The inaugural season of TCR Middle East will came to an end on Saturday at Bahrain International Circuit, with four drivers in contention to be crowned the series’ first-ever champion.
Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s Brandon Gdovic and Luca Engstler, who shared race victories in the opening event at Dubai at the wheel of their Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR cars, are still on top of the standings, with Gdovic leading by six points ahead of his teammate who turned 17 today.
However, during the second race meeting in Abu Dhabi, a new contender broke into contention: Josh Files in the Honda Civic TCR run by the Dubai-based Lap57 team. The Briton won both races at Yas Marina and climbed to third in the classification, only 12 points behind the leader.
Davit Kajaia is also in contention, thanks to twice finishing second behind Files at Abu Dhabi in the Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR. However, the gap of 27 points to the leader – when 55 are still at stake – means the Georgian’s hopes are slim.
Luca Engstler, the youngest of the title contenders who is currently placed second in the TCR Middle East Series classification, will have an advantage compared to his closer competitors in Bahrain.
The German’s Volkswagen Golf GTi car will run on the minimum weight of 1285 kilograms, including the driver.
All of Engstler’s rivals’ cars will be laden by Success Ballast. Josh Files’ Honda Civic will carry the maximum 30-kilo ballast plus 30 kilos of BoP for a total running weight of 1345 kg; Davit Kajaia’s Alfa Romeo Giulietta will run at 1265 kg, including 20 kilos of ballast and a BoP reduction of 40 kilos; Brandon Gdovic’s Volkswagen will weigh 1295 kg with a ballast of 10 kilos.
Josh Files takes hard-fought pole position
Josh Files conquered the pole at Bahrain International Circuit after an intense and hard-fought battle for pole.
The British driver of the Lap 57 Honda Civic beat Davit Kajaia, with the Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta, by only 68 thousandths of a second, with third-fastest Luca Engstler (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf) conceding only 101 thousandths to the poleman, in a result that saw three different car brands represented in the top three and promises a fierce battle in tomorrow’s races.
In a warm afternoon, the session saw an early domination by Engstler (1.09.660) before Files took P1 with a lap time of 1.09.689. Shortly after mid-session; then the qualifying turned into a very tactical session, as all drivers stopped to preserve their tyres.
In the closing minutes, a raging battle delivered the final result, with Files holding narrowly the pole ahead of Kajaia and Engstler. They were followed by the other Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf cars of Brandon Gdovic and Giacomo Altoè. The US driver was happier with the behavior of his car but regretted not having been able to get his best sector times in a sequence, while the young Italian deliberately kept a set of front tyres for the races tomorrow.
In the title fight, gaps have been closed, with Gdovic leading by 5 and 9 points ahead of Engstler and Files respectively.
Driver quotes after Bahrain Qualifying
Josh Files (pole position): “It has been a very close and exciting session, and it’s nice to win a pole like this! The car felt much better, we changed a lot of things in the set-up and it worked well. Even in excess, as from a lot of understeer we went to some oversteer. The only thing we haven’t been able to solve is this tedious misfiring on the main straight, which costs me a hundredth of a second every time it occurs.”
Davit Kajaia (2nd fastest): “It was a good qualifying, but I am obviously a little bit disappointed about missing the pole for so little. Still, we were able to improve much the set-up of the car an tomorrow, I’ll push hard and I’ll go for the win.”
Luca Engstler (3rd fastest): “It was a nice battle and Josh won it on his own merits. I did some little mistakes on my fast laps and in the best of those my driveshaft suddenly broke, with a big bang. Despite all that, the result is very close and I think it will be a nice battle tomorrow.”
Josh Files is crowned the first TCR Middle East champion
Jost Files took no prisoners at Bahrain International Circuit: with an authoritative double win at the wheel of the Lap57 Honda Civic, he secured the first edition of the TCR Middle East Series’s title. The Brit also becomes the first driver to have two different TCR titles under this belt, adding this one to that of TCR Germany won last year.
Liqui Moly Team Enstler took the Teams’ honours, but there was some disappointment among the German team’s members, as Brandon Gdovic missed the title by only 5 points. The American collected two nice second positions, but it was not enough. Luca Engstler, who also was in contention to win the tile, was third in Race 1, but had to retire in Race 2 with a broken driveshaft.
