A four-way fight to decide the Drivers’ Championship
The battle for the second TCR International Series Drivers’ title will be decided this upcoming weekend on Macau’s street circuit.
Two pairs of teammates – James Nash and Pepe Oriola of Craft-Bamboo Lukoil and Stefano Comini and Jean-Karl Vernay of Leopard Racing – will face in a four-way fight, representing two brands, SEAT and Volkswagen respectively.
Nash has a lead of 17 points over last year’s champion Comini. In third place, a further 16 points adrift, is Oriola while Vernay lies fourth, 39 points off the lead. Both Oriola and Vernay have acknowledged that the title is all but beyond them and so both have pledged to help their teammates, but Macau is widely regarded as being a complete lottery and impossible to predict and so the pair aren’t out of the fight just yet…
Just as in 2015, when Comini was crowned the category’s first ever champion, the final races are set to provide some thrilling battles.
Track activity took place on Thursday morning with a 30-minute Free Practice; a second Practice session followed on Friday, while the Qualifying session split into Q1 (25 minutes) and Q2 (15 minutes, for the twelve fastest in Q1) will be run on Saturday in the early morning.
The two back-to-back races will took place on Sunday morning; the finishing order of Race 1 used to determine the grid for Race 2, the famous Guia Touring Car Race.
Success Ballast only for James Nash’s SEAT
Current championship leader James Nash will be the only driver to carry the Success Ballast on board his car during the TCR International Series final race meeting. The Briton’s SEAT León will be laden by 30 extra kilos, as Nash emerged as the best scorer in the previous race meeting.
At Sepang, Nash collected 33 points, more than the two race winners of the Malaysian event: Roberto Colciago (30) and Kevin Gleason (29). However, none of them will take part in the season’s finale.
Nash’s SEAT will weigh 1345 kg, against the 1315 kg of the Honda Civic and other SEAT cars, while the Volkswagen Golf cars will run on 1285 kg.
Tiago Monteiro and Josh Files join the final party
The season-ending weekend won’t just be all about Nash, Comini, Oriola and Vernay; the finale always attracts guest drivers and this year is no exception, with two newcomers who are more than capable of springing surprises. Portugal’s Tiago Monteiro will be in the third WestCoast Racing Honda Civic, while British driver Josh Files competes in the same Target Competition Honda with which he won this year’s TCR Germany title.
Earlier this season, Monteiro had made a couple of appearances at the wheel of the Civic TCR at Spa and Zandvoort.
“Thanks to my relationship with Honda I have been able to get to know the car in the TCR Benelux series where I won two races, and I enjoyed it right away! The car is quite easy to drive and very fun, as well as very competitive. So it was an honour and a great joy when I was invited to join the International Series for Macau! ” said Monteiro who is aware of the tough commitment:
“I know the level is very high. I know most of the front-runners, so I’m aware that the task ahead will be tough, especially as they have been doing the whole season with this cars. If I can be at the front, I will be glad and that’s my goal… But first of all, I intend to enjoy myself and give it all. I also know that the championship is being decided there, and I don’t want to interfere.”
Files made a one-off appearance in the International Series, last year: “I am excited to return to Macau, especially at the wheel of my German championship-winning Honda Civic with my championship-winning team Target Competition! I feel this year we have a real shot to be right towards the front of the field! I genuinely can’t wait for the event to start. All I need to do is de-familiarise myself with the track and learn the Michelin tyres, whilst obviously tweaking the car to suit the conditions.”
“Will be a lot of fun, and a great feeling to come up against the TCR International guys, and of course Monteiro. As long as we stick to our normal routine and work ethic, we should hopefully been in the thick of it and have two really fun races. Obviously I don’t want to get in the way of any championship deciding battle though, so hopefully we can be in front of it!” Files declared.
Fulín and Belicchi are back with Mulsanne Racing
After fielding only one car in the three previous race meetings at Buriram, Singapore and Sepang, Mulsanne Racing will run two Alfa Romeo Giulietta cars once again in the season finale.
Petr Fulín will be back at the wheel after skipping Sepang for a previous commitment; the Czech driver will be joined by Andrea Belicchi in the team’s second Giulietta.
As Michela Cerruti is still undergoing medical checks since she suffered from the consequences of renal colic, Mulsanne Racing has called Belicchi to replace her.
