The TCR International Series is back on the Formula 1 stage
The TCR International Series resumes after the summer break, when rounds 17 and 18 take place at Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit as support races of the Formula 1 Grand Prix. The event marks the first time the championship has run on a street circuit and at night.
Just as was the case for the first two race meetings of the TCR International Series’ maiden season, within the Grands Prix of Malaysia and China, the timetable has been adjusted to fit into the F1 schedule. Track activity took place on Friday, September 18th, with back-to-back Free Practice sessions of 25 minutes each. The 30-minute Qualifying session took place on Saturday afternoon, September 19th, followed by Race 1 at 22.25, immediately after the F1 Qualifying.
The second race opened Sunday’s programme at 16.30. The circuit is laid out in the Marina Bay harbour zone and passes through some of the most famous of Singapore’s locations, such as Republic Boulevard, Stamford Road, the Padang with the City Hall, Anderson Bridge, the Esplanade, the Float Stadium and the Singapore Flyer. It has hosted the F1 Grand Prix since its inauguration in 2008.
A record field of 24 cars to race at Singapore
The TCR International Series features a record field of 24 cars at Singapore.
Besides the addition of the Top Run Subaru and the competitors of TCR Asia, there has been some shuffling in the teams’ line-ups:
René Münnich returns to WestCoast Racing after taking part in the first two events of the year in Malaysia and China.
Tomas Engström rejoins the Liqui Moly Team Engstler for which he drove in Sochi, but this time he’s at the wheel of the new Volkswagen Golf TCR.
Young Dutchman Loris Hezemans, the son of former touring car legend Toine Hezemans, makes his TCR debut with Target Competition.
Hong Kong architect Frank Yu returns to the Craft-Bamboo Racing SEAT he drove in Sepang.
Fernando Monje comes back as well, in the Campos Racing Opel Astra OPC he drove to an outstanding third place at Monza. The Spanish team has still to announce the name of its second driver.
The Top Run-built Subaru WRX is ready for its debut
Following a successful test at Franciacorta, in Northern Italy, last week, the Subaru WRX built by Top Run Motorsport makes its first appearance at Singapore.
The Italian team has accomplished an outstanding exploit, designing, building and developing the first racing car in less than five months.
“Our team personnel have done wonders to meet the tight schedule, and this despite the summer break which delayed deliveries from a number of suppliers,” said team principal Antonio Agnello.
Top Run has appointed Luca Rangoni to drive at Singapore after he shared testing duties with Roberto Russo and Gian Maria Gabbiani.
“We finally chose Luca because we have already worked together successfully in the past, when he helped us to develop the Mercedes in the Supercars series. And furthermore, his vast and varied experience with different kinds of cars in top-level international competitions makes us confident that he can help the team to meet with the expectations we have for our TCT debut,” team manager Renato Russo explained.
In a successful racing career spanning twenty-five years, Rangoni has proved to be competitive in both single-seaters (he was crowned Italian F3 champion in 1995) and tin-top cars (he claimed three titles in the Renault Clio Eurocup and competed in several seasons of both the FIA World and European Touring Car championships).
“I had a good feeling during the test. Though it was a brand new car, my first impression was very encouraging. The engine is great, has the power and the torque, but we have to work on braking and traction to optimize the balance. Racing at Singapore will put all of us at the same level, because no one knows the track. Although I’m no longer an apprentice, I am extremely excited. I feel honoured and lucky for this opportunity to develop a new car in a new championship and at a Formula 1 event!” said Rangoni.
TCR Asia joins the International Series at Singapore
The TCR Asia Series successfully kicked off its maiden season ten days ago at Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia.
Now the championship faces three further events – Singapore, Buriram and Macau – in which its competitors will race together with those of the TCR International Series.
The Malaysian opener was dominated by the Asia Racing Team that won all three races with Macau’s Rodolfo Àvila (Race 1) and Philippe Descombes from France (Races 2 and 3). However, the Chinese team has not yet announced the names of the drivers for Singapore.
