TCR 2015: Gleason & Nykjaer Master Austria Part 1

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TCR festival of speed continues in the Austrian Alps

At the end of a particularly busy month of May, competitors of the TCR International Series would convene at the Austrian Salzburgring circuit only a few days after racing at Monza. After the two thrilling races that took place on the super-fast Italian Autodromo, TCR drivers must face another high-speed track once again. 

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All the drivers who have raced at the Salzburgring have a lot of respect for this old-fashioned circuit that lies at the bottom of a narrow Alpine valley surrounded by spectacular peaks. The combination of long straights with fast corners and a tricky chicane always results in the fastest average speed for any kind of racing cars. And this also means that mistakes are both easily made and cost dearly.

Morbidelli’s Honda Civic laden by 30 kgs of Success Ballast

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It is hardly a surprise for WestCoast Racing and Gianni Morbidelli to know that their Honda Civic #10 carries the maximum Success Ballast of 30 kilos at the Salzburgring. Indeed, the Italian driver pocketed the maximum amount of points at stake during the previous race meeting at Monza – 55 – by claiming pole position and winning both races. Something that no other driver has been able to do so far. 

The Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT Leon of Jordi Gene will be laden by 20 kilos of ballast as a consequence of the 30 points scored by the Spaniard at Monza, while the 10 kilos of extra weight for the third best scorer will be allocated to another SEAT car, that of Andrea Belicchi. The Target Competition driver collected 26 points at Monza and the single point he scored by qualifying fifth made the difference against the score of Campos Racing’s Fernando Monje (25) whose Opel Astra will not receive any ballast. 

Afanasyev to pay grid penalty in Salzburgring’s Race 1

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Sergey Afanasyev of Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil dropped five places on the grid of the first race this at the Salzburgring. An investigations conducted by Stewards of the Meeting after the two races races at Monza concluded that the Russian driver was guilty of causing a pile-up at the Roggia Chicane that eliminated Michel Nykjær and Mikhail Grachev in the later stages of the first race. 

As a consequence, both Afanasyev’s and Nykjaer’s cars suffered from extensive damage and could not take part in Race 2. Another enquiry following the Monza races resulted in the Stewards imposing two reprimands to Gianni Morbidelli for two separate incidents involving Stefano Comini in laps 7 and 11 of the second race. 

Monje and Schouten rejoin for the Austrian event

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Following his outstanding performance in Monza, where he drove the Campos Racing Opel Astra OPC to its first podium in the TCR International Series, Fernando Monje returned to drive the car again at the Salzburgring. Monje’s third place in the second race at Monza earned him much praise from other competitors and the press. Now the Spaniard is aiming for more, especially because he knows and loves the Austrian circuit where he claimed a double victory in the 2012 FIA ETCC.

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Another driver who rejoins TCR in Austria is Bas Schouten from the Netherlands who will be at the wheel of a SEAT Leon run by the Bas Koeten Racing in cooperation with ST Motorsport. The Dutch outfit made its maiden appearance in the championship in the third race meeting of the season at Valencia’s Circuito Ricardo Tormo, where Schouten impressed, only missing out on a podium result in the second race due to a fuel pump failure on the last lap.

Gleason claims his second pole in breathtaking qualifying

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After the very close races at Monza, the competitors of the TCR International Series put in another thrilling show during TCR Qualifying at the Salzburgring. In a breathtaking session, Kevin Gleason won his second pole position of the season after Sepang and his WestCoast Racing Gianni Morbidelli completed an all-Honda front row.

Gleason and Morbidelli were the last competitors to cross the line under the chequered flag, when it seemed that Stefano Comini had secured the pole. It was a bit of a shock for the Swiss driver and the Target Competition crew, but also for most of the insiders, especially after the SEAT cars had dominated the second Free Practice and Q1. 

In Q2 the gaps were so small that before the last lap of the Honda duo the first four positions (Comini, Gleason, Oriola and Morbidelli) were covered by only 78 thousandths of a second. Eventually, less than five tenths separated the ninth placed driver Michel Nykjaer from pole position. 

Qualifying 1: Belicchi posts the fastest lap 

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Target Competiion’s team-mates Andrea Belicchi and Stefano Comini posted the fastest lap in the first part of the Qualifying with times of 1:27.281 and 1:27.400 set halfway through the session.

