Legendary Belgian track welcomes back the TCR drivers
The third race meeting of the 2017 TCR International Series takes place on the demanding racetrack of Spa-Francorchamps in the Belgian region of the Ardennes: A legendary circuit in motorsport history.
For the second consecutive year the series runs at Spa as a support event to the 6 Hours race, the second round of the FIA World Endurance Championship.
In 2016 Honda and Volkswagen shared the honours, with Aku Pellinen and Jean-Karl Vernay claiming one victory apiece.
On Saturday afternoon in the first race, Pellinen led from lights to flag in a WestCoast Racing Honda Civic and led home the SEAT León cars of Pepe Oriola and pole-sitter Dušan Borković .
On the Sunday morning, the second race was dominated by the trio of Leopard Racing WRT Volkswagen Golf GTi cars, with Vernay winning ahead of Stefano Comini and Antti Buri.
The event also marked the debut in TCR of two 1.6-litre Peugeot 308 Racing Cup cars run by the Sébastien Loeb Racing and driven by Jimmy Clairet and Grégory Guilvert.
A twenty-four-car field and six brands represented
The TCR International Series has already raced twice in the current season, at Rustavi International Motorpark – the first international race meeting ever hosted by Georgia – and at the Bahrain International Circuit, one of two appearances with Formula One.
For its first European event, the series presents itself in top form, with a strong field of 24 cars – including Touring Car superstars Rob Huff and Tom Coronel.
Jean Karl-Vernay of Leopard Racing arrives at Spa as the points leader with a tally of 52, but the Frenchman is shadowed by GE-Force’s Dušan Borković and M1RA’s Roberto Colciago who are lying only one and two points adrift respectively.
Just a handful of points behind are Pepe Oriola of Lukoil Craft-Bamboo (45),Borković’s teammate Davit Kajaia (39), Oriola’s teammates Hugo Valente (38) and James Nash (34) and Colciago’s teammate Attila Tassi (36).
There are four different car models in the top eight positions: Volkswagen Golf, Alfa Romeo Giulietta, Honda Civic and SEAT León.
However, in Spa it will be wise to keep an eye on the Audi SR3 LMS and the Opel Astra. The performance of both cars is definitely improving, as it was recently proved by Stefano Comini and Mat’o Homola. The Swiss and his Comtoyou Racing Audi won two TCR Benelux sprint races at Spa ten days ago and on the same weekend Homola drove the DG Sport Compétition Astra to set pole position and win another sprint race. The young Slovak had already claimed an impressive pole in Bahrain.
The same Success Ballast for Borković and Colciago
Dušan Borković and Roberto Colciago, the race winners of the previous event in Bahrain, will both carry 30 kilos of Success Ballast at Spa.
The Serbian drove his Alfa Romeo Giulietta to victory in Race 2 after finishing fourth in Race 1, which gave him 37 points, while the Italian and his Honda Civic Type-R scored the very same amount of points by Qualifying fifth, winning Race 1 and finishing fifth in Race 2.
The running weights of their cars will be 1345 kilograms for Colciago’s Honda (1285kg minimum weight, plus 30kg of Success Ballast and 30kg of Balance of Performance adjustment) and 1315 kg for Borković’s Alfa Romeo (1285kg + 30kg SB).
Hugo Valente, who Qualified fourth in Bahrain and then was classified second and third in the races with his SEAT León, scored 36 points, only one short of his rivals. And that point is worth 20 kilos, as the Frenchman will carry the 10 kilos of ballast imposed to the third best scorer, for a running weight of 1325kg (1285 + 10 SB + 30 BoP).
Rob Huff joins Jean-Karl Vernay at Leopard Racing
In Spa the spotlight was on Rob Huff, who joins championship-winning squad Leopard Racing Team WRT for the remainder of the TCR International Series.
The 2012 FIA World Touring Car champion has already had his first experience with the team, sharing a Volkswagen Golf GTi with his new teammate Jean-Karl Vernay at the opening round of the TCR Benelux series ten days ago, also in Spa. There, Huff and Vernay took four podium finishes from four sprint races on Sunday.
