Alpine challenge for the TCR International Series competitors
For the third time the TCR International Series returns to the Salzburgring, one of the championship’s favourite locations thanks to its superb alpine setting, the local people’s warm welcome and the characteristics of the racetrack itself; fast, demanding and perfectly suited to Touring Car competition.
The two previous visits of the series provided four different winners in very different weather conditions.
Kevin Gleason (Honda Civic) and Michel Nykjær (SEAT León) won the 2015 races in the sunshine, while Mikhail Grachev (Honda Civic) won last year’s first race on a dry track, but under the threat of rain, benefiting from a technical issue that stopped Pepe Oriola’s SEAT with only four laps to go.
The rain arrived in time for the second race, flooding the track; Jean-Karl Vernay (Volkswagen Golf) made fewer mistakes than anybody else and surfaced as the winner.
Set up is crucial at the Salzburgring, to avoid issues with wear of the front-left tyre. It is also important to survive the risks of a pile-up at the first chicane and avoid high-speed contacts that may result in massive damage to the cars.
Colciago, Vervisch and Comini will carry ballast
Roberto Colciago, Frédéric Vervisch and Stefano Comini all carry Success Ballast during the next event of the TCR International Series at the Salzburgring.
Colciago was the highest scorer in the previous events at Monza with 47 points, which means that his Honda Civic will be laden by the maximum 30-kilo ballast, while Comtoyou Racing’s teammates Vervisch and Comini will carry 20 and 10 extra kilos on board their Audi RS3 LMS cars.
As a result, Colciago’s Honda will weigh 1345kg (1285kg minimum weight + 30kg Success Ballast + 30kg Balance of Performance adjustment), while the running weight of Vervisch’s and Comini’s cars 1350kg (1285kg + 20kg SB + 45kg BoP) and 1340kg (1285kg + 10kg SB + 45kg BoP) respectively.
Just as in Spa-Francorchamps, car performance is due to be especially affected at the Salzburgring because of the long uphill part and hard braking points.
A three-way fight to lead the standings
The previous event in Monza gave Roberto Colciago and Stefano Comini the opportunity to close the gap from Jean-Karl Vernay, who jumped to the top of the standings at the series’ third round, Race 1 in Bahrain.
Colciago was able to cut the gap by twenty-five points and Comini by seven, which means that they are currently lying in second and third, 16 and 18 points behind Vernay respectively.
Colciago’s teammate Attila Tassi ranks fourth, 37 points from the leader, with Pepe Oriola in fifth position, a further ten points adrift.
Something new in a strong twenty-three-car field
A strong field of twenty-three cars will compete at the Salzburgring, where the series welcomes some new teams and drivers.
The returns of Rob Huff and Duncan Ende
Both Rob Huff and Duncan Ende were forced to skip the previous event in Monza.
The Briton had already committed to race in the WTCC event at the Hungaroring; in Austria he will rejoin the TCR International Series for the rest of the season as Jean-Karl Vernay’s teammate at the wheel of a Leopard Racing Volkswagen Golf GTI car.
After suffering with the performance of their SEAT León car, Ende and Icarus Motorsport decided to take a pause to replace the DSG gearbox with a sequential racing unit. Now they return to the championship with the confidence of running a more competitive car.
Demoustier joins Homola at DG Sport Compétition
From the Salzburgring event, Grégoire Demoustier will join DG Sport Compétition as Mat’o Homola’s teammate.
The 26-year old Frenchman has gained significant experience in different categories, including professional series like the FIA GT and Touring Car World Championships.
“Even though I have the experience of two WTCC seasons, I will need to get used to the Opel Astra TCR. This is why I have not set myself a precise goal for Salzburgring. There I will focus on taking my bearings at the wheel of the car and becoming acquainted with the team.”
“Watching the TCR races I saw that drivers fight hard for positions, but I’m not worried about this. I’m very excited to begin this new chapter in my racing career,” said Demoustier who drove a Volkswagen Golf TCR last year during the TCR Benelux finale at Mettet.
