The third weekend of the 2016 TCR International Series took place at the historic Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium and it played host to two cracking races which further gave insight as to how tough the fight for the Drivers Championship is this season…
Lets see how it panned out…
TCR drivers face the legendary track in the Ardennes hills
The third race meeting of the TCR International Series takes place this week at Spa-Francorchamps, a legendary racetrack in motorsport history.
The 7-kilometre circuit – one of the longest permanent tracks – winds up the Ardennes hills in South-East Belgium.
Inaugurated in 1922 as an open-road course, the circuit underwent many changes during the years; the current layout dates back to 2007. It has been home to 49 editions out of 61 of the F1 Belgian GP, from 1950 to 2015.
During the weekend the TCR International Series was part of the 6 Hours of Spa, second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship. And this resulted in an adjustment of the usual format.
The drivers will hit the track first on Thursday, for two 30-minute Free Practice sessions; the Qualifying will take place Friday in the early afternoon, followed by the first Race in the late afternoon. Race 2 will start on Saturday at lunch time.
Sébastien Loeb Racing at Spa with two Peugeot 308 cars
The Belgian event will mark the first appearance of the Peugeot brands in a TCR competition.
Two Peugeot 308 Racing Cup cars have been entrusted by Peugeot Sport to the Sébastian Loeb Racing for racing at Spa, and the team has chosen Grégory Guilvert and Jimmy Clairet to drive the two Peugeot 308 Racing Cup cars in the TCR International Series event, next week at Spa-Francorchamps.
“We are proud that Peugeot Sport has entrusted the two cars to our team for their maiden appearance in the TCR International Series. We hare happy to take this responsibility, as our team is ambitious and always looking for delivering the best performance. Thanks to Peugeot Sport we may count on the experience of Guilvert who has developed the car. As for Clairet, he’s a young and fast driver, and very motivated. We have a strong pair of drivers that will help us to make a good job,” said the team’s sporting director Franck Tiné.
The 34-year-old Guilvert is a test driver for Peugeot Sport and took part in the technical development of racing cars such as the RCZ Racing Cup, the 208 T16 Pikes Peak and, more recently, the 308 Racing Cup. His racing CV includes the title in the 2009 Peugeot Spider Cup and race victories in the French Supertourisme, the European GT Championship and the Blancpain Endurance Series.
“As test driver of the 308 Racing Cup I am thrilled to drive the car in an actual race meeting. We have to face a unique racetrack and a top-level championship, which makes me approach this task humbly, but with a lot of motivation because I very much wish to show the potential of the car in both, performance and reliability,” he said.
Clairet, 25-years old, only began racing in the 2013 Peugeot 208 Racing Cup in which he finished as vice-champion in 2014, behind his brother Teddy. Last year he was classified 6th in the French Renault Clio Cup.
“I am excited by the opportunity of driving the 308 Racing Cup. Especially because it is a car entrusted directly by Peugeot Sport to Sébastien Loeb Racing. This is a prestigious step in my racing career. I can’t wait to race at Spa and I will do my very best to achieve a good result,” echoed Clairet.
Corthals and Buri join the field at Spa-Francorchamps
The TCR International Series welcomes two new drivers for the Belgian event at Spa-Francorchamps. Local hero Pierre-Yves Corthals and Finland’s Antti Buri will join the field this weekend.
One of the most experienced touring car drivers in Belgium, Corthals (in the picture) was crowned champion a stunning six times in the national and international Renault trophies; he also claimed victories and podium results in Super Production championships as well as competing in the European and the World Touring Car championships.
‘Pilou’ – as he his better known – returns to circuit racing after a break and will be at the wheel of a SEAT León of the Netherlands-based Ferry Monster Autosport that will also run Loris Hezemans’ sister car. Corthals’ car will sport the colours of the new TCR Benelux series.
As for the 27-year-old Buri, he will drive a Volkswagen Golf Gti run by the Belgian outfit WRT. The young Finn is in great form; he is taking part in the new ADAC TCR Germany with a LMS Racing SEAT León and last Sunday at the Sachsenring claimed a brilliant victory in the fourth round of the championship.
Top Run Motorsport and Mulsanne Racing skip Belgium
Both Top Run Motorsport and Mulsanne Racing have elected to skip the next event of the TCR International Series that takes place this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps.
The two Italian outfits – that are developing and running a Subaru WRX STi and an Alfa Romeo Giulietta respectively – have chosen to take a break and focus on upgrading their cars.
Top Run team manager Renato Russo explained: “Following the meeting we had in Tokyo with Subaru STi, we agreed on some technical improvements and we were also provided some new parts that are better suited to the TCR regulations. Therefore, bearing in mind the advice we received from Luca Rangoni after the races in Portugal, we have reluctantly decided to skip Spa and produce the maximum effort to run the final version of the TCR car in the following event.”
