TCR’s Asian leg begins in Thailand…
The TCR International Series resumed at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit, following an eight-week summer break after the meeting in Sochi. The Thai event also marked the beginning of the Asian leg that will later call at Singapore, Sepang and Macau, where the season will come to an end on November 20.
The series raced at Buriram last year, when all the drivers and teams members were amazed to discover the state-of-the-art Chang International Circuit designed by Hermann Tilke that had been inaugurated in 2014.
The track layout is well-suited to Touring Car competition, providing several overtaking places and corners where three or four cars can run abreast.
In last year’s event Pepe Oriola and Stefano Comini took a win apiece, in a weekend that saw the SEAT cars dominate their rivals. The Craft-Bamboo Lukoil team posted a 1-2-3 in Race 1 (Oriola, Gené and Afanasyev) and Target Competition then returned a 1-2 in Race 2 with Comini and Hezemans. It was a weekend to forget for the Honda and Volkswagen cars, all victims of technical issues or race incidents; notably Gianni Morbidelli who saw his hopes to stay in contention for the title washed away by a drive-through for jump-start in Race 1 and an engine failure in Race 2.
Maximum success ballast for Comini in Thailand
It will be the Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf Gti driven by Stefano Comini that will carry the 30 kilos of maximum success ballast in the next race meeting of the TCR International Series that will take place in Thailand, at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit.
The reigning champion emerged as the best scorer in the latest event at Sochi, Russia; the Swiss collected 40 points (pole position, victory in Race 1 and fifth place in Race 2) that propelled him on top of the standings once again.
WestCoast Racing’s Mikhail Grachev – the winner of the second race in his home country’s event – scored 37 points, meaning that his Honda Civic will be laden by 20 kilos of success ballast, while Comini’s teammate Jean-Karl Vernay (31 points for him in Russia) will carry 10 extra kilos.
With these success ballasts added to the BoP, the running weights of the three cars will be: 1315 kg for Comini’s Golf, 1335 kg for Grachev’s Civic and 1295 kg for Vernay’s Golf.
The SEAT cars of the other title contenders – Pepe Oriola, James Nash and Mat’o Homola – will run on 1315 kilos.
Six drivers will be engaged in a close fight for the title
Over a third of the season still lies ahead before the 2016 TCR International Series will crown its second champion ever. And the title fight is red-hot, with six drivers covered by 37 points when a possible 220 are still at stake.
Stefano Comini and Pepe Oriola, the 2015 champion and runner-up respectively, are on top of the standings once again; the Swiss and his Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf have regained the leadership after Sochi, but Oriola lies only one point behind in the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT Le ó n.
A further six points adrift is Oriola’s teammate Janes Nash, while Comini’s Leopard Racing colleague Jean-Karl Vernay is currently fourth with a gap of 22 points. Only one further point behind him is another SEAT driver, B3 Racing Team’s Mat’o Homola.
And although Gianni Morbidelli (WestCoast Racing Honda Civic) has declared himself out of contention after a string of disappointing results, he can’t be ruled out as a change of luck might put the former F1 racer in the position to significantly cut his 37-point gap.
The rest of the field has only theoretical chances, beginning with Sergey Afanasyev (Craft-Bamboo Lukoil) who is seventh, 51 points behind the leader .
Top Run Motorsport re-joins from Buriram with new Subaru
Top Run Motorsport will re-join the TCR International Series for the Asian rounds, starting with the next event in Thailand. The Italian engineering company took part in the first two race meetings of the season, in Bahrain and Portugal, before electing to temporarily suspend racing to focus on the technical development of the Subaru WRX TCR car.
Team manager Renato Russo explained: “Following the meeting we had in Tokyo with Subaru STi, we have built a brand new car that features a number of technical improvements and some new parts that are better suited to the TCR regulations. The new car successfully went through an intensive testing programme and was later shipped to Thailand where our technical staff will be assisted by David Rowe of MoTec for the engine management and Hiroshi Nakagawa of TEIN for the dampers.”
All the testing was conducted by the official tester Luca Rangoni, who was also joined by Luigi Ferrara; the latter drove the Subaru in Barhain and will be at the wheel again in Buriram.
“We have also upgraded our first car to the same specifications – the one that was raced in the last events of 2015 and in the first two of the current season – and that has been shipped to Singapore. We will run both cars there, in Malaysia and at Macau,” Russo added.