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Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Mikhail Grachev was third fastest (1:27.674), improving in the final moments and demoting Jordi Gene (1:27.675) and Lorenzo Veglia (1:27.859) to fourth and fifth. Just like in the second Free Practice, the SEAT Leon cars filled the first nine spots of the classification. Gianni Morbidelli was the best of the Honda drivers in tenth (1:28.170) ahead of his team-mates Kevin Gleason and Igor Skuz, whilst Gleason had a brief spell on the second place, but his best lap of 1:27.308 was disallowed because he had posted it while the yellow flag was waved after Szolt Szabo went out at the Nochstein-Kehre. 

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Both the Campos Racing Opel Astra cars missed the cut. Fernando Monje came out and in for the whole session trying to solve some technical issues and did not post a valid time. His team-mate Markus Ostreich went off at the Ostschleife on his last attempt to improve and remained 1.3 seconds slower that his time in the Free Practice. The following drivers advanced to Q2: Belicchi, Comini, Grachev, Gene, Veglia, Schouten, Nykjaer, Oriola, Afanasyev, Morbidelli, Gleason and Skuz.

Qualifying 2: Successful last gasp attempt for Honda duo

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The Honda Civic cars of Kevin Gleason and Gianni Morbidelli shattered Stefano Comini’s dream of pole position by setting the two fastest times on a last gasp attempt. Gleason was faster (1:26.915) and won his second pole of the season, beating Morbidelli by 91 thousandths of a second.

Igor Skuz provided the icing on the cake for WestCoast Racing, posting the tenth fastest lap that will give him pole position on the reversed grid for Race 2.

What the drivers had to say

Kevin Gleason, pole sitter: “It’s great to have done the pole position after such a close qualifying session. Things hadn’t started very well, after my best time in Q1 was disallowed for not seeing a yellow flag. The radio was working on and off and there was a moment of confusion. In Q2, I did a small mistake in my first flying lap, but luckily I decided for a second one, which was the good one. I’m learning this incredible track bit by bit and it’s starting to come together. Everything was ok: the car balance, the tyres, the conditions and also slipstreaming with Gianni. This is my second pole of the season, I have been twice on the podium, so tomorrow I’ll definitely go for my first TCR win.”

Gianni Morbidelli, qualified second: “I know everybody thought after free practice that I was hiding my game, but Q2 shows that people just have too much fantasy… There is not much more I could do today, carrying the maximum success ballast, and I only owe the second-fastest time to a good tow from Kevin.”

Stefano Comini, qualified third: “My radio wasn’t working at all this afternoon, and evidently, it was not a good option to come back to the pits a few minutes from the end of Q2, as the best time I was holding was beaten by the two Civic cars. This said, I don’t think I could have improved my best time, I was on the limit everywhere, especially in the fast left-hander.”

Early wake-up call and duties for Comini

It was an early wake-up call for Stefano Comini Saturday morning: the Swiss was expected at the paddock gate to greet the Salzburgring marshals arriving at the track and thank them on behalf of all drivers. Comini was instructed to do so by the Sewards following some fuming statements he made to the media after the close duels he was involved in at Monza.

Instead of imposing penalties, the Panel of Stewards elaborated this unusual measure that the Swiss accepted gladly: “I don’t see it as a sanction and I was actually very pleased to greet the marshals at 7 am sharp. They are the real unsung heroes of motorsports and I have great respect for their work.” 

As a good Helvetic citizen of Italian mother tongue, Stefano is also fluent in German, which made easier communicating with the little crowd, eventually captivated by the natural wit of Stefano. Mutual applauses concluded the gathering. The early wake-up call was not too much a punishment for Stefano: “Luckily enough, I was already in the paddock, as this time I came with my motorhome and slept at the track!”

Ostreich teams-up with Monje at Campos Racing

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Markus Ostreich is driving the second Campos Racing Opel Astra OPC car this weekend at the Salzburgring. The Spanish team confirmed Fernando Monje at the wheel of its first car following the brilliant podium result achieved at Monza, and they announced Ostreich as his team-mate for the Austrian event.

Ostreich is very experienced, with a solid and successful background in Touring Car competition that dates back to the Eighties when he was BMW factory driver in the European and World Touring Car Championship. He also claimed overall victories in the 24 Hours of Spa and the Nurburgring. He then switched to Truck Racing, establishing himself as one of the top players in the FIA European Championship, but this year he went back to his roots and snatched a brilliant class victory in the Nürburgring 24 Hours at the wheel of an Opel Astra OPC. 

