TCR 2015: Thiim & Nykjaer Win at Portimao…

The TCR International Series moved to the Portuguese track of Portimao for its fourth weekend of action as the series continued its Iberian leg of the championship.

Heres what took place over the weekend…

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Two scions of motorsport dynasties join Team Engstler

The presence of Nicki Thiim and Kelvin Van der Linde with the Liqui Moly Team Engstler was the consequence of an invitation the German outfit addressed to Audi Sport Customer Racing to put two of its development drivers in the TT cars this weekend. 

Thiim and Van der Linde were appointed to assist with the development of the TT following the steps taken after the previous races in Valencia. Audi Sport Customer Racing is currently evaluating the TCR International Series with a possible view to developing a car and was grateful to Franz Engstler for agreeing to give up his seat in Portimão to assist with the evaluation. 

Both, Thiim and Van der Linde belong to families with long standing motorsport traditions. Nicki’s father, Kurt Thiim, was a famous Touring Car driver in the Nineties as a factory driver for Rover, Mercedes and Alfa Romeo and won the 1986 DTM. His son was champion in the 2008 German SEAT León Supercópa and the 2013 Porsche Supercup. 

The Van der Lindes are the Andrettis of South Africa. Kelvin’s grandfather opened the line, followed by his sons Shaun (Kelvin’s father) who won the South African Touring Car Championship for BMW in 1994 and Etienne who was F3 German champion in 1998. Despite hi young age (18) Kelvin has already claimed three title in the 2012 South African Polo Cup, 2013 German Scirocco Cup and 2014 ADAC GT Championship. His younger brother Sheldon has already established himself as one of South African’s motorsport best prospects. 

Thiim gives Liqui Moly Team Engstler first TCR pole

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Qualifying for the seventh round of the TCR International Series took place in brilliant sunshine and temperatures of 27 degrees Celsius at the Autódromo Internacional Algarve near Portimão on Saturday – and saw Nicki Thiim walking away as pole-setter after posting a best time of 1:53.863 in the all-important second session. 

Thiim celebrates his TCR debut this weekend in Portugal and immediately made an impact on the series. At the wheel of his Liqui Moly Team Engstler Audi TT, the Danish ace set the pace in both qualifying sessions, relegating Jordi Gené and Pepe Oriola in their SEAT León cars from Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil, to second and third on the grid. 

With Lorenzo Veglia putting another SEAT in the top-five, after posting the fourth-fastest lap time, Kelvin Van der Linde completed a very positive overall result for the Audi TT cars and Liqui Moly Team Engstler by finishing fifth. 
Championship leader Stefano Comini will start the first of the two races in Portimão from seventh, one place behind Gianni Morbidelli in his Honda Civic TCR. 

Morbidelli’s team-mate Kevin Gleason qualified tenth and won pole position for Race 2 on the top-ten reverse grid. 
Sunday’s races will go green at 12.35 and 14.05 local time, with a distance of 13 laps each.

QUALIFYING

Q1: THIIM LEADS IN THE AUDI TT…

After his third flying lap Nicki Thiim appeared at the top of the timesheet for the first time – and successfully defended this position until the end of the 20-minute session. With a time of 1:54.172 he was a dominant 0.681 seconds quicker than Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil’s Pepe Oriola (1:54.852) in the SEAT León. However, the gap between P2 and P3, which was secured by Oriola’s team-mate Jordi Gené, was just a mere five thousandths of a second. 

The third Craft-Bamboo Lukoil driver, Sergey Afanasyev (1:55.094), came fourth, followed by Kelvin Van der Linde (1:55.132), the second TCR newcomer within the ranks of Liqui Moly Team Engstler in an Audi TT. The SEAT cars of Michel Nykjær, Andrea Belicchi and championship leader Stefano Comini also made it into Q2, the same went for Honda drivers Gianni Morbidelli and Kevin Gleason. Francisco Mora and Lorenzo Veglia in their SEAT Leóns completed the top-12. 

Oscar Nogués was 13th and the first of the driver not allowed to Q2, kicked off by Veglia in the very end of Q1. 
The following drivers advanced to Q2: Thiim, Oriola, Gené, Afanasyev, Van der Linde, Nykjær, Belicchi, Comini, Morbidelli, Gleason, Mora, Veglia.

