With the TCR International Series getting underway in Georgia during the first weekend in April, the news is now coming thick and fast regarding Driver and Team line-ups for the 2017 season. Here are some more of those announcements:
Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing Continue Winning Partnership with Lukoil and SEAT Sport
Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing will continue their long-standing partnership with Russian oil giant Lukoil and Spanish car manufacturer, SEAT Sport.
Lukoil has titled sponsored the team and its three SEAT Leon Cup Racer TCRs since the inaugural season began in 2015. They have enjoyed much success together, taking 2nd in both the teams’ and drivers’ championship in their first season of competition. In 2016 Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing secured the teams’ title by a dominant 73 point margin and took second in the drivers’ championship, narrowly missing out on the top spot by only 3.5 points but cementing themselves as one of the strongest contenders for 2017.
Lukoil and SEAT Sport join Craft-Bamboo Racing for the third consecutive TCR International Series season and are focused on building on their past success to take both the drivers’ and teams’ titles. Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing has been a constant front-runner in the championship over the past two seasons and will be pushing themselves even harder to continue their string of top results, ensuring they are in the leading position come the final round.
The team will once again run three cars, with the trio displaying an updated livery for the 2017 season. The 2017 livery is an evolution of Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing’s 2016 design but features more aggressive geometric patterns on the flank of the car. A revised design on the front end gives the SEAT an even sharper look, while white wheel arches at the front help to define the wider track of the Leon Cup Racer TCR. The livery is tied up with a dominantly red back end contrasted with a blacked out rear valance to complete the 2017 package.
Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing Confirms Nash, Oriola and Valente for TCR International Series
Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing is proud to announce a fresh and exciting driver lineup for the 2017 TCR International Series season that features a strong mix of highly experienced and successful touring car drivers. Hugo Valente, James Nash and Pepe Oriola form the trio of drivers that will be fighting for TCR International Series glory alongside Lukoil and SEAT Sport in 2017.
New to the team for 2017 is Hugo Valente, the seasoned World Touring Car Championship driver who started his WTCC career in 2013. Valente continued his rise and signed as a factory driver with Lada Sport Rosneft in 2016 before finishing the competition in 12th place. Valente joins Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing and now returns to SEAT where he started his touring car career in the French SEAT Leon Supercopa in 2012. His experience in high level touring car racing and behind the wheel of the SEAT Leon will be invaluable as he quickly gets accustomed to the new car, new circuits, and the competition.
James Nash is back for his second TCR season with Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing and the Brit has the sole intention of claiming the drivers’ championship title he so narrowly missed out on by only 3.5 points in Macau last year. Nash rejoins the 2016 TCR Teams’ Champions and hopes to build on his immensely successful 2016 track record where he claimed 11 podiums from 22 races, the most out of any driver in the series. His calculated driving style and consistency in the #54 SEAT Leon throughout his inaugural season were key factors in his ability to challenge the more experienced TCR drivers of the competition. With a year behind the wheel of the SEAT Leon now under his belt, Nash will be starting this season in a much stronger position and is sure to be one of the top contenders for the drivers’ title in 2017.
Pepe Oriola completes Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing’s trio of drivers and joins the team for the third consecutive season. After an incredibly successful two years behind the wheel of the SEAT Leon, the young gun is heading into the 2017 season with his eyes firmly set on the drivers’ championship title. The Spaniard has been a constant front runner ever since the series’ began in 2015 and is proving to be one of the fastest SEAT drivers on the grid. Oriola took 2nd place in his debut season with an incredible 12 podiums and continued his string of success in 2016, taking four wins and a total of nine podiums that would see him lead the championship on multiple occasions throughout the season before finishing fourth overall.
Oriola has been a dominant force in the championship and after just missing out on the title in 2015 and continually trading the top spot on the ladder throughout 2016; the young but highly experienced touring car driver is back with Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing to claim the title he has been so tantalizingly close to over the past two years.
The team has their eyes firmly set on taking both the drivers’ and teams’ championship titles this season and with the careful selection of Hugo Valente, James Nash and Pepe Oriola for their 2017 driver lineup, Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing has ensured that they have the best chance at victory when the season kicks off in Georgia on April 2nd.
