TCR International Series re-joins Formula 1 in Singapore
Three weeks after racing in Thailand, at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit, the TCR International Series will resume this weekend in Singapore as part of the Formula One Singapore Airlines Singapore Grand Prix.
This is the second of three occasions in which the TCR International Series supports F1, after the season opener at Bahrain and before the next round in Sepang, Malaysia.
Last year, on their first appearance at the Marina Bay Street Circuit, competitors in the TCR International Series delivered two thrilling races: on Saturday night, Kevin Gleason and his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic overtook Stefano Comini’s SEAT León on the last-but-one lap and claimed a brilliant victory, while Gleason’s teammate Gianni Morbidelli beat Pepe Oriola in the fight for third position.
Craft-Bamboo Lukoil’s Jordi Gené dominated Sunday’s race, leading a SEAT 1-2-3 ahead of Comini and Oriola.
As always, when it joins Formula One, the TCR International Series has to adapt its format to the Grand Prix timetable. As a consequence, the usual two 30-minute Free Practices will be replaced by a single 40-minute session on Friday afternoon.
A 25-minute Qualifying session, split into Q1 (15 minutes) and Q2 (10 minutes, for the twelve fastest in Q1) will take place early on Saturday afternoon and will be followed by the spectacular night race, one of the highlights of the TCR calendar and a juicy prelude to the F1 Qualifying.
Success Ballast for the top three title contenders
The allocation of Success Ballast for the Singapore event will follow precisely the current positions in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
James Nash of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil emerged as the best points scorer in the previous event in Thailand; with a second place and a victory he bagged 43 points that propelled him to the top of the classification table. This will also result in 30 kilos of Success Ballast on board his SEAT León.
Nash’s teammate Pepe Oriola and Leopard Racing’s Stefano Comini were the second and third best scorers in Buriram (with 30 and 26 points respectively) and are currently lying second and third in the standings. Their cars will be laden with 20 (Oriola’s) and 10 (Comini’s) extra kilos.
With this success ballast added to the BoP, the running weights of the three cars will be 1345 kg for Nash’s SEAT, 1335 kg for Oriola’s SEAT and 1295 kg for Comini’s Volkswagen Golf.
Kissling Motorsport to run an Opel Astra for Jordi Oriola
After a brief maiden appearance in the season’s opening event at Bahrain, the Opel Astra TCR will race in the TCR International Series at Singapore.
In the last few months, Opel Motorsport has focused on the car’s technical development and the Astra TCR has made good progress as was shown by its participation in the TCR Benelux, TCR Germany and TCR Portugal series where it was competitive and celebrated its first victories at Zolder and again last week in Jerez de la Frontera.
Following those encouraging results, Opel Motorsport has announced it feels ready for the next challenging appearance in the TCR International Series. It will be another important moment to see where the Astra TCR stands in the final stages of its development.
In light of its recent results, the Astra TCR was allocated a Balance of Performance of 20 kg in addition to the minimum weight of 1285 kg.
The car will be entered and run by Kissling Motorsport and driven by Jordi Oriola.
FRD-built Ford Focus is ready to make its debut at Singapore
The Ford Focus TCR built and developed by Hong Kong-based FRD Motorsport is ready to make its maiden appearance in the TCR International Series at Singapore, where it will be driven by Martin Cao Hongwei.
The 23-year old Chinese driver, who won the British Formula 3 International Series title in 2014, raced for FRD at the beginning of his career in the Asian Formula Renault series. He returned to the team this year to drive a Ford Focus in the 2.0T Class of the China Touring Car Championship, in which he is currently second behind his teammate Rainey He, having claimed his maiden victory at Shanghai.
“We are very excited, but at the same time cautiously optimistic about our debut performance. We felt that the demanding nature of the Singapore street circuit would offer us the best chance to gauge our new car against the competition. At the very least, we hope to come out of the event with more knowledge on how we can refine the car before delivering the first cars to our customers over the winter. Our staff have worked tirelessly on this project in the past seven months and I would like to see their hard work rewarded with a respectable result,” said Kenneth Ma, President of FRD Motorsports.
