellent weekend in Bahrain, the Brit of Team Craft Bamboo Lukoil took his maiden win in the TCR International Series in Estoril.

The SEAT driver dominated Race 2 from lights to flag, beating Stefano Comini, who continued improving with the Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf Gti and Gianni Morbidelli, with the WestCoast Racing Honda Civic.

The Italian brilliantly won a couple of duels, notably with Jean-Karl Vernay and Sergey Afanasyev, to take a second podium finish this weekend and grab the leadership in the points standings, albeit by a single point over Nash.

Afanasyev claimed an excellent 4th ahead of Vernay, Aku Pellinen, Davit Kajaia, Mat’o Homola and Francisco Mora, while Pepe Oriola finished only 10th, after struggling the entire race with a car damaged in a contact with Loris Hezemans at the start.

Key facts

Start: Nash takes the best start after fighting with Pellinen, Comini, Vernay and Oriola; Hezemans stops after few meters, following contact with Oriola

Lap 1: Morbidelli passes Pellinen for 6th;

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Nash leads from Comini, Vernay, Oriola, Afanasyev and Morbidelli; Kajaia passes Grachev for 8th

Lap 2: Nash pulls away and creates a 2-second lead

Lap 3: Homola passes Grachev for 9th; Borkovi ć and Tassi make contact and the former retires with a pierced radiator

Lap 4: Oriola’s car is out of balance after the contact with Hezemans at the start; the Spaniard loses positions to Afanasyev, Morbidelli, Pellinen and Kajaia, dropping from fourth to eighth

Lap 7: Homola passes Oriola, taking 8th

Lap 8: Mora overtakes Tassi for 11th

Lap 9: Vernay in P3 is chased by Afanasyev and Morbidelli

Lap 10: Morbidelli takes 4th from Afanasyev

Lap 11: Mora passes Oriola for 9th

Lap 12: Vernay and Morbidelli are in a close fight, eventually the Italian passes the Frenchman for third

Lap 13: Afanasyev passes Vernay as well

Lap 15: Nash starts to lift off a bit but has everything under control and wins ahead of Comini, Morbidelli, Afanasyev and Vernay

Race 2 – Quotes from the podium finishers

James Nash (winner) “It was probably the best start of the season for me and that helped much. I skipped free practice to save t y res and that allowed me to push quite hard in the first part of the race and build some advantage. It was a stressful gap though, because at the end of the race I struggled with the t y res. Still, everything went well and now I am enjoying a good position in the championship, only one point behind Gianni. Too early to say anything, the championship is still very long and it will be about consistency.”

Stefano Comini (second) : “I am second, so climbing another step after third in Race 1 , which is good. My start was not very good and I missed the first braking point. After that I was behind my team mate and could pass him when he did a little mistake in turn 4. There was not much I could do to reduce the gap with Nash, so I did not push too hard, not to kill the t y res, and I went for some heavy points.”

Gianni Morbidelli (third) : “It was again a good race, I am happy with the result. I lost some time behind Oriola and I think I was a little bit too hard on my front t y res to try to pass him. After that, I had some understeer and mostly tried to preserve the t y res. Being first in the championship doesn’t mean much, it’s way too early.”

All drivers were able to start in the second race

All the TCR drivers managed to take part in the Estoril second race today.

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The Top Run Motorsport crew managed to repair the front left suspension of Luca Rangoni’s Subaru WRX STi that broke during the first race.

The technical failures that stopped Kevin Gleason’s Honda Civic for good and forced Michela Cerruti’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta to pit were both solved. 

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The mechanic of Mulsanne Racing discovered a false contact in the gear linkage and sent Cerruti back on track after a brief stop. As for WestCoast Racing, Gleason’s Civic suffered from an engine wiring problem that was also solved.

Both, Gleason and Rangoni took the start from the back of the grid as their teams asked for neutralization of the parc fermé rules.

As this was the second weekend of TCR International Competition, no doubt there will be many more announcements to come and I will try to share as many as possible both on here and in the TCR Talk Facebook Group.

All the best!!

Phil!!

2016 TCR International Series: Oriola Rules In Bahrain

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The TCR International Series kicks off at F1 Bahrain GP

The second season of the TCR International Series kicks off this weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit, as support event to the Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.

TCR competitors hit the track for the first time on Friday for two twenty-five-minute Free Practice sessions. On Saturday they took part in a thirty-minute Qualifying; all drivers run during Q1 and the fastest twelve will be allowed to participate in Q2.

Three titles at stake: Drivers’, Teams’ and Model of the Year

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The 2016 TCR International Series will award three titles at the end of the season.

Stefano Comini and Target Competition are the reigning champions in the Drivers’ and Team’s Championship respectively.

New for this season is the introduction of a ‘Model of the Year’ title that will be awarded by adding the points scored by the best two cars of each model in each qualifying session and race.

The scoring system is the same for all three classifications: 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 points awarded to the best five classified in the Qualifying final results; 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 points awarded to the best ten classified in each race.

Two Bahraini drivers join TCR for their local event

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The entry list of the 2016 TCR International Series opening event in Bahrain consists of nine teams, with twenty-two cars of six different brands: Alfa Romeo, Honda, Opel, SEAT, Subaru and Volkswagen.

The latest additions were two SEAT León cars in 2015 specs, run by the Netherlands-based Bas Koeten Motorsport for local drivers Salman Al Khalifa and Hussain Karimi who are currently ranking first and third respectively in the 2015/2016 Bahrain International Circuit 2000cc Challenge.

Al Khalifa, a former champion in the Batelco 2000cc Challenge (2008), has claimed seven victories out of the twelve races held so far at the wheel of his Honda Civic; Karimi was twice vice-champion in the series (2014 and 2015), having scored several wins in a Honda CRX.

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TCR promoter Marcello Lotti said: “We give a very warm welcome to Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa and Hussain Karimi, the first Middle East drivers to join TCR. The concept we have launched last year is spreading quickly and we are now looking at the Middle East for further expansion.”

Jordi Oriola and Andrea Belicchi to drive the debutante Astra

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The opening event of the 2016 TCR International Series in Bahrain will also mark the debut of the new Opel Astra TCR. Two cars will be run by Target Competition for Andrea Belicchi and Jordi Oriola.

The Astra TCR is facing its first major challenge as the forecast temperatures of over 40C will represent a stiff test for the engine cooling system, turbocharger, transmission and brakes. Tyre wear will also expected to be a major issue.

The technical staff of Opel Motorsport and Target Competition made significant progress in the vehicle set-up during the pre-season test in Valencia.

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Opel Motorsport Director Jörg Schrott is excited ahead of the Astra TCR’s race debut but is also managing expectations: “We are a newcomer to the TCR series with our Astra and we will definitely need a bit more time to further optimize the vehicle. Furthermore, the conditions in the desert are unique. Therefore, we should treat the two races in Bahrain as another important test. We aim to learn as much as possible to fine tune the Astra TCR for the coming races.”

Luigi Ferrara at Bahrain in the Top Run Subaru

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It will be Luigi Ferrara to drive the Top Run-built Subaru STi TCR in the International Series season opener at Bahrain.

A former champion in the Italian F3 (2005) and Porsche Cup (2008), Ferrari proved his Touring Car skills at the wheel of a Mercedes AMG (also built by Top Run), winning several Superstars races and finishing twice runner up in the International Series (2011 and 2012).

 “I’m so excited to race in the TCR International Series that is a top-level championship. I’m also pleased to get back to sprint races, that is where I claimed by best results. It is true that I don’t have experience with front-wheel drive cars, but I’m used to adapt myself quickly to any new cars. And I’m not like a fish out of water, because I know the team and I know the track, where I claimed a fourth place in the 2009 Porsche Supercup. My only regret is not to have time to test the Subaru before, but I am optimist and my goal is to finish in the points,” said Ferrara.

Team manager Renato Russo added: “Bahrain will be another important test on the way to develop the Subaru TCR, and in this respect we are happy that Ferrara agreed to drive, because we have worked very well with him in the past.”

TCR fans to vote on special award in 2016

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Fans of the TCR International Series will, via social media, play a vital part in awarding a special prize after each pair of TCR races.

Following each TCR race weekend, a panel comprising of the International Series’ Promoter and the promotional and media team will decide a shortlist of two candidates (not necessarily drivers) they feel are deserving of the award. The names will then be posted on the TCR International Series Facebook page and fans will have 24 hours in which to ‘like’ either candidate. The ‘TCR Fans’ Award’ will then be given to the candidate with the most likes.

A new TV website for the TCR community worldwide

The TCR promoter, WSC Ltd., has launched today a brand new website that is dedicated to showcasing videos from the different TCR championships and series worldwide.

The new free-on-air portal – www.tcr-series.tv – is divided into three main sections: one for the TCR International Series, one for the TCR Regional championships and one for the National championships in which TCR cars are eligible to race.

Each series has been given an account to upload their own videos and a dedicated page that gathers together all videos and news from that series: full races, highlights and spectacular clips.

The home page features the latest and most-liked videos, plus windows for live timing and live streaming, a summary table of the upcoming TCR events worldwide and a ‘news brief’ section.

Pepe Oriola wins a breathtaking opening night race

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The 2016 TCR International Series kicked off with a breath-taking night race during the Barhain Formula 1 Grand Prix.

The 2015 vice-champion Pepe Oriola started his new campaign on a high note with a spotless performance the young Spaniard drove his SEAT León of Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil to claim an authoritative victory. Oriola got the better of his team-mates James Nash and polesitter Sergey Afanasyev during the first lap, then was able to control Nash’s attacks in the early stages and the return of Gianni Morbidelli’s Honda Civic in the final laps.

The Italian driver put in a strong effort to recover from fourth to second, jumping ahead of Afanasyev and Nash who finished in the order. Dušan Borković was able to finish in sixth position, inches behind Aku Pellinen, after he had been involved in a four-car clash with Stefano Comini, Kevin Gleason and Jean-Karl Vernay.

The reigning champion Comini was classified seventh and best of the Volkswagen drivers, while Mat’o Homola and Davit Kajaia finished in eighth and ninth at the end of a long and fair fight.

None of the 18 cars retired for technical reasons, only Gleason and Vernay did not finish because of the incident. Jordi Oriola’s Opel Astra, Luigi Ferrara’s Subaru and Michela Cerruti’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta managed to complete the race, just like the two Bahraini drivers in the Bas Koeten Racing old SEAT cars.

RACE ONE Key facts:

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Start: Afanasyev and Borković take a bad start on the front row; Nash takes the lead clashing with P. Oriola; at the back of the field, Cerruti is squeezed by Belicchi and Grachev.

Lap 1: Borković and Vernay make contact; Comini passes Gleason for 9th. P. Oriola leads from Nash, Afanasyev, Morbidelli, Pellinen and Vernay

Lap 2: Gleason passes Comini for 7th. Kajaia are in a fight Homola for 11th.

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Lap 3: Afanasyev tries to resist Morbidelli, but eventually concedes the position.

Lap 4: Vernay passes Pellinen for fifth, while Nash chases P.Oriola. Borković closes in on Comini, they make contact and collect Vernay and Gleason who are forced to retire

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Lap 5: Kajaia passes Grachev for 9th whilst Morbidelli is closing the gap from the leading duo of P. Oriola and Nash

Lap 6: Comini takes 6th from Homola who strikes back and regains the position; eventually both Comini and Kajaia are able to overtake Homola

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Lap 7: Morbidelli passes Nash for 2nd on the straight, but the Brit retakes the advantage, just to lose again it shortly afterwards

Lap 8: Kajaia takes 8th from Homola

Lap 9: Morbidelli is on P. Oriola heels

Lap 10: P. Oriola wins ahead of Morbidelli, Nash, Afanasyev; Homola retakes 8th from Kajaia.

Race 1 – Quotes from the podium finishers

Pepe Oriola (winner): “It’s definitely a good way to start the season. It was a pretty good race for me, although not easy. I did only one mistake at the beginning, when I attacked too hard my team-mate James Nash. Other than that, the only real trouble is that the tyres started to get consumed by mid race, which brought massive understeer. That allowed Gianni to close the gap a bit, but I don’t think he was as fast as us today. It is a really enjoyable experience to be racing here at Bahrain within the F.1 Grand Prix, although it means less practice time.”

Gianni Morbidelli (second): “Pepe is right: we are not as quick as the SEAT cars! It is clear that we have to work a lot to catch up, but the race was very useful to understand where we are and to see our strong and weak points. There was some good fighting along the way too, that’s nice too, but the most important was that I could score good points for myself and WestCoast. Second today is a very good result towards the championship.”

James Nash (third): “It’s definitely a good result for the team and also for me. My race was good and it’s nice to be immediately competitive on my return to touring car racing. Maybe we fought a little bit too hard with Pepe, but the important thing is that we brought home an excellent result. I really look forward to this championship and to working with my team.”

Afanasyev claims his first TCR pole position

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Craft-Bamboo Lukoil’s Sergey Afanasyev claimed his first pole position in the TCR International Series putting in a perfect lap in Q2 that enabled him to beat Dušan Borković of B3 Racing Team and his own team-mate James Nash.

“It’s a very strange feeling, because I wasn’t even aware of the result, as the radio was working on and off. I had a good pace but was certainly not under the impression that it could mean pole position!” the delighted Russian said.

Gianni Morbidelli failed to make the top-three by only two thousandths of a second; Pepe Oriola and Aku Pellinen were placed in fifth and sixth in very close session that saw the fastest six drivers covered by less that two tenths.

Jean-Karl Vernay was the fastest of the Volkswagen drivers, qualifying his Golf Gti in ninth, just ahead of Davit Kajaia who won pole position on the top-ten reverse grid for tomorrow’s Race 2.

Jordi Oriola was classified 12th in the only Opel Astra that was admitted to Q2, while Michela Cerruti’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Luigi Ferrara’s Subaru STi – that suffered from a broken drive shaft – did not make the cut.

Attila Tassi to skip the season opener

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The third B3 Racing Team SEAT León TCR has been withdrawn from the Bahrain meeting due to the damage resulted in a crash during yesterday’s second Practice session.

Attila Tassi lost control and crashed into a wall head on. The young Hungarian escaped unscathed, but the car suffered from extensive damage to the front. Notably the left rail of the engine compartment was badly bent and could not be repaired at the track.

Team manager David Bári commented: “We are very sorry that we have to withdraw the car and that Attila cannot make his TCR debut, but that’s racing. We’ll see what we’ll do when we are back in Europe, but I believe it is going to be easier to get a new chassis altogether.”

VIPs visit the TCR International Series

There were some illustrious guests in the TCR paddock in Bahrain last weekend. Double WRC champion Carlos Sainz was eager to visit some old friends, like Claudio Bortoletto, today at Mulsanne Racing, who led in the past the Jolly Club team, the successful rally team for which the Spaniard was driving in his early years.

Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito, the man behind the Golf Gti TCR project was, of course, very interested in checking the form of the cars entered by Leopard Racing and Liqui Moly Team Engstler in the 2016 season-opener. This has been one of the last public appearances of Capito in his current capacity, as it has been already announced that he will soon join the management of McLaren F1.

