TCR returns to the Olympic Park’s F1 racetrack
The TCR International Series returned to the Sochi Autodrom that hosted the series last year in its maiden season.
This state-of-the-art racetrack, designed by Hermann Tilke, is sandwiched in amongst the stunning Olympic Park facilities; it was inaugurated in 2014 and has hosted the Formula One Russian Grand Prix each year since then.
Last year’s TCR event saw Jordi Gené and Pepe Oriola finish 1-2 for Craft-Bamboo Lukoil in Race 1, while Stefano Comini won the second race from Oriola and local heroes Mikhail Grachev and Sergey Afanasyev.
The weekend will be packed with action, as the SMP Russian Circuit Racing Series shares the bill with the TCR International Series. The local races will include Touring (TCR Russia)/Super Production, Touring Light, National and CN Sport Prototype.
B3 Racing Team cars to be laden by Success Ballast
B3 Racing Team’s Dušan Borković and Mat’o Homola will have the dubious honour of carrying the heaviest amounts of success ballast for the forthcoming event of the TCR International Series at the Sochi Autodrom.
The pole position and two second places in the races at Oschersleben last week granted Borković a score of 41 points and therefore his SEAT León car will be laden by the 30 extra kilos of the maximum success ballast.
Borković’s harvest only exceeded by two points that of h is teammate Homola’s, who won Race 1 in Germany to claim his maiden TCR victory. The young Slovak will have 20 kilos of success ballast imposed in Sochi.
James Nash of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil scored 33 points at Oschersleben, thanks to being third in qualifying and both races. He will carry 10 kilos of ballast, ten less than he had in Germany. The Briton is currently second in the Drivers’ Championship, on equal points with the leader, his teammate Pepe Oriola.
With these success ballast figures added to the BoP, the running weights of the three SEAT cars will be: 1345 kg for Borković ’s, 1335 kg for Homola’s and 1325 kg for Nash’s.
Craft-Bamboo Lukoil teammates to fight for the lead
Lukoil, Craft-Bamboo’s Russian sponsor couldn’t hope for a better situation on the eve of the TCR race meeting in its own country, as two of its drivers – Pepe Oriola and James Nash – are joint on equal points on top of the Drivers’ Championship.
While the Spaniard and the Briton will fight in Sochi to take a clear lead, five other drivers are eager to defend their chances of staying in the title fight and possibly to reduce their gaps from the leading duo.
B3 Racing Team’s Mat’o Homola is currently third, only four points behind Oriola and Nash; the 2015 champion Stefano Comini (Leopard Racing) lies fourth a further 13 points adrift, while the positions between fifth and seventh are filled by Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Racing), Gianni Morbidelli (WestCoast Racing) and Sergey Afanasyev (Craft-Bamboo Lukoil) with gaps of 30, 31 and 34 points respectively .
Russian drivers searching for glory in their home event
Sergey Afanasyev and Mikhail Grachev, the two Russian representatives in the TCR International Series, are very much looking forward to their home country event at Sochi, as they both have great expectations and serious chances to be successful.
Afanasyev (Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT León) is still well-placed in the Drivers’ Championship: seventh, 34 points behind the leading duo of his own teammates Oriola and Nash. Since last year the 28-year old Muscovite has emerged as one of the series’ fastest drivers, with a few visits to the TCR podium – the latest being a second place at the Salzburgring – and pole position in the season opener at Bahrain. Now he’s chasing his first victory.
“Sochi is a place for having fantastic vacations, but is also a good place for racing. Sochi Autodrom is a great racetrack, perfect for Touring Car competitions, with a lot of places for overtaking. We are all ready for this weekend that is a great opportunity for us, with plenty of goals to aim for: podiums and good points. I have never scored one TCR win and this is the right time to go for it!” Afanasyev declared.
As for Grachev (also 28 years old, but from the Siberian city of Omsk), he has already won two races (at Imola and Salzburgring) since he switched to the WestCoast Racing Honda Civic. And he has good memories of Sochi, where he won the very first race that inaugurated the track in 2014, held shortly before the F1 Grand Prix, and claimed his first TCR podium in 2015 (third in Race 2).
“My target for Sochi is definitely to continue being competitive and fighting for the top positions. I wish to grab as much points as possible, for myself but also for WestCoast Racing, because after the weekend in Oschersleben we have lost ground in both the Drivers’ and Team’s championships. And of course, I would be very happy to step onto the podium again,” said Grachev.
