TCR International Series: Macau

Macau hosts the grand finale of the TCR International Series

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The Macau Guia circuit would provide the most stunning setting for the grand finale of the TCR International Series’ inaugural season.

The 6.1km street circuit is rated as one of the most challenging and demanding by all the drivers who have raced there and the Macau Guia Race – first held in 1972 – is regarded as one of the most sought-after trophies in the careers of the top touring car drivers from all over the globe.

The 2015 edition marks the beginning of a new era for the Guia Race with the introduction of the TCR-specification machines, the newest generation of touring cars.

To fit into the programme of the Suncity Group 62nd Macau Grand Prix, the TCR International Series partly adapted its timetable and format.

Two thirty-minute Free Practice sessions were held, one on Thursday and the other on Friday, while a forty-minute Qualifying session, split into Q1 (25 minutes for all drivers) and Q2 (15 minutes for the fastest twelve in Q1), with a five-minute break in between, took place on Saturday.

The two back-to-back 10-lap races would then be run on Sunday. The Grid for the second race, that will also award the Guia Race trophies, will be based on the final results of the first race.

Huff and Nash are the guest stars in a 30-car field

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2012 FIA WTCC champion Rob Huff and 2013 FIA WTCC Independent Champion James Nash are the guest stars in a field of 30 cars that sets a new record for participation in the inaugural season of the TCR International Series.

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Huff, who has already scored seven race wins in the Macau Guia Race, will be at the wheel of a WestCoast Racing Honda Civic, while Nash makes his touring car comeback in a Ford Focus run jointly by Proteam Racing and FRD Ford HK Racing Team.

“Macau is the most challenging racetrack I’ve ever raced on and my record is strong there. I’m really pleased to have been invited to drive in the TCR International Series finale there and I am confident we will have a competitive package for this unique event,” said Huff.

“I’ve been watching TCR develop over its maiden season and the success is amazing. Joining the championship with the Ford team is a great opportunity and racing at Macau is always special. I can’t wait to have my first few laps in a TCR car,” said Nash.

Huff and Nash join another touring car superstar, Alain Menu who will once again be driving the Top Run Subaru after his TCR debut in Thailand.

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The Macau finale will also feature a few important comebacks to the series: Andrea Belicchi, the winner of Race 2 in Shanghai, returns to Target Competition after missing the events in Singapore and Thailand; the Italian outfit has entered an impressive six-car line-up that includes Jordi Oriola (who made a couple of appearances earlier in the season) and Francisco Mora (who scored points in both his home races at Algarve).

The drivers represent 13 different nationalities, with seven Hong Kongers forming the largest contingent.

Drivers’ and Teams’ title fights to be decided in Macau

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The fights for both the Drivers’ and Teams’ titles of the TCR International Series maiden season will be decided in an exciting grand finale on Macau’s treacherous street circuit that winds from the Ferry Terminal up the Guia hill.

After the two races at Chang International Circuit in Buriram, where they claimed one victory apiece, Stefano Comini of Target Competition and Pepe Oriola of Craft Bamboo Lukoil are split by only two points.

Oriola’s teammate Jordi Gené is still in contention, although the gap of 34 points from the leader does not leave him much hope, even considering that 55 points are still at stake.

In the Teams’ Championship, Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has only a 13-point advantage on Target Competition, 95 being the maximum haul that can be scored in the final event.

Whatever the outcome, a SEAT driver and a SEAT team will be champions.

Success ballast for both title contenders

Both TCR International Series’ title contenders Stefano Comini and Pepe Oriola will be given extra weight for the final race meeting in Macau.

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Comini who is currently leading the championship will carry 20 kilos of success ballast on board of his SEAT León, ten less that Pepe Oriola who has to fill a two-point gap. Oriola was the best scorer in the Thai weekend (44 points) ahead of Comini (35).

Jordi Gené who is still in contention, though lying 34 points behind the leader, will also carry a success ballast of 10 kilos.