When asked to give details of the new car, Brian Ma, FRD motorsports Vice president of Technical Operations commented: “We started with the 2015 car. The original intention was to do an update and improve a few things that prevented it from being competitive. However, as we delved into the development process further, we realized we could provide a better car to our future customers by starting anew in many areas. I would say the 2016/17 Focus is more a redevelopment than an evolution of the 2015 car. Under the skin, thanks to the support from our technical partners, the car features a new 2.0L engine package, a new Xtrac six-speed paddle shift transmission, all new electronics and damper and brake system, just to name a few. On the outside, the aero package we developed for this car has already proven successful on FRD’s flagship Touring Car programme in the CTCC.”
Famous comebacks: Gleason, Hezemans and Target
The TCR International Series welcomes back some familiar faces in Singapore, beginning with Kevin Gleason the winner of last year’s night race at Marina Bay. The American driver, who finished an excellent fifth in the 2015 Driver’s championship, returns at the wheel of a WestCoast Racing Honda Civic. Gleason was forced to suspend his TCR programme after the first three events of the current season due to sponsorship issues.
Italy-based Target Competition, the reigning champion team, also re-joins for the three final events of the year with two cars, one Honda Civic for Rafaël Galiana and one SEAT León for Loris Hezemans.
Galiana appeared in the Thai races at the wheel of a Civic run by WestCoast Racing, while Hezemans returns to the International Series after taking part in the first three events of the season. The young Dutchman then raced in the TCR Benelux series, in which he claimed one race victory and a second place at Zandvoort, his home racetrack. Hezemans made his maiden appearance in the TCR International Series at Singapore last year and collected his best result – second – one month later at Buriram.
Another returnee is Filipe de Souza, who will be driving a Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf. As a competitor in the TCR Asia Series, the Macanese driver took part in last year’s International Series events at Singapore and Buriram. In the current season, de Souza is competing in TCR Asia for the Liqui Moly Team Engstler and lies fifth in the points table with his best result a third place at Shanghai.
Two Asian teams join for the event in Singapore
Two Asian teams that are regular competitors in the TCR Asia Series – Viper Niza Racing and Son Veng Racing Team – will join the TCR International Series field in Singapore.
Malaysia-based Viper Niza Racing will run a SEAT León for Douglas Khoo; both the team and driver took part last year in the TCR International Series / TCR Asia joint race meetings at Singapore, Buriram and Macau.
Khoo and the team will also compete in the two final events of the season at Sepang, Malaysia and Macau.
Son Veng Racing Team from Macau will make its first appearance in the International Series entering a Volkswagen Golf driven by Neric Wei Chao Yin; the Chinese driver recently joined the TCR Asia series by claiming an encouraging fourth place in the second race at Shanghai.
Morbidelli gets a brand new Honda Civic for Singapore
The WestCoast Racing team has worked around the clock to build a brand new Honda Civic car for Gianni Morbidelli, in time for this week’s event at Singapore.
Morbidelli’s car was destroyed in a massive shunt during the second race at Buriram. As soon as the wreck of the Civic was trucked back to the pits, it took only a single glance for race engineer Paul Ridgeway to realise that it was damaged beyond repair. Team manager James Nixon then launched the emergency plan to build a new car for Singapore.
A new chassis was ordered from JAS Motorsport in Italy, which was delivered to JAS’ Asian Workshop at Sepang, Saturday, September 9th. The chassis arrived at Singapore by truck on the following day and at the same time as the team received the containers with the parts and equipment arriving from Thailand.
Working in a warehouse by the Singapore docks, chief mechanic Marc Butler, Gavin Ovenden and Ronny Hyrskylahti stripped the wreck of the Civic and built a new one, replacing chassis, engine and a lot of other parts.
“These three guys have done a two-week work in two-and-a-half days!” commented team manager James Nixon.
The car was finished on Sunday afternoon and on Monday morning it was painted in a Singapore bodywork before being loaded on a truck and delivered to the Marina Bay Circuit paddock.