Huff will compete in seven of the eight remaining events alongside current championship leader Vernay, with the task of supporting the Frenchman’s title bid.
Huff said: “It’s fantastic to join Leopard Racing Team WRT in this year’s TCR International Series. The deal came after the Benelux race event, which was a success despite having to learn a new team, a new car and category. I had a great time getting to know the team at Spa, and I think we’re going to have a great rest of the season together. TCR is also a brilliant championship to be involved in. There’s a lot of future Touring Car talent rising up through there, and also great door-to-door racing. As the levels of the cars are balanced, it’s a lot less about the car but the driver. For someone who started racing in mono-brand trophies, like me, it’s extremely appealing. It’s also very nice to again be in a series launched and run by Marcello Lotti and his team, who know the business inside-out and are like a family.”
Tom Coronel makes a one-off appearance at Spa
Touring car specialist Tom Coronel will make his first appearance in the TCR International Series this weekend at Spa-Francorchamps.
The Dutch driver will be at the wheel of a second Honda Civic Type-R car run by the Boutsen Ginion Racing team, alongside that of his 17-year old teammate Benjamin Lessennes. One of Coronel’s commitments during the current season is taking part in the TCR Benelux in which he shares a Boutsen Ginion Racing Honda with the series’ reigning champion Stéphane Lémeret.
At Spa his car will be officially backed by Honda Benelux, who are determined to make Tom Coronel one of their top ambassadors, as confirmed by Paul Tomanek, the President of Honda Benelux: “The Dutch market is an extremely important market for Honda; we are thrilled to be able to count on his popularity and his talent behind the wheel to boost the dynamism of the brand in the Netherlands.”
The Dutchman does not hide his ambitions: “TCR is a fairly new category but one that all drivers closely follow. After a race in the Benelux championship, taking part in an event of the TCR International Series is naturally very exciting, especially since Spa isn’t too far away for my fans and the level looks particularly high so the races should be extremely thrilling.”
Paulsen and Møller begin their European campaign
The third race meeting in Spa will represent the beginning of the European campaign for Stian Paulsen and Jens Reno Møller; they both will take part in the International Series European events with the aim of competing in the TCR European Trophy final at the Adria International Raceway in October.
Paulsen, 29 years old from Norway and 2012 winner of a FIA European Touring Car Cup, will be driving a SEAT León TCR run by his own team.
“I am very excited by this programme. 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,” he said.
A regular participant in both the Danish and the Scandinavian Touring Car championships and winner of the 2009 DTC Independent title, Møller will be at the wheel of a Honda Civic Type-R for Reno Racing.
“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.” said Møller.
Six local drivers for the joy of Belgian fans
Belgian fans will have reasons to rejoice, as six of their favourite drivers will be racing in Spa. Besides Pierre-Yves Corthals who drives the DG Sport Compétition Opel Astra, five of the TCR Benelux competitors will be making their first appearance in the TCR International Series for their home race meeting: Benjamin Lessennes, Frédéric Vervisch, Maxime Potty and the brothers Edouard and Guillaume Mondron.
Benjamin Lessennes teams up with Coronel
17-year old Benjamin Lessennes will drive the very same Honda Civic Type-R car run by Boutsen Ginion Racing he regularly uses in the Benelux championship.
After finishing eighth in the 2016 championship and claiming his first victory in the season’s finale at Mettet, Lessennes has just begun the new season with a couple of podiums last weekend at Spa: second in Race 1 and third in Race 2.
And it was perhaps an omen that in both the sprint races he was joined on the podium by Stefano Comini and Jean-Karl Vernay, guest stars of the TCR Benelux event.
“This is a real opportunity to see where I am facing the elite of the TCR International Series. The challenge is great, but I hope that I will be at their level and achieve a good result during this prestigious race meeting!” said Lessennes.