Thomas Jäger to drive for Kissling Motorsport
Twenty-three-year old Austrian driver Thomas Jäger will make his first appearance in the TCR International Series for his home race meeting at the wheel of an Opel Astra TCR run by the Kissling Motorsport team.
“It is going to be my first experience in a front-wheel drive racing car,” explained Jäger who has raced so far in karting, Formula and rear-wheel drive Touring cars. “We tested the Astra TCR three weeks ago and I felt immediately at ease driving it. Now I will be focusing in doing my best in what is also my first race ever at the Salzburgring and in one of the most competitive Touring Car series in the world.”
Seasonal debut for the Top Run Subaru WRX TCR
The Top Run-built Subaru WRX STI TCR will make its season debut in the International Series after the Italian engineering company has worked to update the Japanese car with the aim of improving reliability.
“We have recently completed a very satisfactory test at Adria, where the car has run without the lesser technical issue. And this make us confident that we will be able to show its actual potential in Austria,” said team manager Renato Russo.
Top Run’s regular driver Luigi Ferrara will be at the wheel of the Subaru.
Milovan Vesnić is ready for his maiden appearance
After years of racing in different European racing series, multiple Serbian and FIA Central European Zone Touring Car champion Milovan Mikica Vesnić is now ready for his maiden appearance in the TCR International Trophy.
The 40-year old Vesnić joins with the aim of taking part in the TCR European Trophy event at the end of the season, just like Stian Paulsen and Jens Reno Møller.
“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 our country at our best,” said Vesnić who will drive an Audi RS 3 LMS run by the all-Serbian racing team ASK Vesnić.
Pit Lane Competizioni enters an Audi for Enrico Bettera
One of the very first Italian teams to commit to TCR, Pit Lane Competizioni will make its first appearance in the International Series fielding an Audi RS3 LMS for Enrico Bettera.
The team is already taking part successfully in the TCR Italy series with Bettera’s Audi and a SEAT León for Nicola Baldan who won the first race in Misano last Saturday. Pit Lane Competizioni is also running a parallel programme in the 24H Series.
“This is a new and stimulating challenge. We started in TCR last year with one win and three podiums, this season we have finished second in the Silverstone 24 hours, now we are ready for the next step. I haven’t fixed any goal, because the level of the International Series is extremely high, but we can learn a lot by racing against the best teams and drivers,” commented Bettera who was a three-time Touring Car champion in the Italian Cup (2013 to 2015) before switching to TCR Italy in 2016 in which he scored one race win on his way to being classified sixth in the final standings.
A TCR class in the 2018 IMSA Continental Tire Challenge
North American debut in January at Daytona International Speedway…
WSC Ltd, the rights holder for TCR, and International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), today confirmed plans for a TCR class to begin competing in the IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, beginning in 2018.
The TCR class will run in addition to the two existing Continental Tire Challenge classes, Grand Sport (GS) and Street Tuner (ST) next season.
“We began our due diligence process on the potential introduction of the TCR platform more than a year ago, and formally announced that we were exploring the concept last year,” said IMSA CEO Ed Bennett. “We engaged our automotive partners and teams throughout the discovery process and determined that TCR would be an attractive addition to the Continental Tire Challenge. We are pleased to work together with WSC CEO Marcello Lotti and Sporting and Series Director Nunzia Corvino to introduce what we believe will be a popular class to IMSA fans and participants.”
Through its partnership with WSC, IMSA will use TCR cars fully homologated by WSC in the new Continental Tire Challenge class. The TCR class is projected to slot in between GS and ST, based on its current level of performance.
As the market develops for TCR-spec cars, IMSA has the additional, exclusive right to establish TCR USA and TCR Canada as standalone series. IMSA, in cooperation with WSC, also now holds the right to sublicense the proper use of TCR specifications to other sanctioning bodies in the territory as well.
“TCR has quickly become the standard global Touring Car platform,” said Lotti. “Our goal was to once again create a base for Touring Car racing. The crucial part about it was to keep the costs for the cars low to ensure equality of opportunity. In North America, we believed IMSA was the most professional partner available in the market and we could not be more pleased to establish this partnership together.”