The Italian driver was a regular competitor in last year’s TCR International Series, claiming one race victory and finishing sixth in the Drivers’ Championship; he also obtained a brilliant second place in Macau’s Race 2.
During the current season, Belicchi made two occasional appearances with TCR cars: driving an Opel Astra in the International Series opening at Bahrain and a Honda Civic in the ADAC TCR Germany at the Red Bull Ring where he finished second in Race 2.
WSC launches TCR Middle East Series
The proliferation of TCR regional and national series continues with the launch of TCR Middle East.
During the TCR International Series race meeting at the Bahrain International Circuit earlier in the season, promoter Marcello Lotti had the opportunity to meet with local promoters and lay the foundations for the new regional series.
“We found a lot of enthusiasm from the promoters, the circuits and the National Sporting Authorities. It is clear that motorsport is gaining popularity in the Middle East, as has been proved by the building of several top-level racetracks and the success of international races such as the 24 Hours of Dubai. This is also helping local drivers to become more experienced and competitive, as we saw with the performance of Salman Al Khalifa and Hussain Karimi when they joined the TCR International Series during the F1 Grand Prix,” Lotti said.
Following further meetings, details have now been finalized and the TCR Middle East Series is now being announced as an international series for the MENA (Middle East & North Africa) zone organized by WSC Middle East.
The 2017 TCR Middle East Series will be run between January and March and will consist of three events: on 12/14 January at the Dubai Autodrome, 10/11 February at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit and 10/11 March at the Bahrain International Circuit.
Lotti added: “The idea was to establish a series that may be also interesting for Europe-based teams and drivers, offering them the opportunity to race on modern and demanding circuits with affordable budgets during what is considered the off-season in Europe. Which is why the series will finish in March, giving the teams enough times to ship the cars back for the beginning of the national championships.”
The event featured a press conference that was attended by representatives of the local media and two test sessions that offered the local drivers the opportunity to sit at the wheel of a Volkswagen Golf TCR provided by Engstler Motorsport; 45 of them registered for the test.
Representatives of Audi Sport Customer Racing, JAS Motorsport and Romeo Ferraris were also present to meet the teams and explain the technical features of their cars and how to order them.
Bahrain International Circuit Chief Executive Shaikh Salman bin Isa Al Khalifa commented: “We would like to thank TCR for their passion and drive in organising the first-ever TCR Middle East Series. We fully support this championship and we are excited to see its contributions to the vibrant motorsport culture in the region. We look forward to hosting the third and final round of the season in March of 2017 and we expect a full grid of some of the most talented racers from our part of the world.”
TCR promoter Marcello Lotti thanked Shaikh Salman and BIC before saying: “The TCR global community is growing faster than expected. We already have a number of regional and national series around the world, but we want more. The TCR Middle East is the latest addition and we are pleased to see that it is attracting so much interest from the local teams and drivers.”
The Leopard Racing duo dominate the field as Vernay beats Comini in the fight for the pole position
The Leopard Racing duo of Jean-Karl Vernay and Stefano Comini dominated the field in a Qualifying session that was spoiled by rain in its second and decisive part.
The young Frenchman set an impressive fastest lap in Q2 of 3:00.602 at the wheel of his Volkswagen Golf, beating his own teammate Comini by 0.491 seconds. The 2015 TCR International Series champion could have been even faster, but he was slowed down by Pepe Oriola on his last attempt. The Spaniard was also on a fast lap but could not give way to Comini until they reached the final sector where overtaking was possible.
Both Oriola and his Craft-Bamboo Lukoil teammate James Nash seemed less at ease in the wet than their rivals in the championship fight and eventually qualified seventh (Nash) and tenth (Oriola).
Guest star Tiago Monteiro drove his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic to third position, while Antti Buri surprisingly qualified fourth and best of the SEAT drivers, just ahead of Dušan Borković.
In terms of championship points, the Qualifying results mean that Comini has closed the gap to Nash from 17 to 13 points, while Vernay is still fourth, 34 points behind the leader but now only one behind Oriola.
The two final races of the TCR International Series will take place tomorrow at 10:05 and 11:20 over a distance of ten laps.
Q1: Oriola sets the fastest lap
Pepe Oriola was the only driver to break the 2:34 wall, as he posted a fastest lap of 2:33.480 that no one else was able to match.