Comtoyou Racing add a second car for Vervisch
After running a solitary Audi RS3 LMS for Stefano Comini in Rustavi and Bahrain, Comtoyou Racing will add a second car from the next weekend in Spa.
The team, that enjoyed success in the first event of the TCR Benelux scoring three victories out of the four sprint races (two with Comini and one with Sheldon van der Linde) has signed Frédéric Vervisch for the rest of the season.
The 30-year old Vervisch faces his first commitment in Touring Cars, after many seasons in single-seaters and GT racing.
The Mondron brothers with Delahaye Racing
Guillaume and Edouard Mondron are used to sharing the car in TCR Benelux, which they did last week in Spa where they won the Qualifying Race at the wheel of a SEAT León run by Delahaye Racing.
However, for their first appearance in the International Series, they will spit. Guillaume will keep on driving the SEAT, while Edouard will switch to a Volkswagen Golf GTi.
Edouard’s Golf will sport a special livery dedicated to the 25 Hours VW Fun Cup that will celebrate its twentieth anniversary at Spa on 6 to 9 July.
“This time we won’t share the wheel, but we will face each other on the track,”Edouard commented and Guillaume added: “We won’t make it easy for each other, and may the best driver win!”
Michaël Mazuin Sport fields a Golf for Maxime Potty
Michaël Mazuin Sport in collaboration with the Belgian VW Club and with the technical assistance from WRT, will field a Volkswagen Golf GTi car for Maxime Potty at Spa .
The 17-year old Potty is another teenager who drew attention to himself with his performances in the TCR Benelux. After some promising results in karting, Potty debuted in car racing last year with a WRT Golf and finished a respectable tenth in the TCR Benelux, scoring one victory in the Qualifying race at Colmarberg where he shared driving duties with Stefano Comini.
On the occasion of the 2017 TCR Benelux first event at Spa, ten days ago, Potty was able to complete an outstanding recovery in the fourth sprint race, from last on the grid to second under the chequered flag.
Comini and Vervisch made an Audi 1-2 in Qualifying
The two Audi RS3 LMS cars of Comtoyou Racing will start Race 1 from the first row, as Stefano Comini and Fred Vervisch were the fastest in an exciting qualifying session and gave the German car its first pole position in the International Series.
The reigning double champion and the debuting local hero emerged as the winners from a close fight with Benjamin Lessennes, a brilliant and close third in the Boutsen Ginion Honda Civic. The Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI cars of Jean-Karl Verney and former World Champion Rob Huff completed the top 5.
The only two incidents in the Qualifying session involved Belgian drivers, with both Guillaume Mondron (Delahaye Racing Team SEAT León) and Maxime Potty (Mazuin Racing VW Golf) hitting the barriers, the first in Q1 and the second in Q2. This did not prevent Potty to take P10, which grants him the theoretical pole for Race 2, if the car is repaired.
Q1: Ferenc Ficza on top of the field
Ferenc Ficza confirmed his speed qualities by taking fastest time in a hardly-fought Q1 session. The young Hungarian, now at the wheel of a Zengő Motorsport SEAT León, stopped the watches in 2:31.205, beating Comini (2:31.344) by a tenth and a half. Tom Coronel (Boutsen Ginion Honda) took third, despite a scary moment at Les Combes, ahead of Huff, Lessennes and Verney.
Again, the TCR Benelux drivers did well, with only Guillaume Mondron out of the top 12; the young Belgian, who had led the session at the beginning, lost the car in the chicane after Les Combes, crashing into the barrier.
The list of drivers not making it to Q2 included some big names, like Morbidelli, Nash, Colciago, Borkovi ć and Valente.
Even longer was the list of drivers who had at least one lap disallowed for not respecting track limits; Homola, Corthals, Ficza, Kajaia, Morbidelli, Valente, E. Mondron, Paulsen, Ende, Vernay and Oriola.
