TCR 2016: Estoril…

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The second round of the 2016 TCR International Series took place at the former Grand Prix venue of Estoril in Portugal

Heres how things panned out…

The most famous Portuguese racetrack hosts second event

Three weeks after the season kicked off in Bahrain, the TCR International Series is heading to Portugal for rounds three and four.

The event will take place at Circuito Estoril, arguably the most famous Portuguese racetrack that was built in 1970 and hosted the Formula One Grand Prix between 1984 and 1996.

After adapting its format to the F1 timetable in Bahrain, the International Series reverts to its standard scheme with both races on Sunday, each over a distance of 60 kilometres.

The drivers will hit the track first on Friday afternoon, for a 30-minute Free Practice session; the second Practice will be run on Saturday morning, followed in the afternoon by the Qualifying, split in Q1 (20 minutes) and Q2 (10 minutes, for the twelve fastest in Q1).

The focus is on testing for the Opel Astra TCR

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Following its first appearance in the TCR International Series at the Bahrain International Circuit, the new Opel Astra TCR will continue its technical development within the next few months and will come back to competition after finalizing its test programme.

Jörg Schrott, Opel Motorsport Director, stated: “The event in Bahrain, where the Astra TCR competed as part of our test and development programme, provided us with some valuable results. The race weekend under special climatic conditions proved that the development of the Astra TCR is not finalized yet, so we will now thoroughly continue the test and development programme. As soon as it is completed, we will start the delivery of the Astra TCR to our customers.”

TCR promoter Marcello Lotti added: “The Astra TCR it is one of the most beautiful and eagerly-awaited cars in the field, but Opel Motorsport needs to focus on testing in order to finalize its technical development. We are well aware that when a new racing car is built to comply with a brand new set of rules like TCR’s – that is only in its second season – it takes some times before this phase is completed. We have seen this happening with other brands that have recently joined the series. We hope Opel will complete the development soon and look forward to seeing the three Astra TCR cars run by Target Competition join the TCR International Series for good.”

The Volkswagen Golf Gti is given a 30-kilo weight break

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The TCR International Series technical department has revised the Balance of Performance on the basis of the TCR International Series results in Bahrain.

For the Portuguese event, the Honda Civic TCR and SEAT León TCR remains the heaviest cars and keep on carrying 40 extra kilos that bring their running weight from 1285 to 1325 kilos, including the driver.

The Volkswagen Golf Gti TCR cars were given a 30-kilo weight break and will now run at the minimum weight of 1285 kilos as per the Technical Regulations.

A weight reduction will be also applied to the Opel Astra TCR and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR cars; they will run at 1265 kilos, just like the Subaru STi TCR.

The weight of the SEAT León Cup Racer cars remains unchanged at 1250 kg.

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The success ballast is applied on top of these weights. Following the Bahrain results, in Portugal Pepe Oriola, James Nash and Dušan Borković will carry 30, 20 and 10 extra kilos respectively.

Baporo Motorsport with Hezemans and Mora

SEAT specialist Baporo Motorsport will make its first appearance in the TCR International Series at Estoril, running two Le ó n cars for teenagers Loris Hezemans and Francisco Mora.

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Both drivers have already tasted TCR on a few occasions last year. Hezemans, 18-year-old from the Netherlands, took part in the events of Singapore and Buriram, claiming a brilliant second position in Thailand. As for the 19-year-old Portuguese Mora, he had joined in Algarve and Macau; his best result was eighth in the second race at Portim ã o.

The Spanish team has entered one Le ó n updated to 2016 TCR specifications with sequential gearbox for Hezemans and one Le ó n Cup Racer with DSG gearbox for Mora.

“Our plan is to be in the TCR international series for the remainder of the season. I am very happy to be back in the same car that last year gave me my first TCR podium and also I’m pleased to compete yet again in the TCR international series. My goal for Estoril will be to qualify within the top-three and reach the podium in at least one of the races,” said Hezemans. 

Mora added: “This is an important challenge for me, as the TCR International Series is a kind of world championship: top-level competition with the some of the best touring car drivers and you have to learn everything quickly. It is not going to be easy for me, as I will drive the car for the first time after Macau. But I’m very motivated, because it will serve me as a training in view of my participation in the TCR Portugal with the same car.