Pepe Oriola encores in Craft-Bamboo Lukoil 1-2

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Pepe Oriola performed an encore at the Bahrain International Circuit. After victory in yesterday’s night Race 1, the Spanish driver and his SEAT León won the second race in a sunny and hot day. Oriola managed to recover from the sixth position on the grid and took the lead from Kevin Gleason’s Honda Civic on lap 8 of 10. He eventually crossed the line ahead of James Nash in a 1-2 finish for Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil.

Behind them, Gleason and his WestCoast Racing teammates Aku Pellinen and Gianni Morbidelli challenged each other for the last spot on the podium. Gleason and Morbidelli made contact; the American was forced to stop, while the Italian suffered from a flat tyre, which handed third to Pellinen.

Dušan Borković was classified fourth, followed by Davit Kajaia, Mat’o Homola and Sergey Afanasyev. Jordi Oriola (8th) and Luigi Ferrara (10th) scored the first points in the Drivers’ championship for the new Opel Astra and the Subaru STi respectively, while Morbidelli limped in ninth.

The reigning champion Stefano Comini and Mikhail Grachev retired aftermaking a contact, while Jean-Karl Vernay was also eliminated for the consequences of a racing incident.

RACE TWO Key facts

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Start: The Honda cars of Gleason and Pellinen jump ahead of the Volkswagencars of Kajaia and Vernay that start from the front row; Belicchi’s Opel stalls

Lap 1: Vernay’s rear bumper is hanging loose after a contact

Lap 2: Vernay loses three places to P. Oriola, Nash and Pellinen; Homola and Morbidelli fight for sixth; Comini and Grachev fight hard for 9th and clash, the former retires with a broken suspension

Lap 3: P. Oriola attacks Pellinen and passes him moving up to second

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Lap 4: With a brilliant move Nash passes Pellinen and P. Oriola at the braking for first corner to take second; Morbidelli passes the Finn for fourth; Grachev pit and retires

Lap 5: P. Oriola retakes second from Nash, Gleason extends his lead to 1.4 seconds

Lap 6: P. Oriola closes the gap from Gleason to 0.8; Al-Khalifa passes Cerruti for 13th.

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Lap 7: Borković passes Kajaia and takes 7th; Vernay retires with brakes problems

Lap 8: P. Oriola takes the leadmuscling his way past Gleason who has to concede also second to Nash; Cerruti retires with a broken drive shaft

Lap 9: Morbidelli manages to keep Pellinen at bay and to pass Gleason for third; they make contact and the American stops at the pit exit

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Lap 10: Pellinen takes third from Morbidelli, who has a flat tyre and drops to ninth; P. Oriola wins from Nash and Pellinen

Race 2 – Quotes from the podium finishers

Pepe Oriola (winner): “It’s true that yesterday I was a little bit upset for missing the pole, but having won the two races, I think I can be satisfied! Today was again a very intense race and I had a lot of fun fighting with Gleason and Nash, and luckily everything went well. My start wasn’t good, because of some clutch issues, so I was aiming at the podium but nothing more. Still, after we have changed the set up, the tyres stayed good into the race and that gave me confidence to push.”

James Nash (second): “It’s again a great result for the team and for me as well. After a third and a second here, I’m really looking forward to the next round in Portugal! It was again tough competition today and things are not easy when you have such a strong driver as Pepe on the same car and in the same team. My tyres were not in a good condition towards the end, so that prevented me to keep fighting.”

Aku Pellinen (third): “To finish my first weekend in the TCR and with the Honda on the podium is of course a very good result, and I am very happy. There was quite a good deal of fighting in both races, even with my teammates, but that’s fine. I just tried to be clever and stay out of trouble, aiming at the points, and I think the strategy paid-off.”

Borković inherits third after Pellinen’s penalty

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B3 Racing Team’s Dušan Borković inherited the third place on the podium oftoday’s second race at the Bahrain International Circuit after WestCoast Racing driver Aku Pellinen was handed a 30-second time penalty for jump-start.

The Serbian commented: “These were two crazy races but I am happy with the result and very happy with the team. In Race 1, I had a very bad start and then a big contact with Comini. Even with open wheels, though, I realized the pace was good. Today, the start was better but I was stuck in P12 and got a little bit nervous, because I saw I had the pace, but too many cars in front of me. When I cooled down, I started to overtake cars one by one and finished fourth, which became third after Pellinen’s penalty. Mostly, I see it as good reward for the boys who worked very hard.”

The same penalty was imposed to Mat’o Homola, who had finished the race in sixth. As a consequence, Pellinen was dropped to 10th and Homola to 11th, this also meant that Bahraini driver Salman Al Khalifa was promoted to ninth and tenth, scoring points in the Drivers’ Championship at the wheel of a Bas Koeten Racing SEAT León.

Comini presents his winning helmet to Lotti

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During a cheerful happening after the Bahrain races, reigning champion Stefano Comini presented the helmet with which he raced in his triumphant 2015 season to Marcello Lotti, promoter of the TCR International Series.

Winning the first edition of the TCR International Series meant a lot to me”, said the Swiss driver, “I thought it would be nice to give my helmet to Marcello, to thank him for the great series he has put together.” 

Very touched by the gesture, Lotti said: “It’s a very nice thought from him. We actually brought back the helmet from Macau where Stefano forgot it after winning the title. He is from Lugano, where we have our offices and we arranged to meet there for a coffee and give him back his helmet. That’s when he told me he would give it to us as a present but that we should wait for until the Bahrain event for his new helmet to arrive!”

The TCR International Series will resume on April 23 and 24 at Estoril, Portugal, for rounds 3 and 4.

As this was the first weekend of TCR International Competition, no doubt there will be many more announcements to come and I will try to share as many as possible both on here and in the TCR Talk Facebook Group.

All the best!!

Phil!!

2015 TCR International Series: Macau

Macau hosts the grand finale of the TCR International Series

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The Macau Guia circuit would provide the most stunning setting for the grand finale of the TCR International Series’ inaugural season.

The 6.1km street circuit is rated as one of the most challenging and demanding by all the drivers who have raced there and the Macau Guia Race – first held in 1972 – is regarded as one of the most sought-after trophies in the careers of the top touring car drivers from all over the globe.

The 2015 edition marks the beginning of a new era for the Guia Race with the introduction of the TCR-specification machines, the newest generation of touring cars.

To fit into the programme of the Suncity Group 62nd Macau Grand Prix, the TCR International Series partly adapted its timetable and format.

Two thirty-minute Free Practice sessions were held, one on Thursday and the other on Friday, while a forty-minute Qualifying session, split into Q1 (25 minutes for all drivers) and Q2 (15 minutes for the fastest twelve in Q1), with a five-minute break in between, took place on Saturday.

The two back-to-back 10-lap races would then be run on Sunday. The Grid for the second race, that will also award the Guia Race trophies, will be based on the final results of the first race.

Huff and Nash are the guest stars in a 30-car field

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2012 FIA WTCC champion Rob Huff and 2013 FIA WTCC Independent Champion James Nash are the guest stars in a field of 30 cars that sets a new record for participation in the inaugural season of the TCR International Series.

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Huff, who has already scored seven race wins in the Macau Guia Race, will be at the wheel of a WestCoast Racing Honda Civic, while Nash makes his touring car comeback in a Ford Focus run jointly by Proteam Racing and FRD Ford HK Racing Team.

“Macau is the most challenging racetrack I’ve ever raced on and my record is strong there. I’m really pleased to have been invited to drive in the TCR International Series finale there and I am confident we will have a competitive package for this unique event,” said Huff.

“I’ve been watching TCR develop over its maiden season and the success is amazing. Joining the championship with the Ford team is a great opportunity and racing at Macau is always special. I can’t wait to have my first few laps in a TCR car,” said Nash.

Huff and Nash join another touring car superstar, Alain Menu who will once again be driving the Top Run Subaru after his TCR debut in Thailand.

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The Macau finale will also feature a few important comebacks to the series: Andrea Belicchi, the winner of Race 2 in Shanghai, returns to Target Competition after missing the events in Singapore and Thailand; the Italian outfit has entered an impressive six-car line-up that includes Jordi Oriola (who made a couple of appearances earlier in the season) and Francisco Mora (who scored points in both his home races at Algarve).

The drivers represent 13 different nationalities, with seven Hong Kongers forming the largest contingent.

Drivers’ and Teams’ title fights to be decided in Macau

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The fights for both the Drivers’ and Teams’ titles of the TCR International Series maiden season will be decided in an exciting grand finale on Macau’s treacherous street circuit that winds from the Ferry Terminal up the Guia hill.

After the two races at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, where they claimed one victory apiece, Stefano Comini of Target Competition and Pepe Oriola of Craft Bamboo Lukoil are split by only two points.

Oriola’s teammate Jordi Gené is still in contention, although the gap of 34 points from the leader does not leave him much hope, even considering that 55 points are still at stake.

In the Teams’ Championship, Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has only a 13-point advantage on Target Competition, 95 being the maximum haul that can be scored in the final event.

Whatever the outcome, a SEAT driver and a SEAT team will be champions.

Success ballast for both title contenders

Both TCR International Series’ title contenders Stefano Comini and Pepe Oriola will be given extra weight for the final race meeting in Macau.

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Comini who is currently leading the championship will carry 20 kilos of success ballast on board of his SEAT León, ten less that Pepe Oriola who has to fill a two-point gap. Oriola was the best scorer in the Thai weekend (44 points) ahead of Comini (35).

Jordi Gené who is still in contention, though lying 34 points behind the leader, will also carry a success ballast of 10 kilos.

Of the TCR Asia Series competitors who will be racing in Macau, only Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo) will have 10 kilos of success ballast on board.

Henry Ho and Rodolfo Ávila keep Macau’s flag flying

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Henry Ho and Rodolfo Ávila – two of the most successful drivers from Macau – will represent the host city in the TCR International Series final.

A three-time winner of the Macau Touring Car Championship (2005, 2009, 2010), Ho will be at the wheel of a Honda Civic TCR run by the PAS Macau Racing Team. During the current season he has successfully competed in the China Touring Car Championship, driving a JAS-built three-volume Honda Civic to two race wins and the second place in the final standings.

“It’s a new category and a new car for me, so it’s a brand new challenge. I will just try my best and see where I will end up after the races,” he said.

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Ávila, who was born in Portugal, has established himself as one of the top players in the competitive Porsche Carrera Cup Asia; at Macau he will drive a SEAT León for the Asia Racing Team, with which he won the opening round of the TCR Asia series at Sepang.

“The Guia Race is very special for Macau drivers and I am no exception. I know the circuit pretty well, but this is only the second time I race there in a touring car. I’ll have to make some adaptations to my driving style, but I will put my head down and do the best I can do for the team that is fighting to win the TCR Asia Teams’ title,” Ávila commented.

Hong Kong drivers flock to take part in the Guia Race

Drivers from Hong Kong form the largest contingent within the record field of the TCR International Series at Macau. Seven Hong Kongers will be in the Guia Race and will also compete for the TCR Asia series.

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Michael Choi, the current leader of TCR Asia, and Kenneth Lau will be at the wheels of the Prince Racing Honda Civic cars; another Honda Civic run by WestCoast Racing has been entered for Sunny Wong.

Samson Chan (Roadstar Racing), Sam Lok (Asia Racing Team), Keith Chan (Target Competition) and Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo Racing) will all drive SEAT León cars.

The field of competitors for the TCR Asia series is completed by Malaysia’s Douglas Khoo in the Niza Racing SEAT León and the pair of Johnson Huang and Robb Holland who will be driving for Roadstar Racing.

Veglia switches to Golf, as Cunnington joins Engstler team

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The Liqui Moly Team Engstler has reshuffled its driver line-up for the TCR International Series final at Macau.

Guillaume Cunnington will make his first appearance in the series at the wheel of the SEAT León previously driven by Lorenzo Veglia. Although he only started racing two years ago, the Frenchman has claimed some promising results, clinching the 2014 Master Class title in the Asia Formula Renault Championship and currently lies sixth in the National Class of the competitive Japanese Formula 3 Championship; however he has never raced a front-wheel driven touring car before.

“I’m very excited to race on the legendary Guia circuit and with such a prestigious team as Engstler Motorsport. I have no experience with the track and the car, but I hope my experience in single seaters will help me adapt quickly to both and that I get a decent race pace to have fun,” he said.

As for Veglia, he will switch to the Volkswagen Golf TCR that was driven to victory at the Red Bull Ring by Pol Rosell and was later raced by Tomas Engström.

“It’s nice to switch to the Golf, though it is the same car as the León, but for the bodywork. This will be an advantage, because I will be able to focus on learning the track. I’m practising a lot on the simulator, but to actually drive in Macau will be a completely different matter. I believe it won’t be easy to catch up with the drivers who have already raced there,” commented Veglia.

Files and Well join Campos Racing for Macau

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In a double last minute deal, Campos Racing has signed British drivers Josh Files and Dan Wells to race in its two Opel Astra cars for the Macau Guia Race, final event of the TCR International Series.

Files and Wells are both 24 years old and proved competitive, but they had developed different racing experiences.

Josh Files is a touring car and front wheel-drive expert. He won races and titles in the Renault Clio Cup and his best season was 2013, when he was crowned champion in both the European and the British series. However, he has never raced at Macau.

On the contrary, Dan Wells is a pure single-seater racer. He debuted in the British Formula Renault before moving to the Far East, where he was a title contender in the Chinese Formula Pilota and Formula Masters series. During the current season he dominated the Asia Formula Renault, winning ten races and the title. Wells has also raced at Macau, finishing a brilliant second in the 2013 Formula Masters Invitational Race.

Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR is ready for maiden track test

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Italian engineering company Romeo Ferraris have distributed the first pictures of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR they are developing.

“It has been hard work, because we had in mind the target of running the Giulietta before the end of the season. Finally the first car was completed and the engine tested on the bench with promising results. We are now ready to begin the technical development on the track,” said Mario Ferraris.

The company hoped to complete the maiden test during the first week in November, in time to fly the car to Macau and take part in the final event of the TCR International Series.

“Unfortunately that plan proved to be a bit too optimistic. On top of this, we did not want to risk that lack of preparation and experience could affect our first appearance in the championship. Especially not on a difficult track like Macau!” explained Ferraris.

The Giulietta TCR is due to be tested in the middle of next week somewhere in Italy with Mario Ferraris and former Alfa Romeo WTCC factory driver Salvatore Tavano sharing driving duties.

The Italian engineering firm has planned to produce the first contingent of ten TCR cars by April 2016. The estimated selling price will be 98,000 euros (plus data acquisition and tax).

Dejonghe and Dupont win the RACB TCR selection

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Sam Dejonghe and Denis Dupont are the winners of the RACB selection launched to foster young talents in TCR racing. The pair will share the wheel of a RACB National Team-supported SEAT León TCR in the 2016 TCR Benelux Series.

Dejonghe and Dupont emerged as winners among the eight contenders that reached the final stage of the selection, which took place at the Jules Tacheny circuit in Mettet on 11 and12 November. After being coached by Bas Leinders and Marc Duez, the eight racers measured themselves over two timed runs of 4 and 6 laps respectively, at the wheel of a SEAT León TCR.

Geoffroy Theunis, manager of the RACB National Team, commented: “We are delighted to welcome Sam and Denis in the group of young talents of all disciplines supported by the RACB, and we are impressed with the very high level and the success of this initiative,” which attracted no less than 565 candidates.