Q2: Comini nails down the pole position
Comini took the pole in Q2, after a good fight with local heroes Vervisch and Lessennes. The Swiss was able to beat his new teammate by a mere 0.067 seconds, while Lessennes was left a further 0.244 seconds adrift.
Potty had a scary moment as he lost his Golf in the Eau Rouge, hitting the barriers on the right side. Despite that, the young Belgian kept P10 and the pole for Race 2.
Two drivers concluded the session without clocking a valid lap time: Davit Kajaia (GE-Force Alfa Romeo Giulietta) had both his laps disallowed for not respecting the track limits, while Ficza was sidelined by a broken driveshaft.
What the fastest drivers said after Qualifying
Stefano Comini (1st): “Comtoyou Racing did an amazing job in such a short time and we worked hard to improve the setup. We knew the Audi RS3 LMS has a huge potential and we showed that potential with this pole position. It’s very emotional to do it in Spa and to do it with two cars on the front row. I’m very happy for Fred Vervisch, for Comtoyou and for Audi. Sorry I didn’t manage to take Eau Rouge flat out as I promised, but it was very slippery and we ran with almost no wing and so it was a very nervous car. I tried, but it was too dangerous.”
Frederic Vervisch (2nd): “Yesterday, I really didn’t expect we would be P2 in Qualifying. Okay, we were quick, but the new guys have the new tyres and so it’s difficult to see what is really happening. Today, we were in contention to have pole but I had a bit of traffic at the end. I’m very happy for the team as it’s quite rare to have two cars on the front row and we just have to enjoy the moment. I’ve never done a racing start in a front wheel drive car, even though I made a few practice starts yesterday, so that might be my weak point.”
Benjamin Lessennes (3rd): “We had a lot of work to do after the TCR Benelux races two weeks ago but the car was really good today. My engineer Kevin Boutsen has found a really good setup and I think we’ve found something good with the car now. It’s a very good setup for every track, I think, so we should also be good in the next races. We may find it a little difficult to warm up the rear tyres at the beginning of the races, so I think the fight will happen towards the end – let’s wait and see.”
Stefano Comini gives maiden win to Audi and Comtoyou whilst Vernay stretches his leading margin in the standings
Reigning champion Stefano Comini claimed his first win of the season this afternoon in Race 1 at Spa, in a newsworthy success as it also meant the maiden win in the TCR International Series for both the Audi RS3 LMS and Belgium’s Comtoyou Racing.
Comini, who started from pole, dominated the race after re-taking the lead in lap 2 from Attila Tassi, who took a stunning start. The young M1RA Honda Civic driver shone again in the final laps, defending from a charging Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf).
The Hungarian was rewarded with the third position on the podium, behind another young gun, Benjamin Lessennes, who finished a brilliant second in the Boutsen Ginion Honda Civic.
The battle for fifth was intense and thrilling as a long queue of cars was trailing the other Comtoyou Audi of Frédéric Vervisch. The Belgian managed to keep everybody at bay, finishing ahead of Rob Huff, Edouard Mondron, Tom Coronel, Pepe Oriola and Pierre-Yves Corthals.
Vernay stretched his leading margin in the points standings to 15, while Comini climbed to second on equal points with Tassi and Dušan Borković.
Grid: Kajaia starts from the last position because of an engine change after the Bahrain event as Paulsen starts from the pit lane
Start: Comini is not super-fast and Vernay dives in-between the two Audi cars, but it is Tassi who pips everybody on the outside line and takes the lead. Colciago spins at La Source as behind Tassi, Lessennes is second, followed by Comini, Vervisch, Vernay, Huff and E. Mondron
Lap 1: Comini passes Lessennes for second at Les Combes. Homola and Potty make contact and the Opel driver pits with a broken wheel whilst Comini attacks Tassi but the young Hungarian resists well.