Cooperation between Top Run and Subaru gains force

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Top Run Motorsport’s programme with the Subaru STi TCR received an important boost from Team Manager Renato Russo’s recent visit to the headquarter of Fuji Heavy Industries in Japan.

“We were invited by Makoto Shimamura, managing director of all Subaru motorsports activities and I met him and Yosuke Takahashi who is in charge to follow the TCR programme,” explained Russo who added. “Shimamura-san congratulated us for thefar-sightedness in committing with the Subaru brand to the TCR International Series that is already creating a growing interest in Japan with teams and fans. As a matter of fact, this meeting was prompted following different enquiries about TCR that Subaru STi received from the Japanese media.”

The Italian team continues to develop the Subaru TCi TCR that will be driven by Luca Rangoni in the upcoming Portuguese weekend at Estoril. Top Run Motorsport is working in cooperation with Subaru’s STi department and their joint efforts are now aiming to field the final update of the Japanese car in the Italian event of the TCR International Series in May.

Mat’o Homola on pole after breathtaking qualifying

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Mat’o Homola and B3 Racing Team won their first pole position on their second appearance in the TCR International Series.

Once again it was a very close session, with the ninth fastest drivers covered by only six tenth and three different brands – SEAT, Honda and Volkswagen – filling the top-three positions within three tenths.

The young Slovak and his SEAT edged out the rest of the field with an impressive lap of 1:48.518 that was posted on their first run in Q2. Gianni Morbidelli placed his WestCoast Racing Honda in second position, only 0.155 seconds behind the poleman (1:48.673). The Leopard Racing duo of Jean-Karl Vernay and Stefano Comini fought for the third position until the very end; eventually the Frenchman’s 1:48.860 beat the reigning champion’s 1:48.965 by one tenth.

After topping the time sheet in Q1, Pepe Oriola qualified in a disappointing seventh position, while Loris Hezemans was classified tenth and won pole position on the reverse grid for the second race .

Qualifying 1: One lap is enough for Oriola

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It took only one lap to Pepe Oriola for posting the fastest lap at the beginning of the session. His time of 1:49.231 was nearly two tenths faster that everybody else’s. Jean-Karl Vernay (1:49.424) climbed to second fastest in the latest moments, demoting Mat’o Homola (1:49.479) to third. After aborting one attempt due to a mistake, Gianni Morbidelli salvaged the situation with a last lap of 1:49.508 that placed him in fourth, ahead of Stefano Comini and James Nash.

The leg was disrupted by the red flag after only four minutes, when Dušan Borković lost his car and hit the barrier head-on at Turn 3. The following drivers advanced to Q2: Oriola, Vernay, Homola, Morbidelli, Comini, Nash, Afanasyev, Gleason, Pellinen, Hezemans, Kajaia and Tassi. They were all covered by only nine tenths of a second.

Qualifying 2: SEAT beats Honda and Volkswagen

Mat’o Homola’s SEAT set an impressive fastest lap of 1:48.518 that was good enough for claiming pole position.

The other drivers did their best and improved their times, but not enough. Gianni Morbidelli managed to post the second best lap (1:48.673), while Jean-Karl Vernay (1:48.860) beat his team-mate Stefano Comini (1:48.965) for third.

Quotes from the fastest qualifiers

Mat’o Homola (pole position): “I’m very happy with pole position in only my second TCR Qualifying. I’d like to thank my team B3 Racing, because they’ve done an amazing job since Bahrain where I didn’t have very good pace. We tested on Wednesday and I wasn’t so sure that we had a good setup, so we had to make some changes and clearly it was a good move and a good step forwards. I’m very happy with the car. From my point of view, it was a normal lap; with the new tyres, I had a lot more grip and I could push more. Maybe there could have been a few more tenths.”

Gianni Morbidelli (2nd fastest): “I have to be happy because I wasn’t here on Wednesday for the test. We were quite unlucky yesterday because the weather didn’t help me make some laps and today I didn’t have much time. We struggled with the power steering and I’m a little bit worried about it. I didn’t expect to be so quick so I’m happy for the team as we scored some points for the Championship. Now we have to solve the power steering issue. Behind me I have a good team and I believe in them, so I know they will do everything they can for me.”