TCR Russia shares the bill with the International Series
Two weeks after sharing the bill with the ADAC TCR Germany at Motorsport Arena Oschersleben, the TCR International Series is alongside another sister series at Sochi, where the race weekend also features TCR Russia, the Touring class of the SMP Russian Circuit Racing Series.
In 2015 – the zero year for TCR – SMP bravely made TCR cars eligible for the Touring class and LUKOIL Racing took up the challenge, running three SEAT cars that dominated the championship. The bet has paid off and in the current season the number of TCR cars has already tripled, although the field is still formed by SEAT León cars only and the grid is completed by a bunch of Super Production machines.
After the first three events that took place at Smolensk, Nizhniy Novgorod and Grozny, TAIF Motorsport’s Dmitry Bragin and Lukoil Racing’s reigning champion Aleksey Dudukalo are joint with 584 points on top of the standings, though Bragin has already claimed four race victories against Dudukalo’s two.
Lev Tolkachev (Innocenti-AMG Motorsport) lies third with 512 points, while Dudaklo’s teammate Roman Golikov is fourth with 510.
Qualifying – First pole for Comini and Volkswagen
In a torrid afternoon on the shores of the Black Sea, reigning TCR champion Stefano Comini took his first pole of the season, which was also the first one for a Volkswagen Golf car and for Leopard Racing. The Luxemburger team placed his other car in third with Jean-Karl Vernay. Sandwiched in-between the two turquois Golf cars was Pepe Oriola, with the Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT, only 141 thousandths behind the poleman and a bit frustrated after having dominated the two free practice sessions and Qualifying 1. The Spaniard saw his best time in Q2 disallowed, for exceeding track limits, although this did not affect the final ranking.
It was a very close fight, with the first eight cars within a second, despite the length of the Sochi Autodrom. Gianni Morbidelli was fourth at the wheel of the WestCoast Honda Civic, ahead of the Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta of Petr Fulín. The Czech rounded in Q2 a day that saw him always in the top positions and confirmed the progress made by the Italian car.
On their home track, Russian drivers lived a somehow difficult day, with Mikhail Grachev qualifying seventh and Sergey Afanasiev 11th. The two other locals present in the Russian event, Ildar Rakhmatullin (WestCoast Honda Civic) and Vladimir Sheshenin (Liqui Moly Volkswagen Golf) did not pass the Q1 cut, together with Michela Cerruti who complained about severe understeer.
The first row on the reverse grid for Race 2 will be filled by B3 Racing Team Hungary’s Attila Tassi (on pole) and Mat’o Homola.
Q1: Oriola fastest as Fulín impresses
Pepe Oriola continued in topping the sessions as he was the fastest in Q1 with a lap of 2:21.734. Just like in the second Practice, Stefano Comini was his closest competitor, only one tenth behind (2:21.876), while Jean-Karl Vernay ranked in third (2:22.206).
Petr Fulín provided the biggest surprise, posting the fourth fastest lap in the dying moments (2:22.282), the best results so far for the Romeo Ferraris-built Alfa Romeo Giulietta.
The two Honda Civic cars of Gianni Morbidelli and Mikhail Grachev qualified in seventh and eighth, behind Dušan Borković and James Nash.
The following drivers made the cut for Q2: Oriola, Comini, Vernay, Fulín, Borković, Nash, Morbidelli , Grachev, Afanasyev, Homola, Tassi and Kajaia .
Q2: Comini claims first pole for Volkswagen
Stefano Comini claimed pole position with the time of 2:21.130 on his first lap out of the pits. Nobody was able to improve and only Pepe Oriola got close to it; the Spaniard’s best lap (2:21.160) was disallowed by the Stewards because he trespassed the track limits, but his second best (2:21.271) gave him a front row position on the grid for Race 1.
Jean-Karl Vernay (2:21.434) and Gianni Morbidelli (2:21.699) qualified in third and fourth respectively, followed by an even more impressive Petr Fulín (2:21.954) who placed his Giulietta in fifth.
