TCR drivers return to superfast track on the Austrian Alps
The fifth event of the TCR International Series took place at the Salzburgring, the high-speed track that lies in the superb setting of the Austrian Alps.
This is one the most demanding circuit for Touring Car drivers, because its combination of long straights with fast corners and a tricky chicane always results in the fastest average speed of the season and significant wear of the front left tyres.
The circuit was built in 1968 inside a narrow valley and its layout underwent very few changes since, although the pit building and paddock were rebuilt a few years ago. For many years (1971/1994) it was home of the Motorcycling Austrian GP and hosts the TCR International Series for the second time.
Actually this is the first time so far in the current season that TCR drivers return on a track they visited last year.
Stefano Comini to carry the maximum ballast
For the first time so far this season, 2015 TCR champion Stefano Comini will have to carry the maximum Success Ballast on board his Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf Gti.
The Swiss was the best scorer in Imola, with a victory and a third place that, added to fourth in qualifying, brougth him 42 points that will result in 30 extra kilos for the Austrian event at the Salzburgring.
The current championship leader Pepe Oriola of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil, will keep on with the same 20-kilo ballast he had carried at Imola, while the 10 kilos for the third best scorer in Italy will be laden on Mikhail Grachev’s WestCoast Racing Honda Civic.
With these Success Ballasts added to the BoP, the running weights of the three cars will be: 1315 kg for Comini’s Volkswagen Golf, 1345 kg for Oriola’s SEAT León and 1335 kg for Grachev’s Honda Civic.
Cerruti and Fulín will drive two Alfa Romeo cars
After skipping the two previous events in Spa and Imola, Mulsanne Racing rejoin the TCR International Series in Austria. At the Salzburgring, the Italian team doubles its commitment and fields two Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR cars, with Petr Fulín joining the team’s regular driver Michela Cerruti.
During the previous month the Romeo Ferraris engineering company has worked flat out to both develop the Giulietta TCR and build a second car. This phase was completed by a successful test at Cervesina’s Tazio Nuvolari circuit, where Cerruti and Fulín took the wheel of the two cars that have been significantly upgraded since their last appearance at Estoril and painted in a bright red.
Said Cerruti: “The team has worked a lot to improve performance, aerodynamics and handling. The most important changes are about the front suspension and the front part of the bodywork, with a new splitter and larger cooling intakes. During yesterday’s test the car proved to be faster and reliable. We will see how much we have improved only when we face the competitors on the track, but I am moderately optimist.”
Twice winner of the FIA European Touring Car Cup (2013 and 2014), Fulín drove the Alfa for the first time. The Czech driver has built himself a solid reputation in Touring Car competitions, and over the last two seasons has switched to front-wheel drive, racing a SEAT León TCR in the ETCC; he was runner up last year and is currently leading the standings.
“Running a second car was one of our goals, and I believe that having an experienced driver like Petr will help the team to make a further step ahead,” Cerruti added.
WestCoast Racing signs Harald Proczyk for his home race
After running its third Honda Civic car for Alain Menu at Imola, WestCoast Racing has signed another experienced driver, the Austrian Harald Proczyk, for this weekend’s race meeting at the Salzburgring.
Proczyk, who was born 41 years ago in Knittelfeld, nearby the Red Bull Ring, has established himself as one of the most experienced and successful Austrian drivers in recent years. His career has spanned from the early years in one-make trophies to the latest seasons in GT racing.
The Austrian has claimed a great deal of race victories and has fought several times for the titles in the German Ford Fiesta Cup, MINI Challenge and GT Masters, but also in the FIA European GT3 Championship and the Blancpain Endurance Series.
During the current season, Proczyk is racing in the new ADAC TCR Germany at the wheel of a SEAT León and, during the series latest event at the Sachsenring, he was victorious in the first race and jumped on top of the Drivers’ Championship standings.