Of the TCR Asia Series competitors who will be racing in Macau, only Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo) will have 10 kilos of success ballast on board.

Henry Ho and Rodolfo Ávila keep Macau’s flag flying

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Henry Ho and Rodolfo Ávila – two of the most successful drivers from Macau – will represent the host city in the TCR International Series final.

A three-time winner of the Macau Touring Car Championship (2005, 2009, 2010), Ho will be at the wheel of a Honda Civic TCR run by the PAS Macau Racing Team. During the current season he has successfully competed in the China Touring Car Championship, driving a JAS-built three-volume Honda Civic to two race wins and the second place in the final standings.

“It’s a new category and a new car for me, so it’s a brand new challenge. I will just try my best and see where I will end up after the races,” he said.

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Ávila, who was born in Portugal, has established himself as one of the top players in the competitive Porsche Carrera Cup Asia; at Macau he will drive a SEAT León for the Asia Racing Team, with which he won the opening round of the TCR Asia series at Sepang.

“The Guia Race is very special for Macau drivers and I am no exception. I know the circuit pretty well, but this is only the second time I race there in a touring car. I’ll have to make some adaptations to my driving style, but I will put my head down and do the best I can do for the team that is fighting to win the TCR Asia Teams’ title,” Ávila commented.

Hong Kong drivers flock to take part in the Guia Race

Drivers from Hong Kong form the largest contingent within the record field of the TCR International Series at Macau. Seven Hong Kongers will be in the Guia Race and will also compete for the TCR Asia series.

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Michael Choi, the current leader of TCR Asia, and Kenneth Lau will be at the wheels of the Prince Racing Honda Civic cars; another Honda Civic run by WestCoast Racing has been entered for Sunny Wong.

Samson Chan (Roadstar Racing), Sam Lok (Asia Racing Team), Keith Chan (Target Competition) and Frank Yu (Craft-Bamboo Racing) will all drive SEAT León cars.

The field of competitors for the TCR Asia series is completed by Malaysia’s Douglas Khoo in the Niza Racing SEAT León and the pair of Johnson Huang and Robb Holland who will be driving for Roadstar Racing.

Veglia switches to Golf, as Cunnington joins Engstler team

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The Liqui Moly Team Engstler has reshuffled its driver line-up for the TCR International Series final at Macau.

Guillaume Cunnington will make his first appearance in the series at the wheel of the SEAT León previously driven by Lorenzo Veglia. Although he only started racing two years ago, the Frenchman has claimed some promising results, clinching the 2014 Master Class title in the Asia Formula Renault Championship and currently lies sixth in the National Class of the competitive Japanese Formula 3 Championship; however he has never raced a front-wheel driven touring car before.

“I’m very excited to race on the legendary Guia circuit and with such a prestigious team as Engstler Motorsport. I have no experience with the track and the car, but I hope my experience in single seaters will help me adapt quickly to both and that I get a decent race pace to have fun,” he said.

As for Veglia, he will switch to the Volkswagen Golf TCR that was driven to victory at the Red Bull Ring by Pol Rosell and was later raced by Tomas Engström.

“It’s nice to switch to the Golf, though it is the same car as the León, but for the bodywork. This will be an advantage, because I will be able to focus on learning the track. I’m practising a lot on the simulator, but to actually drive in Macau will be a completely different matter. I believe it won’t be easy to catch up with the drivers who have already raced there,” commented Veglia.

Files and Well join Campos Racing for Macau

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In a double last minute deal, Campos Racing has signed British drivers Josh Files and Dan Wells to race in its two Opel Astra cars for the Macau Guia Race, final event of the TCR International Series.

Files and Wells are both 24 years old and proved competitive, but they had developed different racing experiences.

Josh Files is a touring car and front wheel-drive expert. He won races and titles in the Renault Clio Cup and his best season was 2013, when he was crowned champion in both the European and the British series. However, he has never raced at Macau.