A strong Thai contingent enhances the field to 26 cars
The TCR International Series field will reach a season high of 26 cars in Buriram, thanks to the addition of a strong Thai contingent.
Thailand was one of the first countries to embrace the TCR concept and launch its own racing series. Promoted by Racing Spirit within the frame of the popular Thailand Super Series, TCR Thailand has already completed two race meetings (both at Buriram), featuring about ten cars. Some of its competitors will take part in the TCR International Series event at Buriram, eager to show off themselves against the international stars.
Vattana Motorsport will field a couple of young drivers who are among the fastest in the national series: Narasak Ittiritpong (Honda Civic) and Jack Lemvard (SEAT León). Three other SEAT cars will be run by the Kratingdaeng Racing Team for Grant Supaphongs, Alexander Mies (a 24-year old German with a solid Touring Car experience) and Taipei’s Chen Jian Hong.
Nattachak Hanjitkasen and Kanthadee Kusiri will be at the wheel of Honda Civic cars for the TBN MK Ihere Racing Team and the Eakie BBR Kaiten respectively, while Paritat Bulbon (Sloth Racing) and Rattanin Leenutaphong (Yontrakit Racing Team) will race SEAT cars. Leenutaphong will be the fourth lady driver to join the series in the current season after the Italian trio of Michela Cerruti, Alessandra Neri and Carlotta Fedeli.
Munkong Sathienthirakul will provide the icing on the cake, driving a Volkswagen Golf for the Liqui Moly Team Engstler. He had already made a one-off appearance last year at Buriram, winning the TCR Asia class in a SEAT run by the Craft-Bamboo Racing.
Rafaël Galiana’s return with WestCoast Racing
Rafaël Galiana has a soft spot for Asia. After taking part in last year’s events at Singapore, Buriram and Macau, the French driver returns to the TCR International Series and will drive a WestCoast Racing Honda Civic in Thailand.
An amateur racing driver, Galiana is also known as ‘Mr Tecpro’; in fact after several years of research and development, in 2000 he launched a safety barrier that proved much more effective than the tyre walls that were previously used in most of the circuits. Today Tecpro collaborates with FIA, FIM, and a number of National Sporting Authorities and works together with renowned racetrack designers and architects.
Qualifying – Pepe Oriola beats Gianni Morbidelli by 1/1000
In the closest Qualifying from the beginning of the season Pepe Oriola claimed his first pole position of the year beating Gianni Morbidelli by only one thousandth of a second.
It was also a very rewarding recognition for the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil team that had worked very hard since yesterday to rebuild James Nash’s car after the shunt in testing and to solve a technical issue on Sergey Afanasyev’s. On top of this, the five points awarded for the pole position enabled Oriola to re-take the championship lead by two points ahead of Stefano Comini.
The Qualifying results proved that competition is very close on the track – with the six fastest drivers in Q2 covered by three tenths. Meaning that two exciting races should be expected for tomorrow.
There will be an all-Russian front row on the reverse grid for Race 2, with Mikhail Grachev on pole and Afanasyev alongside him.
Q1: Morbidelli and Comini are very close
Gianni Morbidelli set the pace from the beginning with a provisional fastest time of 1:44.281 that he improved on the following lap to 1:44.109; a mark that was not to be beaten. Stefano Comini posted the second fastest lap of 1:44.180 in the final moments, demoting James Nash (1:44.340) and Pepe Oriola (1:44.393) to third and fourth.
It was an extremely close Q1, with the first 13 drivers covered only by six tenths of a second. Kantadhee Kusiri was the only Thai driver to advance to Q2 (8th fastest – 1:44.488), while Petr Fulín provided the final thrill by posting the 10th fastest lap (1:44.532) and kicking Davit Kajaia (whose car suffered from a broken drive-shaft) off the top-twelve in the process. Kajaia’s teammate Munkong Sathienthirakul missed the whole session due to a gearbox failure.
The following drivers made the cut for Q2: Morbidelli , Comini, Nash, Oriola, Borković,Vernay, Homola, Kusiri, Grachev, Fulín, Tassi and Afanasyev .
Q2: Oriola on pole for the first time
Pepe Oriola won his first pole of the season with a perfect lap of 1:43.634 that was only one thousandths of a second faster than Gianni Morbidelli’s 1:43.635.