Team manager James Rogers commented: “We are very pleased to offer Harald Proczyk the opportunity to take part in his home event at the wheel of a competitive car. We are very much looking forward to working with him, as we know he’s a fast driver. He may be a rookie in the International Series, but has already proved to be a winner in TCR Germany. It is also an opportunity for our team to showcase the performance of the Honda Civic TCR.”
And Proczyk added: “I’m very excited to discover the TCR International Series that is a step upward compared to the national series. I know that the team is very professional and I am curious to find out the potential of the Honda Civic. I need to focus on driving a front-wheel driven car at the limit again, because I have just raced the Nürburgring 24 Hours in a Porsche. And on top of this I need to get used to the Michelin tyres and get my bearings on the track again, as I haven’t raced at the Salzburgring since six or seven years. But I am relaxed and I want to enjoy this experience.”
Florian Janits joins Liqui Moly Team Engstler
Young Austrian racer Florian Janits will join the Liqui Moly Team Engstler for his home event of the TCR International Series, at the Salzburgring.
The 18-year old driver is facing his first experience in a front-wheel driven touring car, as he has only raced in karting and single seaters (Formula Renault and Formula 4) so far.
“I’m very much looking forward to this opportunity!” he said. “I have only raced formula cars in previous years, where I learned a lot. So being back on the track in the TCR International Series makes me very excited. I have never raced a front-wheel driven touring car before, but this does not worry me at all! And the good news is that I know the track well, having raced with the Lechner Racing School in 2014 and 2015. My expectations are getting used to the car as fast as possible, becoming familiar with the team and making the best out of my possibilities!”
Janits will team with Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s regular Davit Kajaia who has just claimed his first podium result in the series by finishing third in Imola’s Race 1.
Proczyk is fastest, but Vernay inherits pole position
Austrian racer Harald Proczyk achieved an outstanding – and unexpected – result by emerging as the fastest driver in Qualifying at the wheel of his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic car in his maiden appearance in the TCR International Series.
Proczyk, who had already won a TCR race in the German series with his SEAT, benefited from the changing conditions at the Salzburgring that grew worse during the session as the rain intensified. He was the first to admit that this result was due more to that fact than to his control of the car.
However, Proczyk lost his right to start from pole position, just as Gianni Morbidelli lost his fourth place on the grid for tomorrow’s Race 1. Both drivers were given a penalty of two positions on the grid because their cars were standing in the fast lane during the session. As a result, Jean-Karl Vernay inherited the pole position and Pepe Oriola will start from the second spot. Proczyk will start third, with Morbidelli sixth behind Jordi Oriola and Dušan Borković.
These grid penalties did not change the Qualifying results; Proczyk retains the pole position as far as points scoring and statistics are concerned.
Some of the championship’s main contenders struggled with different issues: Stefano Comini and James Nash were hampered by technical problems, while Mat’o Homola paid for a mistake in the early part of the session.
On his first outing for Mulsanne Racing, Petr Fulín placed his Alfa Romeo Giulietta in eighth, the best result so far for the Italian car. His teammate Michela Cerruti did not take part in the session, as her Giulietta was sidelined by engine problems that were the consequence of her trip into the gravel trap during this morning’s first Practice.
Attila Tassi and Mikhail Grachev qualified in tenth and ninth respectively and will be on the front row of the top-ten reversed grid for Race 2.
Q1: 1-2 for WestCoast Racing
First a red flag and then the rain spoiled this part of the session and eventually the chances of Stefano Comini and James Nash to make the cut for Q2.
The red flag was waved in the early stages, after a double incident at Turn 1 that saw Davit Kajaia’s Volkswagen stranded in the gravel trap and Mat’o Homola’s SEAT hitting the barriers.
When the session resumed, the crew of the B3 Racing Team managed to replace the front splitter on Homola’s car. In the meantime, the Slovak’s teammate Attila Tassi had posted a fastest lap of 1:26.682 that was not to be beaten, as rain poured down with nine minutes left.
Comini was one of the few to make a qualifying attempt after he had missed the dry part of the session while his team was working to replace the gearbox. However, on the wet track the Swiss could not clock a good enough time to advance to Q2.