Current TCR manufacturers with a presence in North America include Audi, Ford, Honda, Alfa Romeo, KIA, Subaru and Volkswagen.
TCR cars will make their Continental Tire Challenge debut next January at the Daytona International Speedway during the three-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 At Daytona, with their first race planned for the day preceding the 2018 Rolex 24.
Mat’o Homola sets pole in Qualifying as Opel and Alfa provide front row for Race 1
For the second time this season, Mat’o Homola and his DG Sport Compétition Opel Astra emerged as the fastest combination in the Qualifying session. However, unlike in Bahrain where he was demoted by a grid penalty, the young Slovak starts from pole position for Race 1.
Qualifying confirmed that the gaps in lap times at the Salzburgring are the smallest and positions were disputed by thousandths of a second. Homola’s fastest lap in Q2 of 1:25.481 beat Dušan Borković’s 1:25.552 by 71 thousandths, while Pepe Oriola qualified in third, a further six thousandths adrift.
Attila Tassi ranked fourth, a result that couldn’t even have been hoped for 24 hours earlier, after his massive shunt in testing. Local driver and TCR newcomer Thomas Jäger claimed a brilliant fifth position in the Kissling Motorsport Opel Astra, beating International Touring Car top guns such as James Nash, Rob Huff, Stefano Comini, Gianni Morbidelli and Roberto Colciago.
The latter will start Race 2 from pole position on the top-ten reverse grid.
The most disappointed driver today was Davit Kajaia, who set the fastest lap in Q1, but had it disallowed by the Stewards for improving under yellow flags.
Q1: Kajaia’s fastest lap disallowed
There was a lot of position-swapping during the first twenty minutes of Qualifying, with no fewer than seven drivers taking turns to top the time sheet.
Homola set the first significant laps of 1:26.737 and 1:26.204, but then the leadership moved to Comini (1:26.0369) and then to Jäger (1:26.011), Daniel Lloyd (1:25.984) and Colciago (1:25.913).
With only 30 seconds left on the clock, Kajaia posted an impressive 1:25.864 that he achieved by improving his sector 2 time while that was under yellow flag due to Stian Paulsen’s car stranded in the gravel trap at Turn 5. This meant that the Stewards disallowed Kajaia’s time, which dropped him to 14th and out of Q2.
The battle then raged for the other positions, with Rob Huff, Frédéric Vervisch and Gianni Morbidelli who were all able to make the cut at the last gasp and kick out the championship leader Jean-Karl Vernay, who dropped to 13th.
The following drivers went through to Q2: Colciago, Lloyd, Tassi, Jäger, Comini, Borković, Huff, Homola, Oriola, Vervisch, Nash and Morbidelli.
Q2: Homola steals pole from Borković
Borković began at a stunning pace, posting a provisional fastest time of 1:25.689 and nearly matching it on the following lap (1:25.698).
Tassi (1:25.636) and then Homola (1:25.629) dropped the Serbian to third, but Borković jumped on top again with a lap of 1:25.558.
However, Homola had the last word and settled the matter with the pole position time of 1:25.481.
When the chequered flag was waved, Oriola was clocked at 1:25.558 that gave him the third place, dropping Tassi to fourth.
What the fastest drivers said after Qualifying
Mat’o Homola (1st): “I have always had good results here in Salzburgring, so I know this track suits me and I like the fast corners. From the beginning, we had some minor problems in every session but we changed some things for Qualifying and the car behaved really well. We were guessing at some of the set-up things, but you can see that they worked. It’s one thing to win Qualifying, but you get more points in the races so that’s what I have to concentrate on. I don’t know how to measure the risks I took, but I know I wasn’t 100% in Turn 9. One mistake can ruin your whole weekend and I know I need the points.”
