The TCR International Series took its first steps at the weekend as part of the support bill of the Malaysian Formula One weekend of Sepang and offered a small glimpse of how the series could be in its first year.
Below is an image of the entry list for Rounds 1 & 2 of the series which saw 17 cars entered with more expected to join as the series progresses through its 2015 Calendar:
With familiar and talented drivers such as Pepe Oriola, Michel Nykjaer, Gianni Morbidelli, Franz Engstler, Andrea Belicchi and Jordi Gene joining in 2015 along with experienced Touring Car teams such as Target Competition, Craft-Bamboo, Zengo Motorsport, West Coast Racing, Campos Racing and Proteam Racing committed to the championship, things look good from the start.
It was a hot first-ever qualifying session for the TCR contenders at Sepang, as under suffocating heat, the fierce battle for pole showed the top 12 within one second or less in both Q1 and Q2. Kevin Gleason, at the wheel of the WestCoast Racing Honda car, made history as he took the pole position ahead of TCR’s first-ever race, thus becoming the first pole-sitter of the series.
The US driver impressed all observers with his impeccable and aggressive style, preceding the two Target Competion SEAT Leon cars of Andrea Belicchi and Stefano Comini and the Liqui Moly Audi TT car of Franz Engstler, with no less than three different brands represented in the top-four. Jordi Gené qualified tenth in the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT, meaning that he will be on pole on the top-ten reversed grid for Race 2
Qualifying 1: Top-twelve within a second
All cars took the track for the qualifying session, with sunshine and heat hitting heavily. Ferenc Ficza was an early leader, having posted a time of 2.21.208 in his second flying lap, preceding Pepe Oriola and Andrea Belicchi. The session was red-flagged less than 9 minutes to the end as the engine of the Campos Racing Opel of Jordi Oriola stalled, leaving the car stranded in the middle of a corner. Frank Yu spun almost at the same time. By then, the Proteam Racing Ford Focus of Diego Romanini had stopped by the reappearance of a gearbox problem, not having completed a full flying lap.
The battle was superb as the session resumed, with Stefano Comini, Gianni Morbidelli and Andrea Belicchi successively posting fastest laps. Eventually, Belicchi (Target Competition SEAT) kept the advantage (1.20.778), with the top-twelve drivers making it to Q2 within a second. Ficza was second fastest ahead of Gianni Morbidelli, Sergey Afanasyev and Jordi Gené.
Qualifying 2: Three different manufacturers on first two rows
The Audi cars of Engstler and Grachev started Q2 ahead of the pack. Comini (2.19.878) was able to beat Engstler for the provisional pole by mid-session, but surprise came from Kevin Gleason who put in a perfect lap (1.19.717) and gave pole position to the Honda Civic car of West Coast Racing with the top-eleven all covered by 8 tenths of a second. Belicchi secured a spot on the front row, ahead of Comini, Engstler, Münnich and Morbidelli. The unlucky guy of Q2 was Michel Nykjaer, hit by fuel feeding problems that prevented him to complete a single flying lap.
The first-ever winner of a TCR race was Swiss Driver Stefano Comini took a resounding success in Race 1 at Sepang.
The Target Competition driver took a wonderful start and despite a slight mistake at turn 1 was able to take the lead as from lap 2 and pulled away thanks to the fierce battle behind him.
The SEAT cars eventually managed to monopolize the podium with two Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil boys, Pepe Oriola and Sergey Afanayev in second and third. Still, they had to sweat in their fight with the West Coast Honda Civic TCR cars of Gianni Morbidelli and poleman Kevin Gleason.
The Japanese cars finished fourth and sixth, with Andrea Belicchi (Target SEAT) who clinched fifth on the penultimate lap.
Grid: All cars were on the 1260-kg minimum weight for Race 1 after a BoP adjustement. The Proteam Ford Focus of Diego Romani and the Campos Opel Astra cars of Igor Skuz and Jordi Oriola did not make the grid because of technical problems.