Davit Kajaia, who had rejoined and set the 12th fastest lap, was later excluded for having received external aid after his incident at Turn 1, and this handed his teammate Florian Janits the last spot for Q2. As for Nash, his car suffered from transmission problems, which sidelined him for almost the entire session.
The following drivers made the cut: Tassi, P. Oriola, Morbidelli, Afanasyev, Borković, J. Oriola, Grachev, Vernay, Fulín, Proczyk, Homola and Janits .
Q2: Proczyk claims surprise result
Newcomer Harald Proczyk surprisingly emerged as the fastest driver in a Q2 that was flooded by pouring rain. The Austrian was the first driver to hit the track and set a time of 1:38.923 that he managed to improve on the following lap to 1:38.767. Soon afterwards the rain intensified, making it impossible for the other drivers to go faster than that.
Jean-Karl Vernay (1:39.079) and Pepe Oriola (1:39.359) secured the second and third places on the grid, while a last gasp improvement from Sergey Afanasyev granted him the seventh place and demoted Mat’o Homola from 10th to 11th, stripping him of the pole position on the reverse grid for Race 2.
Quotes from the fastest qualifiers
Harald Proczyk (fastest): “I think we were very lucky today; we were out at exactly the right moment and the conditions changed immediately afterwards. I tried to go faster later on, but it was not possible. The car is working well and we did a good job in both Practice sessions. The Honda is a strong car, particularly here, but it takes a few sessions before you can get the best out of any car. I hope tomorrow it will be dry because I was sideways about five times. When it rains, it’s dangerous at the Salzburgring and so I hope it’s dry for us to have two good races.”
Jean-Karl Vernay (second): “We thought we would be fighting for P10 and so our aim was just to go through to Q2. We were lucky in that we did a good lap time in Q1 before the rain came and in Q2 we did the same. I was close behind Proczyk and then Pepe and that’s when I did my best lap. After that, the weather got worse and worse with every lap. I hope that it rains tomorrow or that we have a wet track because otherwise it will be very tough for us. The problem for us is not from the BoP, but the SEAT and the Honda have had a lot of work and our car is still new. We have to improve the aero package to be able to fight with the other guys.”
Pepe Oriola (third): “I’m really happy – Gianni is behind me and Stefano didn’t make it into Q2, so for the Championship it’s really good. Without the mistake on my first lap, I think I could have been on pole position. I said to myself that I was going to wait to brake for the first corner, but I braked too late. After that, every lap was worse and worse. Towards the end of the session, I was aquaplaning; it will be very difficult if it’s like that for the races. I don’t mind if it rains tomorrow, but I hope it’s not as much rain as today.”
Results of Austrian races rock the championship
Describing the TCR International Series race meeting at the Salzburgring as ‘eventful’ would be an understatement. The changing weather conditions and the unique challenges of the circuit contributed to an outcome that has significantly altered the situation in the championship fight. With ten out of twenty-two races now in the archives, the top six drivers are separated by just 18 points – the equivalent of a second position.
Stefano Comini has regained the lead by one point ahead of Pepe Oriola who was stopped by a technical issue while on his way to winning the first race. After starting from the rear of the grid after missing Qualifying, also because of a technical problem, James Nash has climbed up to third, eight points adrift of the leader. Jean-Karl Vernay claimed a brilliant victory on the flooded track in the second race and is now lying fourth with a gap of 13 points, exactly the same as Gianni Morbidelli. Mat’o Homola completes the sextet a further five points adrift, the only driver of those top six who still has to win a race.
Although this classification gives quite an accurate picture of how the forces performed on the track so far this season, today’s results were, in some way, misleading. The SEAT cars, that appeared to be the most at ease at the Salzburgring, were defeated more by a chain of adverse circumstances than by the competition. And the Volkswagen cars, that struggled to stay on the pace in the dry, were definitely helped by the rain in the second race.
But all this is now history. The simple truth is that six drivers at the wheel of cars built by three different manufacturers are closely grouped for what promises to be an exciting second part of the season.