Lap 2: Coronel passes Oriola for seventh and attacks E. Mondron. Comini manages to take the lead from Tassi at turn 3
Lap 3: Comini pulls away and Lessennes passes Tassi for second as Ficza passes Morbidelli for 11th at the chicane
Lap 4: Vervisch (4th) is under very strong pressure from Verney and Huff, which allows E. Mondron and Coronel to join the fight
Lap 5: Vernay passes Vervisch at La Source but the Belgian retakes the position at Eau Rouge; they continue fighting and the Frenchman passes the Belgian again at Blanchimont. E. Mondron hits Coronel, who goes off-track but rejoins whilst Ficza takes 10th from Nash
Lap 6: In the fight for 5th, Vervisch is chased by a group of ten cars
Lap 7: Vernay is behind Tassi and attacks his third place whilst Vervisch gets a warning for track limits. Ficza drops to 13th after going wide after La Source as Corthals takes 11th from Morbidelli
Lap 8: Corthals passes Nash for 10th
Lap 9: Comini wins from Lessennes; Tassi manages to save the third place beating Vernay by three tenths. Vervisch, Huff, E. Mondron, Coronel, Oriola and Corthals fill the other points positions.
Quotes from the Race 1 podium finishers
Stefano Comini (winner): “It’s fantastic to win here and to give the Audi RS3 and Comtoyou their first pole and their first win on such a great track and in the team’s home country. I am really very, very happy. I adore Spa, as everybody knows, and the car today was simply perfect. I really want to thank Jean-Michel Baert, from Comtoyu, he saved my 2017 season, and it’s nice to able to thank him this way, and also my engineer Corrado Àvila, who is doing a fantastic job.”
Benjamin Lessennes (second): “It was a great result for me and the Boutsen Ginion Racing team. At the start I was able to dive inside Comini at La Source, but Tassi overtook all of us on the outside. Then I tried to overtake him at Les Combes, but it did not work. After Comini overtook me, I finally managed to pass Tassi, but the Audi was too fast today and I couldn’t catch up. I am confident for tomorrow’s Race 2, because my car is very good in the second part of the race and I think we can aim for a fourth or a third place.”
Attila Tassi (third): “I think I can be happy and proud of my race today. I took a very good start and could lead for one lap and a half, but the Audi had much more top speed and it was impossible to resist to Stefano. Later, I was under pressure from Vernay, but I could resist up to the end. I think it was a nice fight, very clean and I hope everybody enjoyed the show. I worked a lot during the winter, on simulator but also following the “Fit for race” training program put in place by Norbert Michelisz, which was very helpful for improving reactions, stress management, car control and this kind of things. I think it meant a real progress for me…”
Vernay and Huff make a 1-2 finish for Leopard Racing
Jean-Karl Vernay confirmed his special relationship with Spa-Francorchamps by taking a superb win in Race 2 on the Belgian track, where last year he had obtained his maiden TCR victory. The Frenchman took the lead with authority in lap 5, passing Edouard Mondron and Rob Huff in one move, and pulled away.
The success allowed him to further reinforce his lead in the championship standings. By finishing second, Rob Huff took a podium finish in his first appearance as a full-time competitor in the series and completed the triumphant day for the Volkswagen Golf cars of Leopard Racing, in what can be deemed as a home win, the team being based in nearby Luxembourg and assisted technically by Belgium’s Team WRT.
One year ago the team’s Golf cars had dominated the second race as well, placing Vernay and Stefano Comini first and second.
This time Comini took a valuable third place in the Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS that – together with yesterday’s victory in Race 1 – promoted him to second in the standings, though 25 points behind his former teammate.
Once again the TCR International Series competitors delivered a very lively race, with many exciting battles. A trio of Belgian drivers took the positions from 4th to 6th: Edouard Mondron (Delahaye Racing Volkswagen Golf), Benjamin Lessennes (Boutsen Ginion Honda Civic) and Frédéric Vervisch (Comtoyou Audi RS3 LMS) finished in the order.
Davit Kajaia, with the GE-Force Alfa Romeo Giulietta, took 7th place after an entertaining fight with James Nash (Lukoil Craft Bamboo SEAT León) and Attila Tassi (M1RA Honda Civic).