A press release from Romeo Ferraris engineering company stated: “Our Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR hit teething problems in the first two events of the season. Problems have been identified and are about to be solved. However we need to check these technical solutions and will do it in the next weeks. For this reason we have taken the hard decision of not racing in Spa and come back in the following events with a more competitive car.”
TCR promoter Marcello Lotti commented: “We know that it takes time to develop new racing cars. The growth of TCR has been so quick that some of the companies that are building them struggle to keep up with the pace. For a team is always tough to elect to skip a race weekend, so these decisions show how much Top Run and Mulsanne are keen to make their cars efficient and reliable. It’s true that we currently lack some cars, but it is clear that the field will be growing as the season goes on.”
30 kilos of success ballast for Gianni Morbidelli
After taking the lead of the Drivers’ championship with a victory and a second place in Estoril, Gianni Morbidelli will race at Spa carrying the maximum success ballast of 30 kilos on board his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic TCR.
The Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf Gti TCR of 2015 champion Stefano Comini, that finished third and second in the Portuguese races, will be laden by 20 extra kilos.
The lightest success ballast of 10 kilos will be imposed to James Nash’s SEAT León TCR of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil; the Briton won the second race at Estoril and is now second in the Drivers’ championship, only one point short of Morbidelli.
Qualifying: Borković beats Oriola in the fight for the pole
Dušan Borković gave B3 Racing Team its second consecutive pole position in the TCR International Series after that won by Mat’o Homola at Estoril two weeks ago.
After being stripped of the fastest Q1 lap by a penalty, the Serbian driver posted an impressive 2:33.065 in Q2, beating Pepe Oriola by a bit more than two tenths. “It’s great to get the pole, it was a good reward for the team after the difficult weekend in Portugal. Considering the car that has done the pole here is exactly the same that suffered the accident at Estoril, you realize how well the boys worked. Today, everything worked well: car, tyres, strategy… I just tried to keep calm after one of my best laps in Q1 was deleted and remain focused,” Borković said.
Him and Oriola locked the front row on the Race 1 grid for SEAT. Aku Pellinen’s Honda Civic qualified in third, the only car able to compete with the Spanish machine for the top positions.
The first Volkswagen Golf – Stefano Comini’s – qualified in eighth, while the other two Honda cars of Kevin Gleason and championship leader Gianni Morbidelli surprisingly did not make the cut for Q2.
An impressive Jimmy Clairet managed to qualify 11th in his Peugeot 308, while local hero Pierre-Yves Corthals posted the tenth fastest lap and won pole position on the top-ten reverse grid for Saturday’s Race 2.
Aku Pellinen signs maiden win under the Belgian sun
Aku Pellinen has joined the club of TCR race winners, after taking a clear win in Race 1 at Spa, on a sunny Friday afternoon. Once again, the young Finn of WestCoast Racing took an excellent start from row 2 and kept the lead throughout the entire race with his Honda Civic TCR.
Pepe Oriola and Dušan Borković concluded in second and third, after the Spaniard passed the Serbian on lap 1, both achieving their main goal of scoring heavy points. Mat’o Homola, Gianni Morbidelli, Kevin Gleason and Davit Kajaia took positions from 4th to 7th, after Jean-Karl Vernay and James Nash had ended their duel with a contact that cost several positions to the Briton (he eventually finished 8th) and a drive-through to the Frenchman, who dropped from fourth to 14th.
The last points were scored by Sergey Afanasyev and Antti Buri who both had stalled at the start. It was an even worse day for Stefano Comini, as the reigning champion’s car was stopped by a broken driveshaft before joining the grid.
The young Attila Tassi had a scary shunt in the last lap, caused by a puncture, but luckily he escaped unhurt.
Today’s result have closed the gap at the top of the points standings, with Morbidelli leading now only by 2 points on Oriola and 6 on Nash.
Race One Key facts
Grid: Comini’s car stops at the bottom of the pitlane and is pushed back to the pits with a drive-shaft problem
Start: Excellent start of Pellinen from row 2; the Finn takes the lead ahead of Borković , Oriola, Nash, Homola and Tassi; Afanasyev and Buri stall on the grid
Lap 1: Oriola passes Borković for second ; Tassi drops 4 positions.