A few words need to be spent on Mikhail Grachev and the Mulsanne Racing team. After waiting one-and-half seasons to claim his first victory, Grachev scored his second in the very next race; he was also helped by Lady Luck and inherited the lead in Race 1 after Pepe Oriola withdrew, but he was able to retain it despite strong pressure from Nash and Homola.
As for Mulsanne Racing, they have worked hard, together with the Romeo Ferraris engineering company, to both further develop the Alfa Romeo Giulietta and run a second car. The promising lap times clocked by Petr Fulín in Practice and Qualifying made the team dream of some brilliant results, but the incident in which the Czech driver was involved at the start of Race 1 swept away all their hopes. The first point scored by Michela Cerruti was not an adequate reward for their efforts.
Race 1 – Second victory in a row for Mikhail Grachev
Two weeks after breaking his duck at Imola, where he claimed a maiden victory in the TCR International Series, Mikhail Grachev scored a second one in a row at the end of another race plenty of drama. The WestCoast Racing driver managed to survive a series of incidents and technical failures that eliminated some of the main players such as the Oriola brothers, Dušan Borković and Harald Proczyk.
It was a sweet and sour race for Mulsanne Racing; Petr Fulín’s Giulietta was eliminated in the incident at the start, while Michela Cerruti scored her first championship point.
In terms of the championship fight, the result played in favour James Nash who finished second and Gianni Morbidelli, who was able to recover to fourth position after being involved in the incident with Jordi Oriola at the start. With Pepe Oriola out of the points and Stefano Comini classified eighth Nash moved up to third, with a gap of 19 points, while Morbidelli lies only one further point adrift.
Race One Key Facts:
Start: Vernay sprints, from Pepe Oriola; behind them there is contact between Jordi Oriola and Morbidelli; Proczyk spins in avoidance and is hit by Fulín
Lap 1: Pepe Oriola passes Vernay and takes the lead; Proczyk and Fulín pit for repairs
Lap 2: Jordi Oriola passes Vernay for second
Lap 3: Afanasiev goes off onto the gravel trap at Turn 7
Lap 4: Jordi Oriola is chasing his brother Pepe; Borkovi ć, Grachev, Vernay and Nash fight for third
Lap 5: Jordi Oriola slows down and pit with a sensor problem; the safety car is prompted to recover Afanasyev’s car
Lap 7: The race resumes; Pepe Oriola leads from Grachev, Borkovi ć, Nash, Vernay, Homola and Morbidelli
Lap 8: Homola and Morbidelli overtake Vernay and move up to fifth and sixth
Lap 11: Pepe Oriola is chased by Grachev
Lap 13: Pepe Oriola slows down and retires with a suspected westgate failure; Grachev inherits the lead with Borkovi ć on his tail
Lap 16: Grachev defends the lead from Borkovi ć who is under pressure from Nash
Lap 17: Borkovic and Nash make contact while fighting for second; the Serbian driver goes off onto the gravel at Turn 11; Grachev wins from Nash, Homola and Morbidelli.
Race 2 – Jean-Karl Vernay surfaces as the winner in the flood
Weather conditions affected the results of the second race. Eventually was Jean-Karl Vernay who managed to make fewer mistakes than the other competitors and claimed his second victory of the season.
Sergey Afanasyev was classified second and reached his first podium of the season so far, while Stefano Comini scored a third place that propelled him back on top of the Drivers’ Championship standings.
With Pepe Oriola sidelined by the technical failure that had stopped him in Race 1, four other top contenders – Gianni Morbidelli, Jordi Oriola and Mikhail Grachev – had their chances spoiled by a wrong tyre choice that forced them to pit for a change at the end of the formation lap. Eventually Morbidelli managed to recover until a sixth position that might prove crucial for his ambitions in the championship.
