The TCR International Series travelled to the legendary track of Monza for its fifth weekend of action as the series made its first appearance at the Italian track.
So far this season, the series has seen close racing, with proper wheel to wheel door banging taking place and despite the army of SEAT Leon Racers taking part, both Honda and Audi have also taken wins in the early stages of the championship.
This is one to keep an eye on boys and girls…
Heres how the Monza weekend panned out…
TCR International Series visits the Temple of Speed
The Autodromo di Monza, arguably the most famous racetrack in the world, will be the perfect setting for Rounds 9 and 10 of the TCR International Series.
Known as the Temple of Speed because of the super-fast average times that are clocked by all different categories of racing cars, Monza was inaugurated in 1922 becoming only the third permanent racetrack in the world after Brooklands in the UK and Indianapolis.
Monza is still the home of the Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix and has hosted a great deal of famous competitions such as the 1000 KM for Sport Prototypes (1963 / 2008), the Motorcycling Grand Prix of Nations, the 500 Miles Race of Two Worlds (1957 / 1958) and the FIA Touring Car World Cup (1993).
The layout of the circuit that combines long straights, tight chicanes and hard braking points always provides exciting touring car races in which top speed, slipstreaming and braking can make the difference.
Heres the TCR News ahead of the Monza Event…
Jordi Gené to carry the maximum Success Ballast in Monza
Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil’s Jordi Gené will carry the maximum Success Ballast of 30 kilos on board his SEAT León car during the next event in Monza. The Spaniard emerged as the best scorer in the previous race meeting in Portugal, pocketing 37 points thanks to one second and one third in the two races plus the second fastest time in qualifying.
Michel Nykjær of Target Competition, the winner of the second race in Algarve, will be given 10 kilos of Success Ballast as the third best scorer of the event.
The 20 kilos of extra weight for the second best scorer should have been allocated to Nicki Thiim who won Race 1 in Portugal. However, the Dane will not take part in the Monza event and therefore he will receive the Success Ballast in the case he rejoins the championship later during the season.
End of the exemption for Audi TT cars
WSC Ltd., the Promoter of the TCR International Series, has announced that the special exemption granted to the Liqui Moly Team Engstler to run two Audi TT cars in the first events of the season has now expired.
Marcello Lotti, WSC CEO explained: “The exemption was granted with the spirit to support our new series and also to allow Audi Sport customer racing to collect information about the necessary requirements for a successful technical platform, which could fit to the TCR regulations. In the light of the latest results, we believe that both these aims have been successfully achieved. Therefore, together with the team and Audi Sport customer racing we have decided to end this exemption; also in the respect of the other competitors that have accepted the situation with a true sporting spirit.”
The Ford Focus ST returns to TCR in Monza
The Onyx Engineering-built Ford Focus ST returns to the TCR International Series in Monza.
After a brief and unfortunate appearance in the season’s opener at Sepang, the Focus has successfully completed a test day at Brands Hatch, with Tom Boardman at the wheel.
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.”
After the test the car was delivered to Proteam Racing that will run it in the TCR International Series from Monza onwards.
New teams and drivers join the field in Monza
Eighteen cars have been entered for the TCR International Series event in Monza.
In addition to the return of Proteam Racing’s Ford Focus, four new drivers in SEAT León cars are ready for making their first appearance in the championship.
Three of them have just began their motorsport careers: Antonio D’Amico, Zsolt Dávid Szabó and Francesco Riva.
D’Amico (23) will race for Davide Bernasconi’s B.D. Racing; he 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.
Zengő Motorsport returns to the TCR after taking part in the first two events of the season at Sepang and Shanghai. In Monza the team will run two cars for the 19-year-old Hungarian Szabó, a rookie in this year’s SEAT León Eurocup, and Italian Touring Car veteran Davide Roda.
Riva, who is also in his first racing season, will drive a fourth SEAT entered by Target Competition.
Morbidelli and Honda claim second pole position
Under a cloudy sky and a threat of rain, Gianni Morbidelli drove his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic to lap the Monza circuit in 2:00.737, which gave him the second pole position after Shanghai.
The Italian driver was virtually uncatchable for the other competitors who had to settle for the positions immediately behind him. Eventually Stefano Comini and Pepe Oriola – currently first and second in the points ahead of Morbidelli – managed to qualify second and third.
