The third weekend of the 2015 TCR International Series took place at Valencia in Spain for what was the start of the Championships European Season.
Heres the TCR News running up to the event…
MORBIDELLI GAINS WEIGHT…
Gianni Morbidelli was the most successful driver in Shanghai. Setting pole position, winning Race 1 and claiming third place in Race 2 brought the Italian a booty of 45 points.
This will result in 30 kilos of success ballast that Morbidelli has to carry on board his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic TCR during the next event of the TCR International Series that take place at Valencia’s Circuit Ricardo Tormo next week.
The Target Competition SEAT León cars of Andrea Belicchi (35 points scored in China) and Stefano Comini (30 points) will be laden with 20 and 10 extra kilos respectively. The later had raced in Shanghai with the maximum 30-kilo ballast.
TWO NEW TEAMS JOIN TCR IN SPAIN
Two new teams have entered for the event in Valencia, facing their first appearance in the TCR International Series.
Dutch rising star Bas Schouten will race in a SEAT León run by Bas Koeten Racing / ST Motorsport. The 20-year old, is switching to touring cars after having competed in Formula Ford and with Wolf and Radical prototypes.
“Touring car racing is the right direction to take for me at this stage of my career and I want to be perfectly prepared for the TCR Benelux Series next year,” he said. Schouten is coached by touring car legend Tom Coronel, who stated: “It’s great to see that there is already a Dutch team that moves towards the international TCR field and I’m happy to be able to contribute to this initiative.”
Two further SEAT cars have been entered by France-based JSB Compétition. One is for 18-year old Lucile Cypriano, the first lady driver to compete in the TCR International Series.
“It’s a very high-level competition and everything will be new to me: the track, the tyres and the vast majority of my rivals…” she said. Despite her very young age, she has quite some racing experience. After ten years with go-karts, Lucile graduated to F4 single-seaters and in 2014 contested the very competitive VW Scirocco R Cup in Germany, where she finished 10th overall and 4th in the rookie class. That opened her the door of the SEAT León Eurocup, in the framework of the FIA-supported “Women in Motorsports” programme.
The second JSB Compétition SEAT at Valencia will be in the hands of another young driver, the 24-year old Spaniard David Cebrián Ariza, a former champion in the Spanish Peugeot 207 Cup (2010) and race winner in the French SEAT León Supercópa and the Spanish Renault Clio Cup.
CAMPOS RACING OPELS RETURN…
After skipping the event in China because of technical problems, the Opel Astra OPC returns to action in Spain, where Campos Racing will run two cars.
The Spanish outfit that completed a test in Barcelona last week, has not confirmed the drivers yet, although one of them should be Jordi Oriola.
For the event in Valencia, Igor Skuz will temporarily switch from Campos Racing to WestCoast Racing. The Ukrainian driver will replace René Münnich who will be forced to miss the Spanish event due to a clash with the FIA World Rallycross Championship round at Hockenheim.
SUBARU TO JOIN TCR AT SINGAPORE
Top Run Motorsport has announced plans to develop and build a Subaru WRX STi car to the TCR technical specifications.
Based in the North of Italy, Top Run Motorsport has built itself a solid reputation as both an advanced engineering company and a winning team in rallying and racing. Its most outstanding successes include four Group N titles in the World Rally Championship, two overall WRC victories and several titles in national and regional Touring Car and Rally championships.
Since the Eighties, Top Run has emerged as an efficient customer team with Lancia, Alfa Romeo and Nissan cars. Between 1996 and 2002 the outfit worked in close cooperation with Mitsubishi and, most recently, since 2003 has established a close relationship with Subaru Technical International.
Team principal Antonio Agnello revealed: “We are very excited about this new project. We believe in the TCR concept and are confident that the WRX is a suitable car to compete with great potential. We are very grateful to Subaru Technical International for the trust they put in allowing our team to launch this project and we are now working flat out to respect the goal of making our first appearance in the TCR International Series’ event at Singapore.”
A Spanish driver and the Spanish cars dominated today’s qualifying session at Valencia.
Pepe Oriola claimed his first pole position for Craft-Bamboo Lukoil, while the SEAT León cars filled the first six spots of the grid with Andrea Belicchi, Stefano Comini, Michel Nykjær, Sergey Afanasyev, and Jordi Gené who qualified from second to sixth.
Franz Engstler’s Audi TT was the best of the rest, in seventh position, followed by the Opel Astra of Oscar Nogués that made impressive progress today, significantly reducing the gap from the leading pace.
Former championship leader Gianni Morbidelli, whose Honda Civic car is laden by BoP and success ballast, claimed his qualifying run was also affected by a loss of power and had to settle with ten position that will give him pole position on the top-ten reverse grid for the second race.
QUALIFYING ONE: Nogués qualifies his Opel Astra for Q2
With a last gasp improvement Sergey Afanasyev set the fastest lap in Q1 (1:42.238), demoting Kevin Gleason to second (1:42.448) by only 10 thousandths of a second.
It was a very close session, with six lead changes and fourteen drivers covered by seven tenths.