Drivers’ quotes after the Qualifying session
Stefano Comini (pole position): “It is very nice to take the first pole of the year for both Volkswagen and Leopard Racing. This is probably the first time this year that I am really happy with our qualifying performance and that I can say that we could bring the car to its limit. For once, we did not struggle with oversteer and I could give everything and have three flat out laps in Q2. I could benefit a little from some slipstreaming by Gianni [Morbidelli] and that was helpful as our cars are not as fast as the others on the straight. It will be more difficult to keep the advantage tomorrow, especially at the start, and we can predict some action at first corner…”
Pepe Oriola (second fastest): “I don’t feel particularly upset to have not taken the pole after being the fastest in free practices and Q1. It just happened that in Q2, my first fast lap was disallowed because I ran too wide, although that lap would not mean the pole. Then, I was a little bit wide in my second attempt as well, and by then my tyres lost performance. Still, the first row is a good position to start from and we’ll see what happens. It’s going to be a long and tough race and I’ll approach it thinking about the championship and trying to avoid doing any crazy things.”
Jean-Karl Vernay (third fastest): “It was an excellent result for the team and a good start of the weekend for me, while discovering the track. I must say I really like it. It’s a technical and interesting track that requires a good flowing and a good rhythm to be competitive. My only concern is about the start and the first corner. I think that with a lot of faster cars around Stefano and myself, it is going to be a crowded place…”
Gianni Morbidelli (fourth fastest): “I cannot be entirely satisfied today, I really believe we simply limited the damage… The truth is that we are less competitive than expected here and that we have probably reached the ceiling of our potential on this racetrack…”
Petr Fulín (fifth fastest): “I feel as happy as if I would have done the pole… It’s really a good result for us and for the entire team, which has worked very well, especially today when they could solve the turbo problem occurred in free practice 1 and give me a car capable of taking P5 in Q2. Considering that there was no time to work on evolving the car between Oschersleben and here, it means that we are becoming more and more competitive. This afternoon, the car was much better than this morning and I could perform three laps at the same pace. I used a bit Morbidelli’s slipstream and that probably represented a gain of around 4 tenths.”
Two local drivers joined the International Series’ field
The TCR International Series has welcomed two Russian newcomers in this weekend’s event at Sochi Autodrom.
The last minute addition of Ildar Rakhmatullin and Vladimir Sheshenin to regulars Sergey Afanasyev and Mikhail Grachev increased the number of local drivers to four.
Rakhmatullin is at the wheel of a WestCoast Racing Honda Civic, just like he did last year here in Sochi. The 30-year old from Kazan, is a race winner in the Russian Touring Light category in which he finished as a runner up in 2015.
Sheshenin, 27-year old from Ekaterinburg, is the current leader of the Russian National class in a LADA Kalina; he had won the National title in 2014 and finished second last year. Sheshenin is driving a Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf Gti.
They are both committed to race in their respective national championships as well during the weekend.
Another family photo with TCR’s Russian relatives
Following the taking of the TCR family picture at Oschersleben, that gathered together all the competitors of the International and German series, another photo call was organised at Sochi with the TCR Russia drivers joining their International Series fellows.
Twenty-three cars from both championships were lined up on the Sochi Autodrom starting grid for another impressive shot.
The cars and drivers were then joined by TCR promoter Marcello Lotti and Oleg Petrikov, promoter of the SMP Russian Circuit Racing Series.
TCR Russia: Dmitry Bragin keeps on winning
Dmitry Bragin’s winning streak continued, as the TAIF Motorsport driver scored an new victory in today’s Race 1 at Sochi, his fifth out of the seven rounds of the SMP Russian Circuit Racing Series held so far.
After setting pole position in this morning’s qualifying, Bragin resisted an early assault from Roman Golikov after the start and went to claim another lights-to-flag win.
Behind him, Golikov and his Lukoil Racing teammates Nikolay Karamyshev and Aleksey Dudukalo were involved ion a close, but short fight for the other podium position. In a few laps Karamyshev emerged as the fastest of the trio and proceeded to close the gap fropm Bragin.
Towards the end of the 9-lap race, Bragin’s margin had faded to only two tenths, however he was able to increase the pace and to cross the line half-a-second ahead of Karamyshev. Dudukalo took third position, with Golikov in fourth.
These results enabled Bragin to take a solo lead in the Drivers’ Championship, ten points ahead of Dudukalo.
Comini retakes the championship lead by one point
It is full summer in Sochi, with glorious and warm weather and thousands of holiday-makers flocking to the Black Sea beaches. The Russian event also marked the start of the summer break for the TCR International Series, but most importantly, it made the title fight even hotter ahead of the final four race meetings in the Far East.