On the contrary, Dan Wells is a pure single-seater racer. He debuted in the British Formula Renault before moving to the Far East, where he was a title contender in the Chinese Formula Pilota and Formula Masters series. During the current season he dominated the Asia Formula Renault, winning ten races and the title. Wells has also raced at Macau, finishing a brilliant second in the 2013 Formula Masters Invitational Race. 

Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR is ready for maiden track test

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Italian engineering company Romeo Ferraris have distributed the first pictures of the Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR they are developing.

“It has been hard work, because we had in mind the target of running the Giulietta before the end of the season. Finally the first car was completed and the engine tested on the bench with promising results. We are now ready to begin the technical development on the track,” said Mario Ferraris.

The company hoped to complete the maiden test during the first week in November, in time to fly the car to Macau and take part in the final event of the TCR International Series.

“Unfortunately that plan proved to be a bit too optimistic. On top of this, we did not want to risk that lack of preparation and experience could affect our first appearance in the championship. Especially not on a difficult track like Macau!” explained Ferraris.

The Giulietta TCR is due to be tested in the middle of next week somewhere in Italy with Mario Ferraris and former Alfa Romeo WTCC factory driver Salvatore Tavano sharing driving duties.

The Italian engineering firm has planned to produce the first contingent of ten TCR cars by April 2016. The estimated selling price will be 98,000 euros (plus data acquisition and tax).

Dejonghe and Dupont win the RACB TCR selection

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Sam Dejonghe and Denis Dupont are the winners of the RACB selection launched to foster young talents in TCR racing. The pair will share the wheel of a RACB National Team-supported SEAT León TCR in the 2016 TCR Benelux Series.

Dejonghe and Dupont emerged as winners among the eight contenders that reached the final stage of the selection, which took place at the Jules Tacheny circuit in Mettet on 11 and12 November. After being coached by Bas Leinders and Marc Duez, the eight racers measured themselves over two timed runs of 4 and 6 laps respectively, at the wheel of a SEAT León TCR.

Geoffroy Theunis, manager of the RACB National Team, commented: “We are delighted to welcome Sam and Denis in the group of young talents of all disciplines supported by the RACB, and we are impressed with the very high level and the success of this initiative,” which attracted no less than 565 candidates.

Dejonghe (24) who has experience in karting and single-seaters, with successes in the European F.3 Open, stated: “This is an extraordinary opportunity for me at this stage of my career,” while Dupont (22) who had previously contested a similar RACB selection for single-seater drivers, commented: “My dream to be part of the RACB National Team has eventually come true!”

Huff and Gleason put Honda cars on front row

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It was an early morning call for everybody at Macau for an exciting and relatively incident-free qualifying session, which had a clear master: Rob Huff. The British star confirmed his ‘Macau master’ status by topping the session and clinching the pole with an astonishing lap of 2.31.522.

Sharing the first row with Huff will be his protégé and teammate at WestCoast Racing Kevin Gleason, who made an impressive debut on the Guia circuit. Title contenders are right behind in the grid, in a somehow unexpected order: despite being a Macau rookie, Stefano Comini managed to beat Jordi Gené and Pepe Oriola for P3. The Swiss also extended his lead in the championship on Oriola to 4 points. Gianni Morbidelli completed the top 6 despite a spin in Q2 that prompted a red flag. Also impressive, Jordi Oriola (on one of the Target Competition SEAT cars) took 7th, ahead of Afanasyev, Belicchi and Rodolfo Ávila, the best of the TCR Asia drivers. Completing the top 12 were Lorenzo Veglia, on the sole VW Golf making it to Q2, and Francisco Mora.

27 cars took part in the qualifying session; after the withdrawals of Rafaël Galiana’s SEAT and Alain Menu’s Subaru, the field missed Dan Wells’ Opel that suffered from water pressure problems in free practice.

Qualifying One: Gleason beats Huff

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For the first time so far in the event Rob Huff was not the fastest of the field. Hiw WestCoast Racing teammate and protégé Kevin Gleason was able to beat him in the first leg of the Qualifying session.