Jean-Karl Vernay (3rd fastest): “It was a really good performance and we are not that far compared to the others so it’s a big improvement. We saw that we still have lots of work to do on the car to come back on the SEAT and the Honda so that we can fight for the pole but it’s really good and Stefano is also really close, so it’s good for the team. We gained two or three tenths thanks to the BoP and it’s good for the championship to have different cars fighting for the win.”

B3 Racing at work to repair Dušan Borković’s car

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Dušan Borković escaped with only a few bruises by a spectacular crash during today’s Qualifying session at Estoril.

In the early stages of Q1, on his first flying lap, the Serbian lost the back of his SEAT León and crashed head-on into the Armco barrier at Turn 3.

“I don’t really know what happened. I was not pushing particularly hard, I was on my racing line, but all of a sudden there was a lot oversteer. I lost the back of the car and hit quite heavily. I still don’t know if the damage is repairable,” he said.

The B3 Racing Team crew is already at work to try repairing the car that suffered from extensive damage to the front right.

Loris Hezemans wins pole position for Race 2

On his comeback to the TCR International Series, Loris Hezemans set the tenth fastest lap in Q2 Qualifying, which will earn him pole position on the reverse grid for tomorrow’s Race 2.

The Baporo Motorsport driver said: “Surprisingly, perhaps, I’m actually not that pleased with today’s results. The bad weather in Free Practice 1 meant I changed to slicks just as the rain started, so I only had the second practice to learn the track. We made some changes for Qualifying but we had a really bad understeer problem, especially power understeer out of the corners. I’m happy that I’m able to start from pole position in Race 2, but we need to fix this issue, otherwise I won’t be able to hold that position. I’m confident we’ll find something so hopefully I can be on the podium at least.”

Pepe Oriola endures difficult qualifying session

Current championship leader Pepe Oriola had a difficult qualifying session today at Estoril and ended up with only a seventh position on the grid for tomorrow’s Race 1.

After posting the fastest lap in Q1, Oriola had his best time in Q2 disallowed for not respecting the track limits. This provisionally placed him in ninth place. However, the Stewards of the meeting reviewed their decision after the end of the session and reinstated the young Spaniard in seventh position.

Oriola said: “Q1 went really well; I did almost the perfect lap. I really thought I could get pole position because I had made some mistakes on my flying lap. So I knew I could go two or three tenths faster. Somehow the other drivers found one second from their pockets and then my lap got cancelled. On the last lap, my engineer told me that I had to finish the lap because I was in P12 and I managed to move up to P9.”

FIA Vice President Carlos Gracia visited Estoril

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Carlos Gracia, President of the Spanish National Sporting Authority (RFEdA) and Vice President of the FIA, was one of the guests who visited Estoril today. He had the opportunity to meet with all key players of the different series that are racing in Portugal.

Gracia also spent some times in the paddock, talking with Jaime Puig (SEAT Sport director), Marcello Lotti (TCR promoter) and Jesús Pareja (GT Open and Euroformula promoter).

Morbidelli takes series lead by one point over Nash

TCR drivers treated the Portuguese fans to a pair of exciting races that saw Gianni Morbidelli (WestCoast Racing) and James Nash (Craft-Bamboo Lukoil) claim one victory apiece and jump to the top of the Drivers’ Championship, with the Italian leading the Briton by only one point.

The close fights in both races – but also in Saturday’s qualifying session – that involved Honda, SEAT and Volkswagen cars, proved that the latest revision of the Balance of Performance had hit its target in equalizing the three fastest models in the field.

That factor also enabled a number of other drivers to shine. Some of them were able to capitalize in terms of results like the Leopard Racing duo of Jean-Karl Vernay and Stefano Comini who drove their Golf Gti cars to podium finishes. Others were only capable of coming close to those exploits, like Mat’o Homola who lost a possible win and even a podium position in the final laps of the first race.