PAULSEN AIMS AT THE TCR EUROPEAN TROPHY
The 2017 TCR European Trophy has found its first pretender in Stian Paulsen. The 29-year-old Norwegian plans to qualify for the final event at Adria by taking part in all the European rounds of the TCR International Series, driving a SEAT León TCR run by his own team.
Paulsen has earned a solid reputation at the wheel of front-wheel-drive touring cars, claiming race victories in the German Volkswagen Polo Cup (2007), the Belgian Renault Clio Cup (2008) and the SEAT León Eurocup (2014/16). He was also crowned champion in the Single-Make Trophy of the 2012 FIA European Touring Car Cup.
“I am very excited by this programme. The plan is to take part in the five European rounds of the TCR International Series and then in the TCR Europe final at Adria. Looking further ahead I will be working to add a couple of overseas events in 2018 and eventually taking part in the full International Season in 2019,” Paulsen said.
ICARUS MOTORSPORTS TO ADD A SECOND CAR FROM SPA
Icarus Motorsports will begin its maiden season in the TCR International Series with only one SEAT León car for Duncan Ende in Georgia and Bahrain.
The second car will be run from the third event, at Spa-Francorchamps.
Ende explained: “Unfortunately we suffered some significant delays which held our cars up in customs. The timetable was far too short to properly update both cars to 2017 specs for the first race, so we elected to focus our resources on doing the job right on a single car, postponing the debut of the second car when the series returns to Europe.”
The team has yet to unveil the name of its second driver.
Norbert Michelisz launches M1RA for TCR International title assault
It is our great pleasure to present to you a brand-new racing team from Hungary, M1RA, to contest the TCR International Series in 2017.
Founded by Hungarian motorsport hero Norbert Michelisz and renowned race engineer David Bári, M1RA will field a pair of Honda Civic Type R TCRs in the series from its base in Kecskemét.
Bári will be Team Principal while Michelisz’s main role will be helping to promote and nurture the next generation of Hungarian racing talent. The drivers will be Hungarian Attila Tassi and Italian Roberto Colciago while the Race Engineers will be Bári (Tassi) and Giancarlo Bruno (Colciago).
Despite his age, 17-year-old Tassi will enter his sixth year of racing in 2017. A regular race winner in the Hungarian Suzuki Swift Cup from 2012-15, he finished 11th in TCR International last year despite only joining the series midway through the season, and took a deserved podium finish in Russia.
The experienced Colciago, by contrast, made his race debut in 1981 and has amassed a sizeable number of championship titles including the Italian Formula 3 crown in 1990 and several national touring car crowns in Italy and Sweden. Now aged 48, he is the reigning TCR Italy champion and was a race winner in TCR International in Malaysia last year.
M1RA has shaken down both cars at Cervesina recently and will make its race debut at the TCR International season-opener at the new Rustavi International Motorpark in Georgia on April 1-2.
The season will be spread across 10 rounds across Europe and Asia and conclude at the Yas Marina Circuit in the UAE on November 26-27 in support of the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.
Q&A with Norbert Michelisz, Team Owner:
What has driven you to establish M1RA? “For many years I have had ambitions of creating my own race team, but had always assumed that this would come at the end of my driving career. However, at the end of 2016, all the ingredients were in place to create M1RA. The right people; like David Bári, the right car; the Honda Civic Type R TCR, and the right programme in TCR International, were all available, so this is the ideal time.”
Why have you chosen to race Hondas in TCR International? “We evaluated a number of different series, including WTCC2, but for now, TCR International provided the best fit for our aims and objectives. In terms of the choice of machinery, I raced a Honda Civic Type R TCR several times in TCR Benelux last year and won six races, so I know how good a car it is. It’s a proven championship winner and my relationship with JAS Motorsport – who build the cars – is also very strong as they run the factory Civics I race in the FIA World Touring Car Championship. There was no other car under consideration really and it will form a very strong basis for our team.”