Dušan Borković (2nd): “Yesterday, we were trying to change some things on the car to improve the corner speed because we knew we were struggling. In Q1 I had some traffic and I made a few mistakes but I was pushing. We are still struggling a little bit in the second sector because of the bad aero but we will see tomorrow what will happen with all of us. In Q2, I knew the tyres were fresher in the first few laps but I made some stupid mistakes. By the third lap the tyres were gone. I really like the Salzburgring – I crashed last year when I was P2, so hopefully this year I will finish both races, but you can be sure I will push.”
Pepe Oriola (3rd): “Everybody always wants to get a tow here in Salzburgring and we had a really good strategy within the team which worked in Free Practice and Q1. I was swapping positions with James (Nash) and Daniel (Lloyd) and the others were trying to get a tow from us. At one time, Rob (Huff) was in the middle with us and then Colciago too so I was really lucky to get the time on the last lap, but I know I could have been even faster. The Alfa cars are really strong in the first part of the straight, but as Dušan said, we know they have aero problems. We are back on the pace – it’s been a long time since I did a Qualifying press conference, so it’s good to be back!”
Attila Tassi got a brand new car
Miracles sometimes happen! Thanks to some behind-the-scenes logistics overnight, Attila Tassi will be able to take part in the TCR International Series event at the Salzburgring after escaping unscathed from a major shunt.
The young Hungarian driver was discharged from the medical centre after a thorough check and declared able to race, if only he had a car…
His Honda Civic had suffered extensive damage in the high-speed impact against the Armco barrier at Turn 9. It was impossible to fix the car at the track, so the Civic was stripped and its shell will be sent to JAS for a possible repair.
While the M1RA mechanics were working on the wreck, phone calls were exchanged between the team and JAS, and soon a new car was loaded onto a flat-bed truck that left Milan on an overnight journey to Austria.
The truck arrived at the circuit at 4:00am where the team crew leapt into action to apply the livery and the car finally passed scrutineering. Tassi will be dropped to the back of the grid for Race 1 because of the engine change.
Team principal Norbert Michelisz said: “It has been a fantastic effort from everybody at JAS and in the team. We all wanted to do our best and give Attila the possibility to race, because our aim is to win the championship.”
Ferenz Ficza crashed during Practice 1
Another Hungarian driver, another big shunt.
After Attila Tassi’s crash at Turn 9 in yesterday’s test session, Ferenc Fizca hit the barrier hard a few metres further down the track during this morning Free Practice 1.
Ficza was quickly out of the car; he walked away, shocked but apparently unhurt.
He was first transported to the circuit’s medical centre for precautionary checks and then sent to the local hospital for X-Rays as he was complaining of pain in his ribs.
He was eventually discharged and declared fit to race next week at the Hungaroring.
Borković and Colciago share the honours in Austria as Comini takes the Championship Lead
This year’s Austrian weekend of the TCR International Series will be mostly remembered for the crashes at Turn 9 that wrecked four cars and, in the case of Jean-Karl Vernay’s incident, shook up the standings.
In fact, the French driver lost the series’ lead and dropped to third behind both the new leader Stefano Comini and Roberto Colciago.
Even worse, the Leopard Racing team has the arduous task of rebuilding two cars (Vernay’s and Rob Huff’s) in the few days before Friday’s free practice at the Hungaroring.
The good news is that these high-speed crashes proved how safe the TCR cars are, as all four drivers escaped unhurt apart for a bruise to Huff’s left elbow.
Dušan Borković claimed an authoritative win in Race 1, as did Roberto Colciago in Race 2. Mat’o Homola celebrated his and Opel’s first podium in the International Series (second in Race 1).
The other podium finishers were also happy: Attila Tassi (second in Race 2) could not have hoped for such a result after his destructive incident on Friday, but he was rescued by the combined efforts of M1RA and JAS that ‘materialized’ a second car for him; Comini put in his usual show, a mix of attack and defence that was worth two third places and the leadership in the points.
Another driver who had reasons to rejoice was Jens Reno Møller, who scored in both races, fighting on equal terms against far more experienced competitors
Results remain provisional pending an appeal.
The Lukoil Craft-Bamboo team lodged a protest against four cars (the Alfa Romeos of Kajaia and Borković and the Opels of Homola and Jäger), requesting technical checks of their turbochargers.