The first spell at the pole was from Stefano Comini (1:43.865), but the reigning champion was immediately demoted by Morbidelli (1:43.834) and the later was then beaten by Jean-Karl Vernay (1:43.767).
On his second attempt, Morbidelli jumped on top again with a lap of 1:44.733, but Oriola managed to go faster (1:44.634) and Morbidelli’s last lap (1:44.635) was only 0.001 seconds slower. Kantadhee Kusiri continued in his impressive effort and qualified in eighth, while Petr Fulín could not post any lap time due to an electrical issue.
Quotes after Qualifying at Chang International Circuit
Pepe Oriola (pole position): “I am really happy with this pole that I didn’t expect at all. After free practice and Q1, I could never expect to beat Gianni, but I did, despite having to abort my first attempt because of traffic. Then, I found myself alone and I really enjoyed that clear lap. I know that it’s when you enjoy driving that you are faster, but still, I didn’t expect that to be the pole, the first this season. The points attached to it allowed me to retake the lead in the standings, but that doesn’t mean anything, we still have eight races to go, and I won’t think about that until Macau.”
Gianni Morbidelli (second fastest): “I did my best and it was a great effort by the entire team to work on the set-up of the car during these two days. It worked well. I missed the pole by one thousandth of a second, which is nothing, some millimetres, but the most important is that the car goes well. When I did my fastest time, I had already three laps in my tyres, which showed that the balance was good. Tomorrow, the biggest problem will be managing the effects of extreme heat…”
Jean-Karl Vernay (third fastest): “We are all very close, which proved how competitive and balanced the level of the series is. I was not very confident about the set-up after free practices, but then, analysing the data, we discovered that the problem was probably… me. I tried to calm down and have a cooler approach, and it worked. It’s my first time on this track and I really like it a lot.”
Kanthadee Kusiri (eighth fastest): “It was an excellent result for me and I thank the team that gave me a perfect car and helped a lot in working on the set-up. It’s my first race with a TCR car and it is very different from F.3, there are a lot of things to learn in a very short time. Tomorrow it won’t be easy but I’ll go for it and push as hard as I can.”
TCR Thailand joins the International Series for a family photo
The tradition of taking TCR family pictures was carried on today at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit, where cars and drivers of the TCR International Series and TCR Thailand were lined up all together on the track for the photo call.
TCR promoter Marcello Lotti also joined the picture, together with the circuit’s managing director Tanaisiri Chanvitayarom and Paritat Bulbon, the promoter (but also a competitor) of TCR Thailand.
Buriram United young stars beat TCR drivers after penalties
Motorsports and football are closely linked at Buriram, as the Chang International Circuit is next door to the I-Mobile Stadium, the home of Buriram United, one of the top teams in Thailand’s Premier League. Friday evening, an unusual match took place between TCR drivers and the Buriram United Academy, the junior team of local heroes.
The two sides played an intense match of two 15-minute half-times, which started with some difficulty for the TCR drivers, down by 3-0 after only six minutes… Progressively, though, the car aces reduced the gap, as they became more involved into the action and improved team effort. While Mikhail Grachev and Davit Kajaia, among others, showed excellent game vision, Jean-Karl Vernay and Du šan Borkovi ćimpressed with technical skills.
The TCR squad reduced the disadvantage to 4-3, with goals of Borkovi ć and Marc Masip (Pepe Oriola’s personal trainer who scored twice), before Vernay tied the score in the dying seconds of the match.
The draw led to a penalty shoot-out that Buriram United young guns won 8-6. A truly honourable defeat for the four-wheel guys, which was followed with enthusiasm by the TCR and Buriram United communities, led by TCR promoter Marcello Lotti and Buriram United President Newin Chidchob . One of the top stars of Buriram United first team, Andrés Túñez, a former player of Venezuela national team, also attended and lent his savoir-faire to TCR drivers for a few minutes.
The Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil boys star in Thailand
James Nash, Pepe Oriola and the Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil were the clear winners at Buriram’s Chang International Circuit today. In the heat of the Thai summer, the Brit and the Spaniard out-paced the competition, despite a difficult start of the weekend. Oriola arrived in Thailand with an injured foot and did not take part in Friday’s testing. Nash set the fastest lap but was victim of a severe crash in the closing minutes. Hopefully, his car could be somehow brought back to racing conditions. The success of the red-and-white SEAT León cars proved once again the competitiveness of the team on this racetrack, where it had posted a memorable 1-2-3 last year.