The TCR Asia entry list also includes two JAS-built Honda Civic cars run by Prince Racing with Michael Choi and Kenneth Lau at the wheel, one Ford Focus built and run by FRD Ford HK Racing Team and driven by the experienced Kenneth Ma, and a trio of SEAT León cars entered by the Roadstar Racing Team for Filipe de Souza, Samson Chan and George Chou.
Pepe Oriola to carry 30 kilos of success ballast
Pepe Oriola who jumped to the top of the standings after the latest race meeting at Spielberg’s Red Bull Ring carries the maximum success ballast of 30 kilos at Singapore. The young Spaniard and his Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT León scored 33 points in Austria finishing third and second in the two races.
Target Competition’s Stefano Comini, who is currently second in Drivers’ Championship only two points behind Oriola, pocketed 29 points at the Red Bull Ring where he inherited victory in the first race after Gianni Morbidelli was handed a penalty. Comini’s SEAT is laden by 20 kilos of success ballast in Singapore.
Oriola’s teammate Jordi Gené was the third best scorer in Austria (27 points) and races at Singapore with 10 kilos of extra weight.
KENNETH MA IS OPTIMISTIC FOR SINGAPORE RACES
One of the standout performers of the opening round of the TCR Asia Series in Malaysia, was without question the Ford Focus TCR from the FRD HK Racing Team, with Hong Kong’s Andy Yan turning in some outstanding drives, albeit for such a short period before an intermittent electrical issue forced his retirement in all three races.
Whilst the team were unable to record a finish as a result of the ongoing problem, they showed in every race that the performance of the Onyx-built car is more than a match for the series front-runners, something team boss Kenneth Ma hopes remains true in Singapore.
“Since Malaysia we have been right through the car ahead of Singapore and believe we’ve found the problem that stopped us in Sepang,”Ma explained. “It was frustrating to know we had the pace to put Andy at the front, but were unable to keep the car running for the full length of the three races. In part it was because of the late arrival of the car, but we made the decision to run because it gave us valuable track time, and showed us where we were against our competition.”
Unfortunately for Ma who was scheduled to campaign their own FRD Motorsports built car, their second engine didn’t arrive in time from the UK, so they were forced to campaign just the one car, with Ma focusing on the team, a team which has won seven of the last nine China Touring Car Championship titles.
“As a driver it was tough standing on the sidelines, but it was also important to get the most out of the car, even with the challenges. This weekend though I’ll step into the driver’s role for Singapore, taking over the car Andy drove so brilliantly in Sepang as he unfortunately has commitments elsewhere this weekend. The new car that FRD have built is in Malaysia still, and the team are finalising the installation of the engine and sorting any potential issues before we ship the car to Thailand and Macau for the final two rounds of the year. I’m looking forward to joining the TCR program at Singapore – one of Asia’s most exciting venues – against the top TCR drivers in the world, it’s going to be a fantastic weekend!”
Qualifying – First pole position for Stefano Comini
The Qualifying session took place in the early afternoon and Stefano Comini of Target Competition claimed his first pole position in the TCR International Series.
The Swiss driver, who is currently second in the Drivers’ Championship, set the fastest lap on his first lap out of the pit in Q2 and decided not to make a second attempt in order to save his tyres for the races.
It was a risky move, because Gianni Morbidelli came very close to steal the pole from him, as he was clocked only 16 thousandths of a second slower.
Kevin Gleason was capable of a significant improvement compared to Q1, which propelled him to the third place on the grid for Race 1, ahead of Sergey Afanasyev and Pepe Oriola. The latter, the current championship leader, had his qualifying attempt spoiled by a slower car.
Tomas Engström qualified tenth and won pole position on the reverse grid for tomnorrow’s Race 2; the Swede will have Jordi Gené alongside him on the front row.
George Chou placed his SEAT León car in 13th position and on pole for the TCR Asia Series.
Gleason wins night race as Comini hits troubles
Stefano Comini was set to claim another victory as he had led for most of the distance and built a gap ahead of his competitors, when suddenly Kevin Gleason arrived on his heels and overtook him on lap 8.