The top drivers tried to post fast laps in the early stages in order to avoid problems with the traffic and the slower cars. Oriola (2:36.713), Mat’o Homola (2:36.646) and Tiago Monteiro (2:35.362) all clocked provisional fastest laps until Oriola eventually completed a lap of 2:33.480 that topped the time sheet for good.
Jean-Karl Vernay (2:34.121), Monteiro (2:34.217), Dušan Borković (2:34.415), James Nash (2:34.456), Josh Files (2:34.700), Stefano Comini (2:34.738), Homola (2:34.814), Sergey Afanasyev (2:34.821) and Attila Tassi (2:34.892) all improved and filled the positions between second and tenth.
The rain came with five minutes left, preventing any further improvements. Antti Buri and Gianni Morbidelli managed to claim the last two spots that granted access to Q2.
Among those who failed to make the cut were Andy Yan (13th – only one tenth slower than Morbidelli), Davit Kajaia (14th), Tin Sritrai (20th – he spoiled his chances crashing at the Police bend) and the two Alfa Romeo cars of Petr Fulín (21st) and Andrea Belicchi (25th) that suffered from turbo and gearbox problems respectively.
Mikhail Grachev missed the whole session, as he crashed at the Mandarin bend on his first lap out.
Q2: Vernay sets pole in the wet
As the rain eased, lap times dropped dramatically. Eventually the fight for the pole was restricted to the Leopard Racing teammates in their Volkswagen Golf cars.
On his last lap, Vernay claimed his second pole of the season with a lap of 3:00.602 that demoted Comini (3:01.093) to second.
Monteiro posted the third fastest lap (3:02.604), with Buri (3:04.393), Borković (3:04.442) and Morbidelli (3:04.723) in fourth, fifth and sixth respectively.
The Craft-Bamboo Lukoil title contenders Nash (3:05.033) and Oriola (3:05.936) qualified in seventh and tenth positions respectively.
Quotes after the Qualifying session
Jean-Karl Vernay (pole position): “It was a great session! We knew the Golf is very quick in the wet, we saw it at the Salzburgring and it proved here again. The key was to stay calm and go through the first laps, which were quite tricky and with very poor visibility. We raised the bar lap after lap, working together with Stefano, pushing and pulling each other. My last lap was the fastest, I knew it was a very good lap and just tried to avoid mistakes in the last sector.”
Stefano Comini (second fastest): “Second is very good, although my last lap was unlucky as I found Pepe Oriola on the way. He did not block me, everything was very correct, but he was slower. It would have probably meant pole, as the data in the dashboard were telling I was one second faster than in the lap that gave second, but it was good like that, it was a nice team result, and it was good to keep the championship battle alive. Actually, we were lucky to get the rain for Q2, it suited us well especially after the difficult Q1 I had, touching the walls four times. The best thing of the day, though, is that I could do the Melco hairpin with the handbrake, it was something I always wanted to do, it was great and now that box is ticked!”
Tiago Monteiro (third fastest): “After the difficult day yesterday, it’s nice to be in the top-three and retrieve confidence. Then, the conditions changed for Q2 and that was tricky, because it wasn’t wet the same way in all parts of the track, but the situation was the same for everybody. It was challenging for me, as I don’t know the car that well, so I preferred not to change much in the set-up and that was a good decision.”
Antti Buri (fourth fastest): “It was a good session for me, especially given it is my first time here. It wasn’t easy on the wet, but I felt comfortable with the car. It was a pity, though, because I believe that in normal dry conditions, we would have brought down the lap times by one second. The only trouble today is that I had no radio and the watch on the dashboard was not working, so I had no idea of how good the times were.”
James Nash (seventh fastest): “Q1 was simple, although I was deliberately blocked by Comini half-way through the session, and the team reported that to the stewards. In Q2, it was simply ridiculous to see how big is the gap with the Golf cars, but the god thing is that I’m still ahead of my team mates despite the extra weight.”
Pepe Oriola (tenth fastest): “Bad luck for me with the rain, Macau really does not like me. Q1 was fine and I stayed way within my limits not to take any risk, but on the wet in Q2 we were really struggling with no grip and no traction. It’s hard to believe that we are 5 seconds slower than our direct competitors.”
A further 20-kilo weight break for Alfa Romeo
A further weight break was granted to the Alfa Romeo Giulietta cars before today’s Qualifying session.