Dejonghe (24) who has experience in karting and single-seaters, with successes in the European F.3 Open, stated: “This is an extraordinary opportunity for me at this stage of my career,” while Dupont (22) who had previously contested a similar RACB selection for single-seater drivers, commented: “My dream to be part of the RACB National Team has eventually come true!”

Huff and Gleason put Honda cars on front row

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It was an early morning call for everybody at Macau for an exciting and relatively incident-free qualifying session, which had a clear master: Rob Huff. The British star confirmed his ‘Macau master’ status by topping the session and clinching the pole with an astonishing lap of 2.31.522.

Sharing the first row with Huff will be his protégé and teammate at WestCoast Racing Kevin Gleason, who made an impressive debut on the Guia circuit. Title contenders are right behind in the grid, in a somehow unexpected order: despite being a Macau rookie, Stefano Comini managed to beat Jordi Gené and Pepe Oriola for P3. The Swiss also extended his lead in the championship on Oriola to 4 points. Gianni Morbidelli completed the top 6 despite a spin in Q2 that prompted a red flag. Also impressive, Jordi Oriola (on one of the Target Competition SEAT cars) took 7th, ahead of Afanasyev, Belicchi and Rodolfo Ávila, the best of the TCR Asia drivers. Completing the top 12 were Lorenzo Veglia, on the sole VW Golf making it to Q2, and Francisco Mora.

27 cars took part in the qualifying session; after the withdrawals of Rafaël Galiana’s SEAT and Alain Menu’s Subaru, the field missed Dan Wells’ Opel that suffered from water pressure problems in free practice.

Qualifying One: Gleason beats Huff

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For the first time so far in the event Rob Huff was not the fastest of the field. Hiw WestCoast Racing teammate and protégé Kevin Gleason was able to beat him in the first leg of the Qualifying session.

Gené was the first one to top the time sheet with a lap of 2:37.342 that was soon improved by Pepe Oriola’s 2:35.478. A few minutes afterwards Huff set a new fastest lap of 2:34.977. Eventually Gleason beat his teammate clocking a lap of 2:34.536 that was not to be beaten.

The session was disrupted once by the red flag when Sunny Wong’s Honda spun and was hit by Frank Yu’s SEAT. When qualifying resumed for the final seven minutes there were no improvements.

Other incidents involved Samson Chan and Johnson Huang (both spun) and Francisco Mora who hit a wall. Nash missed the session as his Ford stopped on the track on his first lap out of the pits with suspected transmission problems.

The following drivers advanced to Q2: Gleason, Huff, J. Oriola, P. Oriola, Comini, Morbidelli, Afanasyev, Gené, Belicchi, Ávila, Mora and Veglia.

Qualifying Two: Huff annihilates the rest of the field

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With a stunning lap of 2:32.172 Rob Huff annihilated the rest of the field and won pole position, inflicting a gap of 1.6 seconds to Gleason (2:33.153).

Comini clocked a lap of 2:33.498 that placed him third and was worth three precious points for the championship, with Pepe Oriola finishing fifth (2:33.619) and collecting only one point. Gené qualified in fourth with a time of 2:33.528 and Morbidelli in sixth (2:34.665).

This leg too was disrupted by the red flag, when Morbidelli spun and blocked the track.

What the drivers had to say after the Qualifying

Rob Huff, pole position: “We did a good job together with WestCoast and JAS, I am very pleased of working with such professional people. Everything went well, it’s not easy to jump into a new championship at the last race, not knowing the car and the team, but progress has been really good throughout the sessions. Tomorrow is a different story: to start from the pole is clearly and advantage, but I haven’t had much opportunity to test starting procedures with the Honda or to check how much tyres get warm in an out lap, so there are a number of no certainties despite the pole.”

Kevin Gleason, second: “I’m very happy to be on the front row for my first time in Macau, the track is really more difficult that I could anticipate. The car is strong and we did a great job, so I am confident for tomorrow.”

Stefano Comini, third: “I am very happy of my qualifying and of being ahead of Pepe (Oriola), after having been behind him in free practice and Q1. I am progressing well in getting acquainted with the track and start feeling confident to take some risks, as I did in my fast lap. Macau is like dating a nice girl, you need some time to know each other well before things start working really well. I’m still far away from Huff, who has been married to Macau for a while now… Tomorrow, he can go and win, I’ll be focusing my race on Pepe anyway…”

Jordi Gené, fourth: “Things went ok, I took it as easy as you can take in Macau, knowing that I had to be in the first two rows to still keep a little chance for the title. Things are still open and in two races at Macau, much can happen, in either direction. If Macau is a woman, as Stefano put it, you have always to keep in mind that if you upset her, the divorce can be painful…”

Pepe Oriola, fifth: “It has been a difficult session, with two red flags and crashed cars on the track, but I was able improve my lap times. However, I have been a bit slower than Gené and Comini. Tomorrow the two races will be very exciting and I will keep fight for the title until the end.

Grid penalty drops Frank Yu after yellow flag infringement

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Craft-Bamboo’s Frank Yu was inflicted a grid penalty for failing to comply with yellow flags during yesterday’s second Free Practice session.

The Hong Kong driver will be dropped three positions on the starting grid for tomorrow’s Race 1, from 17th to 20th.

The Stewards of the Meeting have also decided to not allow three drivers – Sam Lok, Johnson Huang and Douklas Khoo – to take part in the races, as their qualifying times were well above the qualification maxima limit (107% of the fastest time).

Comini is crowned first champion of TCR International Series

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Stefano Comini made it! The Swiss driver was crowned the first TCR International Series champion, after putting on an impressive performance throughout the entire weekend at Macau.

He had arrived at the Guia circuit with only two points of advantage over Pepe Oriola, but with the great handicap of having never raced on this very special track. After a quick learning process over the two free practice sessions, he took a key psychological advantage over his direct rival in qualifying, beating him and extending his lead in the championship to four points.

Then he managed to stay ahead of the Spaniard in both races. The duel between the two was particularly fierce in Race 2 and ended with the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil driver retiring with a pierced radiator following the many contacts. Comini rounded things with a superb maiden win at Macau, his sixth of the season, ahead of team mate Andrea Belicchi, a 1-2 that allowed Target Competition to win the Teams’ title as well, overturning the situation in the last race.

Rob Huff also made history, by taking pole position and winning Race 1 – his personal eighth victory on the Guia circuit. That was exactly what the British star had come for, enjoying greatly his first TCR experience in the WestCoast Honda Civic. Jordi Gené and Comini completed the Race 1 podium, with Mikhail Grachev of Liqui Moly Team Engstler taking third in Race 2, his second podium of the season.

Macau’s tradition was respected, as both races saw a spectacular first lap crash and were both red-flagged.

Race 1 – Rob Huff rules again in Macau

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As expected, Rob Huff dominated Race 1 to take his 8th success at Guia Circuit. Driving the WestCoast Racing Honda, the Brit still had a sweating kick-off, as his start from pole position was not great and he only managed to emerge ahead of Jordi Gené and Stefano Comini with a late braking at the Lisboa corner. From there on, Huff had a much quieter morning, with the three title contenders (Gené, Comini and Pepe Oriola) minding their crown affair.

The three ran almost bumper-to-bumper for the entire race but positions did not change and the only serious attack from Oriola in the last lap went fruitless. This allowed Comini to exted his lead to 7 points ahead of Race 2, with Gené definitely out of contention. Jordi Oriola took an excellent fifth, after passing the Honda cars of Gianni Morbidelli and Kevin Gleason. Andrea Belicchi was eighth ahead of the VW Golf of Lorenzo Veglia, with Sergey Afanasyev taking the last point.

Rodolfo Ávila finished in 12th place and won the TCR Asia race for Asia Racing Team.

The race was marked by a big accident in the middle of the group during the first lap that involved Francisco Mora, Kenneth Lau and Frank Yu, prompting a red flag and a 3-lap safety-car period. Mora was sent to the hospital for medical checks.

RACE ONE KEY MOMENTS

Start: Comini and Gené sprint from row 2 and sandwich Huff; the three go abreast all through the straight, with Huff retaking the advantage at the Mandarin bend ahead of Gené, Comini, P. Oriola, Morbidelli and Gleason. It’s drama behind them: Mora hits the wall and spins, Yu brakes in avoidance, Lau hit him and crashes into Mora’s car. The race is red-flagged while Mora is brought to hospital for checks.

Lap 1: The safety car is deployed; Ho pits with electrical gremlins.

Lap 4: The race restarts, with Huff leading from Gené, Comini, P. Oriola, Morbidelli and Gleason.

Lap 5: Morbidelli defends fifth place from Gleason, J. Oriola, Afanasyev and Belicchi.

Lap 6: Huff’s lead is now 2 seconds over the trio Gené, Comini, P. Oriola; Nash, who was 15th, pits with engine overheating; Jordi Oriola passes Gleason and Morbidelli, climbing to fifth.

Lap 8: The attention shifts to the three men fighting for the title, as they are closest as ever; Veglia and Grachev pass Afanasyen for 9th and 10th.

Lap 10: P. Oriola makes an attempt to pass Comini at Lisboa, but at no avail; there is some bumping at Melco hairpin, but nothing changes; Comini is third behind Huff and Gené and ahead of P. Oriola; Afanasyev passes Grachev for 10th.

Race 2 – Comini survives pile up to win race and title!

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Stefano Comini rounded a perfect Macau weekend by securing the title and taking his maiden win at the Guia circuit. The Swiss racer showed temper and coolness by resisting all the attacks of Pepe Oriola, which included a number of bumps and contacts.

The Spaniard’s efforts not only resulted vane, but eventually took a toll on his Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT, which stopped along the track three laps from the end.

The race started in the most spectacular and dramatic way, as the two men on the front row, Rob Huff and Jordi Gené, collided prompting a massive pile-up that left eleven cars out of contention. Only nine made it to the restart, which clearly had the Comini-Oriola duel as the main attraction, and what an attraction it was! Fierce and manly, the duel stayed correct, but nothing could bend Comini’s determination. It was a sad race also for the younger of the Oriola brothers, Jordi, who was bound to a podium finish but had to retire two laps from the end, which gave Mikhail Grachev (Liqui Moly Team Engstler VW Golf) his second podium of the season. Morbidelli (slowed by a drive-through), Ávila (who scored his second victory of the day in TCR Asia), Holland and K. Chan were the other race finishers.

RACE TWO KEY MOMENTS

Grid: Nash doesn’t show up after his Ford suffered from engine problems in Race 1.

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Start: Gené and Huff take a good start, but they make contact and hit the wall initiating a massive accident; Veglia crashes hard in to the wall and a pile-up ensues; the race is stopped and eventually no less than 11 cars suffer from damage beyond repairs: Huff, Gené, Veglia, Gleason, Files, Wong, Choi, Cunnington, S. Chan, Ho and Afanasyev.

Lap 2: At the rolling restart behind the safety car, Comini keeps the advantage, with P. Oriola trying an unsuccessful move on the outside at the Lisboa braking; Morbidelli is given a drive through for a grid infringement.

Lap 3: Morbidelli stops to serve the sanction; Comini leads from Pepe and Jordi Oriola, Belicchi, Grachev, Avila, K. Chan and Holland.

Lap 4: P. Oriola keeps the pressure, touching Comini’s bumper on a couple of occasions.

Lap 5: Comini leads from the Oriola brothers, the three being very close; the Swiss pulls slightly away in the straights, but seems a little bit slower in the twisty section.

Lap 6: Again, P. Oriola tries a move at Lisboa on the outside line and this time there is a clear contact; J. Oriola and Belicchi are catching the leading duo.

Lap 7: Comini pulls slightly away; Morbidelli passes Ávila for 6th.

Lap 8: There is more bumping at the Lisboa braking area, but this time P. Oriola’s SEAT gets the worst of it and stops with a pierced radiator; Belicchi takes second from J. Oriola.

Lap 9: The younger Oriola is given a drive through for trespassing the white line at pit exit, which gives third to Grachev.

Lap 10: The race ends with Comini finishing the job ahead of teammate Belicchi.

What the race winners had to say

Stefano Comini, winner of Race 2 and TCR champion: “I have no words, it’s a very special moment for me: winning at Macau and clinching the first TCR title… What can I say? Unbelievable… Both races were very tough. In Race 1, I was caught in a sandwich between the two Bamboo cars, with Gené holding me, and Pepe Oriola putting the pressure. It wasn’t that easy. In Race 2, Pepe kept on with the pressure, I think he got a little bit stressed with the point situation, but I always stayed in front of him. I knew that second in Race 2 was enough for me to claim the title, but I really wanted to win at Macau and when I saw that Huff was out of the race at the start, I really though I should have a go…”

Rob Huff, winner of Race 1: “First of all, my congratulations go to Stefano for winning the championship, he is a worthy first TCR Champion. For me a day of mixed feelings, but I came here seeking for an eighth win at Macau and got it. Start of Race 1 was touchy, with three cars abreast down to the Lisboa. I had a title contender at each side, and didn’t want to interfere, but also being in the middle, I was in the best position for the first braking. After that, things got easier. In Race 2, again the start was quite touchy, but this time it looked there wasn’t enough space for two, and everything went wrong. That’s Macau…”

So, with the Macau Finale having taken place in November and plenty of TCR News being released since, keep checking the TCR Blog and the “TCR Talk” group on Facebook for updates.

Until next time, all the best from the Guru!!

Phil!!

2015 TCR International Series: Thailand

The TCR International Series and the TCR Asia Series made its first visit to the Buriram International Circuit in Thailand on what was the penultimate weekend of racing for both series in 2015.

Heres how things panned out…

TCR brings international car racing to Thailand

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The TCR International Series will set a new record as it will be the first international car racing championship to visit Thailand, at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit.

The racetrack was inaugurated in 2014 and hosted a round of the World SuperBike Championship in March this year. It is located on the Southern outskirts of Buriram, the capital city of the homonymous province, and some 400 kilometres East of Bangkok.

Designed by the German architect Hermann Tilke, the circuit features twelve corners for a length of 4.5 kilometres, with modern facilities.

The TCR field increases further to 25 entries

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After featuring a record field of 22 entries in the previous event at Singapore, the TCR International Series increases further to 25 for the Thai event.

Two new outfits will make their first appearance in the series: Asia Racing Team from China and Niza Racing from Malaysia; they both will compete also in the TCR Asia series running two and one SEAT León cars respectively.

The drivers represent 15 different nationalities. The contingent of newcomers is led by a couple of well known international touring car aces: Alain Menu in the Top Run Subaru STi and Hugo Valente at the wheel of one of the Campos Racing Opel Astra OPC.

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Taiwan’s Johnson Huang replaces his fellow countryman George Chou in one of the three SEAT cars run by Roadstar Racing, Robb Holland from USA will be driving the Focus TCR of FRD Ford HK Racing Team, Douglas Khoo from Malaysia will compete for Niza Racing, local driver Munkong Sathienthirakul or Turbo, steps in for Frank Yu in the Craft-Bamboo SEAT León, a second Thai, Tin Sritrai, is entered by Asia Racing Team alongside Kevin Pu from China.

Five drivers are still in contention for the title fight

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With two events and four races left, the fight for the first Drivers’ title in the TCR International Series is wide open, with five drivers still in contention.