Q2: INVINCIBLE THIIM CLAIMS FIRST TCR POLE…

In the second qualifying session, Nicki Thiim once again took the early lead after posting a time of 1:53.863 on his second flyer. This time turned out to be unbeatable for the rest of the field in the ten-minute qualifying session. Jordi Gené emerged as Thiim’s closest rival in Q2, setting a time of 1:54.621 minutes. The Spaniard will share the front row with the Liqui Moly Team Engstler driver tomorrow.

Third position was claimed by Pepe Oriola (1:54.699). Thanks to a considerable improvement in Q2, Lorenzo Veglia secured fourth on the grid. Comini had to make do with P7, one place behind the second-placed man in the Drivers’ Championship, Gianni Morbidelli. Kevin Gleason finished tenth (1:55.369), winning pole position for Sunday’s second race.

What the drivers had to say

Nicki Thiim, pole sitter: “Me and my team-mate are here to get the performance and we have really showed it over the weekend up to now. We changed a lot on the car and it seems to be going in the right direction. I am especially happy for the team because you feel they needed to get some more confidence. This is the first time I have driven the TCR Audi TT. It is completely different from the GT cars I am used to, as it is eight years since I have driven a front-wheel drive car so it is a bit of a difference, but it is still a car with four wheels and a steering wheel. The track is really nice and I am competing against some of the best in the touring car business, so I am just looking forward to the races tomorrow.”

Jordi Gené, qualified 2nd: “In Valencia I think we had a similar pace to here, as I was really close to Pepe in practice, but in the wrong moment I made a mistake. I was at home, I was very hot, I wanted to perform extremely well and I overdrove, so it was my fault there. I needed a good result and Portimão has brought me this again. I am happy for my team because they have been working very hard and did a fantastic job because the car is perfect. I am happy for Lukoil, myself and my fans because we have showed we should be fighting constantly up there. At the moment my goal is to have a good result, get some points and bring myself up a little bit in the championship.”

Pepe Oriola, qualified 3rd: “I am happy to be third, get some points in qualifying and be in a good position for tomorrow’s race, especially because after Valencia I have another 30 kilos over the other drivers. I am quite happy because my main competitors in the championship are without points in qualifying. I will try to get as many points as I can in race one as they are starting behind me, and in the second race try to fight them to get some more points. We know our car is not going to be as good as in Valencia so we need a points gap. I don’t think I could do the same time as Nicki even with the 60 kilos he has less than me, especially because on this straight the Audi is a little bit lower so they have less wind resistance.”

Danish drivers make a clean sweep in Portugal

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Nicki Thiim and Michel Nykær caused the Danish flag to be run up twice on the podium during the fourth race meeting of the TCR International Series in Portugal. 

Thiim was a dominant force in his first appearance at the wheel of the Liqui Moly Team Engstler Audi TT, topping the practice sessions and qualifying before taking a brilliant lights-to-flag victory in Race 1. The first for Audi in TCR. The decision taken by the German team to invite two of Audi Sport Customer Racing’s young lions really paid off, as Thiim and Kelvin Van der Linde were able to help significantly in developing the TT. 

They seemed likley to deliver a second victory in Race 2, as they were chasing Nykær; however, Thiim made a mistake and Van der Linde’s progress was stopped by electronics issues. 
This left Nykær flying towards his first win of the season, which was a well deserved one because he had been able to fend off all attacks from Van der Linde until the South African pulled off the track. Thiim’s and Nykær’s successes made it seven different winners out of eight races. 

The two races produced many brilliant performances like those of Jordi Gené and Kevin Gleason, who finished on the podium as did Lorenzo Veglia (third in Race 1), who made his first appearance among the top-three after a brilliant qualifying. There are more who deserve to be mentioned. Mikhail Grachev scored in both races, despite only receiving his car just before yesterday’s qualifying and starting from the back of the grid in Race 2, José Monroy managed to put up fights with the series’ regulars on his first TCR appearance, and Oscar Nogués pocketed the first points with the Campos Racing Opel Astra (ninth and seventh). 

Looking at the championship fight, Stefano Comini and Pepe Oriola escaped virtually unscathed from a difficult weekend for the leaders. The Swiss remains on top of the classification with a margin of 12 points ahead of the Spaniard. Gianni Morbidelli and Andrea Belicchi had a black day; the former did not score and the latter collected only one point. With one second and one third, Jordi Gené was then able to climb to fourth in the standings. 