This time, after taking the pole beating Gianni Morbidelli by only one thousandth of a second, Oriola took a clear lights-to-flag win in Race 1 ahead of Nash and Morbidelli. Race 2 saw a dominant victory of Nash, who beat Mihail Grachev (West Coast Honda Civic) and Dušan Borković (B3 Racing SEAT León).
The Serbian driver emerged as the winner of a terrific battle, arguably one of the most exciting shows in the history of TCR International Series, which also involved Stefano Comini, Davit Kajaia, Attila Tassi, Sergey Afanasyev, Jean-Karl Vernay and Kanthadee Kusiri. For several laps, these seven drivers fought intensely, though mostly with fair play, delivering countless overtaking manoeuvres and several contacts. The show was a great feast for local fans, as the unexpected guest at that level of competition was young local gun Kusiri, who made his Touring Car debut with the Honda Civic of Team Eakie BBR Kaiten and is currently racing F3 cars in the Euroformula Open.
The Thai races also yield a narrowing situation in the standings of the series: James Nash has now retaken the lead, only 7 points ahead of team mate Pepe Oriola, with the Leopard Racing duo of Comini and Vernay lying in third and fourth, 10 and 41 points behind respectively. With 165 points still at stake, nothing is decided, although the scenario for the last three events of the season is now getting clearer.
Race 1 – Oriola-Nash finish 1-2 for Craft-Bamboo Lukoil
Pepe Oriola claimed a dominant lights-to-flag victory in the first race at the Chang International Circuit, while his teammate James Nash secured a triumphant 1-2 finish for the Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil. Gianni Morbidelli finished third after he was forced to hand the second position to Nash halfway through the race.
The Leopard Racing duo of Stefano Comini and Jean-Karl Vernay finished in fourth and fifth after a close fight. Kantadhee Kusiri was classified a brilliant sixth and won the TCR Thailand race; Narasak Ittiritpong (11th overall) and Alexander Mies (13th) filled the other podium positions.
The victory enabled Oriola to stretch his point lead to 15 points ahead of Comini, while Nash was only three points behind the reigning champion.
RACE ONE KEY FACTS:
Start: Oriola sprints from the pole and leads from Morbidelli and Nash who takes a good start from the third row
Lap 1: Comini overtakes Vernay for fourth; Lemvard pits for repairs after a contact
Lap 2: Ittiritpong, Tassi, Afanasyev and Kajaia are in a close fight for 10th place
Lap 4: Fulín is chasing Homola who is eighth; the latter slows down and comes back to the pits with a drive shaft problem
Lap 6: Comini and Vernay have a fight for fourth place
Lap 7: Nash overtakes Morbidelli for second; Afanasyev overtakes Kajaia for tenth
Lap 8: Galiana, Bulbon and Supaphongs make contact while fighting for 17thposition
Lap 9: Grachev pits for repairs after a contact
Lap 10: Ferrara stops on the track with suspected engine problems
Lap 11: after starting from the back of the grid, Sathienthirakul is chasing Ittiritpong for 11th position
Lap 12: Grachev re-joins
Lap 13: Fulín misses the braking point at T3 and crashes while he was eighth
Lap 14: Oriola wins from Nash, Morbidelli, Comini, Vernay and Kusiri
Race 2 – James Nash wins and takes the point lead
The second race at the Chang International Circuit was plenty of drama, starting with the crash that eliminated Gianni Morbidelli and going on with a contact that forced Pepe Oriola to pit for repairs and multi-car tough battles for the positions.
James Nash was able to steer away off all the troubles and claimed his second victory of the season that might prove a crucial one in the title fight, as enabled the Craft-Bamboo Lukoil driver to take the leadership of the standings, seven points clear of Oriola and ten of Stefano Comini.
Mikhail Grachev and Dušan Borković completed the podium. The Russian was aiming for another victory after taking the lead from the pole, but eventually he could not resist to Nash’s attacks, as his car was not well balanced after a collision in the first race. As to Borković he survived an extremely physical fight that involved no less than eight drivers and was plenty of contacts that kept the Stewards busy with some investigations.