Target Competition’s Stefano Comini regained the lead of the standings after Singapore; the Swiss has built a gap of 11 points ahead of Pepe Oriola of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil. Oriola’s teammate and countryman Jordy Gené is classified third, 30 points behind the leader. All of the top-three are racing SEAT León cars.

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Two WestCoast Racing drivers in Honda Civic cars – Gianni Morbidelli and Kevin Gleason – are lying in fourth and fifth. Morbidelli has a 47-point gap from Comini, while Gleason is a further 16 points adrift. However, with 110 points still to be awarded, they retain hopes to bounce back.

In the Teams’ classification, Craft-Bamboo Lukoil and Target Competition are split by only two points, while WestCoast Racing ranks in third position with a gap of 71 points.

The current leader of TCR Asia after four events is Michael Choi of Prince Racing Hong Kong.

Maximum success ballast for Stefano Comini

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Target Competition’s Stefano Comini’s SEAT León will carry the maximum success ballast of 30 kilos in the next event at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit.

The current championship leader was the best scorer in the previous race meeting at Singapore, collecting 41 points thanks to a couple of second places in the races plus pole position.

Kevin Gleason of WestCoast Racing and Jordi Gené of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil, who won one race apiece at Singapore, will be laden by 20 and 10 kilograms of success ballast respectively.

As for the competitors in the TCR Asia Series, the 30 kilos of ballast will be allocated to Michael Choi (Prince Racing Hong Kong).

Civic TCR ‘Step 2’ is ready for debut in Thailand

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The JAS Motorsport-built Honda Civic TCR has undergone significant technical developments in recent weeks. The ‘Step 2’ version of the Japanese car will make its racing debut in Thailand.

“The most significant update concerns the engine,” explained the JAS co-owner Maurizio Ambrogetti. “The first version of the Civic TCR was powered by a normally-aspirated engine with the addition of a turbocharger. The ‘Step 2’ car is powered by the production turbocharged unit from the new Civic Type-R. We are confident that this will give our TCR customers a solid base for the 2016 season.”

The engine might represent the peak of the technical update, but a number of other small changes have also been made.

“We have adjusted something here and there on the basis of the experience we had gained during the season so far. Indeed, the Civic TCR has been tested in racing conditions during all the previous events. Now the two final rounds in Thailand and Macau will help us to test the changes that will be implemented in the cars that will be available to customers in 2016,”Ambrogetti said.

Meanwhile, production of the Civic TCR is quickly moving forward.

“We have just completed the fourteenth chassis and our goal is to build and sell twenty-five cars before the beginning of the 2016 season. We wish to have at least two cars running in each TCR series.”

Two Thai drivers join the TCR field for home race meeting

Thai fans will be delighted to cheer for two of their local drivers during the TCR International Series at Buriram: Tin Sritrai and Munkong Sathienthirakul.

In one of the Asia Racing Team SEAT León cars, Sritrai is facing his first appearance in an international series, but he can claim perfect knowledge of the Buriram circuit, as he lives nearby. On top of this, he is an experienced touring car driver in spite of his young age (25), having grabbed four titles in the Touring Car Series Asia and two in the Super 2000 class of the Thai Super Series in the last four years. “This will be a new challenge for me. The SEAT is a front-wheel drive turbo car; very different from what I am used to driving. I’m not going to know what to expect until I get out there on Friday and get a proper feeling of it. It’s going to be a great experience though and I’m going out to do a good job in front of my home fans,” Sritrai stated.

Sathienthirakul will drive a SEAT too, for Craft-Bamboo. The 30-year old from Bangkok switched to touring cars five years ago after claiming three national karting championships; he is a regular front-runner in the Thai Super Series. “I know that for me TCR is a very competitive series, but that is the beauty of racing, it has driven me to work harder,” he said.

Robb Holland at Buriram in the FRD Ford Focus

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FRD Ford Racing Hong Kong has signed Robb Holland to drive its Ford Focus in the TCR International Series event at Buriram, Thailand.

The Afro-American driver tackled touring car competitions in the SCCA World Challenge, before becoming a regular competitor in the British Touring Car Championship and the VLN endurance series in Germany. He also took part in the American round of the FIA WTCC in 2012.

“I have worked with the FRD Team for a few years and I know that Kenneth Ma runs a very good programme. The Ford Focus has struggled this year, but now that FRD has taken over the car I am sure that it can be developed very quickly into one that can challenge for wins. I have no expectations for this weekend other than to help the team develop the Focus into a competitive package. If we can get some good results on the weekend it would be a great bonus,” Holland said.

Team principal Kenneth Ma, who drove the Focus in Singapore, added: “Robb has good experience of the Ford Focus car and helped us in itstechnical development. I hope he can p rove the performance of the FocusTCR in Thailand.”

Morbidelli wins pole as Oriola closes the gap

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On his first outing at the wheel of the JAS Motorsport-built Honda Civic TCR Step 2, Gianni Morbidelli managed to claim pole position at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit. Three hours of track time – between yesterday’s test and today’s free practices – were enough for him and WestCoast Racing to make the most out of the new car. Which enabled him to top both qualifying legs.

Pepe Oriola had to settle with second on the grid for the first race, but this result meant that he closed the gap from Stefano Comini in the Drivers’ standings from 11 to 7 points.

As for Comini, who is still struggling at the wheel after the surgical operation to his left knee, he qualified ninth, winning a front row position on the top-ten reverse grid for Race 2 alongside Hugo Valente’s Opel Astra.

Local drivers Munkong Sathienthirakul impressed on his first appearance in the series, making it to Q2 and eventually getting close to squeeze among the top-ten.

QUALIFYING 1: WestCoast duo tops the timesheet 

It took only one lap to Gianni Morbidelli for emerging as the fastest in the first part of the session. The Italian clocked a time of 1:43.855 that nobody was able to beat. His teammate Kevin Gleason qualified second fastest on his last lap (1:44.015), demoting Sergey Afanasyev (1:44.015) to third.

All title contenders managed to advance to Q2: Pepe Oriola fourth, Stefano Comini seventh and Jordi Gené eighth.

Mikhail Grachev placed the best of the Volkswagen Golf in ninth, ahead of Hugo Valente’s Opel Astra. Local driver Munkong Sathienthirakul ranked twelfth, the first TCR Asia competitor to win a place for Q2.

Robb Holland and Alain Menu were still struggling with the issues plaguing their cars. The American was placed in an encouraging 15th place in the early stages, but had to pit for repairs and this prevented him to improve; eventually he was demoted to 21st. Menu, instead, sat in the pit for most of the session while the team was working on the car; finally he was able to join in time to clock only one flying lap that placed him in 15th.

The session was disrupted once by the red flag, but only for a few minutes, to recover Filipe de Souza’s SEAT beached onto the gravel trap at Turn 3.

The following drivers advanced to Q2: Morbidelli, Gleason, Afanasyev, Oriola, Münnich, Hezemans, Comini, Gené, Grachev, Valente, Veglia and Sathienthirakul.

QUALIFYING 2: Morbidelli beats Oriola for the pole

Just like in Q1, Morbidelli did not waste time, nor tyres and claimed pole position with a single flying lap of 1:43.423.

Gleason clocked a 1:43.792 that provisionally placed him in second position, but the American was demoted to third by Oriola who completed a lap of 1:43.601 just before the ten-minute leg expired.

Valente qualified in tenth and won pole position on the reverse grid for Race 2 and will have Comini alongside him.

What the drivers had to say

Gianni Morbidelli, pole position: “I am very happy with this pole in the first outing of the ‘step 2’ car. We did a couple of tests in Italy and then came here, so evidently, the team did a good job. This is of course an evolution of the car we used so far, so we are not starting from zero, and there is still a lot of room for improvement, as proved by the excellent time of Kevin (Gleason) in the previous car, despite a 20kg success ballast. We did a long run in the free practice and everything went well, so we are confident for tomorrow. The only worry may be the high temperature.”

Pepe Oriola, second: “I made an almost perfect lap and the car was performing very well. We have a good set-up and I hope I can have a good start tomorrow and avoid high temperatures. Championship-wise, it is essential to preserve the car for Race 2. For the time being, I am happy to have reduced the gap from Comini by 4 points.”

Kevin Gleason, third: “First of all, congratulations to the team and Gianni for the very good debut of the step 2 car. I had quite a good session, considering also the success ballast I am carrying, but one is never entirely happy when he is not first of the group… We’ll see what happens tomorrow, I think it will be a clean and good fight with Gianni, with no strategy prepared before-hand.”

Munnkong Sathienthirakul, pole position in TCR Asia: “It’s very nice to be here, it wasn’t really expected. I have a lot to learn this weekend, as this is my first time with the car and in the TCR. Frankly, I had expected a little bit faster lap time, but at this stage to try to improve may be very tricky, as you have to be much harder with the car.”

De Souza’s qualifying times disallowed by the Stewards

Filipe de Souza was penalised by Stewards of the Meeting at the end of today’s Qualifying session.

After going off at Turn 3 in the opening minutes of Q1 and beaching his Roadstar Racing SEAT León onto the gravel trap, the Macanese driver was towed back on track and rejoined; he eventually posted the 19th fastest lap.

However, because he was not entitled to rejoin after receiving external aid, he had all his qualifying times disallowed and will be demoted to the back of the grids for both tomorrow’s races.

When TCR meets GT Asia, it’s a crowded picture!

The state-of-the-art Chang International Circuit in Buriram is making history this weekend, as this is the first time that Thailand hosts a round of a major international motor racing series.
Fans at Buriram are enjoying a great race programme this weekend, with the TCR International Series partnering with the highly-rated GT Asia series. To celebrate the landmark moment, the 24 drivers taking part in the TCR event and the 44 drivers (competing as 22 pairs) entered in the GT Asia race gathered for a crowded family photo on the start-finish line under the emblematic bridge of the new track.

With them posed Marcello Lotti, promoter of the TCR International Series, David Sonenscher, promoter of the GT Asia and the TCR Asia, and Tanaisiri Chanvitayarom, managing director of the track.

Comini vs Oriola, the title fight goes to the wire in Macau

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The two races at Chang International Circuit in Buriram that inaugurated the era of international car racing in Thailand were a success, and delivered results that leave the battle for the first TCR International Series title as open and excited as possible.

Macau will see a grand finale, with Stefano Comini and Pepe Oriola separated by only two points, and Jordi Gené still in contention a further 32 points adrift.

In Buriram, Oriola and Comini took a win apiece, in a weekend that saw the SEAT cars dominate their rivals, with the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil team posting a 1-2-3 in Race 1 (Oriola, Gené and Afanasyev), and Target Competition signing a 1-2 in Race 2 with Comini and Hezemans. The young Dutchman shone and brilliantly took his first TCR podium, after an epic duel with Oriola.

The two SEAT teams will fight in Macau for the Teams’ title as well, as Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has only 13 points of advantage on Target Competion.

It was a weekend to forget for the Honda, Volkswagen, Opel and Subaru cars, all victims of technical issues or race incidents; notably Gianni Morbidelli was inflicted a drive-through for jump-start in Race 1 and was stopped by an engine failure in Race 2, his hopes to stay in contention for the title washed away.

Two young Thai drivers drew attention in front of their home crowd, as Munkong Sathienthirakul (Craft-Bamboo) and Tin Sritrai (Asia Racing Team) shared victories in TCR Asia. And on the podium they proudly sported the King’s portrait.

The TCR International Series will resume on 19 to 22 November at Macau, for its maiden season’s final.

Race One: Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT boys make it 1-2-3

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It was a perfect race for the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil team in Race 1 at Buriram, as Pepe Oriola, Jordi Gené and Sergey Afanasyev took a resounding 1-2-3, the second of the season, after the one in Race 1 at Valencia.

It was a linear race, defined after poleman Gianni Morbidelli, who led during the opening laps, had to serve a drive-through penalty for a jump-start. The WestCoast Racing Honda driver managed to finish inside the points in 10th place despite the setback.

Oriola’s second win of the season comes at a key moment and allows him to retake the lead in the Drivers’ Championship by 8 points ahead of Stefano Comini, who finished 5th right behind the Honda of Kevin Gleason and ahead of teammate Loris Hezemans.

Lorenzo Veglia took 7th position after winning the nicest battle of the race ahead of Tomas Engström and René Münnich, while local driver Munkong Sathienthirakul confirmed himself as the best of the Asian contingent, winning in the TCR Asia and crossing the finishing line in P11.

RACE ONE KEY MOMENTS

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Start: Morbidelli takes the best start, ahead of Oriola and Gené, while Grachev and Valente stall, prompting a contact that results in Holland spinning

Lap 1: Morbidelli leads from Oriola, Gené, Afanasyev, Gleason, Comini, Hezemans, and Veglia, with Engström and Münnich fighting right behind.

Lap 2: Sathienthirakul and Galiana overtake Menu for 11th whilst Grachev pits with transmission problems

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Lap 4: Sritrai and Menu swap positions while fighting for 13th position

Lap 5: Morbidelli serves the drive-through and rejoins in 16th place as Oriola takes the lead ahead of Gené and Afanasyev.

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Lap 6: Veglia and Engström have a close fight for 8th place with a light contact whilst Münnich and Sathienthirakul are very close behind; Holland pits for bodywork repairs

Lap 7: Morbidelli moves up to 13th position

Lap 9: Engström is chased by Münnich.

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Lap 11: Galiana stops at the end of the pit lane with a flat tyre

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Lap 12: There is smoke coming out Menu’s car

Lap 13: Valente pits with overheating problems, while Menu eventually stops along the track; Morbidelli climbs to 10th passing Sathienthirakul.

Lap 14: The Craft-Bamboo Lukoil cars finish 1-2-3.

Race 2: Comini and Hezemans on… Target

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Target Competition drivers dominated a lively Race 2 in Buriram, with the Italian team signing a brilliant double win. Stefano Comini took a lights-to-flag victory, his fifth of the season, claiming back the leadership in the standings, by only two points.

Loris Hezemans finished second after a great performance, which saw the young Dutchman defending fiercely his first TCR podium from the attacks of Pepe Oriola and Jordi Gené.

The excellent performance of the SEAT cars was completed by the fifth position taken by Lorenzo Veglia, again after a close battle with Tomas Engström and Sergey Afanasyev.

Machines of other brands had a much bitter Race 2: the Honda cars of both Gianni Morbidelli and Kevin Gleason were put out of contention (the Italian was fighting for the podium); the pole-sitting Opel of Hugo Valente was pushed off the grid with the engine stalled after the warm up lap while Robb Holland’s Ford was excluded because the driver did not serve a drive-through for unsporting behaviour and later ignored the back flag.

There was a great battle among the TCR Asia drivers; eventually Tin Sritrai managed to win from his fellow countryman Munkong Sathienthirakul giving Thai fans a brilliant 1-2 finish. Sritrai’s teammate Kevin Pu finished third.

RACE TWO KEY MOMENTS

Grid: The Subaru of Menu (differential) and the Volkswagen of Grachev (gearbox) don’t make the grid

Start: Valente’s Opel stalls at the end of the warm-up lap and is pushed into the pits; Comini takes the lead from Hezemans, Oriola, Gené, Afanasyev and Veglia.

Lap 1: Morbidelli takes fourth from Afanasyev

Lap 2: Comini, Hezemans and Oriola are very close, with Morbidelli and Gené not far behind.