The American driver defended the lead in the last two laps and claimed his second victory of the season, while Comini salvaged a valuable second place.
Another close fight took place between Gianni Morbidelli and Pepe Oriola; eventually the Italian crossed the line in third place, inches ahead of his rivals.
Oriola’s teammates Sergey Afanasyev and Jordi Gené came home in fifth and sixth, while Mikhail Grachev kept at bay Lorenzo Veglia and Loris Hezemans to score a brilliant seventh.
Fermando Monje claimed the last point position in tenth.
Michael Choi of Prince Racing Team provided the icing of the cake for Honda as he won the race of the TCR Asia Series.
Luca Rangoni managed to complete the race at the wheel of the Top Run Subaru, despite he only hit the track on the formation lap for the race.
RACE ONE KEY MOMENTS:
Grid: Rangoni’s Subaru makes its first appearance and lines up at the back of the grid, while Ma’s Ford is missing
Warm up lap: Mak loses control of his Opel Astra and hits the wall
Start: Comini sprints to the lead from Gleason and Morbidelli
Lap 1: Oriola overtakes Morbidelli for third; Chou sends de Souza into a spin
Lap 2: Oriola, Gleason and Morbidelli swap positions while fighting for second
Lap 3: Gené overtakes Veglia for seventh
Lap 4: Morbidelli chases Gleason who is second
Lap 5: Veglia defends eighth place from Hezemans
Lap 6: Gené overtakes Grachev for sixth
Lap 7: Veglia knocks on Grachev’s rear bumper
Lap 8: Gleason overtakes Comini and jumps into the lead
Lap 9: Morbidelli and Oriola have a close fight for third
Lap 10: Gleason beats Comini on the line, while Morbidelli saves third with a short gap on Oriola; Rangoni’s Subaru makes to the end in 15th position, Choi wins the TCR Asia race
What the drivers had to say
Kevin Gleason, winner: “It was a tough race and a nice second win for me, no doubt. I took a good start but had a lot of pressure from Oriola and Gianni in the early laps. Then, my pace improved throughout the laps and when Stefano lift off because of some trouble, I could take the lead. In the closing laps though, when his car was back to OK, I was under great pressure again. Definitely, a tough race, also because of the heath and night conditions, but there my experience in long-distance races helped…”
Stefano Comini, second: “I am a little bit disappointed for sure, but happy with my performance and the valuable championship points. Everything was going perfectly and I was feeling very comfortable with the car until some electronic problem with the gearbox arose. I lost the lead to Kevin and had to reset everything. The car eventually worked well again but it was impossible to overtake on this track.”
Gianni Morbidelli, third: “A very tough race for me, also because I didn’t feel perfectly well these days and during the race it got worse. The last couple of laps I was close to fainting. Regarding the race, I lost it at the start. I had a poor kick-off, with the wheels spinning and had to let Comini, Gleason and Oriola go. After I fought hard with Pepe and Kevin, but they defended well their positions, and rightly so. Overtaking on this track is not easy at all.”
George Choi, 1st in TCR Asia: “It is very nice to win among the TCR Asia cars, I wasn’t expecting that and I thank my team for the very good work. I was lucky that some of the quicker rivals got tangled in incidents ahead of me. It was a very interesting experience to race with the drivers of the TCR International Series. Their level is very high and I could learn a lot from them.”
Top Run Subaru hits the track after never ending odyssey
The Top Run Subaru TSi TCR, made its debut in the TCR International Series after a never ending odyssey that ended when the car was finally delivered to the team only this afternoon, after the end of the qualifying session.
The original plan was to fly the car from Milan Malpensa to Singapore via Luxembourg. However, the freight company left the car on the ground in Luxembourg because of limited payload restrictions; then the Subaru was flown back to Malpensa.