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Östreich explained, “It was my first time in a TCR car and this Astra is very different from the one we drove in the 24 Hours that is much closer to the production model. This is a proper racing car and I had a good feeling. It’s fun to drive and has good performance.” 

Ostreich spoiled his chances to qualify for Q2 by spinning on his last attempt.

Gleason and Nykjaer wrote history at the Salzburgring

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Keeping up with its long-standing touring car racing tradition, the beautiful track of Salzburgring produced two close and interesting races. Kevin Gleason took a well-deserved maiden win in the TCR in Race 1, becoming the eighth different race winner in the series (in only 12 rounds) and the first US driver to win an international touring car race. He also gave the Honda Civic his fourth success of the season. 

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In Race 2, Michel Nykjaer became the third driver to clinch more than one win. The Dane kept the lead in from lights to flag, just as Gleason did in Race 1, confirming his incredible personal record on this track. Nykjaer has won every time he has raced on the Salzburgring, regardless of the series he was competing in, and earned the status of “Salzburgring Meister”. 

The SEAT and Honda cars evenly shared podium finishes today, with the other Target drivers, Stefano Comini and Andrea Belicchi, coming home second and third in Race-1 and Pepe Oriola and Gianni Morbidelli clinching the rostrum in Race 2. With the top title bidders having all mixed fortunes, the situation in the overall standings looks pretty close, with six drivers within 48 points. Morbidelli keeps the provisional lead by 18 points on Comini and 22 on Oriola. 

Race 1 – Gleason takes clear maiden win

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Kevin Gleason climbed the last step left for him to the TCR International Series, by taking a clear and well-deserved maiden win at the wheel of the WestCoast Racing Honda Civic. Starting from pole, the American controlled the race from lights to flag, being only briefly threatened by Stefano Comini, who finished a solid second ahead of team-mate Andrea Belicchi. 

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Behind Gleason and Comini, the fight, which arose mostly in the second part of the race, included the usual stars. This time, it was Belicchi emerging ahead of Jordi Gene, while Pepe Oriola and Gianni Morbidelli eventually lost ground after a contact between them. Lorenzo Veglia was first of the rest, after a superb duel with Igor Skuz, while Sergey Afanasyev, Bas Schouten and Markus Ostreich filled the remaining point positions. 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.

RACE ONE KEY MOMENTS

Grid: Monje’s Opel does not make the grid after it suffered from technical issues during the morning’s shake down.

Start: Excellent start of poleman Gleason followed by Comini, while Morbidelli and Oriola make contact at the first braking point and Grachev is sent onto the gravel trap at the first chicane.
 
Lap 1: Gleason leads ahead of Comini, Morbidelli, and Oriola who are all very close whilst Gene is fifth and closing up.
 
Lap 2: Behind the leading quintet, Belicchi is sixth followed by Afanasyev, meanwhile Skuz and Veglia fight for eighth.
 
Lap 5: Comini starts attacking Gleason but the American is still in full control as Grachev pits at the end of the lap. 

Lap 6: Belicchi joins the leading pack in sixth.

Lap 7: Veglia manages to pass Skuz, who tries to counter-attack but spins in the fast right-hander and pits.

Lap 8: Gleason opens a gap, as Comini is under threat from Morbidelli. Nykjaer pits following a contact.

Lap 9: Morbidelli tries again to pass Comini, but the Italian is attacked by Oriola at the last chicane. They make contact and both Gene and Belicchi take the opportunity to pass them.
 
Lap 11: Gleason leads ahead of Comini, Gene, Belicchi, Morbidelli and Oriola.
 
Lap 13: Szabo goes off-track in the fast right-hander hitting the barriers following a puncture.
 
Lap 14: Belicchi passes Gene for third in the back straight and Gene tries unsuccessfully to repass at the chicane.
 
Lap 15: Gleason wins from Comini and Belicchi as Veglia steals seventh place from Afanasyev

Race 2: Nykjaer, “Meister” of the Salzburgring

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Michael Nykjaer took his second win of the season after a perfect Race 2, which confirmed the special bond of the Dane with this track, where he has won in both in the ETCC and WTCC in the past.