The biggest surprise was created by Oscar Nogués who put in a great performance to place his Campos Racing Opel Astra in 12th position (1:43.110), depriving Mikhail Grachev of a trip to Q2 by only 25 thousandths.
Nogués’ team mate Jordi Oriola saw his chances vanishing when his Opel Astra suffered from a puncture.
The following drivers advanced to Q2: Afanasyev, Gleason, Comini, Gené, P. Oriola, Belicchi, Engstler, Morbidelli, Nykjær, Cebrián, Schouten and Nogués.
QUALIFYING 2: Oriola and Belicchi fill the front row
Two timed laps were enough to fix the front positions for the first race’s grid. Pepe Oriola clocked the time of 1:42.068 on his first try and immediately improved to 1:42.045 that earned him pole position.
Andrea Belicchi qualified second, less than one tenth behind (1:42.143), ahead of Stefano Comini (1:42.183) and Michel Nykjær (1:42.300).
Gianni Morbidelli ranked tenth (1:42.971) and won pole position for Race 2, while his team-mate Kevin Gleason could not post a significant time because of a fuel pick-up issue.
What the drivers had to say
Pepe Oriola, pole sitter: “I am, of course, very happy of this pole position, because it is my home race and also one of my favorite tracks, together with Macau. It’s a great satisfaction to see that we were consistently competitive through both qualifying sessions. The car performs very well and I think we will have an exciting show tomorrow in the races, although tyre consumption may play a key role.”
Andrea Belicchi, qualified 2nd: “I am favourably surprised to be on the first row, because we had difficult free practice sessions and I wasn’t expecting to be so fast in qualifying. It proved that we did a great job in setting up the car. Tomorrow may be a completely different story. I expect a close fight and preserving tyres will be crucial.”
Stefano Comini, qualified 3rd: “It’s a very good result, a little bit unexpected in light of previous sessions. The car was very fast and without a small mistake in my fastest run, I could have done much better. Tomorrow is going to be a tough day, and I am happy to be in a good position on the grid for both races, as here it is difficult to overtake and first corner is often a problem. I trained a lot on a simulator and we will see if that helps.”
President of National Sporting Authority Gracia visits the TCR
On Saturday, the TCR paddock welcomed a distinguished guest: Carlos Gracia, FIA Vice President and President of the RFEA (Real Federación Española de Automovilismo) visited the series and met with Marcello Lotti, CEO of WSC Ltd., and other key people of the series. He obviously took special interest on Spanish drivers and teams, and spent time with Jaime Puig, Director of SEAT Sport.
Balance of Performance was adjusted after Free Practice
The Technical Department of the TCR International Series further revised the Balance of Performance for the event at Valencia’s Circuit Ricardo Tormo.
Taking into account the results of the previous race meetings and of today’s free practice sessions, it was decided to grant weight breaks of 35 kilos to the Opel Astra OPC cars and of 30 kilos to the Audi TT cars. This means that the Opel’s weight is now 1225 kgs as opposed to the 1230 kgs of the Audi, the 1260 kgs of the SEAT León (the only model still running on the minimum weight as it is fixed by the Sporting Regulations) and the 1295 kgs of the Honda Civic, the only car fitted with a racing gearbox.
On top of this the Technical Department also decided to allow the Opel, SEAT and Audi cars to run with a 70-mm ride height, while the Honda cars are staying on 80 mm.
Campos Racing Opel cars in steep progress curve
There were smiles and cheers in the Campos Racing box at the end of Qualifying, as for the first time one of the Opel Astra OPC cars made it to Q2, thanks to Óscar Nogués, who later took a superb eighth position in the final qualifying session.
The result and consistently-improved pace throughout the sessions at Valencia, proved the significant progress made by the German cars after a difficult season debut in Asia.
“We worked a lot since the cars came back from Shanghai,” explained Campos Racing team manager Fernando Monje, “There were a number of electronics problems to solve to get the engine working properly. Now that those seem to have been solved, we can start developing the car set-up, which we only achieved here in Valencia, after a shake-down in Barcelona.”
Despite being a last-minute addition to the team, Óscar Nogués was able to contribute all his experience and speed to Campos Racing. “We have been bringing down lap times since the start of the weekend,” said the 36-years-old Catalan driver,“despite still having some issues from time to time, like in Q1, when an oil spill provoked a huge smoke cloud in the pits. We feared the engine had blown but luckily it was a very small thing. I was fortunate to make it to Q2, by only 25 thousandths of a second, and in the final 10-minute session, everything went well and I could put on a time that leaves us 8 tenths from the pole.”
This was for sure an unexpected but much-welcomed result, and the perfect boost for the morale of the entire squad, which is based a few kilometres from the circuit. Present in the boxes, team owner Adrián Campos was attending a TCR event for the first time: “I am very happy,” admitted the former F.1 driver, “and I do believe a lot in the TCR concept, which seems particularly suited for the current times. This is why we wanted to be present since the very beginning, although the car clearly needed more time. Opel Motorsport has great plans for the future and we are happy to be associated with them.”