Lap 3: Gleason stops in the pits following a contact, with a broken wheel

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Lap 4: The first five are within two seconds, with some rubbing between Oriola and Morbidelli who manages to pass and takes third

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Lap 5: Münnich passes Sathienthirakul for 9th place.

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Lap 6: Morbidelli gets closer to Hezemans; in the TCR Asia there is a great fight for 3rd between de Souza, Holland and Pu

Lap 8: Oriola retakes third from Morbidelli with a great move on the straight.

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Lap 9: Veglia, Afanasyev and Engström have a close fight for 6th position.

Lap 10: Morbidelli stops on the track with engine problems; Hezemans and Oriola fight for 2nd place

Lap 11: Sritrai overtakes Sathienthirakul to lead in TCR Asia

Lap 12: Comini has pulled away a bit, as Hezemans and Oriola carry on fighting

Lap 13: Oriola tries everything to pass Hezemans and they make contact a couple of times

Lap 14: Hezemans resists, finishing second behind Comini and ahead of Oriola and Gené

Races 1 & 2 – What the drivers had to say

Pepe Oriola, winner of Race 1, 3rd in Race 2: “Not a bad weekend, although I would have liked to go to Macau as the leader in the standings. Race 1 was just perfect. I couldn’t follow the pace of Morbidelli, but the drive-through he got changed everything. To be fair, it was not difficult to jump the start, as the procedure was much longer than usual. After Gianni dropped it was just a matter of controlling things. Race 2 was ok too, to start in P9 and finish third is always a good result. I couldn’t pass Hezemans, despite being faster than him; we had a couple of contacts, but he defended extremely well. Now, the title will be decided in Macau, and knowing well the track will be an advantage for me, although I will carry maximum ballast.”

Stefano Comini, winner of Race 2: “It was a difficult weekend that ended better than it started. The car did not perform well in practice and qualifying, and we still don’t understand why. We changed everything we could change before the races: gearbox, intercooler, turbo…  and things went better. In Race 2, I used the advantage of the front row. Still, I have to give a big thank to Loris (Hezemans), because he protected me very well. A two-point advantage before Macau is obviously very slim, but we will see. I have never raced there and this is a clear disadvantage. I’m training at the simulator, but it’s different when walls are real…”

Jordi Gené, 2nd in Race 1: “The SEAT cars were very good this weekend and I had a good pace. I’ve been doing good races and taking good points, but not shaving enough the gap in points, so I don’t think I have real chances for the title in Macau, unless Stefano and Pepe do very crazy things.”

Loris Hezemans, 2nd in Race 2: “I am super-happy with this second place, it’s a first TCR podium that I value as a victory. I really wanted to keep the second, so I tried to stay focused and get out everything I could in the fight with Oriola.”

Sergey Afanasyev, 3rd in Race 1: “It’s the best result for the team since Valencia, we can be very happy and proud. I was involved in fights in both races, especially in the second one when I was bumped from behind a couple of times. For the rest, I really want to praise Buriram for this great venue and the great welcome, it has been a real pleasure to be here.”

Sathienthirakul and Sritrai make Thai fans happy

The main grandstand of the Chang International Circuit was crowded of cheering fans during the TCR races. And local drivers gave them good reasons to cheer.

On their first appearance in the International Series, Munkong ‘Turbo’ Sathienthirakul (Craft-Bamboo Racing) and Tin Sritrai (Asia Racing Team) performed brilliantly and topped the TCR Asia competitors sharing the first and second positions in both races. They also managed to score points in the International Series, finishing 8th (Sritrai) and 9th (Sathienthirakul) in Race 2.

They celebrated the event proudly sporting the King’s portrait and national flags on the podium.

Munkong Sathienthirakul: “I felt more confident with the car day after day, it was nice to win in the TCR Asia in Race 1 and finish second in Race 2. I tried my best and it was really good to be driving with international drivers, it has been very competitive and exciting.”

Tin Sritrai: “It was the first time for me with a front-wheel driven, turbocharged car. I am very happy of this experience and the nice progression throughout the weekend. Of course, taking the win in Race 2 was a perfect end, although I benefitted from the engine problems encountered by Sathienthirakul.”

Until next time, all the best from the Guru!!

Phil!!

Macau: Whats the Attraction?

Every year, tens of thousands of fans flock to the Macau Street Circuit in mid November to watch the best drivers and teams bid for glory from four different disciplines of racing: Touring Cars, Formula 3, Superbikes and GT Sportscars.

So whats the attraction?

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For many motorsport fans, a series that holds a regular event on a street circuit each year holds a special level of attraction. The skills needed to guide a Touring Car or Sportscar or Single Seater through the tight confines of a street circuit as fast as possible, as close to the armco/concrete barriers as possible often brings the most reward to the best drivers

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The Monaco Grand Prix and to a certain aspect The Singapore Grand Prix, hold high regard in Formula One. For Sportscars its the combined Street circuit & Racing circuit nature of Le Mans.

For Touring Cars, there are a few to choose from. Bathurst for the Australian V8 Supercars, for the Scandinavian Touring Car Championship it was Gothenburg whilst the DTM has the Norisring.

But Macau stands out above the rest.

Up until last year, Macau was the Finale for the FIA World Touring Car Championship and from this year its the Finale for the TCR International Series & the TCR Asia Series. In 2015 there will be 30 entries for the two TCR races.

Here some previous Macau Guia Touring Car Winners from different era’s…

Group A:
Hans-Joachim Stuck
Tom Walkinshaw
Gianfranco Brancatelli
Johnny Cecotto
Roberto Ravaglia
Tim Harvey
Emanuele Pirro

SuperTouring:
Joachim Winkelhock
Kelvin Burt
Frank Biela
Steve Soper

Super2000/WTCC:
Augusto Farfus
Rob Huff
Andy Priaulx
Yvan Muller
Alain Menu
Norbert Michelisz

As you can see, some of the finest Tintop drivers have triumphed there…

I will also point out that a win at Macau is not only important to Touring Car drivers. Winning the Macau Formula Three Grand Prix is a big achievement for single seater drivers aspiring to reach the highest height of the single seater ladder: Formula One. Winning this race raises the stock of a driver in his career and often proves a driver will go on to have an illustrious career.

To prove the point, here are a few names of some former Macau F3 Grand Prix that some of you might recognise…

Ayrton Senna
David Brabham
Michael Schumacher
Mauricio Gugelmin
David Coulthard
Ralf Schumacher
Takuma Sato

Some of the best Formula One drivers to have raced in the sport…

But why do so many drivers and riders seek glory on the streets of the former Portuguese Colony?

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In some respects, its the nature of the circuit. It combines a very fast section that begins at “R Bend” continues through the awesome Mandarin bend and which finishes at the infamous “Lisboa” corner. Touring Cars will almost reach 150mph along this stretch before heavy braking into the 90 degree right hander and then add in the factor that often you’ll have drivers race to Lisboa either two or three cars wide, jockeying for position and you can understand the danger and the thrill.

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Hell, the amount of door mirrors lost as the drivers push the limits and get as close as possible to the edge is amazing.

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The next part of the layout is more tricky. After Lisboa comes San Francisco and the steady climb up the hill to Maternity. The left right combination is infamous for seeing attempted overtaking passes. I still recall watching Pepe Oriola try to pass Tom Chilton in an identical Chevrolet Cruze in the first 2013 FIA WTCC race, only for contact to damage Chiltons car. In the second race, Oriola attempted to pass James Thompson in the Lada Granta in the same spot, with identical results, seeing Thompson retire…

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But its still possible to pass…

The whole time during the tight and twisty section that follows onto the Solitude Esses and down Faraway Hill is a high speed challenge to thread the needle whilst dancing as close as you dare to the concrete walls. Theres one racing line here and any deviation will lead to the end of your race. Stick to the grip and don’t stray from the racing line.

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After Faraway Hill follows Moorish Hill, a short straight that leads to a sharp second gear 90 degree right hander where there is plenty of tyre barriers around you. A good clean exit from here leads to a fast sector time but the next challenge of the Donna Maria Bend awaits. Like every lap in every race at any circuit, you need the perfect line to set the best time and getting the line right through Donna Maria adds to the challenge.

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Taking as much speed as you dare through this left hander leads you onto the Iconic Melco Hairpin.

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Normally at any circuit, Street or Permanent, a hairpin is an overtaking oppurtunity. But not at Macau. During the Macau Event, permanent waved yellow flags are in operation due to the fact that whilst the entrance is wide enough for two cars, the exit narrows dramatically to only allow one car out the otherside. Its narrow but racing safely allows racing to continue.

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The lap is almost done now. You put your foot down and get the car/bike accelerating as quick as you can on ghe short run to Fishermans and then the next short run back through R Bend.

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For Superbike riders, the danger is not only the speed but how close they can ride against the wall. Helmets have grazed concrete, knee pads have scraped armco barriers at incredible speeds and life hangs in the blance whilst talent keeps the bike under control.

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For Touring Car drivers, a slip on track can lead to a terrifying accident that can cause a race stopping pile up… and it often has. But again that talent has also seen drivers glide cars out of Mandarin at 140mph and then overtake into Lisboa whilst twitching under heavy braking.

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For Formula Three drivers, its the skill of keeping a speeding projectile thats often setup in a low downforce profile, off the walls and dancing as close to the barriers as possible whilst going as fast as they can. Guiding a lightweight car through the twists and turns of the Guia circuit is a skill alone… To go fastest opens up a bigger talent. A win in the Macau Grand Prix often brings a large reward thats bigger and more rewarding than just the race win itself. It csn also be career changing.

By the way, I’ll happily admit, I’ve got goosebumps writing this…

Thats what Macau does to me and I’ve only watched it on TV since 2004…

Nope, I’ve never been to Macau. Its on the bucketlist though. However the respect you have for the drivers that race there is amazing. I’ve included a link here for a video of Rob Huffs fastest lap during race two of the 2014 FIA WTCC weekend. He won that race in the Lada Granta Sport TC1 car with a 1.6 litre turbo petrol engine.

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Never mind the noise…keep an eye on how close Huffy gets to the barrier and walls. Thats commitment from a 7 time Macau race winner. The video itself is on Huffy’s Youtube page.

Now you’ll notice a few British names on the winners lists earlier in this post. Quite simply, Macau can be a good luck charm for British drivers. Andy Priaulx won all three of his FIA WTCC titles on these streets as did Rob Huff. But if you look at the names on all those lists, there are some of the most legendary Tintop drivers ever that have taken the top step.

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I’ll be honest for a moment. I love watching tintops racing at Macau. I also love the TCR series that have begun this year. But earlier on in 2015 there was talk of potentially seeing a contingent of BTCC Teams and drivers in what would have been a flyaway race. A cracking idea in my opinion but I realise that cost, transport, budgets etc make this impossible.

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However the 2015 TCR International Series Grand Finale sees Rob Huff looking for his eighth victory in Macau as he drives a very colourful WestCoast Racing Honda Civic whilst James Nash returns since WTCC days in a Proteam Ford Focus & Renault Clio ace Josh Files makes his debut in a Campos Racing Opel Astra.

Theres added BTCC interest this year as former Team Hard/Rotek Racing/Handy Motorsport driver Robb Holland contests the event in a Roadstar Racing SEAT Leon whilst former BTCC star Gianni Morbidelli has contested the enter TCR season for WestCoast Racing.

Its good to see the Brits back in Macau.

Add in the rule change for TCR that sees the Race Two grid set by the finishing order of Race One and who knows… Huffy could take wins 8 & 9…

As the saying goes… “Anything can happy at Macau…”

For me, getting up at 4am on a Sunday morning in late November, sitting on the sofa covered by a blanket with a hot cup of tea, cheering the British WTCC Drivers on and watching many FIA WTCC Titles being decided on a knife edge atmosphere is amazing and I look forward to what is the Blue Riband event that is the Macau Grand Prix each year.

So, as I asked at the beginning…
What is the attraction of Macau?

Quite simply, the thrill, the excitement and the atmosphere. For a driver, if you can win there, you are one of the best drivers in the world and well on your way to glory. You are the best of the best in your field. The racing is exciting and the risk is high but the reward is worth it all.

Thats why Motorsport fans love Macau.

Until next time, All the best!

Phil!!!

2015 TCR International Series: Singapore

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The TCR International Series is back on the Formula 1 stage

The TCR International Series resumes after the summer break, when rounds 17 and 18 take place at Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit as support races of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. The event marks the first time the championship has run on a street circuit and at night.

Just as was the case for the first two race meetings of the TCR International Series’ maiden season, within the Grands Prix of Malaysia and China, the timetable has been adjusted to fit into the F1 schedule. Track activity took place on Friday, September 18th, with back-to-back Free Practice sessions of 25 minutes each. The 30-minute Qualifying session took place on Saturday afternoon, September 19th, followed by Race 1 at 22.25, immediately after the F1 Qualifying.

The second race opened Sunday’s programme at 16.30. The circuit is laid out in the Marina Bay harbour zone and passes through some of the most famous of Singapore’s locations, such as Republic Boulevard, Stamford Road, the Padang with the City Hall, Anderson Bridge, the Esplanade, the Float Stadium and the Singapore Flyer. It has hosted the F1 Grand Prix since its inauguration in 2008.

A record field of 24 cars to race at Singapore

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The TCR International Series features a record field of 24 cars at Singapore.

Besides the addition of the Top Run Subaru and the competitors of TCR Asia, there has been some shuffling in the teams’ line-ups:

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René Münnich returns to WestCoast Racing after taking part in the first two events of the year in Malaysia and China.

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Tomas Engström rejoins the Liqui Moly Team Engstler for which he drove in Sochi, but this time he’s at the wheel of the new Volkswagen Golf TCR.

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Young Dutchman Loris Hezemans, the son of former touring car legend Toine Hezemans, makes his TCR debut with Target Competition.

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Hong Kong architect Frank Yu returns to the Craft-Bamboo Racing SEAT he drove in Sepang.

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Fernando Monje comes back as well, in the Campos Racing Opel Astra OPC he drove to an outstanding third place at Monza. The Spanish team has still to announce the name of its second driver.

The Top Run-built Subaru WRX is ready for its debut

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Following a successful test at Franciacorta, in Northern Italy, last week, the Subaru WRX built by Top Run Motorsport makes its first appearance at Singapore.

The Italian team has accomplished an outstanding exploit, designing, building and developing the first racing car in less than five months.

“Our team personnel have done wonders to meet the tight schedule, and this despite the summer break which delayed deliveries from a number of suppliers,” said team principal Antonio Agnello.

Top Run has appointed Luca Rangoni to drive at Singapore after he shared testing duties with Roberto Russo and Gian Maria Gabbiani.

“We finally chose Luca because we have already worked together successfully in the past, when he helped us to develop the Mercedes in the Supercars series. And furthermore, his vast and varied experience with different kinds of cars in top-level international competitions makes us confident that he can help the team to meet with the expectations we have for our TCT debut,” team manager Renato Russo explained.

In a successful racing career spanning twenty-five years, Rangoni has proved to be competitive in both single-seaters (he was crowned Italian F3 champion in 1995) and tin-top cars (he claimed three titles in the Renault Clio Eurocup and competed in several seasons of both the FIA World and European Touring Car championships).