Gené was the first one to top the time sheet with a lap of 2:37.342 that was soon improved by Pepe Oriola’s 2:35.478. A few minutes afterwards Huff set a new fastest lap of 2:34.977. Eventually Gleason beat his teammate clocking a lap of 2:34.536 that was not to be beaten.

The session was disrupted once by the red flag when Sunny Wong’s Honda spun and was hit by Frank Yu’s SEAT. When qualifying resumed for the final seven minutes there were no improvements.

Other incidents involved Samson Chan and Johnson Huang (both spun) and Francisco Mora who hit a wall. Nash missed the session as his Ford stopped on the track on his first lap out of the pits with suspected transmission problems.

The following drivers advanced to Q2: Gleason, Huff, J. Oriola, P. Oriola, Comini, Morbidelli, Afanasyev, Gené, Belicchi, Ávila, Mora and Veglia.

Qualifying Two: Huff annihilates the rest of the field

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With a stunning lap of 2:32.172 Rob Huff annihilated the rest of the field and won pole position, inflicting a gap of 1.6 seconds to Gleason (2:33.153).

Comini clocked a lap of 2:33.498 that placed him third and was worth three precious points for the championship, with Pepe Oriola finishing fifth (2:33.619) and collecting only one point. Gené qualified in fourth with a time of 2:33.528 and Morbidelli in sixth (2:34.665).

This leg too was disrupted by the red flag, when Morbidelli spun and blocked the track.

What the drivers had to say after the Qualifying

Rob Huff, pole position: “We did a good job together with WestCoast and JAS, I am very pleased of working with such professional people. Everything went well, it’s not easy to jump into a new championship at the last race, not knowing the car and the team, but progress has been really good throughout the sessions. Tomorrow is a different story: to start from the pole is clearly and advantage, but I haven’t had much opportunity to test starting procedures with the Honda or to check how much tyres get warm in an out lap, so there are a number of no certainties despite the pole.”

Kevin Gleason, second: “I’m very happy to be on the front row for my first time in Macau, the track is really more difficult that I could anticipate. The car is strong and we did a great job, so I am confident for tomorrow.”

Stefano Comini, third: “I am very happy of my qualifying and of being ahead of Pepe (Oriola), after having been behind him in free practice and Q1. I am progressing well in getting acquainted with the track and start feeling confident to take some risks, as I did in my fast lap. Macau is like dating a nice girl, you need some time to know each other well before things start working really well. I’m still far away from Huff, who has been married to Macau for a while now… Tomorrow, he can go and win, I’ll be focusing my race on Pepe anyway…”

Jordi Gené, fourth: “Things went ok, I took it as easy as you can take in Macau, knowing that I had to be in the first two rows to still keep a little chance for the title. Things are still open and in two races at Macau, much can happen, in either direction. If Macau is a woman, as Stefano put it, you have always to keep in mind that if you upset her, the divorce can be painful…”

Pepe Oriola, fifth: “It has been a difficult session, with two red flags and crashed cars on the track, but I was able improve my lap times. However, I have been a bit slower than Gené and Comini. Tomorrow the two races will be very exciting and I will keep fight for the title until the end.

Grid penalty drops Frank Yu after yellow flag infringement

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Craft-Bamboo’s Frank Yu was inflicted a grid penalty for failing to comply with yellow flags during yesterday’s second Free Practice session.

The Hong Kong driver will be dropped three positions on the starting grid for tomorrow’s Race 1, from 17th to 20th.

The Stewards of the Meeting have also decided to not allow three drivers – Sam Lok, Johnson Huang and Douklas Khoo – to take part in the races, as their qualifying times were well above the qualification maxima limit (107% of the fastest time).

Comini is crowned first champion of TCR International Series

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Stefano Comini made it! The Swiss driver was crowned the first TCR International Series champion, after putting on an impressive performance throughout the entire weekend at Macau.