Pepe Oriola, who had dominated the season opener in Bahrain, had a very disappointing weekend. Only seventh in qualifying, he was betting everything on the reverse grid of the second race, but a clash with Loris Hezemans unbalanced his car and jeopardized his hopes. He is now third in classification, 14 points off the lead.

The TCR International Series will resume on May 6 and 7 at Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium, for rounds 5 and 6.

Race 1 – Gianni Morbidelli steals victory from Mat’o Homola

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Gianni Morbidelli and his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic took their first win of the season in a lively Race 1 at Estoril, which heated up in the second half. Despite having had less practice mileage than his direct rivals, the Italian put in a great performance, trailing Mat’o Homola, who led most of the race.

The Slovak defended his position hard, but from mid-race onwards he struggled with the deterioration of the front tires and eventually had to surrender 3 laps from the end. Later he lost two more positions to Leopard Racing’s Volkswagen Golf cars of Jean-Karl Vernay and Stefano Comini, who clinched their first podium finishes of the year.

The Craft-Bamboo Lukoil duo of Sergey Afanasyev and James Nash took 5th and 6th, followed by Aku Pellinen and Pepe Oriola.

On his comeback to the series, Loris Hezemans was a good 9th, while the other Baporo Motorsport SEAT of local hero Francisco Mora took the last available point.

Oriola and Morbidelli are now on top of the standings on equal points.

Key facts

Start: Morbidelli takes the best start ahead of Homola, Vernay, Pellinen, Comini, Afanasyev, Nash and Oriola

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Lap 1: Borkovi ć recovers to 10th after starting from the back of the grid

Lap 2: Homola attacks Morbidelli at the beginning of the second lap and takes the lead; Gleason pits with engine problems

Lap 3: Pellinen is passed by both, Comini and Afanasyev; Cerruti pits with transmission problems; Kajaia goes very wide on the grass but rejoins

Lap 4: Nash takes 6th from Pellinen; Mora passes Rangoni for 13th.

Lap 6: Rangoni stops at Turn 10 with an open wheel (front left); Cerruti rejoins the race

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Lap 7: Grachev passes Borkovic for 10th, while Mora fights with Kajaia for 12th

Lap 8: Hezemans chases Oriola, who is eighth and hits the tyre pack at Turn 9

Lap 9: Morbidelli is closing in on Homola and tries a first attack at the “esses”

Lap 11: The fight between Homola and Morbidelli heats up, with the two making contact and driving abreast in the “esses”

Lap 12: Morbidelli eventually manages to pass Homola in Turn 3; the latter is unable to resist also to Vernay

Lap 13: Comini passes Homola for third

Lap 14: Grachev passes Hezemans for 9th and they make contact

Lap 15: Morbidelli wins from Vernay, Comini and Homola; the last thrill is a contact between Borkovi ć and Grachev who were fighting for ninth with Hezemans and Mora.

Race 1 – Quotes from the podium finishers

Gianni Morbidelli (winner): “Winning is always the best thing, so I am quite happy! I knew that it was key to preserve the tyres in the first part of the race and that is what I did. I also saw that Homola was a little bit harder on his tyres and figured that he would be in trouble. It was a nice and fair fight, because he was faster on the straights and defended very well his position, but eventually he started to feel the pressure and I could pass. It was about time, because Vernay and Comini were getting very close and I was in the uncomfortable position of having to attack and defend at the same time. The car felt good and I thank the team for the good work done to solve the power steering problem we had in practice and qualifying.”

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Jean-Karl Vernay (second): “It’s a good result, the best possible in this race, and it’s good to score my first points. I had a good start but like Morbidelli, tried not to stress the tyres. The duel between him and Homola allowed me to get closer to them. Unfortunately, at some point, they had a contact and debris broke my windscreen, so I had to close my helmet visor to continue. Towards the end I was well-placed to use any opportunity that may come from the fight between the first two and eventually, I could pass Homola, even if I didn’t want to take any risk.”

Stefano Comini (third): “After free practice we completely changed the set-up of the car, and it proved the right thing to do. The car felt much better. My start wasn’t great as I wanted to avoid any problems and lost one position. The first half of the race was a little bit boring, but then things got livelier. I managed to overtake Pellinen and then Vernay and I joined the two leaders. Third is a good result, but we still have a lot of work to do.” 