Lap 2: Vernay passes Homola for 5th at les Combes; Morbidelli is already behind them
Lap 3: Pellinen leads by 2.5 seconds from Oriola, Borković , Nash, Vernay, Homola, Morbidelli, Gleason and Tassi; Hezemans, Corthals, Afanasyev and Guilvert fight for the 11th position
Lap 4: Hezemans is given a drive-through for a track limits infringement; Corthals pits with turbo issues
Lap 5: Vernay is putting pressure on Nash for 4th; Tassi is also given a drive-through penalty for track limits
Lap 6: Both Hezemans and Tassi serve their drive-through
Lap 7: Vernay and Nash make contact at the Bus Stop; Nash goes wide and rejoins in eighth position
Lap 8: Oriola closes the gap on Pellinen; Vernay is given drive-through for the incident with Nash and drops to 14th
Lap 9: Pellinen wins from Oriola and Borković , while Kajaia passes both Afanasyev and Nash for 7th; Tassi pèrovides the last thrill, crashing into the barriers at turn 12
Race 1 – Quotes from the podium finishers
Aku Pellinen (winner): “It wasn’t an easy win, despite the appearances, but it was a nice one. I took again a perfect start as soon as the lights went off; it seems I’m getting good at this… The plan was to push in the opening laps and then try to preserve the tyres. The car was very good today but as expected, I started to struggle with the front tyres after mid-race. The last two laps were very tough and I tried not to look to the mirrors, stay focused on my driving and avoiding mistakes. It went well and this first win is quite a relief. It definitely will help building self-confidence. We still have some work to do on the car, but the speed now is there and I thank the team for the excellent work.”
Pepe Oriola (second): “I am happy but I also have some regrets because of the bad start. I think that with a better start, I could have won, because I had a better pace than Aku. Still, it is a good result, as I am getting much closer to Gianni (Morbidelli) in the championship.”
Dušan Borković (third) : “Third is a good result, I am satisfied, I got the heavy points I was looking for, but it could have been a better day. Unfortunately I had a very bad start and Aku pulled away immediately. I probably got a little bit nervous and made a small mistake getting into the Esses, which allowed Pepe to pass me. I had some oversteer, but I could keep a good pace and almost catch Pepe again. But I knew I could not pass him and preferred to lift off a bit in the final laps.”
A triumphant day for Vernay and Leopard Racing
For a maiden win, it was a real triumph! Leopard Racing conquered its first TCR success very close to its Luxembourg headquarters and signed a stunning 1-2-3 with its three drivers: Jean-Karl Vernay, Stefano Comini and guest TCR Germany racer Antti Buri.
It was also the first victory of the year for the Volkswagen Golf Gti cars and the maiden TCR success for Vernay. The Frenchman has proven a quick adaptation to touring car racing and took a well-deserved victory after a close duel with teammate and reigning champion Comini.
Mat’o Homola and Aku Pellinen took fourth and fifth respectively after a relatively trouble-free race, while James Nash, Pepe Oriola, Kevin Gleason and Sergey Afanasyev animated the final laps with a close fight the for sixth position. Local hero Pierre-Yves Corthals took the last point in a race that saw much action at the back of the field, with the Peugeot 308 cars shining in the first part of the race, when Jimmy Clairet ran as high as eighth.
Following the two races, the situation in the championship is closer than ever, with the three first drivers (Oriola, Nash and Morbidelli) covered by only 4 points.
Race Two Key facts
Start: the Leopard Racing cars take a brilliant start, with Vernay ahead of Buri (they make contact before La Source) and Comini
Lap 1: Vernay leads but is chased Buri; Comini, Homola, Pellinen, Nash, Oriola, Afanasyev and Clairet follow
Lap 2: Comini passes Buri for second; Borković and Morbidelli make contact: the Serbian retires in the pits while the Italian loses a tyre and stops on the track
Lap 3: Homola passes Buri for third at Les Combes, but goes wide and hands the position back to the Finn; Gleason passes Clairet for ninth
Lap 4: Comini steals the lead from Vernay with a beautiful move at Les Combes; Kajaia hits Tassi at Blanchimont during a three-way fight with Hezemans
Lap 5: Vernay retakes the lead from Comini with the same manoeuvre at Les Combes; Grachev outbrakes himself and goes straight at the bus stop
Lap 6: Kajaia and Tassi are given a drive-through for trespassing the track limits
Lap 7: Grachev retires in the pits with brake problems
Lap 8: Tassi, Clairet, Hezemans and Guilvert are in a close fight for 11th
Lap 9: Vernay wins from Comini, Buri, Homola and Pellinen; Nash claims sixth beating Oriola by a small margin, while Gleason overtakes Afanasyev for eighth.
Race 2 – Quotes from the podium finishers
Jean-Karl Vernay (winner): “It was a great day for the team. We knew victory was going to come, but now it’s done and this will release pressure and encourage us for the forthcoming races. It’s a very good team, very professional and very motivated. You see it in the way we are making the car progress outing after outing. This first win is great for me too, adaptation to touring car racing and front-wheel drive cars has been smoother than expected, thanks also to the support from the team and my teammate. The race has been lively: I took a good start, the contact with Buri was completely accidental, I was looking in my mirrors and probably moved, then I had a good fight with Stefano. He passed me but I could repass him, it was all very fair and I could stay in front.”