Fernando Monje and Campos Racing kept on with the aim of improving the performance of the Opel Astra OPC; their work paid off as Monje was able to consistently close the gap and fight for third position on the grid. His final sixth place was a promising result in view of the next races.
Tom Boardman was set to drive the Ford Focus at a decent pace when he had to stop on the track because a number of indicators were signaling possible technical failures. Eventually his worries proved to be unfounded and he was able to drive back to the pits.
Another disappointed driver was Morbidelli’s teammate, Kevin Gleason, who crashed with a puncture on his first qualifying lap and spoiled his chances to provide the icing on the cake for WestCoast Racing.
Q1: Gleason misses the cut after crash
Gianni Morbidelli posted the fastest lap on his first attempt; his time of 2:01.737 was not to be beaten, although Stefano Comini posted a second fastest lap of 2:01.782 that was slower only by 0.045 seconds.
Comini’s teammates Andrea Belicchi (2:01.884) and Michel Nykjær (2:02.038) were classified in third and fourth, while Fermando Monje and his Opel Astra (2:02.069) confirmed the brilliant fifth position achieved in the second Free Practice.
A disappointed Kevin Gleason missed the cut after crashing out on his first flying lap due to a puncture. Tom Boardman was consistently improving at the wheel of his Ford Focus, but his car stopped on the track a technical issue.
The following drivers advanced to Q2: Morbidelli, Comini, Belicchi, Nykjær, Monje, Gené, Oriola, Grachev, Skuz, Afanasyev, Veglia and D’Amico.
Q2: Morbidelli crushes his competitors
It only took one lap to Gianni Morbidelli for claiming pole position with an outstanding lap of 2:00.353 as none of his competitors was able to go under the 2:01 mark.
Target Competition and Bamboo-Craft Lukoil trios of drivers engaged themselves in a game to the last slipstreaming while trying to fill the positions behind the poleman. Eventually Stefano Comini secured second place (2:01.080) and Pepe Oriola moved up to third on a last gasp attempt (2:01.121) demoting his own teammate Sergey Afanasyev to fourth (2:01.382). Andrea Belicchi raked fifth (2:01.762) ahead of a brilliant Fernando Monje (2:01.785).
Mikhail Grachev finished tenth (2:02.338), winning pole position for Sunday’s second race.
What the drivers had to say
Gianni Morbidelli, pole sitter: Gianni Morbidelli: “I must say the car was perfect and that I am very happy, but I want to thank WestCoast Racing for the excellent work they have done. Whenever things go well like today, it is always because there is hard work behind it. Here, we also benefitted from the data gathered during winter testing. I am confident for Race 1 tomorrow, although with Comini and Oriola right next to me, it is going to be hard racing. I hope it will be good fighting, not like in Portimão…”
Stefano Comini, qualified second: “It was great tactics from the entire team with slipstreaming and I must thank my teammates for their support. Still, it wasn’t possible to get any closer to Morbidelli and 0.7 seconds is quite a gap. Tomorrow, very reasonably, I will aim at being first of the rest…”
Pepe Oriola, qualified third: “I think Morbidelli and the Honda Civic are in a league on their own this time. We had a good performance, but it could have resulted in something better. Unfortunately, our towing strategy did not work very well. Still, it would have been impossible to beat Gianni. Tomorrow, I’ll try to do my best and we’ll see what comes out.”
Fernando Monje, qualified sixth: “It was a very good result, our best in qualifying for the time being, and I am very happy for everybody at Campos Racing who has been working so hard to reach this level. It was a good qualifying and we progressed well with the set-up. It was just a pity to be so lonely on the track: with some towing, we could have been on the very front.”
Magic Monza produces thrilling races, as Morbidelli wins twice
The “Temple of Speed” kept up with its reputation and offered two superb races, probably the most thrilling seen so far in the TCR International Series and a delight for touring car fans at the track and at home.
The sight of up to four cars fighting side-by-side on the straights or of intense duels in the fast corners and in the chicanes was really captivating!