“We need to thank JAS Motorsport for supplying the chassis and parts in time despite the short notice and SEL that took care of the logistics and transportation. Without them we wouldn’t be able to attempt this,” Nixon said.
The TCR International Series will visit Georgia in 2017
Georgia will host an event of the 2017 TCR International Series at Rustavi International Motorpark. A Memorandum of Understanding for a three-year agreement has been signed today in Tbilisi by Georgia’s Minister of the Internal Affairs Giorgi Mgebrishvili, Shota Abkhazava, President of the Georgian Automobile Sport Federation and owner of the Rustavi International Motopark, and TCR promoter Marcello Lotti.
“Hosting such a top level event in Georgia will put our Country on the map of International Sports. Georgia will also receive an additional flow of tourists and will present itself as an interesting location for sport and tourism. Another message that will be associated to the TCR International Series event in Georgia will be the importance of the Road Safety Campaign we support,” Minister Mgebrishvili declared.
The Minister of Sport and Youth Affairs, Tariel Khechikashvili and Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s TCR driver Davit Kajaia also attended the signing ceremony along with other invited guests.
“It has been a great privilege to be received by Georgia’s Minister of the Internal Affairs and it is a great pride for us to see that the whole Country is so keen on organising a TCR International Series round from next year. Georgia is a beautiful place and we believe that our event next year will attract a lot of motorsport fans,” Lotti said.
David Nikoleishvili, Head of Legal Entity of Public Law – Service Agency of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia, commented: “Today is a special day for Georgia’s sports. The document signed by our Government and Mr Lotti marks a very important step towards the promotion of motorsports in our Country. And we are confident that this will help Georgia to establish itself among the nations capable of organising motorsport events at a top level.”
Abkhazava added : “It’s an historical moment for us, as next year’s TCR International Series event will open a new page for motorsports in Georgia. It is very important not only for those who work in the automotive industry, but for the whole Country. We are obviously very proud that our circuit will host the first ever motorsport international event in Georgia.”
Penalties shake up qualifying results behind the pole
Jean-Karl Vernay confirmed his form as the fastest TCR driver on Singapore’s Marina Bay Street Circuit by claiming his first pole position of the season with an impressive lap of 2:24.511 that improved last year’s TCR record time by nearly two seconds.
In the provisional results, Gianni Morbidelli (2:25.016), Mat’o Homola (2:25.019), Stefano Comini (2:25.115), Pepe Oriola (2:25.436), Dušan Borković (2:25.629) andJames Nash (2:25.899) filled the positions from fourth to seventh .
However, Qualifying results were later shaken up by a rain of penalties imposed by the Stewards following a number of track-limit infringement reports.
No fewer than twelve drivers saw their fastest laps disallowed: Mikhail Grachev, Davit Kajaia, Petr Fulín, Gianni Morbidelli, Martin Cao, Kevin Gleason, Jordi Oriola, Dušan Borković, Douglas Khoo, Pepe Oriola, Rafaël Galiana and Neric Wei.
On top of this, those who repeated the infringement were also given grid penalties ahead of Race 1: 15 positions to Grachev, 6 to Kajaia Fulín, Morbidelli and Cao and 3 to Gleason and Jordi Oriola.
Eventually the first three rows of the starting grid for Race 1 were filled by Vernay, Homola, Comini, P. Oriola, Nash and Tassi, while Morbidelli was demoted to 9thposition.
Jean-Karl Vernay converts pole position into Race 1 victory as Stefano Comini retakes the points lead
Jean-Karl Vernay remained undefeated after two days of track activities at Singapore’s Marina Bay Circuit. After posting the fastest laps in yesterday’s Practice and this afternoon’s Qualifying, the young Frenchman converted his pole position into a brilliant victory in the night race.
Stefano Comini crossed the line second, completing an excellent 1-2 finish for Leopard Racing, while Pepe Oriola successfully defended a crucial third position despite strong pressure from Mat’o Homola.
James Nash – who was leading the standings before the race – was classified fifth ahead of Sergey Afanasyev.