What will your role be with M1RA? “I’ve been heavily involved in setting up the team, even down to the name; Mira is the name my wife, Johanna, picked out for our daughter, who is due to be born later this month and so it’s a name that’s very close to my heart. But now my primary focus is on my ‘day job’ as a factory Honda driver in the WTCC and on fighting for the title, so my role within M1RA will focus on nurturing and developing the next generation of Hungarian racing talent. This starts with Attila Tassi who, like me, started out in Sim Racing and is one of the few people in the past 10 years who has beaten me! David Bári will be Team Principal. He is an extremely talented engineer with a lot of experience and success behind him in touring-car racing and he will do a great job. I’ve been very close to the Bári family for a long time as David’s brother, Gergo, is my Race Engineer in the WTCC.”
What are your ambitions for the season? “To win the championship. I know that sounds very ambitious for our first season as TCR has some very strong and experienced teams and drivers, but I genuinely think that we have all the ingredients necessary to mount a serious challenge. Attila has incredible potential and has already been a podium finisher in his first season while Roberto is an experienced championship winner in touring cars and will definitely be a force to be reckoned with. Nobody thought 10 years ago that a sim racer like me could be a genuine contender for major racing titles, so I think we’re in a good position to show people what we can do.”
HYUNDAI SIGNS GABRIELE TARQUINI AS TCR TEST DRIVER
Hyundai Motorsport has signed Gabriele Tarquini as the lead test driver for the TCR project, which was announced last month. The Italian will work alongside the engineers and designers in the Customer Racing department throughout the development phase of the new car.
Tarquini brings a wealth of experience from a career in motorsport to the project. Over nearly 25 years driving for manufacturer teams in both national and international series at the highest levels of touring car competition he has established himself as one of the most successful drivers, winning three championships, including the FIA world title in 2009. However, when he begins his testing work with Hyundai Motorsport next month will be his first time at the wheel of a car built to the TCR regulations.
Hyundai Motorsport Customer Racing manager Andrea Adamo said: “To be able to bring such an experienced driver into the project at this early stage is a big step forward. Gabriele Tarquini is recognized as one of the most successful current touring car drivers. However, he has also shown his ability to work with a team, helping to develop a project for competition. For us this is very important.
The TCR marketplace is growing, but it is very competitive, with a number of top manufacturers building models for the regulations. Because of this we need to take full advantage of all of our test running over the coming months so we can deliver a strong car to our customers that they can be competitive with in the full range of championships worldwide where TCR specification designs are welcomed.”
Tarquini said: “I’m very pleased to have joined Hyundai Motorsport and their TCR project. You can see from their rally team that they are working at a very high, a very professional, level. This will be my first time developing a TCR car so to be the lead test driver for the project is an exciting new challenge for me. I am looking forward to getting started and using my experience start developing a car from almost a blank sheet of paper. I met with some of the engineers on the project when I visited the team’s headquarters and I’m confident that we can work together to make the car competitive for a very tough set of regulations.”
The team plans to enter a second car as from the third race meeting of the season at Spa.
Tarquini will begin his test work with the team next month, with the first completed cars sold to customers planned for delivery in early December.
COMINI IN AN AUDI RS 3 LMS RUN BY COMTOYOU RACING
Double TCR International champion Stefano Comini will defend his title at the wheel of an Audi RS 3 LMS run by Comtoyou Racing.
“I received a number of offers, including the one from Comtoyou Racing… Jean-Michel Baert, the boss of the outfit, has hired François Verbist, whom I know well since we worked together in 2016. I hold him in great esteem and this convinced me this was the best option. This project has been launched at the last-minute and we’ll go to Georgia with very little preparation. There, our goal will be to score as many points as possible. I must say that trying to conquer a third crown in a row, with a third different car brand, is a very exciting challenge!” Comini said.
Based in Waterloo and involved in the European VW Fun Cup since the end of 2015, Comtoyou Racing has seized the opportunity that presented itself. “Sometimes, in life, there are chances you cannot let go. Especially, when all the pieces of the puzzle seem to come together nicely,” acknowledges Jean-Michel Baert, the Team Principal. “This project has seen the light in less than one week! Audi Sport Customer Racing wished to see an Audi RS 3 LMS in the TCR International Series and, as I am a long-time customer with them, they lured me a bit… At the same time, François Verbist was available to organize the team, from a technical and logistical point of view. In addition, Stefano Comini was without a drive a few weeks from the start of the season, and the idea of having the #1 on our car was very appealing. In five days, we have set up everything and fetched the car from Audi Sport Customer Racing at Neuberg. It is now on its way to Georgia.”