Stefano Comini (second): “A very good team effort and a brilliant success. We needed something like this and I am very happy for everybody. The fight with Jean-Karl at the beginning was fun, but I did not want to push too much not to kill the tyres. I knew that otherwise I would be penalized in the second part of the race because of the 20-kg ballast. Now comes Imola and I really want to win there!”
Antti Buri (third): “It was a good result and a good race for me. My start wasn’t very good, once again, and soon after that Homola passed me too, with a great move, but I could pass him again. Then, I mostly tried to protect my podium position. The car felt good but it was my first time with the Golf and find it different from the León despite they share the same basis. My main programme this season is TCR Germany but I hope there will be other opportunities to come to the International Series, which I enjoyed very much.”
Unshaken Attila Tassi hopeful to race tomorrow
Attila Tassi was the lucky guy today in Spa-Francorchamps, as he suffered no consequences after a violent shunt in turn 12 (Pouhon) during the last lap of Race 1.
The fearless young Hungarian seemed not shaken by the incident and even minimized what occurred: “Actually the accident was more spectacular than severe”, he explained. “I had a puncture in one of the front tyres and went off. There was nothing I could do to avoid going straight into the tyre-wall. It was a big shunt but, luckily enough, the tyres are quite thick there and that limited the damage, although images on TV were quite dramatic.”
The relaxed attitude of the 16-year-old driver contrasted completely with the expression on the faces of the B3 Racing crews, still scared and relieved to see the jockey-sized Attila in one piece.
“The most important thing is that Attila is ok. Even the car doesn’t look too damaged and we’ll do everything we can to repair it for tomorrow”, confirmed team manager David Bári. After Tassi’s accident in Bahrain and Borkovi ć ’s shunt in Estoril, another long night of work awaits the mechanics of the Hungarian team.
Imola to host the Italian round in two weeks
The Italian round of the 2016 TCR International Series will take place in two weeks at Imola, on May 22.
The timetable of the event will be concentrated in one day only, on the Suday, with the aim to make the most out of the promotion and gather as much public as possible during what will be a mid spring weekend.
TCR promoter Marcello Lotti explained: “We are grateful to the Municipality of Imola and Formula Imola for offering us this opportunity to bring an international touring car series back to this glorious and demanding racetrack. And we are currently meeting with a lot of interest from Italian teams and drivers that want to join for the event.”
Imola’s circuit, named after Enzo and Dino Ferrari, was built in 1952, along the Santerno river; it underwent a complete reconstruction in 1979 and hosted both the Italian and San Marino F1 Grands Prix between 1980 and 2006. The racetrack was further modified and its facilities rebuilt in 2010.
The lap distance is 4.5 kilometres; TCR competitors will complete 14 of those laps in each race.
Corthals plays ambassador role for TCR Benelux
Pierre-Yves Corthals is more than ‘local hero’ this weekend at Spa. The Belgian is also the unofficial ambassador of the TCR Benelux, the new regional series that will kick-off in two weeks, precisely at Spa.
No surprise then that the SEAT León of Pilou Corthals is sporting the logos of the new series, the RACB, and of the innovative ‘Make the Grid’ concept that the TCR Benelux will inaugurate.
‘Make the Grid’ will allow everybody, from team members and partners to family, friends and fans, to determine, through their vote, the grid of the Qualifying Long Race at each event. The voting application, ½Make the Grid½, is integrated in the Facebook account of the series, and has been developed in cooperation with Live Buzz. The vote will be open 15 days ahead of each Qualifying Long Race up until the race day. Voters will also participate in a draw for prizes.
The championship heats up after the Belgian round
The 2016 TCR International Series’ first visit to Spa-Francorchamps resulted in an exciting weekend that heated up the championship further.
After Aku Pellinen had claimed his maiden TCR victory in yesterday’s Race 1 at the wheel of a WestCoast Racing Honda Civic, today it was Jean-Karl Vernay’s turn to score a first win for himself and Leopard Racing. It was also the first success of a Volkswagen Golf Gti in the current season.
These results meant that five different drivers and three different brands of car manufacturers have won in the six races held so far.
Quite obviously the Drivers’ championship’s classification is extremely close. After Gianni Morbidelli had managed to jump on top of the standings at the end of Race 1, Pepe Oriola retook the leadership after Race 2. The Spaniard has now a two-point margin ahead of James Nash, while Morbidelli is third, two further points adrift.
But the others are not far away. Pellinen, Stefano Comini, Vernay, Sergey Afanasyev, Mat’o Homola and Dušan Borković fill the positions from fourth to ninth, with the latter having a gap of 37 points from the leader.
The championship will resume at Imola, Italy on May 22, for rounds 7 and 8.
As this was the third 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!!