As a consequence, the two Italian cars entered by Mulsanne Racing for Petr Fulín and Andrea Belicchi will run at 1225 kilos with the drivers onboard.
Another amendment to the Balance of Performance, compared to the previous technical bulletin issued last Wednesday, was about the SEAT León TCR DSG model. As these cars cannot get down to 1230 kilos, they have been brought back to the original running weight of 1250. As a result they have been authorized to run with a 70mm ground clearance instead of 80mm.
Stefano Comini clinches a second successive Drivers’ title
Stefano Comini confirmed himself as the ‘king’ of the TCR International Series by winning a second consecutive Drivers’ title in what was, arguably, the most chaotic race meeting in the short history of the category.
Despite the fact that both races were dramatically shortened by red flags and suspensions, the Swiss driver was able to exploit the remaining track time to show his driving skill and strategic view. A perfect start meant Comini put himself in the best position to win Race 1 and reduce his gap from James Nash (who retired after a collision with another car) to a mere half point.
In the second race, Comini did not take any risks and let Tiago Monteiro, Jean-Karl Vernay and Pepe Oriola through to claim the podium positions, settling on a fourth place that granted him the title.
There was recognition too for the great efforts put in by Leopard Racing and Volkswagen Motorsport on their first season in TCR. The icing on the cake for them was Vernay’s third position in the Drivers’ standings.
Craft-Bamboo Lukoil teammates James Nash and Pepe Oriola had to bow to the Comini-Vernay duo and placed themselves second and fourth in the championship. Both would have deserved to be champion, but were victims of the Guia street circuit ‘law’ that always favours those who are good (or lucky) enough to keep out of trouble.
TCR promoter Marcello Lotti commented: “It was a shame that such an exciting season has come to an end with two races that were plagued by incidents and suspensions. We knew that this is always a risk you take when you decide to race in Macau but I’m afraid that this year, troubles have been increased by the decision to allow cars complying with different regulations to race together.”
This is also the reason why Macau has not been included in the provisional calendar of the 2017 TCR International Series.
Comini wins a chaotic Race 1, as Nash crashes
The first race turned into a complete chaos. A number of incidents prompted the red flag once and forced the safety car to intervene twice.
Eventually only five laps were completed, equating to 50% of the scheduled race distance. As a consequence only 50% of the points were awarded.
With Stefano Comini emerging as the winner and James Nash eliminated after he hit the wall, the gap between the two was reduced to only half-a-point before the final race, with the Briton still in the lead.
The only other driver still in contention – at least theoretically – was Jean-Karl Vernay, 25 points behind the leader.
RACE ONE KEY FACTS
Start: Comini takes the best start from Monteiro and Vernay
Lap 1: three local drivers crash into each other at T1; Morbidelli crashes at Mandarin; Vernay overtakes Monteiro at the Lisboa bend and moves up to second; Nash climbs to fourth ahead of Borković
Lap 2: The safety car is deployed; Afanasyev pits with engine problems
Lap 4: The race resumes after one lap behind the safety car, with only seven minutes left on the clock. Homola hits the barrier at the Lisboa bend and blocks the track; Buri, Files, Tassi and a number of other cars are stuck behind him. Nash hits the wall and breaks the rear left suspension
Lap 5: The safety car is deployed once again; Comini leads from Vernay, Monteiro, Borković and Oriola
Lap 6: The race finishes but the chequered flag is not being waved… the drivers resume racing, but they are slowed down by the full course yellow in the second half of the lap
Race 2 – Monteiro wins and Comini is champion
Another chaotic race saw Tiago Monteiro as the winner and Stefano Comini as the 2016 TCR International Series champion. This was the second consecutive title for the Swiss driver and the first one for Leopard Racing and the Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR car.
Once again a pile up caused by the drivers from the Chinese championship forced the clerk of the course to suspend the race that resumed with only two laps to go.
Once again half points were awarded.
Guest star Monteiro who had pipped Comini and Jean-Karl Vernay at the start, emerged as the winner ahead of Vernay, Pepe Oriola and Comini who clinched the Drivers’ title with only 3.5 points from Nash.
