The TCR International Series kicks off at F1 Bahrain GP
The second season of the TCR International Series kicks off this weekend at the Bahrain International Circuit, as support event to the Formula 1 Gulf Air Bahrain Grand Prix.
TCR competitors hit the track for the first time on Friday for two twenty-five-minute Free Practice sessions. On Saturday they took part in a thirty-minute Qualifying; all drivers run during Q1 and the fastest twelve will be allowed to participate in Q2.
Three titles at stake: Drivers’, Teams’ and Model of the Year
The 2016 TCR International Series will award three titles at the end of the season.
Stefano Comini and Target Competition are the reigning champions in the Drivers’ and Team’s Championship respectively.
New for this season is the introduction of a ‘Model of the Year’ title that will be awarded by adding the points scored by the best two cars of each model in each qualifying session and race.
The scoring system is the same for all three classifications: 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 points awarded to the best five classified in the Qualifying final results; 25, 18, 15, 12, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 and 1 points awarded to the best ten classified in each race.
Two Bahraini drivers join TCR for their local event
The entry list of the 2016 TCR International Series opening event in Bahrain consists of nine teams, with twenty-two cars of six different brands: Alfa Romeo, Honda, Opel, SEAT, Subaru and Volkswagen.
The latest additions were two SEAT León cars in 2015 specs, run by the Netherlands-based Bas Koeten Motorsport for local drivers Salman Al Khalifa and Hussain Karimi who are currently ranking first and third respectively in the 2015/2016 Bahrain International Circuit 2000cc Challenge.
Al Khalifa, a former champion in the Batelco 2000cc Challenge (2008), has claimed seven victories out of the twelve races held so far at the wheel of his Honda Civic; Karimi was twice vice-champion in the series (2014 and 2015), having scored several wins in a Honda CRX.
TCR promoter Marcello Lotti said: “We give a very warm welcome to Sheikh Salman Al Khalifa and Hussain Karimi, the first Middle East drivers to join TCR. The concept we have launched last year is spreading quickly and we are now looking at the Middle East for further expansion.”
Jordi Oriola and Andrea Belicchi to drive the debutante Astra
The opening event of the 2016 TCR International Series in Bahrain will also mark the debut of the new Opel Astra TCR. Two cars will be run by Target Competition for Andrea Belicchi and Jordi Oriola.
The Astra TCR is facing its first major challenge as the forecast temperatures of over 40C will represent a stiff test for the engine cooling system, turbocharger, transmission and brakes. Tyre wear will also expected to be a major issue.
The technical staff of Opel Motorsport and Target Competition made significant progress in the vehicle set-up during the pre-season test in Valencia.
Opel Motorsport Director Jörg Schrott is excited ahead of the Astra TCR’s race debut but is also managing expectations: “We are a newcomer to the TCR series with our Astra and we will definitely need a bit more time to further optimize the vehicle. Furthermore, the conditions in the desert are unique. Therefore, we should treat the two races in Bahrain as another important test. We aim to learn as much as possible to fine tune the Astra TCR for the coming races.”
Luigi Ferrara at Bahrain in the Top Run Subaru
It will be Luigi Ferrara to drive the Top Run-built Subaru STi TCR in the International Series season opener at Bahrain.
A former champion in the Italian F3 (2005) and Porsche Cup (2008), Ferrari proved his Touring Car skills at the wheel of a Mercedes AMG (also built by Top Run), winning several Superstars races and finishing twice runner up in the International Series (2011 and 2012).
“I’m so excited to race in the TCR International Series that is a top-level championship. I’m also pleased to get back to sprint races, that is where I claimed by best results. It is true that I don’t have experience with front-wheel drive cars, but I’m used to adapt myself quickly to any new cars. And I’m not like a fish out of water, because I know the team and I know the track, where I claimed a fourth place in the 2009 Porsche Supercup. My only regret is not to have time to test the Subaru before, but I am optimist and my goal is to finish in the points,” said Ferrara.
Team manager Renato Russo added: “Bahrain will be another important test on the way to develop the Subaru TCR, and in this respect we are happy that Ferrara agreed to drive, because we have worked very well with him in the past.”
TCR fans to vote on special award in 2016
Fans of the TCR International Series will, via social media, play a vital part in awarding a special prize after each pair of TCR races.