The other great winner of the weekend was Gianni Morbidelli. At home, the Italian driver of WestCoast Racing took a maximum of trophies and points, clinching the pole and a double victory, becoming the first driver to win both races in the same event in the TCR. Still, the Honda Civic, had to sweat to achieve this sensational harvest, against the SEAT cars of Pepe Oriola and Jordi Gené (who each took a second), Andrea Belicchi (third in Race 1) and Stefano Comini who missed the podium but was instrumental in putting in the show, as Always.
Fernando Monje rounded an excellent weekend for Campos Racing, by taking a podium finish in Race 2, the first one for the Opel Astra OPC, which has impressed by progress made. There were more first satisfactions, as rookies Zsolt Szabó and Antonio D’Amico scored points in both races and the Proteam Racing Ford Focus driven by Tom Boardman, took its first point.
Stewards’ investigations after the races resulted in two reprimands to Morbidelli for clashing with Comini and a drop of five grid positions for the next race to Afanasyev for the Race 1 pile up that involved Grachev and Nykjær.
Things are close in the championship standings, with Morbidelli retaking the lead ahead of comini, Oriola and Gené, all within 26 points.
Gianni Morbidelli took the second win of the year for WestCoast Racing and the Honda Civic in a lively Race 1 at Monza that was much closely-fought than expected. The advantage shown by the Civic during free practice and qualifying did not materialize in the race, under a nice sunshine, which forced Morbidelli to the limit for passing Belicchi and Comini before taking the lead from Oriola at mid-race.
The Spaniard finished a close second ahead of Belicchi and Gené, while “warrior Comini” had to retire two laps from the end after running wide at the Lesmo 2 corner. It was not the only spectacular incident, as Grachev, Afanasyev and Nykjær were eliminated in a three-way collision while fighting for the eighth position.
It was a race of premieres, with Fernando Monje taking a superb fifth in the Campos Racing Opel Astra, while there were point finishes for rookies Zsolt Szabó and Antonio D’Amico. Last but not least, Tom Boardman managed to finish the race with the Ford Focus ST, giving the first point to Proteam Racing’s car.
KEY RACE ONE MOMENTS…
Grid: All cars are on the grid, except for Davide Roda’s SEAT that could not be repaired after yesterday’s roll.
Start: Not a great start from Morbidelli and Comini, with Oriola sneaking between them, which creates some rubbing at the first chicane; excellent kick-off from Monje and Belicchi.
Lap 1: Contact between Comini and Afanasyev at the first chicane; Oriola leads ahead of Belicchi, Morbidelli, Comini, Gené, Monje and Grachev.
Lap 2: Comini passes Morbidelli on the outside of the first chicane and is third.
Lap 3: Comini again in action at the first chicane, this time passing Belicchi for second.
Lap 4: Morbidelli outpowers Belicchi on the straight and is third; Veglia passes Grachev for 7th and soon after also Gleason is through; the first three are nose to tail at the Parabolica, with Comini trying the outside line, but losing position to Morbidelli.
Lap 5: Morbidelli almost passes Oriola on the straight but the Spaniard keeps the advantage; Gleason takes seventh from Veglia.
Lap 6: At the end of the lap, Morbidelli manages to take the lead using the slipstream.
Lap 7: Comini cuts the first chicane after trying to pass Oriola.
Lap 8: Gleason passes Monje for sixth at the end of the straight; Skuz stops in pits with brakes problems; Monje repasses Gleason, while Veglia goes straight at the Roggia.
Lap 9: Big fight between Oriola and Comini for second, but the Swiss is kept at bay and then goes wide at Lesmo 2 and stops on the track soon after.
Lap 10: Grachev touches Afanasyev at the Roggia and both hit the barriers after taking Nykjær along; the race is over for the them all.
Lap 11: Morbidelli wins ahead of Oriola, Belicchi, Gené, Monje, Gleason and Veglia.
Gianni Morbidelli rounded a great day at Monza, by taking win also in Race 2 and becoming the first driver to win both races of a TCR event.
Race 2 was thrilling from start to end, with a great fight and close duels involving Morbidelli, Comini, Gené and Monje, who all led at some point, plus Oriola and Belicchi. With often three and even four cars side-by-side on the straight and diving abreast into the first chicane, the show was superb.