In a warm mid-day Race 1 in Valencia, the Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil took a resounding success, posting a 1-2-3 with Pepe Oriola, Sergey Afanasyev and Jordi Gené in SEAT’s home soil. This is also the first TCR win for Pepe Oriola, already one of the top-runners in the Asian rounds that opened the season.
The SEAT León cars of the British-Russian team proved their competitiveness since the practice session, but could pull away even more easily thanks a very bad start of Stefano Comini, who partly blocked the field. Behind the podium positions, Andrea Comini took fourth and Mikahil Grachev an excellent fifth with the Liqui Moly Team Engstler Audi TT.
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.
KEY RACE ONE MOMENTS…
Grid – Jordi Oriola did not start with an apparent transmission problem
Start – Pepe Oriola sprinted from the pole, while Comini had a bad start, which forced Gené onto the grass on the inside line
Lap 1 – Oriola was leading ahead of Afanasyev, Gené, Belicchi, Grachev, Comini, Nykjær, Cebrián and Engstler who slipped down following a clash with Belicchi
Lap 2 – Comini passed Grachev for fifth
Lap 3 – Engstler pited for repairs
Lap 4 – Grachev repassed Comini in the hottest duel at this stage of the race
Lap 6 – Behind the top six, Nykjær was chased by Cebrián, Morbidelli, Veglia and Schouten; Nogués, who was running tenth, slowed down
Lap 7 – Cypriano passed Nogués for 14th
Lap 11 – Belicchi closed the gap from Gené
Lap 12 – Gené kept Belicchi at bay
Lap 13 – Schouten passed Veglia for 9th
Lap 15 – The Craft-Bamboo Lukoil team claimed a wonderful 1-2-3
Stefano Comini was the first driver to win a second TCR race in the inaugural year of the series: the Swiss claimed victory in a drama-packed Race 2 and jumped back on top of the overall standings. He managed beat his team-mate Michel Nykjær, who claimed his first TCR podium, with another Target Competition driver, Andrea Belicchi, crossing the line in third.
The race was rich in incidents from the very start, as Nogués and Morbidelli made contact at the end of the straight, causing an incident that eliminated the Campos Racing Opel and the SEAT of Jordi Gené.
Following a three-lap safety-car period, the race resumed with Comini as a strong leader and a great battle behind him. Nykjær had to fight hard to keep the position from the assaluts of Pepe Oriola and an amazing Bas Schouten. Schouten lost a well-deserved podium position on the last lap and Andrea Belicchi inherited the position, but he was later excluded as he did not observe a drive-through penalty.
Five other drivers received similar sanction, for overtaking during the safety-car intervention, which added further drama to the race. The WeastCoast Racing Honda cars of Morbidelli and Gleason were lucky, under the circumstances, to finish fourth and fifth.
KEY RACE TWO MOMENTS…
Start – Morbidelli did not start well, which allowed Nogués to get the inside line; they made contact and the Opel skidded sideways and collected Gené’s car
Lap 1 – The safety-car was deployed and in the commotion Engstler and Grachev made contact; the Russian was forced to retire
Lap 5 – The race resumed with with Comini in the lead ahead of Nykjær, Afanasyev, P. Oriola, Belicchi and Schouten; Morbidelli was last after a quick pit stop for repairs
Lap 5 – Oriola passed Afanasyev for third; Cebrián passed Schouten for sixth; Skuz retired with a throttle failure
Lap 6 – There was a big fight between Nykjær and Oriola for second
Lap 7 – Nykjaer and Oriola made contact and Oriola lost third position to Schouten
Lap 8 – Comini was leading from Nykjaer, Schouten, Oriola, Belicchi, Cebrián and Veglia
Lap 11 – Gleason passed Engstler for ninth; Engstler retired claiming a loss of power
Lap 12 – Drive-through penalties were imposed to Afanasyev, P. Oriola, Belicchi, Cebrián and Veglia for overtaking during the safety car period
Lap 14 – Veglia, Afanasyev, Oriola and Cebrián observed their penalties
Lap 17 – Schouten lost third place due to a fuel issue; Comini won ahead of Nykjær and Belicchi
What the race winners had to say
Pepe Oriola, winner of Race 1: “It was a good weekend for the Team-Craft Bamboo Lukoil, although Race 2 could and should have been better. In Race 1, everything was perfect, I had a great start and then it was relatively easy. I was followed by my two team mates, so I could just focus on preserving the tyres. It’s nice to win again after such a long time! We had the pace to do very well in Race-2, but the whole scenario changed with the incident at the start, the safety-car and then the sanctions, and we weren’t that lucky…”
Stefano Comini, winner of Race 2: “We did a great job, especially, after a disappointing start of the weekend. In Race 1, I took a very bad start and there is not much more to say. Race 2 was much better, it was the first time I was using the launch control on the SEAT and it worked well. Clearly, I benefitted from all the confusion and all the incidents, but it has to be recognized that I was the only one with the guts to go full throttle during the entire race, as proven by my lap times. The car was really perfect, and I am also very happy to be again on top of the points standings.”
The TCR International Series now heads to Portugal where it will race on the Portimao circuit 7 days after the Valencia weekend.
All the best!