The TCR International Series will resume for Rounds 9 and 10 at Monza on June 24.

RACE ONE…

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At his first visit to the TCR Nicki Thiim, the Audi Sport Customer racing driver, took the win in the Liqui Moly Team Engstler Audi TT on a warm afternoon in the Algarve. The Dane led from pole to chequered flag and was four seconds ahead of Jordi Gené at the line in the Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT León, with his team-mate Lorenzo Veglia third (this was the first podium result for the young Italian). 

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Oscar Nogués scored the first points for Campos Racing with the Opel Astra OPC. The highest placed local driver was José Monroy, who finished eighth in his Veloso Motorsport SEAT León, while his team-mate Francisco Mora took the final point for tenth. 

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It was a positive result for championship leader, Stefano Comini in the Target Competition SEAT in fifth, as the three drivers behind him in the points failed to score. One of them was Gianni Morbidelli who was involved in a lot of the action in his West Coast Racing Honda Civic and retired on lap eight after contact with Andrea Belicchi. The race was action packed for the whole 13 laps with many exciting overtaking moves and quite a lot of contact.

KEY RACE ONE MOMENTS…
 
Grid: Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil refueled Sergey Afanasyev’s car on the grid and the Russian was given a drive-through.

Start: Thiim and Gené take a good start, with the Audi driver keeping the lead.

Lap 1: Nykær retires and Afanasyev observes the drive-through; Thiim leads from Gené.
 
Lap 2: There is contact between Morbidelli and Oriola; Mora overtakes Morbidelli for seventh; Van der Linde chases Comini for fourth.
 
Lap 3: There is contact between Comini and Van der Linde; Oriola chases them.

Lap 4: Van der Linde and Comini swap positions five and six; Oriola and Morbidelli overtake Van der Linde.

Lap 5: Comini and Oriola fight for fourth, they are chased by Morbidelli and Van der Linde.

Lap 6: Grachev  overtakes Mora for eighth.

Lap 7: Oriola and Comini make contact; Oriola has bodywork damage; Morbidelli loses several positions while avoiding the incident; Van der Linde overtakes Oriola for fifth; Gleason overtakes Morbidelli for eighth.
 
Lap 8: There is contact between Belicchi and Morbidelli; Morbidelli and Oriola pit for repairs.
 
Lap 9: Nogués moves up to ninth and Monroy to eighth as Belicchi slows down.

Lap 10: Van der Linde passes Comini for fourth.
 
Lap 13: Thiim takes win from Gené, with Veglia third.

RACE TWO…

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From second on the reversed grid it was the Target Competition SEAT León of Michel Nykjær that crossed the finishing line of Race 2 in the Algarve first.

The Dane made a better start than pole sitter, Kevin Gleason in the West Coast Racing Honda Civic and stayed out front for all 13 laps. However, he came under huge pressure at around half distance and on lap nine had both Liqui Moly Team Engstler Audi TT cars of Kelvin Van der Linde and Nicki Thiim breathing down his neck. He coped well with the pressure, which then evaporated on laps 10 and 11 when both Thiim and Van der Linde retired respectively.

Despite starting from the back of the grid after Liqui Moly Team Engstler team took his SEAT León out of parc fermé to work on it, Mikhail Grachev finished a brilliant sixth. Championship leader Stefano Comini was looking set to increase his points standings, but then a contact with a lap to go saw him dropping down the field into 11th place. José Monroy again took local honours and finished fifth in his Veloso Motorsport SEAT León.

RACE TWO KEY MOMENTS…

Grid: Mikhail Grachev starts from the back of the grid as the team asked for neutralization of parc fermé.

Start: Gleason is on pole, but Nykær takes the best start from second.

Lap 1: Nykjær leads from Gleason; Morbidelli moves up to sixth; Afanasyev pits and retire.

Lap 2: Thiim lies ninth; Veglia hits Morbidelli; they both pit and retire.

Lap 3: Van der Linde overtakes Comini for third.

Lap 4: Thiim overtakes Oriola for fifth; Van der Linde overtakes Gleason for second; Oriola overtakes Thiim to take back fifth.

Lap 5: Belicchi chases Thiim.

Lap 6: Thiim overtakes Oriola for fifth; Van der Linde chases Nykjær.

Lap 7: Van der Linde reduces gap to Nykjær; Thiim overtakes Comini for fourth.