Race 2 – James Nash claims dominant victory

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It did not take much time to James Nash to find his way to victory in his return to Touring Car racing. After an excellent weekend in Bahrain, the Brit of Team Craft Bamboo Lukoil took his maiden win in the TCR International Series in Estoril.

The SEAT driver dominated Race 2 from lights to flag, beating Stefano Comini, who continued improving with the Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf Gti and Gianni Morbidelli, with the WestCoast Racing Honda Civic.

The Italian brilliantly won a couple of duels, notably with Jean-Karl Vernay and Sergey Afanasyev, to take a second podium finish this weekend and grab the leadership in the points standings, albeit by a single point over Nash.

Afanasyev claimed an excellent 4th ahead of Vernay, Aku Pellinen, Davit Kajaia, Mat’o Homola and Francisco Mora, while Pepe Oriola finished only 10th, after struggling the entire race with a car damaged in a contact with Loris Hezemans at the start.

Key facts

Start: Nash takes the best start after fighting with Pellinen, Comini, Vernay and Oriola; Hezemans stops after few meters, following contact with Oriola

Lap 1: Morbidelli passes Pellinen for 6th;

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Nash leads from Comini, Vernay, Oriola, Afanasyev and Morbidelli; Kajaia passes Grachev for 8th

Lap 2: Nash pulls away and creates a 2-second lead

Lap 3: Homola passes Grachev for 9th; Borkovi ć and Tassi make contact and the former retires with a pierced radiator

Lap 4: Oriola’s car is out of balance after the contact with Hezemans at the start; the Spaniard loses positions to Afanasyev, Morbidelli, Pellinen and Kajaia, dropping from fourth to eighth

Lap 7: Homola passes Oriola, taking 8th

Lap 8: Mora overtakes Tassi for 11th

Lap 9: Vernay in P3 is chased by Afanasyev and Morbidelli

Lap 10: Morbidelli takes 4th from Afanasyev

Lap 11: Mora passes Oriola for 9th

Lap 12: Vernay and Morbidelli are in a close fight, eventually the Italian passes the Frenchman for third

Lap 13: Afanasyev passes Vernay as well

Lap 15: Nash starts to lift off a bit but has everything under control and wins ahead of Comini, Morbidelli, Afanasyev and Vernay

Race 2 – Quotes from the podium finishers

James Nash (winner) “It was probably the best start of the season for me and that helped much. I skipped free practice to save t y res and that allowed me to push quite hard in the first part of the race and build some advantage. It was a stressful gap though, because at the end of the race I struggled with the t y res. Still, everything went well and now I am enjoying a good position in the championship, only one point behind Gianni. Too early to say anything, the championship is still very long and it will be about consistency.”

Stefano Comini (second) : “I am second, so climbing another step after third in Race 1 , which is good. My start was not very good and I missed the first braking point. After that I was behind my team mate and could pass him when he did a little mistake in turn 4. There was not much I could do to reduce the gap with Nash, so I did not push too hard, not to kill the t y res, and I went for some heavy points.”

Gianni Morbidelli (third) : “It was again a good race, I am happy with the result. I lost some time behind Oriola and I think I was a little bit too hard on my front t y res to try to pass him. After that, I had some understeer and mostly tried to preserve the t y res. Being first in the championship doesn’t mean much, it’s way too early.”

All drivers were able to start in the second race

All the TCR drivers managed to take part in the Estoril second race today.

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The Top Run Motorsport crew managed to repair the front left suspension of Luca Rangoni’s Subaru WRX STi that broke during the first race.

The technical failures that stopped Kevin Gleason’s Honda Civic for good and forced Michela Cerruti’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta to pit were both solved. 

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The mechanic of Mulsanne Racing discovered a false contact in the gear linkage and sent Cerruti back on track after a brief stop. As for WestCoast Racing, Gleason’s Civic suffered from an engine wiring problem that was also solved.

Both, Gleason and Rangoni took the start from the back of the grid as their teams asked for neutralization of the parc fermé rules.

As this was the second 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!!

Phil!!

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