Following each TCR race weekend, a panel comprising of the International Series’ Promoter and the promotional and media team will decide a shortlist of two candidates (not necessarily drivers) they feel are deserving of the award. The names will then be posted on the TCR International Series Facebook page and fans will have 24 hours in which to ‘like’ either candidate. The ‘TCR Fans’ Award’ will then be given to the candidate with the most likes.
A new TV website for the TCR community worldwide
The TCR promoter, WSC Ltd., has launched today a brand new website that is dedicated to showcasing videos from the different TCR championships and series worldwide.
The new free-on-air portal – www.tcr-series.tv – is divided into three main sections: one for the TCR International Series, one for the TCR Regional championships and one for the National championships in which TCR cars are eligible to race.
Each series has been given an account to upload their own videos and a dedicated page that gathers together all videos and news from that series: full races, highlights and spectacular clips.
The home page features the latest and most-liked videos, plus windows for live timing and live streaming, a summary table of the upcoming TCR events worldwide and a ‘news brief’ section.
Pepe Oriola wins a breathtaking opening night race
The 2016 TCR International Series kicked off with a breath-taking night race during the Barhain Formula 1 Grand Prix.
The 2015 vice-champion Pepe Oriola started his new campaign on a high note with a spotless performance the young Spaniard drove his SEAT León of Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil to claim an authoritative victory. Oriola got the better of his team-mates James Nash and polesitter Sergey Afanasyev during the first lap, then was able to control Nash’s attacks in the early stages and the return of Gianni Morbidelli’s Honda Civic in the final laps.
The Italian driver put in a strong effort to recover from fourth to second, jumping ahead of Afanasyev and Nash who finished in the order. Dušan Borković was able to finish in sixth position, inches behind Aku Pellinen, after he had been involved in a four-car clash with Stefano Comini, Kevin Gleason and Jean-Karl Vernay.
The reigning champion Comini was classified seventh and best of the Volkswagen drivers, while Mat’o Homola and Davit Kajaia finished in eighth and ninth at the end of a long and fair fight.
None of the 18 cars retired for technical reasons, only Gleason and Vernay did not finish because of the incident. Jordi Oriola’s Opel Astra, Luigi Ferrara’s Subaru and Michela Cerruti’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta managed to complete the race, just like the two Bahraini drivers in the Bas Koeten Racing old SEAT cars.
RACE ONE Key facts:
Start: Afanasyev and Borković take a bad start on the front row; Nash takes the lead clashing with P. Oriola; at the back of the field, Cerruti is squeezed by Belicchi and Grachev.
Lap 1: Borković and Vernay make contact; Comini passes Gleason for 9th. P. Oriola leads from Nash, Afanasyev, Morbidelli, Pellinen and Vernay
Lap 2: Gleason passes Comini for 7th. Kajaia are in a fight Homola for 11th.
Lap 3: Afanasyev tries to resist Morbidelli, but eventually concedes the position.
Lap 4: Vernay passes Pellinen for fifth, while Nash chases P.Oriola. Borković closes in on Comini, they make contact and collect Vernay and Gleason who are forced to retire
Lap 5: Kajaia passes Grachev for 9th whilst Morbidelli is closing the gap from the leading duo of P. Oriola and Nash
Lap 6: Comini takes 6th from Homola who strikes back and regains the position; eventually both Comini and Kajaia are able to overtake Homola
Lap 7: Morbidelli passes Nash for 2nd on the straight, but the Brit retakes the advantage, just to lose again it shortly afterwards
Lap 8: Kajaia takes 8th from Homola
Lap 9: Morbidelli is on P. Oriola heels
Lap 10: P. Oriola wins ahead of Morbidelli, Nash, Afanasyev; Homola retakes 8th from Kajaia.
Race 1 – Quotes from the podium finishers
Pepe Oriola (winner): “It’s definitely a good way to start the season. It was a pretty good race for me, although not easy. I did only one mistake at the beginning, when I attacked too hard my team-mate James Nash. Other than that, the only real trouble is that the tyres started to get consumed by mid race, which brought massive understeer. That allowed Gianni to close the gap a bit, but I don’t think he was as fast as us today. It is a really enjoyable experience to be racing here at Bahrain within the F.1 Grand Prix, although it means less practice time.”
