TCR Middle East kicks off with two events in the Emirates
The 2018 TCR Middle East International Series kicks off with a two back-to-back race meetings in the United Arab Emirates on Saturday at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit
This will be followed by the second at the Dubai Autodrome next week. The series will award two titles for Drivers and Teams that were won by Josh Files (Lap57 Motorsports Honda Civic) and Liqui Moly Team Engstler in 2017.
A quartet of drivers for Liqui Moly Team Engstler
Liqui Moly Team Engstler has entered four Volkswagen Golf GTI cars with the aim of retaining the Teams’ title and clinching the Drivers’ title as well.
The 17-year old Luca Engstler returns to TCR Middle East after his 2017 campaign that saw him victorious in the opening round at Dubai, his very first race in a TCR car. Later on during the season, the young German successfully took part in the ADAC TCR Germany series, clinching the Rookie Trophy.
Florian Thoma, 22 years old from Switzerland, is also facing his second Touring Car season. In 2017 he was another front-runner in the ADAC TCR Germany series and scored one race win. Last week, Engstler and Thoma won the 24H Dubai, the opening round of the 24H TCE Series, sharing a Golf TCR with Jean-Karl Vernay and Benjamin Leuchter.
The team’s third driver is Kai Jordan, the experienced Touring Car racer who was twice champion in the German Production Car series and has joined the ADAC TCR Germany since 2016.
Former TCR International Series competitor Lorenzo Veglia completes the team’s line up.
Pit Lane Competizioni to run six DSG cars
Italy’s Pit Lane Competizioni will run six cars fitted with a DSG gearbox: three Audi RS3 LMS and three Volkswagen Golf GTI’s.
Brothers Giacomo and Giovanni Altoè will both race Audi cars. Giacomo (19) emerged last year as one of the fastest young drivers in TCR competition, claiming brilliant results in the International, Benelux, Italy and Middle East series. His older brother made his TCR debut in the Europe Trophy in which he won the DSG class. Alberto Vescovi, a regular competitor in the Italian SEAT Cup, will drive the third RS3 LMS.
Two of the Golf cars will be driven by a well-known duo: Mat’o Homola and Jordi Oriola.
Despite their young ages, both Homola (23) and Oriola (21) may be considered successful Touring Car veterans, with a great deal of experience in the FIA ETCC and the TCR International Series.
The team is currently in negotiations with a couple of other Touring Car experts to drive the third Golf.
Martin Ryba in the Brutal Fish Volkswagen
The Brutal Fish Racing Team from the Slovak Republic has entered one Volkswagen Golf GTI for Martin Ryba.
Ryba still has limited racing experience, having only entered into competition in 2016. In his maiden seasons, the Slovak has achieved promising results in the FIA Central European Zone Challenge and the ESAT V4 Endurance Cup at the wheel of Renault Clio and SEAT León cars. Twice he finished as vice-champion in the ESET V4 Touring Car class. The TCR Middle East will mark Ryba’s debut at the wheel of his 2017 Golf GTI TCR.
A SEAT León for Costas Papantonis
Greek by birth, but long since transplanted to Dubai, Costas Papantonis has become a successful racing driver in the Emirates Touring Car series. He was crowned champion in the 2007 UAE Volkswagen Golf GTI Cup and the 2009 Dubai Suzuki Swift Cup.
At the wheel of a SEAT León Supercópa he grabbed six class titles in the United Arab Emirates Touring Car Championship between 2007 and 2016. In the TCR Middle East series he will drive a SEAT León TCR V3 SEQ.
The Weekend Timetable
The event format sticks to the usual TCR pattern, but it has been adapted to the Middle East tradition that considers Saturday as race day.
Competitors will hit the track on Friday for two 30-minute Free Practice sessions, with the 30-minute Qualifying in the afternoon that will be split into Q1 (20 minutes for all the competitors) and Q2 (10 minutes for the 12 fastest drivers in Q1).
The two 60-kilometre races will be run on Saturday in the late morning and the early afternoon.
The 2017 TCR Middle East Series in Abu Dhabi…
Josh Files, driving for the UAE-based Lap57 team, took his first victory in the TCR Middle East series after earlier setting the fastest time in both the Practice and Qualifying sessions.
The Honda Civic driver didn’t have an easy run to the chequered flag, however, as the Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta of Davit Kajaia led for eight of the race’s eleven laps. Files eventually took the lead on Lap 9.
Behind the race-long battle for the lead, Italian teenager Giacomo Altoè drove a solid race to give the Top Run racing team their first international podium result by finishing third in the Subaru WRX STi TCR.
Brandon Gdovic finished fourth for Liqui Moly Team Engstler, while Mohammed Al Owais was classified fifth in a Honda after stopping on track on the final lap. Similarly, Luca Engstler and Stefan Goede failed to finish the race but were classified sixth and seventh respectively.
After setting the fastest times in Practice and Qualifying and then winning Race 1, Josh Files rounded off a near-perfect event in Abu Dhabi with another victory in Race 2. A brilliant start by Files saw the Lap57 Honda Civic storm through the field to take the lead by Turn 6 and he then never looked back.
In a repeat of the 1-2 result from Race 1, Davit Kajaia finished second in the Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta while Luca Engstler salvaged third place after a disappointing opening race, in which he started from the back of the grid and was then involved in a collision with his teammate Brandon Gdovic.
Any thoughts of another podium finish by Giacomo Altoè were dashed when the Top Run Racing Subaru suffered a technical problem on the grid and the car had to be pushed back into the pit lane before the green flag lap.
Files’ teammate Mohammed Al Owais then stalled at the start after apparently failing to engage the Honda’s launch control system. Five cars then finished the race, with the Liqui Moly Team Engstler duo of Gdovic and Stefan Goede bringing their Volkswagen Golf GTi cars home in fourth and fifth places respectively.
As per usual, I will be keeping things up to date on here with the blog as well as with the members of the TCR Talk International Facebook Group & the TCR Talk UK Facebook Group & The TCR UK Fans Group who will also be sharing their thoughts as well as any news from FIA WTCR, The TCR Europe Series, Regional & Domestic TCR Series and any news on the TCR UK Series that starts in 2018.
Please note that all images in this blog post are used courtesy of WSC / TCR International Series / TCR Middle East Series / TCR Europe Series / ADAC TCR Germany Series
Until next time, all the best!