The action on the track and the penalties issued to Dušan Borković, James Nash and Mat’o Homola and Davit Kajaia reshuffled the point standings that now see Stefano Comini as the new leader, although he has only a one point advantage on Pepe Oriola and seven on Nash; Jean-Karl Vernay and Homola are fourth and fifth, with gaps of 22 and 23 points respectively, while Gianni Morbidelli is still at striking distance (37 points from the leader) despite a broken suspension forced him out of today’s second race.
In Sochi, the Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf cars expressed their full potential. This allowed Comini to take pole position and an authoritative win in Race 1, while Vernay brought home another podium finish in Race 2. Oriola and Morbidelli completed the podium of the first race, but they neither of them could finish the second race.
Local hero Mikhail Grachev took a superb win in Race 2; the third of the season for him since he joined WestCoast Racing Honda Civic.
Eventually the podiums of both races were filled by three different car brands: Honda (first and third), Volkswagen (first and second) and SEAT (second and third).
The weekend provided more exciting news, with 17-year-old Hungarian Attila Tassi taking his first podium (3rd) in Race 2; the B3 Racing’s teenager mastered some well-seasoned rivals to sign a great performance. And it was also a great weekend for the Alfa Romeo Giulietta of Mulsanne Racing that Petr Fulín put in P5 on the grid before finishing both races in the points (6th and 9th), the best result so far for the Italian car.
Race 1 – An uncatchable Comini claims victory
Stefano Comini took his second win of the season at Sochi Autodrom. Starting from the pole, the Swiss was able to build a good advantage in the early laps, keeping the Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf Gti well ahead all rivals up to the chequered flag. Race 1 on the Russian track was characterized by extremely warm weather.
Pepe Oriola finished second after a short duel with Gianni Morbidelli, who had taken an excellent start. The SEAT of the Spaniard and the Honda of the Italian completed a podium where three different manufacturers were represented.
James Nash crossed the line fourth, ahead of Dušan Borković , Mikhail Grachev, Jean-Karl Vernay, Petr Fulín and Davit Kajaia, who animated the race with some close battles. Mat’o Homola took the last point in a race that saw few incidents.
After the race both Nash and Borković received time penalties of 10 and 30 seconds respectively; Nash was demoted from fourth to eight as he was deemed responsible for a collision with Vernay, while Borković was punished for repeatedly trespassing the track limits and dropped from fifth to 14th.
Race One Key Facts
Start: Poleman Comini takes a good start from Morbidelli, Oriola and Vernay; Afanasyev stalls the engine and starts from the back
Lap 1: The four leading cars are followed by Nash, Grachev, Borković and Fulín
Lap 2: Comini builds a gap, at the pace of one second per; Oriola passes Morbidelli for second
Lap 3: Fulín and Kajaia are in a close battle for 7th and swap positions twice;Borković and Grachev are in a similar fight , with the Serbian taking 5th
Lap 4: Vernay makes contact with Nash and drops to 10th; Sheshenin pits with damage on the front right wheel and body after hitting a pile of tyres
Lap 6: Comini leads by 4 seconds on Oriola, then Morbidelli, Nash and Borković ; Vernay passes Homola for 9th
Lap 7: Fulín attacks Grachev for 6th, with Kajaia chasing them closely; Afanasyev is given a drive-through for trespassing the track limits
Lap 8: Vernay passes Kajaia for 8th
Lap 9: Vernay takes 7th from Fulín
Lap 11: Comini takes a comfortable win ahead of Oriola, Morbidelli, Nash and Borković
Race 2 – Grachev shines at home with superb win
Mikhail Grachev played to perfection his role of local hero and delighted Russian fans with a clear win, his third this season. The driver of the WestCoast Racing Honda Civic took a perfect start from row 2 and kept the leadership until the end on the very track where he conquered, last year, his first TCR podium finish.
Jean-Karl Vernay, in the Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf, put in a strong performance to take second, right ahead of Attila Tassi. The young Hungarian driver resisted well to the attacks of some much more experienced touring car stars to visit for the first time the TCR podium, to the delight of the B3 Racing Team squad, becoming the youngest ever podium finishers in the International Series.
James Nash was again fourth, ahead of Stefano Comini, but the Brit rounded his weekend by taking the lead in the overall standings, although by only one point on Comini and two on Pepe Oriola, which leaves the fight for the title more open than ever ahead of the final four events in Asia. Other top title contenders had a difficult Race 2, losing heavy points: Oriola retired with a steering issue and Gianni Morbidelli was stopped by a broken suspension on the penultimate lap while he was chasing Tassi.