He had arrived at the Guia circuit with only two points of advantage over Pepe Oriola, but with the great handicap of having never raced on this very special track. After a quick learning process over the two free practice sessions, he took a key psychological advantage over his direct rival in qualifying, beating him and extending his lead in the championship to four points.

Then he managed to stay ahead of the Spaniard in both races. The duel between the two was particularly fierce in Race 2 and ended with the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil driver retiring with a pierced radiator following the many contacts. Comini rounded things with a superb maiden win at Macau, his sixth of the season, ahead of team mate Andrea Belicchi, a 1-2 that allowed Target Competition to win the Teams’ title as well, overturning the situation in the last race.

Rob Huff also made history, by taking pole position and winning Race 1 – his personal eighth victory on the Guia circuit. That was exactly what the British star had come for, enjoying greatly his first TCR experience in the WestCoast Honda Civic. Jordi Gené and Comini completed the Race 1 podium, with Mikhail Grachev of Liqui Moly Team Engstler taking third in Race 2, his second podium of the season.

Macau’s tradition was respected, as both races saw a spectacular first lap crash and were both red-flagged.

Race 1 – Rob Huff rules again in Macau

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As expected, Rob Huff dominated Race 1 to take his 8th success at Guia Circuit. Driving the WestCoast Racing Honda, the Brit still had a sweating kick-off, as his start from pole position was not great and he only managed to emerge ahead of Jordi Gené and Stefano Comini with a late braking at the Lisboa corner. From there on, Huff had a much quieter morning, with the three title contenders (Gené, Comini and Pepe Oriola) minding their crown affair.

The three ran almost bumper-to-bumper for the entire race but positions did not change and the only serious attack from Oriola in the last lap went fruitless. This allowed Comini to exted his lead to 7 points ahead of Race 2, with Gené definitely out of contention. Jordi Oriola took an excellent fifth, after passing the Honda cars of Gianni Morbidelli and Kevin Gleason. Andrea Belicchi was eighth ahead of the VW Golf of Lorenzo Veglia, with Sergey Afanasyev taking the last point.

Rodolfo Ávila finished in 12th place and won the TCR Asia race for Asia Racing Team. 

The race was marked by a big accident in the middle of the group during the first lap that involved Francisco Mora, Kenneth Lau and Frank Yu, prompting a red flag and a 3-lap safety-car period. Mora was sent to the hospital for medical checks.

RACE ONE KEY MOMENTS

Start: Comini and Gené sprint from row 2 and sandwich Huff; the three go abreast all through the straight, with Huff retaking the advantage at the Mandarin bend ahead of Gené, Comini, P. Oriola, Morbidelli and Gleason. It’s drama behind them: Mora hits the wall and spins, Yu brakes in avoidance, Lau hit him and crashes into Mora’s car. The race is red-flagged while Mora is brought to hospital for checks.

Lap 1: The safety car is deployed; Ho pits with electrical gremlins.

Lap 4: The race restarts, with Huff leading from Gené, Comini, P. Oriola, Morbidelli and Gleason.

Lap 5: Morbidelli defends fifth place from Gleason, J. Oriola, Afanasyev and Belicchi.

Lap 6: Huff’s lead is now 2 seconds over the trio Gené, Comini, P. Oriola; Nash, who was 15th, pits with engine overheating; Jordi Oriola passes Gleason and Morbidelli, climbing to fifth.

Lap 8: The attention shifts to the three men fighting for the title, as they are closest as ever; Veglia and Grachev pass Afanasyen for 9th and 10th.

Lap 10: P. Oriola makes an attempt to pass Comini at Lisboa, but at no avail; there is some bumping at Melco hairpin, but nothing changes; Comini is third behind Huff and Gené and ahead of P. Oriola; Afanasyev passes Grachev for 10th.

Race 2 – Comini survives pile up to win race and title!

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Stefano Comini rounded a perfect Macau weekend by securing the title and taking his maiden win at the Guia circuit. The Swiss racer showed temper and coolness by resisting all the attacks of Pepe Oriola, which included a number of bumps and contacts.