Race Two Key Facts:
Grid: Fulín, Pepe Oriola and Borković’s do not appear; it starts pouring rain
Warm up lap: Cerruti’s car stalls on the grid and is pushed back to the pits; at the end of the lap four cars pit for changing tyres: Morbidelli, Grachev, Tassi and Jordi Oriola
Start: Vernay takes the lead from Kajaia, Janits and Comini
Lap 1: Janits is given a drive through penalty for changing tyres on the grid after the 5-minute board
Lap 2: Vernay leads from Kajaia, Comini and Proczyk
Lap 3: Afanasyev overtakes Nash for fourth
Lap 4: Comini and Kajaia have a close fight for second place
Lap 7: Proczyk makes contact with Jordi Oriola and stops, losing fourth position
Lap 8: Kajaia’s car aquaplanes at the braking and hits the tyre-pack at Turn 1
Lap 9: The safety car is deployed while Kajaia’s car is recovered
Lap 12: The race resumes; Comini misses the braking point at Turn 1 and takes the escape road, dropping from second to third
Lap 13: Morbidelli and Jordi Oriola overtake Tassi and move up to sixth and seventh
Lap 14: Janits goes wide at Turn 11 while trying to overtake Tassi
Lap 15: Vernay imitates Comini at Turn 1 and loses the lead to Afanasyev; but the French retakes the position at Turn 11
Lap 17: Vernay wins from Afanasyev, Comini and Nash.
Quotes from the podium finishers at Salzburgring
Mikhail Grachev (winner Race 1): “It was really unexpected for me to win in Imola, but here it was even more unexpected because I was P9 at the start. My role was to save the car and just to finish so I could start Race 2 from the front row. I made a good start and I was lucky to avoid the incident with the other cars flying around me. Without Pepe Oriola’s technical problems it would have been impossible for me to win because he was in front and I had no real opportunity to overtake. We had a compromise set-up in case of a wet race and it was a little bit softer than it needed to be, but it meant I had a better exit from some of the corners, which meant I could be fast on the straights.”
Jean-Karl Vernay (winner Race 2): “We woke up this morning and Stefano (Comini) said it was going to rain! Race 2 was crazy but I made a good start and I was able to get a good gap. After the safety car, I was able to make a good gap again. I then made a little mistake and Sergei (Afanasyev) was able to pass me, but I re-passed him on the back straight. I think it was a perfect result for the points; we weren’t thinking about that when we arrived because it was dry. Thanks to the team for their hard work this weekend – I just hope I don’t have too much weight next time.”
James Nash (2nd in Race 1): “Qualifying was not how we wanted to start the weekend, but championships come from your bad weekends. We managed to push our way through the accident at the first corner, which meant we were in the hunt. The incident with Borkovi ć was marginal as I couldn’t see him alongside me and I was committed. We had the smallest of touches, which sent him off.”
Sergey Afanasyev (2nd in Race 2): “Most of this race was done in the pits so my thanks to the guys who were working on my car. There was no other solution except to end parc fermé and to start from the back of the grid. In the first race, I planned to keep four wheels on the track, but only managed to do it with three! In the second race, my aim was to score points after the technical issues in Imola. The team did all the hard work – all I did was keep four wheels on the track.”
Mat’o Homola (3rd in Race 1): “Qualifying was really bad because I had a crash when I was in P1 – thanks to the team because they repaired my car really fast. The start of Race 1 was disappointing because of the Turn 1 accident, but I had a really good race pace and I was able to recover and fight for the podium positions. It was really nice for me”
Stefano Comini (3rd in Race 2): “Before the weekend, I sent Pepe Oriola an SMS and said I was looking forward to passing him in the Championship! I am really disappointed with the Golf because if you look at the first race we had no chance to battle on the dry track. I was the first one to put on wet tyres on the grid for Race 2 and it was the right choice – thanks to Leopard Racing, as this result put me back on top of the classification.”
The TCR International Series will resume on June 18 and 19 at Oschersleben, Germany, for rounds 11 and 12.
As per usual, I will be keeping things up to date on here with the blog as well as the members of the TCR Talk Facebook Group who will also be sharing their thoughts as well as any news from the series.
Until next time, all the best!