“I had a good feeling during the test. Though it was a brand new car, my first impression was very encouraging. The engine is great, has the power and the torque, but we have to work on braking and traction to optimize the balance. Racing at Singapore will put all of us at the same level, because no one knows the track. Although I’m no longer an apprentice, I am extremely excited. I feel honoured and lucky for this opportunity to develop a new car in a new championship and at a Formula 1 event!” said Rangoni.

TCR Asia joins the International Series at Singapore

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The TCR Asia Series successfully kicked off its maiden season ten days ago at Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia.

Now the championship faces three further events – Singapore, Buriram and Macau – in which its competitors will race together with those of the TCR International Series.

The Malaysian opener was dominated by the Asia Racing Team that won all three races with Macau’s Rodolfo Àvila (Race 1) and Philippe Descombes from France (Races 2 and 3). However, the Chinese team has not yet announced the names of the drivers for Singapore.

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The TCR Asia entry list also includes two JAS-built Honda Civic cars run by Prince Racing with Michael Choi and Kenneth Lau at the wheel, one Ford Focus built and run by FRD Ford HK Racing Team and driven by the experienced Kenneth Ma, and a trio of SEAT León cars entered by the Roadstar Racing Team for Filipe de Souza, Samson Chan and George Chou.

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Pepe Oriola to carry 30 kilos of success ballast

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Pepe Oriola who jumped to the top of the standings after the latest race meeting at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring carries the maximum success ballast of 30 kilos at Singapore. The young Spaniard and his Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT León scored 33 points in Austria finishing third and second in the two races.

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Target Competition’s Stefano Comini, who is currently second in Drivers’ Championship only two points behind Oriola, pocketed 29 points at the Red Bull Ring where he inherited victory in the first race after Gianni Morbidelli was handed a penalty. Comini’s SEAT is laden by 20 kilos of success ballast in Singapore.

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Oriola’s teammate Jordi Gené was the third best scorer in Austria (27 points) and races at Singapore with 10 kilos of extra weight.

KENNETH MA IS OPTIMISTIC FOR SINGAPORE RACES

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One of the standout performers of the opening round of the TCR Asia Series in Malaysia, was without question the Ford Focus TCR from the FRD HK Racing Team, with Hong Kong’s Andy Yan turning in some outstanding drives, albeit for such a short period before an intermittent electrical issue forced his retirement in all three races.

Whilst the team were unable to record a finish as a result of the ongoing problem, they showed in every race that the performance of the Onyx-built car is more than a match for the series front-runners, something team boss Kenneth Ma hopes remains true in Singapore.

“Since Malaysia we have been right through the car ahead of Singapore and believe we’ve found the problem that stopped us in Sepang,”Ma explained. “It was frustrating to know we had the pace to put Andy at the front, but were unable to keep the car running for the full length of the three races. In part it was because of the late arrival of the car, but we made the decision to run because it gave us valuable track time, and showed us where we were against our competition.”

Unfortunately for Ma who was scheduled to campaign their own FRD Motorsports built car, their second engine didn’t arrive in time from the UK, so they were forced to campaign just the one car, with Ma focusing on the team, a team which has won seven of the last nine China Touring Car Championship titles.

“As a driver it was tough standing on the sidelines, but it was also important to get the most out of the car, even with the challenges. This weekend though I’ll step into the driver’s role for Singapore, taking over the car Andy drove so brilliantly in Sepang as he unfortunately has commitments elsewhere this weekend. The new car that FRD have built is in Malaysia still, and the team are finalising the installation of the engine and sorting any potential issues before we ship the car to Thailand and Macau for the final two rounds of the year. I’m looking forward to joining the TCR program at Singapore – one of Asia’s most exciting venues – against the top TCR drivers in the world, it’s going to be a fantastic weekend!”

Qualifying – First pole position for Stefano Comini

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The Qualifying session took place in the early afternoon and Stefano Comini of Target Competition claimed his first pole position in the TCR International Series.

The Swiss driver, who is currently second in the Drivers’ Championship, set the fastest lap on his first lap out of the pit in Q2 and decided not to make a second attempt in order to save his tyres for the races.

It was a risky move, because Gianni Morbidelli came very close to steal the pole from him, as he was clocked only 16 thousandths of a second slower.

Kevin Gleason was capable of a significant improvement compared to Q1, which propelled him to the third place on the grid for Race 1, ahead of Sergey Afanasyev and Pepe Oriola. The latter, the current championship leader, had his qualifying attempt spoiled by a slower car.

Tomas Engström qualified tenth and won pole position on the reverse grid for tomnorrow’s Race 2; the Swede will have Jordi Gené alongside him on the front row.

George Chou placed his SEAT León car in 13th position and on pole for the TCR Asia Series.

Gleason wins night race as Comini hits troubles

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Stefano Comini was set to claim another victory as he had led for most of the distance and built a gap ahead of his competitors, when suddenly Kevin Gleason arrived on his heels and overtook him on lap 8.

The American driver defended the lead in the last two laps and claimed his second victory of the season, while Comini salvaged a valuable second place.

Another close fight took place between Gianni Morbidelli and Pepe Oriola; eventually the Italian crossed the line in third place, inches ahead of his rivals.

Oriola’s teammates Sergey Afanasyev and Jordi Gené came home in fifth and sixth, while Mikhail Grachev kept at bay Lorenzo Veglia and Loris Hezemans to score a brilliant seventh.

Fermando Monje claimed the last point position in tenth.

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Michael Choi of Prince Racing Team provided the icing of the cake for Honda as he won the race of the TCR Asia Series.

Luca Rangoni managed to complete the race at the wheel of the Top Run Subaru, despite he only hit the track on the formation lap for the race.

RACE ONE KEY MOMENTS:

Grid: Rangoni’s Subaru makes its first appearance and lines up at the back of the grid, while Ma’s Ford is missing

Warm up lap: Mak loses control of his Opel Astra and hits the wall

Start: Comini sprints to the lead from Gleason and Morbidelli

Lap 1: Oriola overtakes Morbidelli for third; Chou sends de Souza into a spin

Lap 2: Oriola, Gleason and Morbidelli swap positions while fighting for second

Lap 3: Gené overtakes Veglia for seventh

Lap 4: Morbidelli chases Gleason who is second

Lap 5: Veglia defends eighth place from Hezemans

Lap 6: Gené overtakes Grachev for sixth

Lap 7: Veglia knocks on Grachev’s rear bumper

Lap 8: Gleason overtakes Comini and jumps into the lead

Lap 9: Morbidelli and Oriola have a close fight for third

Lap 10: Gleason beats Comini on the line, while Morbidelli saves third with a short gap on Oriola; Rangoni’s Subaru makes to the end in 15th position, Choi wins the TCR Asia race

What the drivers had to say

Kevin Gleason, winner: “It was a tough race and a nice second win for me, no doubt. I took a good start but had a lot of pressure from Oriola and Gianni in the early laps. Then, my pace improved throughout the laps and when Stefano lift off because of some trouble, I could take the lead. In the closing laps though, when his car was back to OK, I was under great pressure again. Definitely, a tough race, also because of the heath and night conditions, but there my experience in long-distance races helped…”

Stefano Comini, second: “I am a little bit disappointed for sure, but happy with my performance and the valuable championship points. Everything was going perfectly and I was feeling very comfortable with the car until some electronic problem with the gearbox arose. I lost the lead to Kevin and had to reset everything. The car eventually worked well again but it was impossible to overtake on this track.”

Gianni Morbidelli, third: “A very tough race for me, also because I didn’t feel perfectly well these days and during the race it got worse. The last couple of laps I was close to fainting. Regarding the race, I lost it at the start. I had a poor kick-off, with the wheels spinning and had to let Comini, Gleason and Oriola go. After I fought hard with Pepe and Kevin, but they defended well their positions, and rightly so. Overtaking on this track is not easy at all.”

George Choi, 1st in TCR Asia: “It is very nice to win among the TCR Asia cars, I wasn’t expecting that and I thank my team for the very good work. I was lucky that some of the quicker rivals got tangled in incidents ahead of me. It was a very interesting experience to race with the drivers of the TCR International Series. Their level is very high and I could learn a lot from them.”

Top Run Subaru hits the track after never ending odyssey

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The Top Run Subaru TSi TCR, made its debut in the TCR International Series after a never ending odyssey that ended when the car was finally delivered to the team only this afternoon, after the end of the qualifying session.

The original plan was to fly the car from Milan Malpensa to Singapore via Luxembourg. However, the freight company left the car on the ground in Luxembourg because of limited payload restrictions; then the Subaru was flown back to Malpensa.

‘Plan B’ was then to fly the car to Singapore via Seoul and deliver it to the track on Friday morning; but this time the cargo plane was forced to land back in Malpensa because of a technical issue. The 747F took off again after repairs, but by the time it made it to Seoul, no flights were scheduled to leave to Singapore in time to deliver the car by the weekend. So the car was flown to Kuala Lumpur and then trucked down for 350 kilometres to Singapore.

The team worked frantically to prepare the car for the first race and Luca Rangoni could finally take the start from the back of the grid. Despite some teething problems, Rangoni managed to finish the race in 15th position.

An amazing effort from the Italian team!

Gené claims victory in the second race after a solo flight

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Jordi Gené dominated the second race at Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit.

The Spaniard pipped Tomas Engström at the start, resisted the Swede’s attempt to regain the lead during the first lap and then bid farewell to the rest of the field on his way to claim his third race win of the season.

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Behind him, Mikhail Grachev seemed capable of achieving a podium position for the Volkswagen Golf, but in the latest stages the Russian’s pace faded and he dropped down.

Stefano Comini and Pepe Oriola delivered a great show in a fight for the third place that lasted for most of the race; eventually they found themselves promoted to second and third respectively when Grachev slowed down with technical issues.

Gianni Morbidelli managed to score a precious fourth place that keeps him in contention in the fight for the Drivers’ title.

The Singapore event propelled Comini on top of the standings, 11 points ahead of Oriola and 30 of Gené whilst Morbidelli lies fourth with a gap of 47 points.

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Michael Choi of Prince Racing encored his yesterday’s victory in the TCR Asia Series, beating George Chou and Frank Yu; Kenneth Lau crossed the line in third, but was eventually penalized for jump start.

The championship will resume on October 19 and 20 at Buriram, Thailand, for rounds 19 and 20.

RACE TWO KEY MOMENTS

Grid: Only Mak’s Opel is missing, following its crash in the warm up lap for yesterday’s Race 1

Start: Gené takes the lead, chased by team Engstler trio of Engström, Grachev and Veglia

Lap 1: Oriola overtakes Hezemans for sixth; Grachev overtakes Engström for second

Lap 2: Oriola and Comini overtake Veglia who slips to sixth

Lap 3: Engström loses a few places and drops to seventh

Lap 4: Oriola and Comini fight for third as Veglia defends fifth place from Morbidelli

Lap 5: Gené stretches his leading gap ahead of Grachev meanwhile Rangoni pits and retires

Lap 6: Afanasyev overtakes Hezemans for ninth. Hezemans spins, hits the wall and rejoins

Lap 7: Comini overtakes Oriola for second

Lap 8: Morbidelli overtakes Veglia for fifth; Comini overtakes Grachev for second as the Russian loses third place to Oriola and then drops further back

Lap 9: Gleason and Veglia run abreast fighting for fifth as Gleason jumps ahead. Afanasyev and Engström make contact

Lap 10: Gené wins from Comini and Oriola, with Morbidelli in fourth whilst Choi repeats his victory in the TCR Asia race

What the drivers had to say

Jordi Gené, winner: “Everything went very well today and I am very happy to still be in the fight for the championship. Actually, the car had been excellent throughout the weekend, I only had an unlucky qualifying that put me in a difficult position for Race 1, but my pace was very god yesterday too. Today was a different story and I only needed to stay focused to avoid trouble and mistakes.”

Stefano Comini, second: “I apologize for not putting the show today! I just tried to preserve the car, the tyres and my energy. It was a good race and I had a good fight with Pepe. For the rest, I slightly scrapped a wall and my brakes got very weak in the closing laps, but nothing serious. I am very happy of the results of this weekend, which are excellent with regard to the championship.”

Pepe Oriola, third: “It is good to finish the weekend on the podium. I knew it was going to be a difficult round for me, mainly because of the maximum success ballast I was carrying. Still, the car performed well in free practice, then I had a more disappointing qualifying, but the races were ok, and we head now to a very close and exciting final battle for the title.”

Michael Choi, 1st in TCR Asia: “It’s nice to win again, it has been a very god weekend for me and the team. Today, we made a very good race, which ended with our two cars.

If you wish to discuss any topics regarding all things TCR please feel free to join the Facebook Group I have setup for Fans, Drivers and Team members alike. The link is TCR International Talk

Until next time, all the best from the Guru!!

Phil!!

2015 TCR International Series: SEAT Rules The Roost In Russia

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Three weeks after the last event at the Salzburgring, the TCR International Series will resume this upcoming weekend at the Sochi Autodrom in Russia. The circuit was designed by German architect Hermann Tilke around the Sochi Olympic Park, the venue of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games that lies on the shores of the Black Sea.

It was inaugurated on September 27, 2013 during the 12 International Investment Forum with a Formula Sochi exhibition race. The first ever Formula 1 Russian Grand Prix took place there on October 12, 2014. Since then, the Sochi Autodrom has hosted rounds of the national series, including the Russian Circuit Racing Series and the Russian Classic Rally Cup. The TCR International Series will be the first international championship other than F1 to visit Sochi, sharing the event with the Russian Circuit Racing Series and the Russian Formula 4 championship.

Gleason and Morbidelli to drive the heaviest cars

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WestCoast Racing team-mates Kevin Gleason and Gianni Morbidelli will drive the heaviest cars of the field in the next event of the TCR International Series at Sochi Autodrom.

Gleason, who set pole position, won Race 1 and scored 38 points at the Salzburgring, will receive the maximum Success Ballast of 30 kilos. The sister Honda Civic car of current championship leader Morbidelli – 29 points for him in Austria – will be laden by 20 extra kilos, while the 10 kilos of extra weight for the third best scorer will be allocated to Pepe Oriola’s SEAT León as the Spaniard scored 28 points at the Salzburgring.

Russian drivers ready to star in their home race meeting

Sergey Afanasyev and Mikhail Grachev are the only Russian drivers committed to a full season campaign in the TCR International Series.

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Afanasyev, 27-year-old from Moscow has built for himself a reputation in single-seaters (Formula Renault, F3, Formula Master, F2, AutoGP) with excellent results between 2004 and 2001, before switching to GT racing and taking the FIA GT Pro-Am title in 2013.

Still, touring cars are completely new to him:“This is my first experience in touring car racing and with front-wheel drive cars. It’s not easy at all, but it’s an exciting challenge,” he admitted. “I need to say that it would be much more difficult without a team such as Craft-Bamboo Lukoil. It’s really great to work with professionals of their level, who are doing their utmost to support my development process and to get me to the level of my team mates, Pepe Oriola and Jordi Gené, two top references in the category.”