It was a weekend to forget for the two race winners of the previous weekend in Bahrain. Both, Roberto Colciago (M1RA Honda Civic) and Dušan Boković (GE-Force Alfa Romeo Giulietta) struggled to be on the pace, their cars laden by 30 kilos of success ballast.
Nash was the best of the SEAT drivers in 8th, while his teammate Pepe Oriola saw his hopes swept away in the incident caused by Tom Coronel at the start. As for the two Opel Astra cars of DG Sport Compétition, they were both stopped by a loss of power while Pierre-Yves Corthals and Mat’o Homola were lying 10th and 11th respectively.
Start: Potty and E. Mondron start well, but Coronel punts Oriola before La Source, the Spaniard spins and collects the pole sitter Potty whilst at the back of the field Møller pushes Valente into a spin, they are both out of the race and Coronel as well. Oriola’s car is smoking and drops down
Lap 1: E. Mondron leas from Huff; Lessennes and Vernay pass Tassi for third and fourth as Paulsen stops along the track
Lap 2: Lessennes passes both E. Mondron and Huff at Les Combes but runs wide at the chicane and drops to third again. Huff takes the lead and Comini overtakes Vervisch for sixth
Lap 3: Lessennes passes E. Mondron for second at the chicane whilst Morbidelli and Colciago make contact
Lap 4: Kajaia passes Vervisch at La Source for 7th as Lessennes attacks Huff on the outside at Les Combes, they clash and the young Belgian is forced out of the track and rejoins in 5th position
Lap 5: Vervisch re-passes Kajaia with the latter making contact with Ficza who spins. At Les Combes, Vernay attacks both Mondron and Huff and takes the lead. Corthals, who was 10th, stops in the pits
Lap 6: Homola and Oriola stop in the pits as well as Vernay pulls away and builds a 1-second leading margin on Huff
Lap 7: Comini passes E. Mondron for third whilst there is big battle for 7th between Tassi, Kajaia and Nash.
Lap 8: Lessennes puts a lot of pressure on E. Mondron but without success
Lap 9: Vernay wins from Huff and Comini, E. Mondron, Lessennes and Vervish. In the battle for 7th Tassi goes wide at the ‘double gauche’ and drops to 9th behind Kajaia and Nash; Altoè overtakes Borković for 10th at the last turn.
Quotes from the Race 2 podium finishers
Jean-Karl Vernay (winner): “My start wasn’t that great, but the incident at first corner compensated… In the first laps, I had a terrible understeer, I even thought that I had punctured a tyre, but tried to stay calm and things improved progressively. When I attacked Edouard Mondron for 2nd, I certainly did not plan to pass Rob as well, but I took the lead and from then on, everything went smoothly. It’s a very good result for the team, who is doing a perfect job, and for the championship where we lead despite not having the fastest car. It’s my second win at Spa, but contrarily to many drivers, I am not a fan of this track…”
Rob Huff (second): “At the start, I realized looking at the mirrors that Coronel was braking too late and I tried to leave room and avoid trouble. I could pass Edouard Mondron to take the lead but then I got under attack from Lessennes. He hit me on a wheel at Les Combes and he went off track, but after that my steering was a little bit bent. When I saw Jean-Karl coming back on Mondron and me, I braked a little bit earlier to let him more room and take the lead, and the rest is history. It’s a very good weekend for the team and I am really happy to be able to contribute its success.”
Stefano Comini (third): “A very good weekend for us, maybe even too good! I am saying this because we are going to have some heavy success ballast at Monza, my home race, next weekend. But I am not complaining. Today, I knew I had to push hard in the first laps to get close to the top, but I got stuck behind my teammate who was making his race. I just killed my tires trying to pass him and after that the front guys were too far away. This said, it has been an excellent weekend for the Audi, Comtoyou Racing and myself, so I am very happy.”
The TCR International Series will resume in a few days at Monza for rounds 7 and 8 on May 13 and 14.
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!