The victory enabled Vernay to significantly cut his gap in the Drivers’ Championship standings; he still lies fourth, but is now only 22 points behind his teammate Comini.
In fact, the Swiss driver has taken the lead of the series back and is now ahead of Nash and Pepe Oriola by one and two points respectively.
Petr Fulín lost a possible points result by pitting, as he was worried by an alarm from the oil temperature sensor. Both the Liqui Moly Team Engstler cars of Davit Kajaia and Filipe de Souza retired with brake issues. Jordi Oriola’s Opel Astra and Martin Cao’s Ford Focus managed to finish the race in 12th and 13th position respectively.
RACE ONE KEY FACTS:
Start: Vernay makes a good start and leads from Comini, P. Oriola and Nash
Lap 1: Morbidelli spins at Turn 1 and re-joins; Homola overtakes Nash for 4th
Lap 3: Fulín pits and retires from 9th; Afanasyev defends 6th place from Borković
Lap 4: Vernay pulls away; Comini is chased by P. Oriola and Homola
Lap 5: De Souza stops on the track
Lap 6: Gleason, Tassi and Morbidelli are in a close battle for 8th
Lap 7: Khoo hits the tyre-wall head-on, but re-joins
Lap 8: Kajaia pits and retires; Grachev defends 11th place from Hezemans
Lap 9: Khoo stops on the track; Hezemans hits the tyre-wall head-on and retires
Lap 10: Vernay wins from Comini, P. Oriola, Homola and Nash
Quotes from the podium finishers in Race 1
Jean-Karl Vernay (winner): “I am very happy, it was very nice to win here and in this fantastic atmosphere. I knew that the start was going to be crucial and luckily, everything went well. I pulled away nicely in the first laps, trying to stay calm, avoid any mistakes and preserving the tyres. Everything went as planned, and it was great. I was also able to reduce the gap in the championship, I still would prefer to be much closer, but it was a good result anyway.”
Stefano Comini (second): “Second behind my teammate was a very good result, especially for the team. I took again the leadership in the standings, and although this means little, because the gaps are very close, it was good news. As for the race, I wanted to create some chaos and I almost managed to do so, because I saw in my mirrors that Oriola and Homola were going everywhere… It would not have been clever to try to reach Jean-Karl, so I settled for a quiet race and saved new tyres for tomorrow.”
Pepe Oriola (third): “There was nothing I could try against Vernay and Comini, their cars were so much faster, especially on the straights. I could only hope in some mistakes from them, which did not come. The situation in the standings is even closer now, and I am happy with this. We know that everything will be decided in Macau…”
Title battle heats up on the streets of Singapore
For the second time this year, the TCR International Series was part of a Formula 1 Grand Prix weekend. Basking in the glamorous setting of Singapore’s Marina Bay Circuit, Jean-Karl Vernay and Mikhail Grachev shared victories in the two races that were characterized by the extremely warm weather.
What the two rounds in the streets of the city state did not clarify was the battle for the title, which has intensified still further ahead of the last four races in Malaysia and Macau.
After Race 1, Stefano Comini, James Nash and Pepe Oriola were lying within three points of each other. By the end of the weekend, James Nash had retaken the leadership lead he held after Thailand, although by only 2 points over Stefano Comini and 16 to Pepe Oriola, with Jean-Karl Vernay also still in contention 28 points aback.
The Frenchman, in his Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf, put forward a stunning performance in his first visit to Singapore, confirming his predilection for street circuits (he still holds the F3 lap time record at Macau). Vernay set the pole position and took an authoritative win in Race 1 on Saturday evening, ahead of his teammate Comini and Pepe Oriola in the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT.
It was a light-to flag win in Race 2 too, with Grachev impressive in his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic. It was the fourth success this season for the Russian, who in this case benefitted from having inherited the pole for Race 2 following a number of penalties for track limits infringements during Qualifying, as well as the two safety-car periods that occurred. Dušan Borković took second for the fourth time this season with James Nash crossing the finish line in third place.