RACE TWO KEY FACTS
Grid: Nash is on the grid, after the Craft-Bamboo crew performed a miracle and repaired his car; Tassi and Buri start from the pit lane
Start: Monteiro sprints from the second row of the grid and takes the lead from Comini and Vernay
Lap 1: Borković and Oriola follow in fourth and fifth positions
Lap 2: Grachev, Files and Belicchi advance to sixth, seventh and eight respectively; Nash is up to ninth
Lap 3: Oriola overtakes Borković for fourth; Nash overtakes Sritrai for ninth and Belicchi for eighth
Lap 4: Another pile up is caused by the drivers from the local championship at the Police bend; the track is blocked and the race is suspended
Lap 6: The race resumes after one lap behind the safety car with only two laps to go; Vernay overtakes Comini for second at the Lisboa; Files overtake Grachev for sixth
Lap 7: Oriola overtakes Comini for third; Yan overtakes Sritrai for tenth; Monteiro wins from Vernay, Oriola and Comini
Quotes from the podium finishers in both races
Stefano Comini (2016 TCR International Series Champion – 1st in Race 1: “Champion again, that’s simply great! Last year I won with my guts, this time with my head… It was a difficult challenge but we made it, and it has really been a collective effort. I want to thank everybody at Leopard Racing, at WRT and at Volkswagen Motorsport, and give special thanks to Jean-Karl, whose help was really crucial this weekend to get the success. It has been a tough season, we had a difficult start with the car, but then we improved race after race. At this moment, I can only say that I am very, very happy.”
Tiago Monteiro (3rd in Race 1; 1st in Race 2) – “The objective was to win Macau and I achieved it. It’s a race that means so much to any driver and a place so special for us Portuguese… I am very happy and it is a revenge on the bad luck when I lost the race one lap to the end two years ago… I knew the competition was going to be very tough in TCR and so it was. Still, it was a very strange and very long race, with so many interruptions, but the few laps of real racing were very intense. I knew I had to attack and did it at the start and the restart in Race 2, and that proved to be a smart move.”
Jean-Karl Vernay (2nd in Race 1 and Race 2): “I feel a little bit sorry for the fans, who did not get the real TCR show, but Macau is Macau… For us, the target was to help Stefano to become champion, and I am happy we made it. Second twice leaves me a little bit disappointed, I really wanted to win one of the races, but it wasn’t possible. In Race 2, in the two laps that were left I attacked hard, could almost try something on Tiago, who was very fast, but made a small mistake at the Melco hairpin, and that was it.”
Pepe Oriola (3rd in Race 2): “It’s a little bit of a pity that we could not offer a good show to spectators and TV watchers but it’s Macau…Personally, I am happy to be on the podium and of my performance, that’s really the only thing to say…”
James Nash (Vice-champion in the 2016 TCR International Series): “It was a good season but not good enough… It was a difficult and disappointing weekend, but that’s how things go sometimes. Regarding the incident with Homola, I don’t understand where he wanted to pass, there was no space, it was silly…”
TCR International Series unveils 2017 calendar
TCR SA unveiled the provisional calendar of the 2017 TCR International Series, the third racing season since the inception of the TCR concept.
The series is aiming to maintain its main feature: supporting three Formula 1 events once again. “We have already discussed with Formula One Management to be part of the Bahrain, Monaco and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix,” promoter Marcello Lotti said.
The season will kick off at the modern Rustavi International Motopark, marking the first visit of an international motorsport series to Georgia.
The third stop, between Bahrain and Monaco, will be at Spa-Francorchamps in support of the World Endurance Championship for the second consecutive year.
Three European race meetings will follow: at the Salzburgring, the Hungaroring (together with the GT Open) and Oschersleben (together with the ADAC TCR Germany series).
The TCR International Series will then move to the Far East for the final part of the season. There it will race at the Chang International Circuit for the third time, before moving to Korea or China for the last-but one event and then to Abu Dhabi for the grand finale.
“It is definitely an exciting sequence of venues. The addition of Monaco, Georgia, Hungary and Abu Dhabi will add further glamour to the series and will also enable the TCR concept to broaden its horizons even further,” Lotti concluded.
2017 TCR International Series – provisional calendar
2 April – Rustavi International Motopark, Georgia
16 April – Bahrain International Circuit (F1 event)
7 May – Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium (WEC event)
28 May – Circuit de Monaco (F1 event)
11 June – Salzburgring, Austria
2 July – Hungaroring, Budapest
9 July – Motorsport Arena Oschersleben, Germany
3 September – Chang International Circuit, Buriram, Thailand
8 October – Korea / China
26 November – Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi (F1 event)