Start: Engstler, Münnich and Comini took an excellent kick off and got side-by-side with poleman Gleason. At first corner, Comini and Münnich ran a wide while Morbidelli and Engstler made contact.
Lap 1: Gleason kept the lead until the end of lap 1 when he was passed by Comini; Belicchi hit Ficza but with no harm.
Lap 2: The battle for second place was fierce between the SEAT cars of Afanasyev, Oriola and the Honda cars of Gleason and Morbidelli; Grachev led the rest of the pack, while Engstler retired with a damaged front suspension resulting from first corner action.
Lap 3: Oriola took second from Afanasyev and was now 4 seconds behind Comini.
Lap 4: Grachev stopped with an engine problem; Münnich pitted with a fuel issue.
Lap 5: Ficza and Nykjær had a close fight for eighth.
Lap 7: Oriola reduced the gap to three seconds, while Afanasyev defended third place from Gleason.
Lap 8: Gleason was in troubles with his tyres and dropped behind Morbidelli and Belicchi.
Lap 9: Comini won from Oriola and Afanasyev; with Morbidelli, Gleason, Gené, Nykjær, Fizca and Veglia in the points.
Jordi Gené returned to the first step of the podium in an international event after brilliantly controlling a lively and closely-fought Race 2 in Sepang.
Despite the heat, the 44-year-old Spaniard kept his cool to make a perfect use of pole position and managed to keep the lead throughout the entire race, but had to resist to the furious attacks of other contenders, which included Ferenc Ficza, Jordi Oriola and Gianni Morbidelli.
Eventually, Team Craft-Bamboo LUKOIL posted a one-two, as Pepe Oriola took second, as he did in Race 1, and Gianni Morbidelli gave the Honda Civic car its first TCR podium finish. The Italian briefly lost the position to Andrea Belicchi in the last lap, but won it back with a superb overtaking in the very last corner that cost Belicchi one more position, as his team-mate and Race One winner Stefano Comini took fourth.
The Swiss leaves Sepang as the first point leader of the series.
Start: Gené and Ficza pulled away nicely followed by Afanasyev and Oriola in an orderly start.
Lap 1: Nykjaer and Veglia made contact and collected Afanasyev, sending him into the gravel.
Lap 2: Veglia pitted for repairs and rejoined.
Lap 3: Gené was closely followed by Ficza, Oriola and Morbidelli who were fighting for second; right behind Belicchi and Comini were chasing by Münnich.
Lap 3: Grachev and Yu made contact and the Hong-Kong driver spun.
Lap 4: Oriola and Morbidelli managed to pass Ficza; Munnich had a sudden slow-down and got passed by Comini and Belicchi.
Lap 5: Ficza was passed also by the two Target cars.
Lap 6: Skuz and Engstler retired, both claiming they lost power.
Laps 6 to 9: In a thrilling second part of the race, Gené, Oriola and Morbidelli were running bumper-to-bumper, while Belicchi and Comini were closing the gap.
Lap 10: Belicchi overtook Morbidelli for third, but the Italian won it back in the last turn.
The TCR International Series will resume for Rounds 3 and 4 at Shanghai International Circuit on April 11 & 12 as part of the Formula 1 China Grand Prix Weekend.
TCR MAN OF THE RACE:
At each TCR International weekend, a “TCR Man of the Race” is chosen by a jury. West Coast Racing’s Gianni Morbidelli was elected TCR Man of the Race for the event at Sepang International Circuit.
The jury is formed of:
WSC CEO Marcello Lotti,
Race Director Marc Duez,
TV Commentator Mark James,
TV Director Alessandro Dragosei, Communication Director Fabio Ravaioli and Press Officer Alfredo Filippone
The Jury elected the Italian driver for his brilliant overtaking manoeuvre on Andrea Belicchi that earned him third place in Race 2.
Other nominees were Kevin Gleason (for his pole position), Pepe Oriola (for his fair and effective driving) and Igor Skuz (for his sporting spirit in spite of his bad luck).
I’ll be posting a regular blog on the TCR International Series after each Event Weekend, so be sure to follow the Guru!
All the best!
All the best from the Guru!!