The Target Competition driver made a perfect use of the spot on the front row to take the advantage at the start, while Igor Skuz and Mikhail Grachev tangled in the first chicane. It was a 1-2-3 for Target’s SEAT cars in the initial laps, but Stefano Comini (by then 2nd) was inflicted a drive-through for jump start and Andrea Belicchi (who was chasing the leader) had a scary ride off-track caused by oil on the track. Lorenzo Veglia lost his fifth place when he received a drive-through for a contact with Jordi Gene, while Pepe Oriola and Gianni Morbidelli took advantage of the situation and finished on the podium, reinforcing their positions in the overall standings.

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Sergey Afanasyev took fourth after a consistent race, followed by Belicchi, Kevin Gleason and Grachev. Comini (8th) and Gene (10th) salvaged minimum championship points, while Bas Schouten repeated 9th despite having been rammed by Skuz in the opening laps.

RACE TWO KEY MOMENTS
 
Grid: Szabo is withdrawn from Race 2, as his car was not repairable after the incident in the first race; Ostreich’s car, with an oil leak on the grid, starts from the pit lane.

Start: Nykjaer and Belicchi take perfect starts on the right side of the track, while Skuz and Grachev fight and cut the first chicane.

Lap 1: Nykjaer leads ahead of Belicchi, Comini, Gene, Oriola, Grachev and Veglia who has passed Morbidelli.

Lap 2: Skuz pushes Schouten off at the Chicane. Meanwhile Skuz retires as Schouten rejoins.
 
Lap 3: Comini is given a drive-through for jump start.
 
Lap 4: Veglia passes Grachev for sixth.

Lap 5: Morbidelli and Afanasyev pass Grachev, who is attacked by Gleason.
 
Lap 6: Nykjaer leads ahead of Belicchi, Oriola, Gene, Veglia and Morbidelli.
 
Lap 8: Veglia passes Gene at the end of the straight but he cuts the chicane and rejoins ahead of the Spaniard who cannot avoid to hit him whilst Morbidelli passes both of them, while Gene is forced to pit for repairs.
 
Lap 9: Ostreich stops along the track with an engine failure as Gleason overtakes Grachev for seventh. There is oil on the fast right-hander left by the Opel, causing Belicchi to go wide onto the gravel and rejoins but drops from second to sixth whilst Oriola drives sideways but remains on the track and climbs to second.
 
Lap 11: Veglia (5th) gets a drive-through for the incident with Gene as Nykjaer leads ahead of Oriola, Morbidelli, Afanasyev, Belicchi and Gleason.
 
Lap 12: Morbidelli attacks Oriola for second and both are chased by Afanasyev, with Belicchi and Gleason very close behind.
 
Lap 15: Nykjaer wins ahead of Oriola, Morbidelli, Afanasyev, Belicchi and Gleason.

What the race winners had to say

Kevin Gleason, winner of Race 1: “I am really happy. After two poles, a second and a third, I really wanted this first win badly. Luckily, I had a very good start in Race 1, which here is absolutely crucial, as we saw in Race 2, and was able to stay ahead. I tried to be as clean as possible to keep the gap and I think I did it OK. The only concern was Comini, who was quite close during the entire race and was very fast in the third sector, but I could defend well and rebuild a little gap on the straight at every lap.”

Michel Nykjær, winner of Race 2: “It’s great to win my second race of the year and to do it here at the Salzburgring, which seems to be a very special place for me. I have won here every time I came, regardless of the championship, and I really like the track. Race 1 was spoiled by a contact and I preferred to stop not to risk further damage for Race 2. My start wasn’t the best of all, but still I could keep the advantage at first corner. My team mate Belicchi was behind me and he pushed hard, but always in a sporting manner, then he got surprised by oil on the track, which was unlucky for him but gave me breathing space.”

Andrea Belicchi ‘Man of the Race’

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Andrea Belicchi was elected “Man of the Race” at the Salzburgring following two solid and consistent performances, concluded with a third place in Race 1 and a fifth in Race 2.

The Target Competition driver was, together with Gianni Morbidelli, the only one among the front-runners, to make it to the top five in both races. Moreover, Belicchi was the author of a great “save” in Race 2 when he was surprised by oil on the track and went off onto the gravel at high speed, mastering a perfect drifting to rejoin the track safely, despite losing two positions. 

“I am happy with my weekend,” commented the Italian after the races, “because I put in two strong races and proved I could fight for the very top. What pleases me most is that, contrarily to recent rounds, I had again the right pace.”

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The TCR International Series will resume on June 21st at Sochi, Russia, for Round 13 and 14. 

All the best!

Phil!!

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