Italy’s 16-year-old Giacomo Altoè continued his steady learning process and took good results (one fourth and one third) at the wheel of Team Engstler’s third Volkswagen Golf. The Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta of Davit Kajaia also proved fast, but lacked reliability and could not finish in any of the races.
The Bahrain event was a successful ending to the first edition of the TCR Middle Series, which has attracted great interest in the region.
Race One: Files’ win paves the way to exciting finale
The first edition of the TCR Middle East Series will live this afternoon a breath-taking Race 2, as three drivers will go into it fighting for the title and being split by only 5 points.
By clinching an authoritative win in Race 1, Josh Files, at the wheel of the Lap57 Honda Civic, has reduced to 2 points his gap from the series leader Brandon Gdovic, who took a last-lap second place from his Liqui Moly Team Engstler’s teammate Luca Engstler, now third in the standings, but only 5 points behind Gdovic.
In an unusually cloudy morning at Bahrain International Circuit, delivered a first big surprise even before the start, as the Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta of Davit Kajaia, had to pull out from the first row of the grid with a broken driveshaft.
Files took the lead from the start and built progressively a sufficient gap, although his race was far from easy: “It was a very hard race on the tyres”, explained the Brit, “there is nothing left of them and in the final laps, I had no grip, no traction, no nothing.”
Luca Engstler led the charge of the Golf cars for the entire race, but his efforts took a toll on his tyres; in the last lap, Brandon Gdovic, who had adopted a more conservative approach with regard to tyre consumption, was able to pass the young German for second. Both drivers admitted there was nothing to do against the Honda in this first race of the day.
Giacomo Altoè, on the third car of Liqui Moly Team Engstler, had to stop in the penultimate lap after a sudden drop of power, which ruined an otherwise consistent race.
Race Two: Files secures title with another win
Josh Files was crowned the first TCR Middle East Series champion. The British driver of the Lap 57 Honda Civic left no chances to his opponents by winning also an eventful Race 2.
Both Luca Engstler (Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf) and Davit Kajaia (Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta) tried hard to challenge Josh, but both had to retire, leaving the podium to the other pair of Liqui Moly Team Engstler drivers, Brandon Gdovic and Giacomo Altoè, who ran together the entire race, and secured the Teams’ title for the German squad.
Altoè, pole sitter on the reversed grid, almost stalled at the start, which saw some drops of rain, and Files overtook everybody before first corner to take the lead, with Kajaia keeping second only for a few corners, as he got passed by Engstler before the end of first lap. The group remained quite compact until Engstler suddenly slowed down (lap 4) and had to stop on the straight, prompting the safety car to be deployed.
The race resumed on lap 8, becoming a double battle between Files and Kajaia on one hand and Gdovic and Altoè on the other, but progressively, Files managed to pull away up to the chequered flag, while Kajaia stopped in the pits on lap 19, with severe understeer. Gdovic and Altoè finished their duel in the same order to complete the podium.
Quotes from the podium finishers in both races
Josh Files (1st in both races): “It’s great to take the championship with a double win. Things may look easy from the outside, but they were not. The entire weekend was about tyres, and I am very happy that we took the decision to save new tyres for the races. In both, the tyres were completely dead at the end. Otherwise, the car performed very well, although we could never solve the misfiring problem we had throughout the weekend.”
Brandon Gdovic (2nd in both races): “It has been a frustrating weekend for me. We were able to improve the behaviour of the car and I am happy of the way I managed the tyres, but the Honda was absolutely unreachable.”
Lucas Engstler (3rd in Race 1): “I am quite disappointed. Not only there was nothing we could do against the Honda, but I also had twice a broken driveshaft, in Qualifying and in Race 2 and this also penalized me a lot.”
Giacomo Altoè (3rd in Race 2): “It was a positive weekend and I learnt a lot. I am relatively satisfied with my performance and of having being able to keep the pace of my team mate Gdovic in both races. It’s just a pity I made such a silly mistake at the start of Race 2, when I released to quickly the clutch and almost stalled.”
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!