The TCR Asian tour – and the partnership with Formula One – continue with the next stop in two weeks time at Sepang in Maleysia.
Mikhail Grachev wins a shortened second race
Mikhail Grachev claimed a lights-to-flag victory – the fourth for him in the season so far – in a race that was shortened and finished under the safety-car.
The WestCoast Racing driver took the lead at the start and was able to create a small cushion between himself and Dušan Borković who eventually finished second but was denied the chance to try an overtaking manoeuvre by the safety-car interventions.
The battle behind the pair was white-hot, with a bunch of drivers fighting for the positions. The incidents that resulted from this battle eliminated or demoted some key players such as Pepe Oriola (who was given a drive-through penalty and dropped out of the points), Attila Tassi, Kevin Gleason and Gianni Morbidelli.
James Nash, Stefano Comini and Jean-Karl Vernay were able to avoid the carnage and achieved some valuable placings as far as the title fight is concerned.
Nash has re-taken the series lead, two points ahead of Comini; P. Oriola now has to fill a gap of 16 points, while Vernay is 28 points behind the leader.
Petr Fulín managed to finish in the points as he crossed the line ninth in his Alfa Romeo.
RACE TWO KEY FACTS:
Start: Grachev makes good use of the pole and takes the lead from Borković, Afanasyev, Tassi, Nash, Morbidelli and P. Oriola
Lap 1: Comini puts pressure on P. Oriola; Homola punts Gleason into a spin
Lap 2: Hezemans stops and retires with electronics issues; Fulín overtakes Cao for 12th
Lap 3: the fight for positions heats up; there is contact between Afanasyev and Tassi and the former spins and crashes into the wall; Comini tries to overtake P. Oriola who hits Morbidelli; Comini takes advantage and moves up to fourth; the safety car is deployed
Lap 6: the race resumes; Grachev leads from Borković, Nash, Comini, Homola and Vernay; Tassi drops down from 7th, returns to the pits and retires with steering problem
Lap 7: P. Oriola is given a drive-through for the contact with Morbidelli; Galiana and Wei make contact while fighting for 14th position; the safety-car is deployed for the second time
Lap 9: as the 30 minutes expire, the race finishes behind the safety car one lap before the scheduled distance; Grachev wins from Borković, Nash, Comini, Homola and Vernay.
Quotes from the podium finishers in Race 2
Mikhail Grachev (winner): “It’s an amazing feeling to win here at Singapore, I am very happy, also because I did not expect to be in a position to win, a track which does not really suit the Honda. We had a lot of understeer in all the 90-degree corners. Today, the car felt better than yesterday but, clearly, the good thing was to start from the front row. I knew that if could take a good start and stay at the front, I had a chance and that’s what happened. The two safety-car periods eventually also helped. It’s my fourth win of the season, so it’s not such a bad year for me. People ask me what could have happened if I had switched to WestCoast Racing and Honda earlier, but it is useless to speculate on that. I just took the decision that I thought was the right one at that moment, and it turned out to be a good choice.”
Dušan Borković (second): “Second is a nice result although I would have preferred to take this first win I am running after… But here, at Singapore, I knew that I had little chance against the Honda at the start, and the start is really crucial: staying in front is a great advantage on a street circuit, and even more when it is so hot and on a track where only one line is relatively clean. I tried to fight a bit in the initial laps, also because I was seeing my intrinsic pace was at least as fast as Grachev’s, but there was nothing to do and preferred to secure second and avoid trouble, especially after rubbing against the wall at the restart after the first safety-car.”
James Nash (third): “I just focused on doing the best I could and avoid mistakes. I had quite a consistent race and I was helped by the two safety-car periods as it helped breaking the fast pace of the race, which I could hardly stand because of the extra weight I was carrying. It’s, of course, a good result towards the standings, although everything keeps changing all the time. We know in any case that it is going to be a 4-way battle straight until the very end. Everything will be decided in Macau…”
The next event of the TCR International Series will take place at the Formula One Malaysian Grand Prix on 28/30th September.
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!