‘Plan B’ was then to fly the car to Singapore via Seoul and deliver it to the track on Friday morning; but this time the cargo plane was forced to land back in Malpensa because of a technical issue. The 747F took off again after repairs, but by the time it made it to Seoul, no flights were scheduled to leave to Singapore in time to deliver the car by the weekend. So the car was flown to Kuala Lumpur and then trucked down for 350 kilometres to Singapore.
The team worked frantically to prepare the car for the first race and Luca Rangoni could finally take the start from the back of the grid. Despite some teething problems, Rangoni managed to finish the race in 15th position.
An amazing effort from the Italian team!
Gené claims victory in the second race after a solo flight
Jordi Gené dominated the second race at Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit.
The Spaniard pipped Tomas Engström at the start, resisted the Swede’s attempt to regain the lead during the first lap and then bid farewell to the rest of the field on his way to claim his third race win of the season.
Behind him, Mikhail Grachev seemed capable of achieving a podium position for the Volkswagen Golf, but in the latest stages the Russian’s pace faded and he dropped down.
Stefano Comini and Pepe Oriola delivered a great show in a fight for the third place that lasted for most of the race; eventually they found themselves promoted to second and third respectively when Grachev slowed down with technical issues.
Gianni Morbidelli managed to score a precious fourth place that keeps him in contention in the fight for the Drivers’ title.
The Singapore event propelled Comini on top of the standings, 11 points ahead of Oriola and 30 of Gené whilst Morbidelli lies fourth with a gap of 47 points.
Michael Choi of Prince Racing encored his yesterday’s victory in the TCR Asia Series, beating George Chou and Frank Yu; Kenneth Lau crossed the line in third, but was eventually penalized for jump start.
The championship will resume on October 19 and 20 at Buriram, Thailand, for rounds 19 and 20.
RACE TWO KEY MOMENTS
Grid: Only Mak’s Opel is missing, following its crash in the warm up lap for yesterday’s Race 1
Start: Gené takes the lead, chased by team Engstler trio of Engström, Grachev and Veglia
Lap 1: Oriola overtakes Hezemans for sixth; Grachev overtakes Engström for second
Lap 2: Oriola and Comini overtake Veglia who slips to sixth
Lap 3: Engström loses a few places and drops to seventh
Lap 4: Oriola and Comini fight for third as Veglia defends fifth place from Morbidelli
Lap 5: Gené stretches his leading gap ahead of Grachev meanwhile Rangoni pits and retires
Lap 6: Afanasyev overtakes Hezemans for ninth. Hezemans spins, hits the wall and rejoins
Lap 7: Comini overtakes Oriola for second
Lap 8: Morbidelli overtakes Veglia for fifth; Comini overtakes Grachev for second as the Russian loses third place to Oriola and then drops further back
Lap 9: Gleason and Veglia run abreast fighting for fifth as Gleason jumps ahead. Afanasyev and Engström make contact
Lap 10: Gené wins from Comini and Oriola, with Morbidelli in fourth whilst Choi repeats his victory in the TCR Asia race
What the drivers had to say
Jordi Gené, winner: “Everything went very well today and I am very happy to still be in the fight for the championship. Actually, the car had been excellent throughout the weekend, I only had an unlucky qualifying that put me in a difficult position for Race 1, but my pace was very god yesterday too. Today was a different story and I only needed to stay focused to avoid trouble and mistakes.”
Stefano Comini, second: “I apologize for not putting the show today! I just tried to preserve the car, the tyres and my energy. It was a good race and I had a good fight with Pepe. For the rest, I slightly scrapped a wall and my brakes got very weak in the closing laps, but nothing serious. I am very happy of the results of this weekend, which are excellent with regard to the championship.”
Pepe Oriola, third: “It is good to finish the weekend on the podium. I knew it was going to be a difficult round for me, mainly because of the maximum success ballast I was carrying. Still, the car performed well in free practice, then I had a more disappointing qualifying, but the races were ok, and we head now to a very close and exciting final battle for the title.”
Michael Choi, 1st in TCR Asia: “It’s nice to win again, it has been a very god weekend for me and the team. Today, we made a very good race, which ended with our two cars.
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Until next time, all the best from the Guru!!