Following the report of the Technical Delegate, the Stewards of the Meeting rejected the protest, but Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Team has decided to appeal.
Race 1: Borković wins as Leopard duo crash out
Dušan Borković took a light-to-flag victory – the second for him and the third for GE-Force and the Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR – in a race that turned to drama for Leopard Racing, as both Rob Huff and Jean-Karl Vernay crashed at high speed at the infamous Turn 9. Luckily both drivers escaped shocked, but unhurt.
The result was decided by the two perfect sprints that Borković performed at the start and the re-start after the first safety-car period. In both cases the Serbian was able to keep at bay the pole-sitter Mat’o Homola and his Opel Astra.
As Homola was forced to concentrate on defending his second position, first from Pepe Oriola and in the final stages from Stefano Comini, Borković created a small gap for the lead.
Behind him, Homola eventually managed to retain second place, while Comini moved up to third in his Audi RS3 LMS overtaking the SEAT cars of Oriola and James Nash. Just before the second safety car intervention, local driver Thomas Jäger managed to overtake Oriola and Nash as well to grab a brilliant fourth.
Jens Reno Møller completed a spotless race, finishing as the best of the Honda drivers in an impressive eighth position.
With Vernay off (and sidelined for the rest of the event) and Roberto Colciago scoreless following a collision with Daniel Lloyd, Comini took advantage of the situation, moving to second in the standings, only three points behind Vernay.
Grid: Tassi and Huff are both demoted (from 4th and 7th) to the back of the grid due to engine changes; Colciago was also dropped (from 10th to 13th) because of a penalty received in Monza
Start: Borković has better reflexes than Homola and takes the lead ahead of the pole sitter, Oriola, Nash and Jäger
Lap 1: Møller and Colciago overtake Lloyd and Morbidelli for 8th and 9th
Lap 2: Oriola and Nash are chasing Homola
Lap 3: Comini overtakes Jäger for 5th
Lap 4: Huff (17th) and Vernay (15th) try to recover
Lap 5: Homola defends his second place from Oriola, Nash and Comini
Lap 6: Vernay overtakes Morbidelli for 13th; Kajaia overtakes Jäger for 6th
Lap 7: Paulsen retires after a clash with Morbidelli
Lap 8: Comini overtakes Nash for 4th; Colciago and Lloyd make contact
Lap 9: Comini pips Oriola for third; Vesnić and Ende make contact at the first chicane, the former remain stranded in the gravel, the latter loses a front wheel; Huff crashes at high speed at Turn 9, the safety car is deployed
Lap 12: The race resumes; the leading quartet of Borković, Homola, Comini and Oriola is covered by only one second; Jäger overtakes Nash for 4th
Lap 13: Jäger overtakes Oriola for third
Lap 14: Vernay crashes just a few hundred metres before the spot of Huff’s incident; the safety car is deployed again
Lap 15: The race is red-flagged, Borković wins from Homola, Comini and Jäger
Race 2: Colciago and Tassi make 1-2 for M1RA
Roberto Colciago and Attila Tassi finished first and second, ending in glory a weekend that had started in the worst way for M1RA and Honda after Tassi’s crash in Friday’s free practice.
While Colciago dashed from pole position and escaped on the way to his third victory of the season, Tassi made a great start as well, jumping to fourth; then he was able to overtake James Nash and Gianni Morbidelli to grab the second position that he defended until the end despite pressure from Stefano Comini.
The winner of Race 1 Dušan Borković ended up in the gravel – maybe due to a broken driveshaft – and so did Pepe Oriola, while a few other drivers (Kajaia, Demoustier, Bettera) had flat tyres because of debris on the track.
Thomas Jäger encored his fourth place and Jens Reno Møller scored again; Gianni Morbidelli was classified fifth, the best result for him and WestCoast Racing so far.