Afanasyev, who is currently undertaking a Masters in Economics, seems to be enjoying every moment of his new racing life and looks forward to this weekend: “I don’t know the Sochi track, but I’m very excited: it’s home race and it is going to be a big thing…”

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Grachev is not only the sole TCR driver who has already raced at Sochi, he has also written history there, as he won the very first race that inaugurated the track last year, a Russian Circuit Racing Series round held shortly before the Russian F1 Grand Prix. The 27-year-old from Omsk, who is racing for Liqui Moly Team Engstler, is of course proud of that achievement and excited ahead of his home race: “It’s a nice and fast track, more technical than it looks, where slipstreaming will play a key role. To race in the middle of the Olympic Park is quite special.”

Grachev’s career has developed mostly in Russia; he shone in autocross, taking two national titles, and touring cars, with two RCRS titles in 2013 and 2014. Last year he entered the European scene, in the FIA ETCC and the German ADAC Procar, winning races in both series. He has words of praise for the support received at Team Engstler, although the season has been quite challenging so far, because the team has been using two different cars: the Audi TT and SEAT León.

“It has been a roller-coaster until now, he reckons. “My pace has been good, but there have been mistakes and incidents preventing strong finishes. I take it as a learning season, trying to advance step by step.”

Dudukalo joins TCR for the Russian event at Sochi

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Aleksey Dudukalo is arguably one of the most popular drivers in the panorama of Russian auto racing, collecting a great deal of race victories and national titles in the latest fifteen years on both, tarmac and… ice.

Supported by Lukoil, ‘Dudu’ was also given the opportunity to race for a couple of seasons in the FIA World Touring Car Championship (claiming one podium result in 2013) before returning to the Russian Circuit Racing Series in which he is currently leading the Touring category at the wheel of a TCR-spec SEAT León.

This weekend at Sochi, Dudukalo will reappear on the international stage competing in the TCR International Series in a SEAT León run by the Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil.

“I’m glad to participate in the Sochi event; it’s like a homecoming for me, as I know a lot of guys from my WTCC years. TCR is on the rise now, races are filled with a spirit of wheel-to-wheel fighting and that’s what the drivers and fans like most!” said Dudukalo.

Event at Red Bull Ring replaces Argentina

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WSC Ltd has announced that the Argentine round of the TCR International Series will be replaced by an event at the Red Bull Ring on July 12 within the Austrian round of the European Le Mans Series.

CEO Marcello Lotti explained: “It was not an easy decision to take, but we had to be realistic and consider that the technical development of the new TCR cars is taking more time that expected and going overseas would have forced some brands to skip the event. On the contrary, re-scheduling the event in Europe will give them the opportunity to complete the development steps without further delaying their participation in the races. This is one of the issues you must be prepared to face during the maiden season of a brand new category. We are especially grateful to Gérard Neveu and the whole ELMS staff for giving us the opportunity to join in their event at the Red Bull Ring.”

Neveu, the CEO of ELMS echoed: “We are pleased to welcome the TCR International Series for the Austrian round of the European Le Mans Series. The TCR Series features many brands and manufacturers and the top class organisation and promotion makes this a welcome addition to the event. The inclusion of this world-class touring car series, alongside the Formula Renault 3.5 series, to the schedule means we will have three leading championships from three motorsport disciplines: endurance, touring cars and single seaters. The event at the Red Bull Ring will be a great celebration of motorsport.”

TCR’s visit to Argentina is only postponed. “South America remains one of our main areas of interest. We are planning to organise a press conference in Buenos Aires in the near future to announce our final plans of racing there next year,” Lotti said.

Gené snatches pole with second fastest lap 

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At Sochi Autodrom Jordi Gené claimed his first pole position in the TCR International Series. However, the Spaniard needed to post a second fastest lap of 2:20.976, because his previous lap time of 2:20.890 had been disallowed by the Stewards for trespassing the track limits.

From the beginning of the session Gené showed he had a leading pace and posted a provisional fastest lap of 2:22.142; Pepe Oriola looked on the way to improve that mark being fastest in the first two sectors, however he eventually spoiled his lap outbraking himself. Mikhail Grachev had a brief spell on top of the time sheet with a lap of 2:21.928 that Gené immediately beat, improving to 2:21.649. And yet Grachev was able to respond and stopped the clock to 2:21.403.

Halfway through the session Tomas Engström climbed on top with a lap of 2:21.272. A few seconds later, Andrea Belicchi saw his chances spoiled by a slower car. In the latest moments of the session Gené stroke back and posted the two fastest laps, the best of which was disallowed.

Belicchi (2:21.025) and Oriola (2:21.256) managed to climb to second and third respectively, demoting Engström and Grachev to fourth and fifth. Current championship leader Gianni Morbidelli qualified in eighth, but only six tenths off the pole; his team-mate Kevin Gleason posted the tenth fastest lap that gave him pole position on the reversed grid for Race 2.

Russian guest stars Aleksey Dudukalo and Ildar Rakhmatullin ranked 11th and 12th after they both had won their own races in the Russian Circuit Racing Series.

What the drivers had to say 

Jordi Gené, pole position: “The car performed perfectly from the very first moment on this track and it’s nice to conquer my first pole. Races will be another story, as this is a fast track where it is easy to overtake. My best lap was cancelled, but my second best was enough to grant pole. Really, it is very difficult to know when you are off the track limits, you really have to target sharply the correct line to stay legal.”  

Andrea Belicchi, second fastest: “Since the engine change prior to the Salzburgring round, my car is working perfectly and I can be again at the top. I could have done pole today but got two laps ruined, one by a small mistake the other by a slower car. We still have some work to do to correct some over-steering that is quite disturbing. Just like Jordi, I found it difficult to cope with track limits, it’s sometimes a matter of a few centimetres…”

Pepe Oriola, third fastest: “I’m even quite surprised to be third-fastest, as I thought I was further down. I must have had an issue with brakes, maybe they were too worn out or there was a faulty pad, because I couldn’t avoid locking the wheels at every strong braking. Never had such a lock-up before, with the car filled with smoke. To be able to respect track limits seems the biggest issue on this circuit, it’s easy to be off as visibility in some corners is limited and there are few reference points in sector 2.”

Qualifying session in Sochi shortened to 20 minutes

Following a request from all the competitors, the Panel of the Stewards agreed to shorten today’s Qualifying session at Sochi Autodrom to twenty minutes.
For this event only, the usual format of twenty-minute Q1 plus ten-minute Q2 was dropped and drivers competed all together in a one-part 20-minute session instead.

The Grid for Race 1 is based on the Qualifying results, while the ten fastest qualifiers will be reversed on the Grid for Race 2.

The title fight heats up after Russian races

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The first visit of the TCR International Series to Russia provided a completely shake up at the top of the standings and the battle for the first Drivers’ title in the series is closest than ever.

With the top four drivers – Stefano Comini, Pepe Oriola, Gianni Morbidelli and Jordi Gené – covered by only twenty points and the fifth (Andrea Belicchi) and sixth (Kevin Gleason) still within striking distance, anything can happen in the four remaining events.
The SEAT cars, as it was anticipated, shone on the Sochi Autodrom, but even beyond expectations, as the Honda cars never could find the right pace. Gené and Comini shared the race wins, with the Swiss driver taking the best advantage in terms of points harvest, as he is now back in the leadership, two points ahead of Oriola. The Spaniard, with a couple of second places, is one of the other happy men at the end of this weekend

There is little doubt that Morbidelli deserved the title of ‘Mr Unlucky’ as the former point-leader pocketed only a 7th in Race 1 and was forced to withdraw from Race 2 because of a turbo failure. Belicchi and Mikhail Grachev took the other podium spots, finishing third in Race 1 and 2, respectively.

On home soil, the Russian impressed from the beginning and was rewarded with his first TCR podium in Race 2, where he led the three initial laps. With a fourth and a fifth, Sergey Afanasyev also gave local fans great satisfaction while the TCR International Series community will certainly bring back home a pleasant memory of the Olympic atmosphere surrounding the event and the warm welcome on the shores of the Black Sea.

Race 1 – Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil score a one-two finish

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Jordi Gené and Pepe Oriola pleased Craft-Bamboo’s Russian sponsor, Lukoil, and its many guests by taking an undisputed 1-2 in Race 1 at Sochi Autodrom.

The two red-and-white SEAT cars dominated from start to finish, with the two Spanish teammates running closely but not engaging in serious battle.
The SEAT domination was completed by Andrea Belicchi who took third after a relatively solitary race. In the opening laps, the Italian had to keep at bay the attacks of Mikhail Grachev, who later lost ground progressively and had to concede fourth to Stefano Comini and fifth to Sergey Afanasyev, eventually the first among the Russian drivers.

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The Honda Civic cars were not in a position to show great pace, with Gianni Morbidelli and Kevin Gleason unable to do better than 7th and 8th respectively.

RACE ONE KEY MOMENTS

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Grid: Few drops of rain fall on the grid, but the race kicks off on a nearly dry track.

Start: Good start for Gené who precedes Oriola, Belicchi, Grachev, Comini and Engström.

Lap 1: Afanasyev passes Morbidelli for 7th after running wide in a corner.

Lap 3: Grachev tries an attack on Belicchi at the braking. Afanasyev and Engström fight for 6th with some rubbing. As a result the Swede gets passed by Nykjaer and Morbidelli.

Lap 4: Belicchi (3rd) takes some breathing space ahead of Grachev who is chased by Comini.

Lap 6: Gené, Oriola and Grachev receive a warning for trespassing the track limits; Morbidelli tries to attack Nykjaer.

Lap 7: Grachev is losing ground and gets passed by Comini and Afanasyev, dropping to 6th.

Lap 9: Engström passes Nykjaer after going too wide and gives back the 8th position shortly after.

Lap 10: Rakhmatullin stops in the pits with an oil pressure warning, while Afanasyev and Grachev make contact.

Lap 11: In the last lap Gené makes a small mistake but keeps the advantage while Engström gets sideways on a slippery kerb hitting Nykjaer and damaging the radiator.

Race 2 – Third success of the season for Comini

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Stefano Comini took his third win of the season in a lively Race 2 at Sochi and jumped back on the top of the overall standings.

The Swiss driver of Target Competition built his success from the beginning, with a great start that put him in P2 behind Mikhail Grachev, the surprising initial leader after a superb start. Comini took the lead in lap 4, being only mildly threatened by Pepe Oriola in the last laps. The Spaniard, with another valuable second, now lies second in the standings only two points behind Comini.

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Mikhail Grachev took a well-deserved first podium of the season on home soil, after a weekend where he performed brilliantly, being also the best of local heroes. Sergey Afanasyev and Jordi Gené finished fourth and fifth, ahead of the first Honda driven by Kevin Gleason.

It was a black day for Gianni Morbidelli who could not even take part in Race 2, as the turbo of his Civic broke in the last lap of Race 1 and couldn’t be replaced in time despite the efforts of West Coast Racing’s crews.

RACE TWO KEY MOMENTS

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Grid: Engström and Morbidelli are demoted to the bottom of the grid due to technical interventions.

Start: Comini gets abreast with Gleason and Nykjaer but Grachev pips everybody from the outside at turn 2 and takes the lead. Morbidelli is still in the pit lane, his crew working on the car.

Lap 1: Grachev leads ahead of Comini, Afanasyev, Gleason, Belicchi, Oriola and Gené.

Lap 2: Afanasyev drives sideways and is passed by Gleason, Belicchi and Oriola. Nykjaer drops after a contact with Engström.

Lap 3: Morbidelli gets out of the car and gives up; Belicchi and Oriola pass Gleason for 3rd and 4th.

Lap 4: Comini is chasing Grachev whilst Gleason is attacked by Gené who has passed Afanasyev.

Lap 6: Comini passes Grachev at turn 2 and takes the lead. Belicchi also tries to attack the Russian and the two collide in the last corner, with Belicchi spinning and hitting the wall.

Lap 7: Oriola is second behind Comini and followed by Grachev and Afanasyev who has passed Gené.

Lap 8: Oriola starts chasing Comini, with Grachev a stable third and the rest of the group further aback.

Lap 10: Oriola gets closer to Comini, but doesn’t seem in a position to attack him.

Lap 11: Comini takes his third success of the year ahead of Oriola, Grachev, Afanasyev, Gené and Gleason

What the race winners had to say

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Jordi Gené, winner of Race 1: “The race was just fantastic, everything went as planned and the SEAT cars seemed to like this track a lot. Having Pepe Oriola behind me gave me some confidence that he wouldn’t do anything silly that could jeopardize a good team result, something very important here, in the home track of our sponsor. Still, he was better in some parts of the circuit, and I was in others, so nothing was easy. I think my brakes balance wasn’t ideal and that showed mostly in turn 14, where Pepe could brake much later, gaining almost 40 meters. I feared he could take a tow there and pass me but luckily, that didn’t happen.”

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Stefano Comini, winner of Race 2: “A great weekend for me, as I was able to retake the leadership in the championship; I am really happy. My objective arriving here was to take heavy points, so I can be happy. Race 2 was really funny, I hope also for those who were watching. I took a perfect start, but Mikhail Grachev did even better, I was really surprised to see him passing everybody at the first corner. I could pass and take the lead a couple of laps later and that was the right moment, as I then started to struggle a bit with my tires. I found the circuit different when you are racing, as opposed to practice or qualifying. It’s challenging on tires and it’s not so easy to overtake.”

The TCR International Series will resume on July 12th at the Red Bull Ring, Austria, for Round 15 and 16.

2015 TCR International Series: Gleason & Nykjaer Master Austria

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TCR festival of speed continues in the Austrian Alps

At the end of a particularly busy month of May, competitors of the TCR International Series would convene at the Austrian Salzburgring circuit only a few days after racing at Monza. After the two thrilling races that took place on the super-fast Italian Autodromo, TCR drivers must face another high-speed track once again.

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All the drivers who have raced at the Salzburgring have a lot of respect for this old-fashioned circuit that lies at the bottom of a narrow Alpine valley surrounded by spectacular peaks. The combination of long straights with fast corners and a tricky chicane always results in the fastest average speed for any kind of racing cars. And this also means that mistakes are both easily made and cost dearly.

Morbidelli’s Honda Civic laden by 30 kgs of Success Ballast

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It is hardly a surprise for WestCoast Racing and Gianni Morbidelli to know that their Honda Civic #10 carries the maximum Success Ballast of 30 kilos at the Salzburgring. Indeed, the Italian driver pocketed the maximum amount of points at stake during the previous race meeting at Monza – 55 – by claiming pole position and winning both races. Something that no other driver has been able to do so far.

The Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT Leon of Jordi Gene will be laden by 20 kilos of ballast as a consequence of the 30 points scored by the Spaniard at Monza, while the 10 kilos of extra weight for the third best scorer will be allocated to another SEAT car, that of Andrea Belicchi. The Target Competition driver collected 26 points at Monza and the single point he scored by qualifying fifth made the difference against the score of Campos Racing’s Fernando Monje (25) whose Opel Astra will not receive any ballast.

Afanasyev to pay grid penalty in Salzburgring’s Race 1

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Sergey Afanasyev of Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil dropped five places on the grid of the first race this at the Salzburgring. An investigations conducted by Stewards of the Meeting after the two races races at Monza concluded that the Russian driver was guilty of causing a pile-up at the Roggia Chicane that eliminated Michel Nykjær and Mikhail Grachev in the later stages of the first race.