Well known for his role at Team WRT since 2010, François Verbist will be a key element in the new organization, contributing all his experience and competence. “It’s crazy how fast this project has taken off! Between the first phone call with Audi Sport Customer Racing and the delivery of the car, only 48 hours had passed. We are happy to have their support, as they wish to showcase the competitiveness of the Audi RS 3 LMS in the global series. Everything has happened very late and, clearly, we’ll need a couple of races to be at the top, but I am sure that we have the best people in the team and that we will make it. On top, with Stefano, we have one of the very top drivers. It is a huge challenge, but we are here to bid for the title!”
VESNIĆ TO RACE AN AUDI IN THE EUROPEAN TROPHY
After years of racing in different European racing series, multiple Serbian and FIA Central European Zone Touring Car champion Milovan Mikica Vesnić will compete in the European events of the 2017 TCR International Series and in the final of the TCR European Trophy at Adria.
The 40-year old Vesnić will drive a brand new Audi RS 3 LMS run by the all-Serbian racing team ASK Vesnić.
“TCR is the next step for me and my team. We are a small team, but we have a lot of experience. My family has been involved in motor sports for more than forty years and we are not afraid to fight with the world’s top teams and drivers. Our main goal in 2017 is to present ourselves and and our country at our best in TCR International. For the time being we have already the budget two-three events, but we are working hard to take part in all the five European rounds plus the final in Adria,” said Vesnić.
CORTHALS AND HOMOLA IN DG SPORT’S OPEL ASTRA CARS
DG Sport Compétition announced Pierre-Yves Corthals and Mat’o Homola as the drivers of the two Opel Astra TCR cars entered by the Belgian team for its maiden season in the TCR International Series.
The 22-year old Homola has established himself as one of the most competitive young Touring Car drivers at an international level; last year he was one of the title contenders in the TCR International Series, claiming one race win and ranking 5th in the Drivers’ Championship. “I’m excited to race again in the TCR International Series, which I consider as one of the best and the most competitive touring car series. And I’m pleased to be part of DG Sport, an experienced team that claimed the TCR European Trophy in 2016. I believe there is a huge potential in the combination between the team and the new Opel Astra TCR. I am looking forward to new victories!” said Homola.
Corthals has been confirmed by the team after last year’s successful campaign that saw ‘Pilou’ winning the TCR European Trophy and finishing runner-up in the TCR Benelux with six race wins. The Belgian driver has also worked together with the Opel Motorsport technicians to develop the 2017 version of the Astra. He declared: “I am very pleased to take part in the TCR International Series. Because I know well the potential of the car, I think that we have all the cards to be able to compete for the top positions. The fact that nobody knows the Rustavi track and that we have a very professional team, makes it an ideal context to start the season.”
Team manager Lionel Hansen is confident: “Even if its engine and gearbox haven’t been changed from last year, the Astra TCR underwent significant technical improvements: running gear, suspensions, aerodynamics and also the optimization of brakes and electronics. All this has made the car easier to drive to the limits, like we saw during the Balance of Performance test in Adria, where the Astra proved fast and reliable.”
ZENGŐ MOTORSPORT TO RACE STARD-BUILT KIA CARS
Hungary-based Zengő Motorsport will run two STARD-built KIA cee’d TCR cars in the 2017 International Series from the third event of the season at Spa-Francorchamps.
The team, directed by Zoltán Zengő, has gained impressive experience in international Touring Car competitions, claiming brilliant results in the FIA European and World championships. The young Hungarian Ferenc Ficza, who will turn 20 in May, has been named as one of the two drivers.
“I am very proud to announce that STARD and Zengő Motorsport have established what we expect to be a successful cooperation. I have been amazed by the perfection of the new KIA cee’d TCR that has been built and developed by STARD and highly appreciate their confidence in choosing us as their partner in the TCR International Series. We hope to be able to repay their confidence by reaching good results from the Belgian event onwards. We have named Ferenc Ficza as our first driver, because our mission at Zengő Motorsport has always been to take care of Hungary’s young and talented drivers!” said Zoltán Zengő.