Gianni Morbidelli (second): “Pepe is right: we are not as quick as the SEAT cars! It is clear that we have to work a lot to catch up, but the race was very useful to understand where we are and to see our strong and weak points. There was some good fighting along the way too, that’s nice too, but the most important was that I could score good points for myself and WestCoast. Second today is a very good result towards the championship.”
James Nash (third): “It’s definitely a good result for the team and also for me. My race was good and it’s nice to be immediately competitive on my return to touring car racing. Maybe we fought a little bit too hard with Pepe, but the important thing is that we brought home an excellent result. I really look forward to this championship and to working with my team.”
Afanasyev claims his first TCR pole position
Craft-Bamboo Lukoil’s Sergey Afanasyev claimed his first pole position in the TCR International Series putting in a perfect lap in Q2 that enabled him to beat Dušan Borković of B3 Racing Team and his own team-mate James Nash.
“It’s a very strange feeling, because I wasn’t even aware of the result, as the radio was working on and off. I had a good pace but was certainly not under the impression that it could mean pole position!” the delighted Russian said.
Gianni Morbidelli failed to make the top-three by only two thousandths of a second; Pepe Oriola and Aku Pellinen were placed in fifth and sixth in very close session that saw the fastest six drivers covered by less that two tenths.
Jean-Karl Vernay was the fastest of the Volkswagen drivers, qualifying his Golf Gti in ninth, just ahead of Davit Kajaia who won pole position on the top-ten reverse grid for tomorrow’s Race 2.
Jordi Oriola was classified 12th in the only Opel Astra that was admitted to Q2, while Michela Cerruti’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta and Luigi Ferrara’s Subaru STi – that suffered from a broken drive shaft – did not make the cut.
Attila Tassi to skip the season opener
The third B3 Racing Team SEAT León TCR has been withdrawn from the Bahrain meeting due to the damage resulted in a crash during yesterday’s second Practice session.
Attila Tassi lost control and crashed into a wall head on. The young Hungarian escaped unscathed, but the car suffered from extensive damage to the front. Notably the left rail of the engine compartment was badly bent and could not be repaired at the track.
Team manager David Bári commented: “We are very sorry that we have to withdraw the car and that Attila cannot make his TCR debut, but that’s racing. We’ll see what we’ll do when we are back in Europe, but I believe it is going to be easier to get a new chassis altogether.”
VIPs visit the TCR International Series
There were some illustrious guests in the TCR paddock in Bahrain last weekend. Double WRC champion Carlos Sainz was eager to visit some old friends, like Claudio Bortoletto, today at Mulsanne Racing, who led in the past the Jolly Club team, the successful rally team for which the Spaniard was driving in his early years.
Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito, the man behind the Golf Gti TCR project was, of course, very interested in checking the form of the cars entered by Leopard Racing and Liqui Moly Team Engstler in the 2016 season-opener. This has been one of the last public appearances of Capito in his current capacity, as it has been already announced that he will soon join the management of McLaren F1.
Pepe Oriola encores in Craft-Bamboo Lukoil 1-2
Pepe Oriola performed an encore at the Bahrain International Circuit. After victory in yesterday’s night Race 1, the Spanish driver and his SEAT León won the second race in a sunny and hot day. Oriola managed to recover from the sixth position on the grid and took the lead from Kevin Gleason’s Honda Civic on lap 8 of 10. He eventually crossed the line ahead of James Nash in a 1-2 finish for Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil.
Behind them, Gleason and his WestCoast Racing teammates Aku Pellinen and Gianni Morbidelli challenged each other for the last spot on the podium. Gleason and Morbidelli made contact; the American was forced to stop, while the Italian suffered from a flat tyre, which handed third to Pellinen.
Dušan Borković was classified fourth, followed by Davit Kajaia, Mat’o Homola and Sergey Afanasyev. Jordi Oriola (8th) and Luigi Ferrara (10th) scored the first points in the Drivers’ championship for the new Opel Astra and the Subaru STi respectively, while Morbidelli limped in ninth.
The reigning champion Stefano Comini and Mikhail Grachev retired aftermaking a contact, while Jean-Karl Vernay was also eliminated for the consequences of a racing incident.