After the race, Mat’o Homola was given a 5-second time penalty for being in a wrong position on the starting grid; this demoted him from ninth to tenth. Another penalty of 30-seconds was imposed for Davit Kajaia for track limits that dropped him from seventh to 11th.
Race Two Key Facts
Start: Grachev takes the best start and is first ahead of Tassi, Nash and Homola; Fulín and Rakhmatullin start from the pit lane
Lap 1: Grachev leads from Tassi, Nash, Homola, Vernay and Morbidelli
Lap 2: Nash puts the pressure on Tassi, while Vernay is attacking Homola
Lap 3: Homola drops to 8th behind Vernay, Comini, Morbidelli, Oriola and Borković
Lap 5: Vernay overtakes Nash for 3rd.
Lap 6: Tassi and Vernay are in a close fight; Morbidelli takes 4th from Nash
Lap 7: Vernay passes Tassi for second
Lap 8: Oriola slows down and retires; Tassi is hit by Morbidelli who is chased by Nash
Lap 9: Tassi resists in third position
Lap 10: Morbidelli hits a wall after a suspension failure
Lap 11: Grachev takes home win from Vernay, Tassi, Nash, Comini and Borković
Quotes from the podium finishers in the two races
Stefano Comini (winner Race 1): “I had an excellent weekend and I certainly did not expect to go away from Russia with such a close situation in the standings. I must say the car here was working perfectly. It is the first time I have the feeling that we are exploiting to the fullest the potential of the car. For sure, lowering the height of the car by 10mm helped, but the team also did a fantastic job. Following yesterday’s pole, I really put all my chances on Race 1, so we had four new tyres, and everything went well. I took a good start and focused during the first laps in building a sufficient gap. That’s what happened.”
Pepe Oriola (second in Race 1: “It was a weekend with two completely different races. P2 in the first one was an excellent result. I took it after a short fight with Gianni (Morbidelli), but there was nothing I could do against Stefano (Comini). Not only is he a very good driver, but this time his car showed great pace. In Race 2, I was aiming at some good points, but had a problem with the steering since the beginning, I couldn’t keep the car straight and turning became more and more difficult, so I preferred to stop. Now the championship is again very open and I think we’ll have a lot of fun in Asia for the final part of the season.”
Gianni Morbidelli (third in Race 1: “A frustrating weekend and I think we have lost all chances for the championship, despite what the figures say, because the car is just not fast enough. As it happened last year, we had a good start and then we started struggling. Today, third in Race 1 was the maximum we could aim at and in Race 2, when I was fighting for some heavy points, something broke in a suspension…”
Mikhail Grachev (winner of Race 2): “I am really happy of this win, the third of the season and at home! I really want to thank WestCoast Racing because they did a fantastic job. I had a problem with my front tyres in Race 1, their temperature was too high and there was no grip. In-between the two races, the guys worked to find a solution, despite the very short turn-around time, and they managed to solve the problem. The car was perfect. I could take a very good start, build some gap and stay in front. It wasn’t easy, there was a lot of fighting behind me and when I saw Vernay emerging, I knew I was going to have some pressure on me, but eventually it worked. I think starting well in both races was key today, I am really happy about my starts since I drive the Civic, now I really want to improve my qualifying, so that I can be in a better position on the grids.”
Jean-Karl Vernay (second in Race 2): “It has been a tough weekend for me: a new track, so much heat and a flu, really not easy. But I am happy I could do well and I liked the Sochi Autodrom a lot. Unfortunately, my Race 1 was spoiled when Nash hit me and I dropped from 4th to 10th, climbing back a few positions afterwards. Race 2 was much better. I won a couple of duels and finished second. By then, my tyres were not in a good situation and I was really sick, so I just tried to stay where I was.”
Attila Tassi (third in Race 2): “It is very nice to be on the podium for the first time, but I really want to go for more results like this and to be on a higher spot soon. I think I made a good start in Race 2 and that I did a nice race having to defend myself from the attacks of much more experienced drivers. I did a little mistake at some point and Vernay passed me, but I managed to keep Morbidelli at bay until he had a problem. In the last lap, I just tried to stay focused and get on the podium. I really want to thank the B3 Racing Team for all their support, after a difficult start of the season, and my parents for allowing me to do what I like.”
The TCR International Series will resume on August 27 and 28 at Buriram, Thailand, for rounds 15 and 16.
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!