Michael Sakowitz, CEO STARD stated: “We are very pleased to have ZengőMotorsport, one of the most prestigious and successful Touring Car squads in recent years, with their leading driver Ferenc Ficza, running our brand new K:Force KIA cee´d TCR in its maiden season in the TCR International series. Zoltan Zengőgot in touch with us in 2016 about his project and we immediately realised that Zengö Motorsport and STARD shared the same competitive targets. We are very optimistic that this will be a successful partnership and we will fully support the team with our premium customer service. We are looking forward to a very exciting first season!“
TCR promoter Marcello Lotti commented:“This is an alliance to keep an eye on! I know ZengőMotorsport well and I consider it to be a very professional and ambitious team. At the same time, I was impressed by the determination that STARD has lavished on the KIA cee’d TCR project. There’s no doubt that the two together will do well.”
JENS MØLLER ENTERS A HONDA CIVIC IN THE EUROPEAN EVENTS
Jens Reno Møller was the third driver to commit to take part in the European events if the TCR International Series in order to qualify for the TCR European Trophy final at Adria International Raceway in October.
Møller has been a regular participant in both the Danish and the Scandinavian Touring Car championships, mostly driving JAS Motorsport-built Honda cars and establishing a solid customer relationship with the Italian engineering company. A relationship that the Dane – who was crowned 2009 DTC Independent champion – has just renewed, as he will race in a Honda Civic TCR.
“I am excited for coming back to racing after a five-year break and can’t wait to work with JAS Motorsport again, as they have built a very competitive car. The new TCR category is really attractive for privateers and provides top class racing, with a lot of very quick drivers. I expect to struggle in the first part of the season, but I will work hard to be in the right part of the field during the season. For me the European final at Adria is where we need to show our potential and then we’ll see for next year. I am also very pleased because I managed to bring back all the team members who have been worked with me until 2010!” said Møller who had his first test in the car Tuesday and Wednesday at Spa.
LEOPARD RACING CONFIRMS INTERNATIONAL SERIES PROGRAMME
Following its successful maiden season in 2016, Leopard Racing Team confirmed its commitment to the TCR International Series with the aim to defend its title in the Drivers’ Championship.
The team will continue to work together with WRT that provides its experienced and professional structure. They will be supported by an important partner like Castrol, a company with a long and proven history in motorsports.
For the 2017 season Leopard Racing and WRT will run Volkswagen Golf GTi cars once again.
Jean-Karl Vernay, who was classified third in the 2016 TCR International Series, claiming three race victories and two pole positions, has been confirmed at the wheel of the team’s first car from the opening event at Rustavi.
The young Frenchman said: “I am very pleased to race in the TCR International Series once again and with the same team. This is a nice change for me, because it’s the first time in my racing career that I’m able to take part in the same championship in two consecutive seasons. It is definitely a good thing, because it will make my life easier and will help me to be competitive straight away. I know some of the racetracks, I know the Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR very well and I get along well with the team that proved to be very professional. I reckon it will be a bit difficult in the first two events, as I will have to race by myself, with no teammate. Despite this, I am very confident because we have a competitive package.”
FICZA BEGINS THE SEASON WITH ZELE RACING
Ferenc Ficza will race in the first two events of the season at Rustavi International Motorpark and Bahrain International Circuit in a SEAT León TCR run by Zele Racing.
After several years in single-seater and GT championships, the Austrian team, directed by Michael Zele, is ready to make its maiden appearance in the TCR International Series.
“We had the opportunity to enter the International Series and have taken up the challenge. To us everything is new, but I am sure we will learn quickly what it takes to be competitive. We are all excited to be on the grid and are looking forward to work with TCR and SEAT,” Zele said.
“It’s great to be back in the International Series with such an experienced team. I am sure we will have a lot of fun out there,” said Ficza who made occasional appearances in the 2015 TCR International Series and will drive a KIA cee’d TCR for Zengő Motorsport from the third event at Spa-Francorchamps onwards.
Zele Racing will either sign a driver for the rest of the season or entrust the SEAT to race-by-race guest drivers.
A second car will be fielded from the third event of the season at Spa-Francorchamps and until the end of the season.
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!