Lap 8: Nykjær defends the lead from Van der Linde; Thiim overtakes Gleason for third.

Lap 9: Thiim closes the gap on battling Nykjær and Van der Linde.

Lap 10: Nykjær, Van der Linde and Thiim are very close; Thiim hits a kerb and retire with a broken wheel; Gleason is back to third.

Lap 11: Van der Linde stops out on track with an electronics problem.

Lap 12: Oriola fights for third with Comini, they make contact; Belicchi moves up to third and Gené up to fourth because of the incident; Oriola is now fifth and Monroy sixth.

Lap 13: Nykær wins from Gleason and Gené.

What the race winners had to say  

Nicki Thiim, winner of Race 1: “It is just fantastic to come here and bring the confidence back into the team. For the whole weekend we have been the fastest and I am really happy to have done my job as well as I could. I had a lot of fun and it’s the most important thing. I think we have got a really good car for the next races. You can always do small things to improve it. Some things you can do off the track and I explained what my feelings are about what they can still adjust on the car. I think they will go home now and find some more things. I just want to say I had a lot of fun, especially in the second race that is touring cars as you like it. It was my mistake in race two – a silly one – but this is racing.”  

Michel Nykjær, winner of Race 2: “In the first race I hit Belicchi and the radiator was broken. All the mechanics gave everything for me to make the car ready for race two. I made a very good start, was first in the corner and had Gleason behind to chase me. After that it was Van der Linde and Thiim and that was a hard race for me, because they were quite fast on the straight but I could manage to close the door. I am just very happy for the victory for the team as they were able to make the car ready for the second race. It is a dream. I had some problem with the brakes as I started to brake earlier each time to stop the car; brakes, tyres, the driver – everything got a little bit hot. But I was able to manage to the end of the race.”

MIKHAIL GRACHEV NAMED MAN OF THE RACE FOR PORTUGAL…

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In what was a great weekend for the Liqui Moly Team Engstler, blessed by Nicki Thiim’s pole position and victory in Race 1 and by Lorenzo Veglia’s first podium, Mikhail Grachev provided the icing on the cake as he was elected Man of the Race.

The motivation that awarded the recognition to the Russian driver was: for not giving up in a very difficult weekend… And Grachev did not give up.

He had to face first with the fact that his new car – a SEAT León rented from an Italian team – arrived at the Algarve circuit only on Saturday lunch time. Meaning that Grachev missed the free practice sessions and sat in the car only for the Qualifying, which explains why he was not able to go through to Q2.

He started Race 1 from 14th placeand recovered up to sixth under the chequered flag. The team asked for neutralization of the parc fermé in order to fix some damage and this meant that Grachev was pushed even further back to 16th position on the grid for Race 2. And yet, once again he was able to recover and finish sixth once again. A dogged performance.

NEWS…

B.D. Racing Motorsport and Antonio D’Amico will join the TCR International Series for its next event in Monza.

The team is based near the city of Varese, some 70 kilometres North-West of the Autodromo di Monza and belongs to Davide Bernasconi, a former champion in the Italian Group N Touring Cars.

Following some successful seasons with SEAT cars in the Campionato Italiano Turismo Endurance and the SEAT Ibiza Cupra Cup, B.D. Racing has now purchased a SEAT León car that will be driven in Monza by Antonio D’Amico.

The young driver from Rome made his automobile sport debut last year, finishing 9th in the Italian SEAT Ibiza Cupra Cup and claiming a class victory in the 4 Hours of Mugello.

“The TCR event in Monza will mark my first appearance in international motosport and I am very much looking forward to it!” said D’Amico.

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The Onyx Engineering-built Ford Focus ST will return to the TCR International Series for this weekend’s event in Monza.

The Focus – that made a brief and unfortunate appearance on the season’s opener at Sepang – successfully completed a test day at Brands Hatch, with Tom Boardman assisting the team with driving duties. A couple of minor issues were resolved during the day enabling the team to put much needed mileage on the car.

Onyx boss Mike Earle commented: “The car ran well and performed as we hoped it would. The engine that our partner Mountune has produced is particularly impressive, very strong. We had a couple of things to sort out during the day as you would expect with a brand new car, but looking at the data and the feedback from Boardman, it is very encouraging at this stage.”

After the Brands Hatch test the car was delivered to Proteam Racing that will run it in the TCR International Series from Monza onwards.

All the best!

Phil!

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