Grid: Both the Leopard Racing Volkswagen cars of Vernay and Huff are missing after their shunts in Race 1; Paulsen starts from the pit lane, Vesnić doesn’t start as a rear wheel was locked after his Race 1 incident
Start: Colciago sprints from the pole, Morbidelli struggles to keep second place
Lap 1: Tassi overtakes Nash for third
Lap 2: Tassi and Morbidelli make contact and swap positions a couple of times; Paulsen pits and rejoins
Lap 3: Tassi overtakes Morbidelli for second
Lap 4: Morbidelli drops to fifth behind Comini and Oriola
Lap 5: Kajaia and Jäger make contact while fighting for 8th position; the both overtake Homola for 7th and 8th
Lap 6: Borković goes off into the gravel trap a Turn 9; Paulsen pits again
Lap 9: Tassi’s second place is under attacks from Comini and Oriola; Morbidelli, Nash and Jäger fight for 5th position; Bettera and Ende pit with flat tyres, only the Italian rejoins
Lap 10: Jäger overtakes Nash for 6th
Lap 11: Jäger overtakes Morbidelli for 5th; Oriola spins off into the grave trap at T9, the safety car is deployed; Demoustier pits with a flat tyre
Lap 12: Vervisch pits with oil pressure problems
Lap 15: The race resumes as Kajaia pits and rejoins. Meanwhile Homola takes the escape road at the first chicane and drops to 10th
Lap 17: Colciago wins from Tassi whilst Comini retains second place despite the pressure from Jäger
Quotes from the podium finishers
Dušan Borković (1st Race 1): “When you win a race, the question is always asked ‘you made it look easy’ but it really wasn’t easy. I knew I had to get a good start, as it would have been very tough to overtake Mat’o if he got a better start than me. I was scared that he would overtake me in the second sector with the slipstream but he didn’t manage to do it. Same with the safety car, but I managed again to have the inside line. The second race was disappointing because I had a problem with a driveshaft after Jäger twice pushed me wide at the chicane. Comini did a great job, but he will have the most Success Ballast next week.”
Roberto Colciago (1st Race 2): “I had a good first race, but I was pushed out by someone else. In Race 2, I had a good start and then Attila was fighting with Comini – I was looking in the mirror and saying ‘thanks’! That was really the key to my win. In this championship, in every race you can say it’s me and Comini or me and someone else or Comini and someone else; there are so many fast drivers and the ballast changes. Today I was lucky with the ballast, unlike in Spa. Every race is a story. To talk about the championship, we have to wait until the end.”
Mat’o Homola (2nd Race 1): “I scored more points this weekend than in all the previous races together! For sure, I wanted to win the first race but Dušan had a really good start. I almost overtook him twice, but the second time I didn’t want to take any major risk because the points are so important for me. It wasn’t easy to keep Stefano behind me, but he had a puncture and that helped me. After the safety car, I got a slipstream from Dušan towards the end of the race, so I was lucky for that. I’m sorry for all the drivers who crashed at Turn 9 over the weekend – I’m really pleased that they’re all okay.”
Attila Tassi (2nd Race 2): “After the crash on Friday, we weren’t even sure that we could take part in Qualifying or the races, so I want to say a huge thanks to my family, to the team and to JAS for the fast delivery of the brand new car. It’s a great result for me and for the team and I’m very happy. For the first few laps as I went through Turn 9, it wasn’t scary but I was building up the speed again. If I was scared, I wouldn’t have got back in the car. Hungary is the home race for me and the team and I’ve been waiting all season for it, so my aim is to have my first win in TCR there.”
Stefano Comini (3rd in both races): “This was not a bad weekend for me at all. It’s like a game of roulette here in Salzburgring, because every session it’s different. You need to have big respect for Turn 9 because a lot of drivers crashed there. It’s amazing what TCR has done with the cars because they were scary crashes but here is ‘Attilino’ finishing second after a big crash. It’s good to know that we are working with safe cars. I don’t actually remember much about the races, only that some overtaking moves were good and that I had a puncture! If you want to overtake here, you have to take risks so you can defend quite easily. After only two and a half months, we are leading the championship with a new team, a new car and a last-minute project.”
The series resumed at Budapest’s Hungaroring for rounds 11 and 12 seven days later…
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!