TCR 2015: Honda & SEAT win in Shanghai…

After a succesful opening weekend in Malaysia, the TCR International Series moved to China for Round 2, held at the Shanghai International Grand Prix Circuit.

Heres the news from Malaysia as well as Qualifying and both races…

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The Success Ballast system will come into force at the second event of the TCR International Series that takes place this weekend in China, at Shanghai International Circuit. Extra kilos will be allocated to the top-three drivers, according to the points they have scored in the previous race meeting. 

As a consequence, Stefano Comini (Target Competition), Pepe Oriola and Jordi Gené (both Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil) who are placed in the first three spots of the Drivers’ Classification after Sepang, will carry 30, 20 and 10 kilos of extra weight respectively.

The success ballast will be recalculated after Shanghai, in readiness for the following event at Valencia. 

Sixteen cars of four different brands have been entered in the series’ second race meeting at Shanghai. 
Italy-based Target Competition – that leads the Drivers’ Championship with Stefano Comini – will add a fourth SEAT Leon for young Chinese racer Alex Yang, who is also facing his first season in the tough Japanese Formula 3 Championship.

Compared to the previous event in Malaysia, the TCR field has lost the Proteam Racing Ford Focus of Diego Romanini and one of the Campos Racing Opel Astra cars. They were withdrawn because of persisting technical problems (gearbox for the Ford and cooling system for the Opel) that couldn’t be fixed in Asia. However, in Shanghai Campos Racing will run a SEAT Leon for Igor Skuz alongside the Opel Astra of Jordi Oriola.

A change of driver has occurred at Zengo Motorsport, with 16-year old Norbert Toth replacing his fellow Hungarian Ferenc Ficza in the team’s SEAT Leon.

On the eve of the second round of the 2015 TCR International Series at Shanghai in China, dual Asian Touring Car Series champion Franz Engstler announced that Liqui Moly Team Engstler will join the maiden season of TCR Asia Series, beginning at Zhuhai in China on August 14.
The German-based team will enter two cars for the opening round in China, with plans to introduce a third car later in the season.

“Already we have two drivers confirmed, and we look forward to revealing a third driver in the near future. Personally I have enjoyed great success in Asia in the past, and I hope that we can relive that success in TCR Asia Series this year,” said Engstler.

With the opening round of the TCR International Series at Sepang now completed, TCR Asia Series promoter David Sonenscher revealed that plans are well underway with the TCR Asia Series.

“Much of the focus prior to Sepang was in getting the International Series underway, and that’s now completed, with the event declared a great success. Now focus turns to TCR Asia Series, and although we’re still three months away, we’re finally able to start to reveal the teams that are competing, so it is with great pleasure that we welcome Liqui Moly Team Engstler will join us for our maiden season,” Sonenscher said

QUALIFYING

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The Honda Civic dominated qualifying at Shanghai, where the WestCoast Racing cars of Gianni Morbidelli, René Münnich and Kevin Gleason posted the three fastest laps in Q2.

Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Mikhail Grachev gave the Audi TT a brilliant fourth position on the grid for Race 1, followed by the best of the SEAT drivers: Pepe Oriola in fifth and Hungarian teenager Norbert Tóth in sixth.

Andrea Belicchi and Michel Nykjær qualified in tenth and ninth positions respectively, that will grant them the front row in the starting grid for Race 2.

Craft-Bamboo Lukoil’s Jordi Gené and Sergey Afanasyev were both eliminated after Q1.

Qualifying 1: Gené and Afanasyev fail to make the cut.

Oriola opened hostilities with a provisional fastest lap of 2:18.229 that was soon beaten by Morbidelli’s 2:17.824. Münnich improved further to 2:17.065, but Morbidelli settled the matter for good with a lap of 2:16.474 that was not to be beaten.

During the final stages of the session, Gleason (2:17.364) and Grachev (2:17.829) climbed to third and fourth respectively, while Afanasyev and Gené unsuccessfully attempted to make the cut as their cars suffered from a lack of speed on the straight.

The following drivers advanced to Q2: Morbidelli, Münnich, Gleason, Grachev, Engstler, Belicchi, Oriola, Tóth, Comini, Nykjær, Veglia and Tengyi.

Qualifying 2: Morbidelli dominates the field

Gleason posted a provisional fastest lap of 2:16.542 and seemed to be bound for a second consecutive pole position. His hopes were soon frustrated when Morbidelli crossed the line with an impressive 2:15.798. No one else was able to break the 1:16. wall

Münnich set two consecutive laps of 2:16.348 and 2:16.267 to qualify in second position, while Grachev’s 2:17.179 was good enough to place his Audi TT in fourth behind the Honda trio.
Oriola’s last attempt resulted in a 2:17.206 that gave him fifth position ahead of Tóth (2:17.349)

RACE ONE

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WestCoast Racing took no prisoners in Race 1 at Shanghai, posting a sensational 1-2-3, thanks to the excellent speed of the Honda Civic cars on the long straights of the Chinese circuit.

Gianni Morbidelli added a first TCR win to his long string of successes in international touring cars, leading the race from lights to flag, closely followed by team-mate René Münnich. With this success and the pole position obtained earlier, the Italian is now leading in the Drivers’ standings, by 5 points.