RACE TWO Key facts
Start: The Honda cars of Gleason and Pellinen jump ahead of the Volkswagencars of Kajaia and Vernay that start from the front row; Belicchi’s Opel stalls
Lap 1: Vernay’s rear bumper is hanging loose after a contact
Lap 2: Vernay loses three places to P. Oriola, Nash and Pellinen; Homola and Morbidelli fight for sixth; Comini and Grachev fight hard for 9th and clash, the former retires with a broken suspension
Lap 3: P. Oriola attacks Pellinen and passes him moving up to second
Lap 4: With a brilliant move Nash passes Pellinen and P. Oriola at the braking for first corner to take second; Morbidelli passes the Finn for fourth; Grachev pit and retires
Lap 5: P. Oriola retakes second from Nash, Gleason extends his lead to 1.4 seconds
Lap 6: P. Oriola closes the gap from Gleason to 0.8; Al-Khalifa passes Cerruti for 13th.
Lap 7: Borković passes Kajaia and takes 7th; Vernay retires with brakes problems
Lap 8: P. Oriola takes the leadmuscling his way past Gleason who has to concede also second to Nash; Cerruti retires with a broken drive shaft
Lap 9: Morbidelli manages to keep Pellinen at bay and to pass Gleason for third; they make contact and the American stops at the pit exit
Lap 10: Pellinen takes third from Morbidelli, who has a flat tyre and drops to ninth; P. Oriola wins from Nash and Pellinen
Race 2 – Quotes from the podium finishers
Pepe Oriola (winner): “It’s true that yesterday I was a little bit upset for missing the pole, but having won the two races, I think I can be satisfied! Today was again a very intense race and I had a lot of fun fighting with Gleason and Nash, and luckily everything went well. My start wasn’t good, because of some clutch issues, so I was aiming at the podium but nothing more. Still, after we have changed the set up, the tyres stayed good into the race and that gave me confidence to push.”
James Nash (second): “It’s again a great result for the team and for me as well. After a third and a second here, I’m really looking forward to the next round in Portugal! It was again tough competition today and things are not easy when you have such a strong driver as Pepe on the same car and in the same team. My tyres were not in a good condition towards the end, so that prevented me to keep fighting.”
Aku Pellinen (third): “To finish my first weekend in the TCR and with the Honda on the podium is of course a very good result, and I am very happy. There was quite a good deal of fighting in both races, even with my teammates, but that’s fine. I just tried to be clever and stay out of trouble, aiming at the points, and I think the strategy paid-off.”
Borković inherits third after Pellinen’s penalty
B3 Racing Team’s Dušan Borković inherited the third place on the podium oftoday’s second race at the Bahrain International Circuit after WestCoast Racing driver Aku Pellinen was handed a 30-second time penalty for jump-start.
The Serbian commented: “These were two crazy races but I am happy with the result and very happy with the team. In Race 1, I had a very bad start and then a big contact with Comini. Even with open wheels, though, I realized the pace was good. Today, the start was better but I was stuck in P12 and got a little bit nervous, because I saw I had the pace, but too many cars in front of me. When I cooled down, I started to overtake cars one by one and finished fourth, which became third after Pellinen’s penalty. Mostly, I see it as good reward for the boys who worked very hard.”
The same penalty was imposed to Mat’o Homola, who had finished the race in sixth. As a consequence, Pellinen was dropped to 10th and Homola to 11th, this also meant that Bahraini driver Salman Al Khalifa was promoted to ninth and tenth, scoring points in the Drivers’ Championship at the wheel of a Bas Koeten Racing SEAT León.
Comini presents his winning helmet to Lotti
During a cheerful happening after the Bahrain races, reigning champion Stefano Comini presented the helmet with which he raced in his triumphant 2015 season to Marcello Lotti, promoter of the TCR International Series.
“Winning the first edition of the TCR International Series meant a lot to me”, said the Swiss driver, “I thought it would be nice to give my helmet to Marcello, to thank him for the great series he has put together.”
Very touched by the gesture, Lotti said: “It’s a very nice thought from him. We actually brought back the helmet from Macau where Stefano forgot it after winning the title. He is from Lugano, where we have our offices and we arranged to meet there for a coffee and give him back his helmet. That’s when he told me he would give it to us as a present but that we should wait for until the Bahrain event for his new helmet to arrive!”
The TCR International Series will resume on April 23 and 24 at Estoril, Portugal, for rounds 3 and 4.
As this was the first weekend of TCR International Competition, no doubt there will be many more announcements to come and I will try to share as many as possible both on here and in the TCR Talk Facebook Group.
All the best!!