Grid: Ferrara’s Subaru and Fulín’s Alfa Romeo have been withdrawn following an engine failure and the Race 1 crash respectively
Start: Grachev makes good use of the pole to take the lead ahead of Kusiri and Nash
Lap 1: Morbidelli moves up to fourth overtaking Afanasyev and Borković; soon afterwards Morbidelli loses his car at T8 and crashes hard into the barrier
Lap 2: the safety car is deployed while the wreck of Morbidelli’s car is recovered
Lap 3: Oriola pits for repairs after a contact with another car and re-joins
Lap 4: the race resumes: Grachev leads from Kusiri, Nash, Borković, Comini, Afanasyev and Vernay
Lap 5: Nash overtakes Kusiri for second; Sathienthirakul moves up to 12th ahead of Hanjitkasen and Lemvard
Lap 6: Comini overtakes Borković for fourth
Lap 7: Grachev defends the lead from Nash; Afanasyev runs wide at T12 and drops from sixth to tenth
Lap 8: Nash overtakes Grachev at T1 and takes the lead; Galiana pits after a spin
Lap 9: Grachev is closely chased by Kusiri, Comini and Vernay
Lap 10: Afanasyev overtakes Ittiritpong for ninth
Lap 11: Vernay and Comini overtake Kusiri for third; Borković joins the fight and in one moves climbs up to third after clashing with both Kusiri and Comini
Lap 12: the fight for third place heats up with Borković, Comini and Kusiri swapping positions several times
Lap 13: Borković and Comini are third and fourth; Kusiri drops to seventh behind Tassi and Vernay
Lap 14: Kajaia moves up to fifth overtaking Kusiri, Vernay and Tassi in the same manoeuvre; Sathienthirakul and Ittiritpong crash while fighting for tenth
Lap 16: Nash wins ahead of Grachev, Borković and Comini; Kajaia beats Tassi, Afanasyev, Vernay and Kusiri in the sprint for the fifth place ; Mies and Lemvard complete the TCR Thailand podium.
Quotes from the podium finishers in the two races
James Nash (winner R2 and 2nd in R1: “A very good weekend for me, especially after the big accident on Thursday. In Race 1, not much happened. I had a good start, passing both Comini and Vernay, and when Morbidelli went a little bit wide, I could take second. This is a circuit where you really have to avoid going wide, as there is much dirt out of the track. It’s a track that suits me very well, and Race 2 went very smoothly. I could pass Grachev, take the lead and keep it. I think we were clever throughout the weekend and keep raising our game. I am now leading the championship, but I don’t want to think about that until Macau.”
Pepe Oriola (winner Race 1): “It was a great weekend for the Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil and for our title bids, so I am very happy. In Race 1, I took the best start of the season and could stay in front of Gianni then it was a matter of managing the situation and the rise of temperatures. In Race 2, I had a normal start in the middle of the pack and a contact with Tassi at first corner. Then, Gianni had his accident and I had to go wide into the dirt to avoid him. Something must have punctured my front left tyre because at the following braking, the tyre blew together with body parts. Luckily, the safety-car was out and I did not lose much time, but finished 11th and took no points. Still, leaving Thailand with 30 points is very good for me.”
Mikhail Grachev (2nd in Race 2): “Nothing went as planned, as I was hit from the back during the first lap in Race 1 and got the car damaged. I had to pit for repairs and the guys worked well. The car was fit enough for Race 2 but I had not enough pace to keep the advantage of pole position. It was useless to try keeping James at bay and preferred to take no risk. Under the circumstances, finishing second is almost like a win.”
Gianni Morbidelli (3rd in Race 1): “Race 1 went well, but there was no way to keep the pace of the Bamboo cars. I lost second to Nash because a little mistake, I hit a kerb and went wide. My biggest concern was the water temperature and I was trying to get fresh air with different lines, but the temperature kept going higher and that was making me nervous. Things went worse in Race 2, as I lost completely the car in turn 8 during the first lap. I have no idea of what happened, maybe something got bent in a small earlier contact, the car just went into the barriers without any notice or anything I could do. I am sorry for the mechanics, as they will have some work to do…”
Dušan Borković (3rd in Race 2): “This is the first event of the year where we definitely did not have the pace of the front-runners, and still, we got a podium finish… In Race 1, my tyres were immediately killed after a couple of contacts in lap 1. Race 2 was clearly livelier, with a great fight with quite a few other guys. I enjoyed it very much and I think it was a great show for anyone watching…”
The next event of the TCR International Series will take place at the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix on 16/18 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!