As a consequence, both Afanasyev’s and Nykjaer’s cars suffered from extensive damage and could not take part in Race 2. Another enquiry following the Monza races resulted in the Stewards imposing two reprimands to Gianni Morbidelli for two separate incidents involving Stefano Comini in laps 7 and 11 of the second race.

Monje and Schouten rejoin for the Austrian event

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Following his outstanding performance in Monza, where he drove the Campos Racing Opel Astra OPC to its first podium in the TCR International Series, Fernando Monje returned to drive the car again at the Salzburgring. Monje’s third place in the second race at Monza earned him much praise from other competitors and the press. Now the Spaniard is aiming for more, especially because he knows and loves the Austrian circuit where he claimed a double victory in the 2012 FIA ETCC.

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Another driver who rejoins TCR in Austria is Bas Schouten from the Netherlands who will be at the wheel of a SEAT Leon run by the Bas Koeten Racing in cooperation with ST Motorsport. The Dutch outfit made its maiden appearance in the championship in the third race meeting of the season at Valencia’s Circuito Ricardo Tormo, where Schouten impressed, only missing out on a podium result in the second race due to a fuel pump failure on the last lap.

Gleason claims his second pole in breathtaking qualifying

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After the very close races at Monza, the competitors of the TCR International Series put in another thrilling show during TCR Qualifying at the Salzburgring. In a breathtaking session, Kevin Gleason won his second pole position of the season after Sepang and his WestCoast Racing Gianni Morbidelli completed an all-Honda front row.

Gleason and Morbidelli were the last competitors to cross the line under the chequered flag, when it seemed that Stefano Comini had secured the pole. It was a bit of a shock for the Swiss driver and the Target Competition crew, but also for most of the insiders, especially after the SEAT cars had dominated the second Free Practice and Q1.

In Q2 the gaps were so small that before the last lap of the Honda duo the first four positions (Comini, Gleason, Oriola and Morbidelli) were covered by only 78 thousandths of a second. Eventually, less than five tenths separated the ninth placed driver Michel Nykjaer from pole position.

Qualifying 1: Belicchi posts the fastest lap 

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Target Competiion’s team-mates Andrea Belicchi and Stefano Comini posted the fastest lap in the first part of the Qualifying with times of 1:27.281 and 1:27.400 set halfway through the session.

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Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Mikhail Grachev was third fastest (1:27.674), improving in the final moments and demoting Jordi Gene (1:27.675) and Lorenzo Veglia (1:27.859) to fourth and fifth. Just like in the second Free Practice, the SEAT Leon cars filled the first nine spots of the classification. Gianni Morbidelli was the best of the Honda drivers in tenth (1:28.170) ahead of his team-mates Kevin Gleason and Igor Skuz, whilst Gleason had a brief spell on the second place, but his best lap of 1:27.308 was disallowed because he had posted it while the yellow flag was waved after Szolt Szabo went out at the Nochstein-Kehre.

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Both the Campos Racing Opel Astra cars missed the cut. Fernando Monje came out and in for the whole session trying to solve some technical issues and did not post a valid time. His team-mate Markus Ostreich went off at the Ostschleife on his last attempt to improve and remained 1.3 seconds slower that his time in the Free Practice. The following drivers advanced to Q2: Belicchi, Comini, Grachev, Gene, Veglia, Schouten, Nykjaer, Oriola, Afanasyev, Morbidelli, Gleason and Skuz.

Qualifying 2: Successful last gasp attempt for Honda duo

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The Honda Civic cars of Kevin Gleason and Gianni Morbidelli shattered Stefano Comini’s dream of pole position by setting the two fastest times on a last gasp attempt. Gleason was faster (1:26.915) and won his second pole of the season, beating Morbidelli by 91 thousandths of a second.

Igor Skuz provided the icing on the cake for WestCoast Racing, posting the tenth fastest lap that will give him pole position on the reversed grid for Race 2.

What the drivers had to say

Kevin Gleason, pole sitter: “It’s great to have done the pole position after such a close qualifying session. Things hadn’t started very well, after my best time in Q1 was disallowed for not seeing a yellow flag. The radio was working on and off and there was a moment of confusion. In Q2, I did a small mistake in my first flying lap, but luckily I decided for a second one, which was the good one. I’m learning this incredible track bit by bit and it’s starting to come together. Everything was ok: the car balance, the tyres, the conditions and also slipstreaming with Gianni. This is my second pole of the season, I have been twice on the podium, so tomorrow I’ll definitely go for my first TCR win.”

Gianni Morbidelli, qualified second: “I know everybody thought after free practice that I was hiding my game, but Q2 shows that people just have too much fantasy… There is not much more I could do today, carrying the maximum success ballast, and I only owe the second-fastest time to a good tow from Kevin.”

Stefano Comini, qualified third: “My radio wasn’t working at all this afternoon, and evidently, it was not a good option to come back to the pits a few minutes from the end of Q2, as the best time I was holding was beaten by the two Civic cars. This said, I don’t think I could have improved my best time, I was on the limit everywhere, especially in the fast left-hander.”

Early wake-up call and duties for Comini

It was an early wake-up call for Stefano Comini Saturday morning: the Swiss was expected at the paddock gate to greet the Salzburgring marshals arriving at the track and thank them on behalf of all drivers. Comini was instructed to do so by the Sewards following some fuming statements he made to the media after the close duels he was involved in at Monza.

Instead of imposing penalties, the Panel of Stewards elaborated this unusual measure that the Swiss accepted gladly: “I don’t see it as a sanction and I was actually very pleased to greet the marshals at 7 am sharp. They are the real unsung heroes of motorsports and I have great respect for their work.” 

As a good Helvetic citizen of Italian mother tongue, Stefano is also fluent in German, which made easier communicating with the little crowd, eventually captivated by the natural wit of Stefano. Mutual applauses concluded the gathering. The early wake-up call was not too much a punishment for Stefano: “Luckily enough, I was already in the paddock, as this time I came with my motorhome and slept at the track!”

Ostreich teams-up with Monje at Campos Racing

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Markus Ostreich is driving the second Campos Racing Opel Astra OPC car this weekend at the Salzburgring. The Spanish team confirmed Fernando Monje at the wheel of its first car following the brilliant podium result achieved at Monza, and they announced Ostreich as his team-mate for the Austrian event.

Ostreich is very experienced, with a solid and successful background in Touring Car competition that dates back to the Eighties when he was BMW factory driver in the European and World Touring Car Championship. He also claimed overall victories in the 24 Hours of Spa and the Nurburgring. He then switched to Truck Racing, establishing himself as one of the top players in the FIA European Championship, but this year he went back to his roots and snatched a brilliant class victory in the Nürburgring 24 Hours at the wheel of an Opel Astra OPC.

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Östreich explained, “It was my first time in a TCR car and this Astra is very different from the one we drove in the 24 Hours that is much closer to the production model. This is a proper racing car and I had a good feeling. It’s fun to drive and has good performance.” 

Ostreich spoiled his chances to qualify for Q2 by spinning on his last attempt.

Gleason and Nykjaer wrote history at the Salzburgring

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Keeping up with its long-standing touring car racing tradition, the beautiful track of Salzburgring produced two close and interesting races. Kevin Gleason took a well-deserved maiden win in the TCR in Race 1, becoming the eighth different race winner in the series (in only 12 rounds) and the first US driver to win an international touring car race. He also gave the Honda Civic his fourth success of the season.

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In Race 2, Michel Nykjaer became the third driver to clinch more than one win. The Dane kept the lead in from lights to flag, just as Gleason did in Race 1, confirming his incredible personal record on this track. Nykjaer has won every time he has raced on the Salzburgring, regardless of the series he was competing in, and earned the status of “Salzburgring Meister”.

The SEAT and Honda cars evenly shared podium finishes today, with the other Target drivers, Stefano Comini and Andrea Belicchi, coming home second and third in Race-1 and Pepe Oriola and Gianni Morbidelli clinching the rostrum in Race 2. With the top title bidders having all mixed fortunes, the situation in the overall standings looks pretty close, with six drivers within 48 points. Morbidelli keeps the provisional lead by 18 points on Comini and 22 on Oriola.

Race 1 – Gleason takes clear maiden win

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Kevin Gleason climbed the last step left for him to the TCR International Series, by taking a clear and well-deserved maiden win at the wheel of the WestCoast Racing Honda Civic. Starting from pole, the American controlled the race from lights to flag, being only briefly threatened by Stefano Comini, who finished a solid second ahead of team-mate Andrea Belicchi.

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Behind Gleason and Comini, the fight, which arose mostly in the second part of the race, included the usual stars. This time, it was Belicchi emerging ahead of Jordi Gene, while Pepe Oriola and Gianni Morbidelli eventually lost ground after a contact between them. Lorenzo Veglia was first of the rest, after a superb duel with Igor Skuz, while Sergey Afanasyev, Bas Schouten and Markus Ostreich filled the remaining point positions. Stefano Comini came in sixth, followed by team-mate Michel Nykjær. Gianni Morbidelli came in eighth, the first Honda Civic, in a race where the Japanese cars were not at the top. The last two point-scoring positions were for Dutch rookie Bas Schouten and Lorenzo Veglia.

RACE ONE KEY MOMENTS

Grid: Monje’s Opel does not make the grid after it suffered from technical issues during the morning’s shake down.

Start: Excellent start of poleman Gleason followed by Comini, while Morbidelli and Oriola make contact at the first braking point and Grachev is sent onto the gravel trap at the first chicane.

Lap 1: Gleason leads ahead of Comini, Morbidelli, and Oriola who are all very close whilst Gene is fifth and closing up.

Lap 2: Behind the leading quintet, Belicchi is sixth followed by Afanasyev, meanwhile Skuz and Veglia fight for eighth.

Lap 5: Comini starts attacking Gleason but the American is still in full control as Grachev pits at the end of the lap.

Lap 6: Belicchi joins the leading pack in sixth.

Lap 7: Veglia manages to pass Skuz, who tries to counter-attack but spins in the fast right-hander and pits.

Lap 8: Gleason opens a gap, as Comini is under threat from Morbidelli. Nykjaer pits following a contact.

Lap 9: Morbidelli tries again to pass Comini, but the Italian is attacked by Oriola at the last chicane. They make contact and both Gene and Belicchi take the opportunity to pass them.

Lap 11: Gleason leads ahead of Comini, Gene, Belicchi, Morbidelli and Oriola.

Lap 13: Szabo goes off-track in the fast right-hander hitting the barriers following a puncture.

Lap 14: Belicchi passes Gene for third in the back straight and Gene tries unsuccessfully to repass at the chicane.

Lap 15: Gleason wins from Comini and Belicchi as Veglia steals seventh place from Afanasyev

Race 2: Nykjaer, “Meister” of the Salzburgring

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Michael Nykjaer took his second win of the season after a perfect Race 2, which confirmed the special bond of the Dane with this track, where he has won in both in the ETCC and WTCC in the past.

The Target Competition driver made a perfect use of the spot on the front row to take the advantage at the start, while Igor Skuz and Mikhail Grachev tangled in the first chicane. It was a 1-2-3 for Target’s SEAT cars in the initial laps, but Stefano Comini (by then 2nd) was inflicted a drive-through for jump start and Andrea Belicchi (who was chasing the leader) had a scary ride off-track caused by oil on the track. Lorenzo Veglia lost his fifth place when he received a drive-through for a contact with Jordi Gene, while Pepe Oriola and Gianni Morbidelli took advantage of the situation and finished on the podium, reinforcing their positions in the overall standings.

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Sergey Afanasyev took fourth after a consistent race, followed by Belicchi, Kevin Gleason and Grachev. Comini (8th) and Gene (10th) salvaged minimum championship points, while Bas Schouten repeated 9th despite having been rammed by Skuz in the opening laps.

RACE TWO KEY MOMENTS

Grid: Szabo is withdrawn from Race 2, as his car was not repairable after the incident in the first race; Ostreich’s car, with an oil leak on the grid, starts from the pit lane.

Start: Nykjaer and Belicchi take perfect starts on the right side of the track, while Skuz and Grachev fight and cut the first chicane.

Lap 1: Nykjaer leads ahead of Belicchi, Comini, Gene, Oriola, Grachev and Veglia who has passed Morbidelli.

Lap 2: Skuz pushes Schouten off at the Chicane. Meanwhile Skuz retires as Schouten rejoins.

Lap 3: Comini is given a drive-through for jump start.

Lap 4: Veglia passes Grachev for sixth.

Lap 5: Morbidelli and Afanasyev pass Grachev, who is attacked by Gleason.

Lap 6: Nykjaer leads ahead of Belicchi, Oriola, Gene, Veglia and Morbidelli.

Lap 8: Veglia passes Gene at the end of the straight but he cuts the chicane and rejoins ahead of the Spaniard who cannot avoid to hit him whilst Morbidelli passes both of them, while Gene is forced to pit for repairs.

Lap 9: Ostreich stops along the track with an engine failure as Gleason overtakes Grachev for seventh. There is oil on the fast right-hander left by the Opel, causing Belicchi to go wide onto the gravel and rejoins but drops from second to sixth whilst Oriola drives sideways but remains on the track and climbs to second.

Lap 11: Veglia (5th) gets a drive-through for the incident with Gene as Nykjaer leads ahead of Oriola, Morbidelli, Afanasyev, Belicchi and Gleason.

Lap 12: Morbidelli attacks Oriola for second and both are chased by Afanasyev, with Belicchi and Gleason very close behind.

Lap 15: Nykjaer wins ahead of Oriola, Morbidelli, Afanasyev, Belicchi and Gleason.

What the race winners had to say

Kevin Gleason, winner of Race 1: “I am really happy. After two poles, a second and a third, I really wanted this first win badly. Luckily, I had a very good start in Race 1, which here is absolutely crucial, as we saw in Race 2, and was able to stay ahead. I tried to be as clean as possible to keep the gap and I think I did it OK. The only concern was Comini, who was quite close during the entire race and was very fast in the third sector, but I could defend well and rebuild a little gap on the straight at every lap.”

Michel Nykjær, winner of Race 2: “It’s great to win my second race of the year and to do it here at the Salzburgring, which seems to be a very special place for me. I have won here every time I came, regardless of the championship, and I really like the track. Race 1 was spoiled by a contact and I preferred to stop not to risk further damage for Race 2. My start wasn’t the best of all, but still I could keep the advantage at first corner. My team mate Belicchi was behind me and he pushed hard, but always in a sporting manner, then he got surprised by oil on the track, which was unlucky for him but gave me breathing space.”

Andrea Belicchi ‘Man of the Race’

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Andrea Belicchi was elected “Man of the Race” at the Salzburgring following two solid and consistent performances, concluded with a third place in Race 1 and a fifth in Race 2.

The Target Competition driver was, together with Gianni Morbidelli, the only one among the front-runners, to make it to the top five in both races. Moreover, Belicchi was the author of a great “save” in Race 2 when he was surprised by oil on the track and went off onto the gravel at high speed, mastering a perfect drifting to rejoin the track safely, despite losing two positions.

“I am happy with my weekend,” commented the Italian after the races, “because I put in two strong races and proved I could fight for the very top. What pleases me most is that, contrarily to recent rounds, I had again the right pace.”

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The TCR International Series will resume on June 21st at Sochi, Russia, for Round 13 and 14.

All the best!

Phil!!