Kevin Gleason came in third, completing the all-Civic podium, but the American had to battle hard to conquer his first TCR podium, swapping positions many times with previous championship leader Stefano Comini, who eventually took fourth and was the first of the SEAT cars.

The Gleason vs Comini battle was not the only exciting duel of the race as Chinese fans would also enjoy close battle for fifth, as Mikhail Grachev’s Audi TT went under attack from Jordi Gené and later, Andrea Belicchi. The Russian, who put on a solid race, managed to keep the Spaniard at bay but was pipped by the Italian in the last corner. 

Pepe Oriola had taken a great start and was running second, but was forced to retire at the end of lap 1 after suffering a puncture and body damage following a clash with Münnich.

Key moments 

Start: Morbidelli sprints from pole position as Oriola jumps to second ahead of Münnich.

Lap 1: Oriola and Münnich make contact. Oriola slows down and retires.
 
Lap 2: Comini and Gleason overtake Grachev for third and fourth.
 
Lap 3: Gleason and Comini swap places twice.

Lap 4: Gené overtakes Tóth for sixth.

Lap 6: Belicchi overtakes Tóth for seventh.

Lap 7: Comini and Gleason continue to swap places. Grachev and Gené collide, Gené loses a couple of positions.
 
Lap 8: Engstler overtakes Gené for seventh.

Lap 9: Gleason manages to keep Comini at bay for third. Belicchi chases Grachev.

Lap 10: Belicchi passes Grachev for fifth at the last turn.

RACE TWO

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The SEAT León cars took their revenge in a thrilling a very entertaining Race 2 at Shanghai, with Andrea Belicchi conquering his maiden TCR win after an intense and beautiful fight with team mate Stefano Comini (signing a 1-2 for Target Competition) and Race 1 winner Gianni Morbidelli, at the wheel of the WestCoast Racing Honda Civic.

With a brilliant start, Comini took an early lead ahead of Belicchi, before both being passed by Morbidelli charging from the back in lap 6, not without a slight contact between the Italian and the Swiss, which Belicchi used to take the lead. It looked as ‘Morbido’ was on his way to a second triumph but his engine switched off briefly two laps later leaving him in fourth. The Honda could pass Oriola and also Comini, but two corners from the end, the Swiss regained second with a great move. 

It was a close and hardly-fought race at all levels of the ranking, with Oriola finishing fourth ahead of Nykjaer, Gleason and Engstler. 
In the championship, Morbidelli is leading by a mere 2-point advantage on Comini, with Belicchi third 13 points from the top.

Key moments 

Start: Belicchi takes a good start from pole, while Comini and Oriola jump ahead of Nykjær.

Lap 1: Münnich skids and drops to the back. Comini overtakes Belicchi and takes the lead.
 
Lap 2: Morbidelli climbs to fourth passing Engstler and Nykjær.
 
Lap 3: Grachev and Tóth make contact while fighting for seventh, Grachev stops in the gravel trap. Oriola overtakes Belicchi for second whilst Engstler overtakes Nykjær for fifth.

Lap 4: Belicchi retakes second from Oriola who then loses third to Morbidelli.

Lap 5: Morbidelli overtakes Belicchi for second whilst Engstler drives wide at the last turn.

Lap 6: Morbidelli hits the back of Comini’s car and takes the lead. Comini drops to third. Veglia and Gleason have a close fight for eighth.

Lap 7: Nykjær overtakes Engstler for fifth.
 
Lap 8: Morbidelli slows down and drops to fourth behind Belicchi, Comini and Oriola.

Lap 9: Münnich hits Afanasyev sending him sideways and also makes contact with Tóth, while Veglia secures eighth.

Lap 10: The fight between Morbidelli and Comini provide the last thrills. Morbidelli overtakes Comini who retakes the position with a great manoeuvre at the hairpin.

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The second TCR race at Shanghai was not as lucky as Race 1 for René Münnich.

After finishing a brilliant second behind his WestCoast Racing team-mate Gianni Morbidelli in the first race, today the German driver spoiled his chances when his Honda Civic got into a skid during the first lap. 

This dropped him to the back of the field and, while trying to recover, Münnich was involved in a close fight with Sergey Afanasyev, Tengyi Jiang and Norbert Tóth. 

Eventually, on the last-but-one lap, Münnich punted Afanasyev into a spin, which involved Tóth as well. The Stewards of the Meeting deemed Münnich guilty for the incident and imposed a 30-second time penalty that dropped him from 13th to 14th.

MAN OF THE RACE: LORENZO VEGLIA

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Liqui Moly Team Engstler “young gun” Lorenzo Veglia has been elected “Man of the Race” by the special jury awarding this honorific recognition. 
Showing constant progress, the 17-year-old from Turin has put in an impressive Race 2, battling throughout the whole ten laps, in particular with Kevin Gleason and Sergey Afanasyev with whom he swapped positions many times, with immaculate fair-play.

Veglia was clearly satisfied with his weekend: “We are progressing a lot with the car set-up, as proven by the closing gaps in all sessions. In Race 1, I struggled with the with toe-in after a contact on the opening lap, but in Race 2 I was quite competitive and had fun fighting with all these guys from start to finish!”

The TCR International Series will resume for Rounds 5 & 6 at Valencia in Spain on May 3rd.

All the best!

Phil!

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