The Spaniard’s efforts not only resulted vane, but eventually took a toll on his Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT, which stopped along the track three laps from the end.

The race started in the most spectacular and dramatic way, as the two men on the front row, Rob Huff and Jordi Gené, collided prompting a massive pile-up that left eleven cars out of contention. Only nine made it to the restart, which clearly had the Comini-Oriola duel as the main attraction, and what an attraction it was! Fierce and manly, the duel stayed correct, but nothing could bend Comini’s determination. It was a sad race also for the younger of the Oriola brothers, Jordi, who was bound to a podium finish but had to retire two laps from the end, which gave Mikhail Grachev (Liqui Moly Team Engstler VW Golf) his second podium of the season. Morbidelli (slowed by a drive-through), Ávila (who scored his second victory of the day in TCR Asia), Holland and K. Chan were the other race finishers. 

RACE TWO KEY MOMENTS

Grid: Nash doesn’t show up after his Ford suffered from engine problems in Race 1.

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Start: Gené and Huff take a good start, but they make contact and hit the wall initiating a massive accident; Veglia crashes hard in to the wall and a pile-up ensues; the race is stopped and eventually no less than 11 cars suffer from damage beyond repairs: Huff, Gené, Veglia, Gleason, Files, Wong, Choi, Cunnington, S. Chan, Ho and Afanasyev. 

Lap 2: At the rolling restart behind the safety car, Comini keeps the advantage, with P. Oriola trying an unsuccessful move on the outside at the Lisboa braking; Morbidelli is given a drive through for a grid infringement.

Lap 3: Morbidelli stops to serve the sanction; Comini leads from Pepe and Jordi Oriola, Belicchi, Grachev, Avila, K. Chan and Holland.

Lap 4: P. Oriola keeps the pressure, touching Comini’s bumper on a couple of occasions.

Lap 5: Comini leads from the Oriola brothers, the three being very close; the Swiss pulls slightly away in the straights, but seems a little bit slower in the twisty section.

Lap 6: Again, P. Oriola tries a move at Lisboa on the outside line and this time there is a clear contact; J. Oriola and Belicchi are catching the leading duo.

Lap 7: Comini pulls slightly away; Morbidelli passes Ávila for 6th.

Lap 8: There is more bumping at the Lisboa braking area, but this time P. Oriola’s SEAT gets the worst of it and stops with a pierced radiator; Belicchi takes second from J. Oriola.

Lap 9: The younger Oriola is given a drive through for trespassing the white line at pit exit, which gives third to Grachev.

Lap 10: The race ends with Comini finishing the job ahead of teammate Belicchi.

What the race winners had to say

Stefano Comini, winner of Race 2 and TCR champion: “I have no words, it’s a very special moment for me: winning at Macau and clinching the first TCR title… What can I say? Unbelievable… Both races were very tough. In Race 1, I was caught in a sandwich between the two Bamboo cars, with Gené holding me, and Pepe Oriola putting the pressure. It wasn’t that easy. In Race 2, Pepe kept on with the pressure, I think he got a little bit stressed with the point situation, but I always stayed in front of him. I knew that second in Race 2 was enough for me to claim the title, but I really wanted to win at Macau and when I saw that Huff was out of the race at the start, I really though I should have a go…”

Rob Huff, winner of Race 1: “First of all, my congratulations go to Stefano for winning the championship, he is a worthy first TCR Champion. For me a day of mixed feelings, but I came here seeking for an eighth win at Macau and got it. Start of Race 1 was touchy, with three cars abreast down to the Lisboa. I had a title contender at each side, and didn’t want to interfere, but also being in the middle, I was in the best position for the first braking. After that, things got easier. In Race 2, again the start was quite touchy, but this time it looked there wasn’t enough space for two, and everything went wrong. That’s Macau…”

So, with the Macau Finale having taken place in November and plenty of TCR News being released since, keep checking the TCR Blog and the “TCR Talk” group on Facebook for updates.

Until next time, all the best from the Guru!!

Phil!!

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