Eventually, Morbidelli made the winning move on Comini, who had started last and climbed up in his usual flamboyant style, at the beginning of the last lap, with the Swiss losing a few position in the incident. Second place was for Jordi Gené, while Fernando Monje gave a first well-deserved podium to the Campos Racing Opel Astra OPC after having led for five laps and having performed a great show. Comini and Belicchi took fourth and fifth, with the last points going to Szabó, Veglia, Grachev and D’Amico.
KEY RACE TWO MOMENTS…
Grid: The cars of Nykjær and Afanasyev are not repairable, while Grachev (who had pole for Race 2) starts from the pits and Comini from the last row; this means that D’Amico and Gené are on the front row.
Start: Gené takes the best start with D’Amico touching Belicchi and hitting the barriers at the first chicane; Monje and Oriola make contact.
Lap 1: Gené is in the lead but under attack from Monje; behind them are Belicchi and Morbidelli who have passed Skuz.
Lap 2: Monje passes Gené and takes the lead; Belicchi is third followed by Morbidelli, Skuz and Comini.
Lap 3: Morbidelli takes third from Belicchi, while Comini and Oriola pass Skuz; Comini also passes Belicchi; there is a big fight for seventh between Skuz, Gleason and Veglia.
Lap 4: Morbidelli passes Gené at the Roggia and is second.
Lap 5: Monje resists well to Morbidelli with Gené, Comini, Belicchi, Oriola and Gleason right behind.
Lap 6: Comini and Belicchi pass Gené; Morbidelli touches Monje at the Ascari, but Comini sneaks in-between the two at the Parabolica.
Lap 7: Monje, Morbidelli and Comini get side-by-side to the first chicane, with the Honda touching the SEAT which cuts the chicane and takes first; Oriola goes off-track at Lesmo and retires.
Lap 8: Gené, Morbidelli, Belicchi and Monje are side by side on the straight, with Gené taking the advantage and moving up to second.
Lap 9: Monje jumps over the kerb and hits Belicchi.
Lap 10: Great fight between Comini and Morbidelli for first, but the Swiss keeps the advantage; Belicchi drops to sixth behind Skuz.
Lap 11: Morbidelli passes Comini at the end of the straight, with the Swiss trying to respond by taking the outside line at the first chicane; there is a contact and Comini spins and nearly hits Gené; Morbidelli wins ahead of Gené, Monje, Comini, Belicchi and Skuz.
What the race winner had to say
Gianni Morbidelli, winner of Races 1 and 2:
“It has been an incredible day for me, I must admit. Beyond the results, which of course pleased me very much, I am very happy because there were a lot of good fights and we put on a terrific show for the fans. I think today’s races proved we had not the advantage that everybody said we had. I said after qualifying that it would not be that easy and I wasn’t wrong. What probably made the difference was our good speed on some key corners, like Ascari and the Parabolica, rather than on the straight. If you know Monza, you know that both those corners are crucial to get the right speed. It was also difficult to preserve the brakes, which are under heavy constraints here, and I was constantly on the very limit.”
Fernando Monje put the Opel in the top League
The “Man of the Race” recognition went without hesitation to Fernando Monje. At Monza, the 21-year-old driver from Barcelona was driving for the first time the Opel Astra OPC of Campos Racing, although he has been involved in this project since the very beginning as part of the management staff.
Not only Monje signed the best performance in qualifying (6th) of the car so far, but he produced two superb races, clinching a 5th in Race 1 and a 3rd in Race 2, where he led for five laps, earning everybody’s appreciation and the congratulations from an expert racer as Gianni Morbidelli:
“It was very difficult to pass Fernando in Race 2 because he drove very well and was doing exactly what he had to do to defend his position in a very clean way where his car was slower than mine and rebuilding enough gap in the straight, where the Opel was very fast.”
A delighted but laid-back Monje explained: “It was an unexpected but great weekend. We progressed well throughout it, showing performance, reliability and consistency. The new sequential gearbox worked well, while we struggled a bit with the brakes. I am very happy for Campos Racing that has been working hard and well since the beginning of the season. Here at Monza, we had a very good top speed, as everybody could see, but were slower than our opponents in key corners. This obliged me to be always on the limit, especially when braking, and adopt defensive lines when needed, but I think we did it well and put on an entertaining show.”
The TCR International Series will resume next week, for Round 11 and 12 at the ultra-fast Salzburgring, in Austria.
All the best!