For 2018, the TCR Europe Trophy has morphed into the TCR Europe Touring Car Series and features seven rounds, with the first taking place at the Paul Ricard circuit in France.
Here is the TCR Guru roundup of all the action that took place at the legendary F1 circuit, from Qualifying all the way though to Race One on Saturday and Race Two on Sunday…
The 2018 TCR Europe Series Entry List For Paul Ricard:
Qualifying: Borkovic takes Pole Position by half-a-second…
Dušan Borković claimed pole position in the morning’s Qualifying; at the wheel of his Target Competition Hyundai i30 N he was the first and only driver to break the 2:14 barrier, setting a fastest lap of 2:13.781 that gave him the pole position and was half-a-second faster than Mikel Azcona’s 2:14.225.
The young Spaniard prevented Dániel Nagy from making an-all Hyundai front row on the grid for Race 1. Stian Paulsen qualified his Cupra in fourth position, relegating Josh Files and Reece Barr to the third row, while Jean-Karl Vernay placed his Audi in seventh.
Jens Reno Møller (Honda) and Francisco Mora (Hyundai) will fill the front row on the top-ten reverse grid for Race 2.
After setting the fastest lap in Q1, Igor Stefanovski was not able to repeat his performance in Q2 and qualified 11th after his fastest lap was disallowed.
The most disappointed drivers were Attila Tassi – who failed to advance to Q2 as he also had his fastest lap disallowed – and Stefano Comini who is struggling with his Subaru’s technical issues.
Borković said: “I first sat in the car and I had an interesting feeling, because I know the Hyundai is good and is different to cars I have driven before. It seems the car is perfect for my driving style, because I had to completely change my style last year for the Alfa.”
“The car was completely new and the mechanics said to do two laps slowly and then come in. After free practice, I thought about what I had to do to make a good lap so I drove carefully in Q1 and then in Q2 I relaxed and I could see the car was working well. I overdrove a little on my second lap, so I couldn’t improve, but I’m happy.”
Race One: Dušan Borković converts pole position to victory
Dušan Borković emerged as the first race winner of the new TCR Europe series, which delivered an intense and closely fought inaugural race.
The Serbian driver of Target Competition had no problems in keeping the advantage of the pole position at the start and controlled the situation throughout the race at the wheel of his Hyundai i30 N.
He managed to beat the other Hyundai car of M1RA driver Dániel Nagy and the PCR Sport Cupra of Mikel Azcona. While the leading trio had a relatively quiet afternoon, the battle was fierce and superb in a compact group of six cars that really put on a show for P4.
Eventually it was Josh Files (Hell Energy Racing Honda) who won that race-within-a-race thanks to a brilliant defensive drive, ahead of Reece Barr (Target Competition Hyundai), Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Lukoil Racing Audi), Igor Stefanovski (Hyundai) and Stian Paulsen (Cupra), with Kris Richard (Target Competition Hyundai) being the only member of the group to drop out of contention because of a contact.
Pit Lane Competizioni’s Giovanni Altoè was the only competitor in the DSG Challenge and was able to drive his Audi RS3 LMS safely to the finish in 18th position, as did Stefano Comini, 21st in the Subaru WRX STI of Race Republic.
Quotes after the first race at Paul Ricard
Dušan Borković (winner): “I was afraid before the start, because I had only made one practice start yesterday and it was not good. But this time it worked well. And then, I did not know how the car would perform over the long distance either, so I had no idea of how much I could push. Just to be safe I did not push to the maximum in the first half, but in the end I was afraid of a tyre failure. The car was understeering in the fast corners, but I managed to keep the advantage over Nagy who is such a quick driver. It’s a great feeling! I was on pole and won the race; the best way to begin the season!”
Dániel Nagy (second): “I’m very happy, with my second podium in a few days after Hungaroring. Here it was more difficult, because I did not know the track, but I was surprised by how quick we could go from the very start, when I was third in Practice 1. We started from there to work on the car and we have done a really good job. In the second part of the race I was trying to put pressure on Dušan, but I outbraked myself and lost contact. So in the last lap I was focused on securing the second place.”
Mikel Azcona (third): “I am very, very happy with this result! I was comfortable with the car from the very beginning and I always managed to be among the fastest drivers from the first practice and with every track conditions. We have worked very well and made a good set up; the car was easy to drive, fast and consistent. It’s a fantastic car!”
Race Two: Borković pips Vernay during the final lap
Dušan Borković encored his Saturday race win thank to a perfect overtaking manoeuvre on Jean-Karl Vernay during the final lap of the second race at Le Castellet.
An intermittent rain began to fall just while the cars – all on slicks – reached the starting grid and intensified during the first laps, which resulted in a number of drivers spinning or running wide. In these tricky conditions two drivers were in a league of their own: Vernay and Stefano Comini.
The Frenchman performed an impeccable drive and took the lead during the first lap; as for Comini he put in a great show at the wheel of his Subaru, elbowing his way through the field from 25th on the grid to fifth.
Proceedings were disrupted when Igor Stefanovski crashed heavily, prompting first the safety car and then the red flag.
Before action resumed, a few drivers, including Josh Files and Kris Richard elected to change to rain tyres; the bet didn’t pay off as the rain stopped and the racing lines began to dry. Vernay tried his best to maintain the lead, but couldn’t prevent Borković from passing on the final lap. Dániel Nagy finished on the podium once again, third, inches ahead of Francisco Mora.
Comini dropped to tenth with the consolation of the last spot into the points behind a group of survivors who filled the places between fifth and ninth: Mikel Azcona (third yesterday), Attila Tassi, Jens Reno Møller (who started from pole), Danny Kroes and Loris Cencetti.
With two victories in the opening event, Borković has already built a gap in the standings, scoring 55 points against Nagy’s 36, Azcona’s 29 and Vernay’s 26.
Quotes after the second race at Paul Ricard
Dušan Borković (winner): “While we had been waiting for the race to resume after the red flag, I was saying myself that I was happy with second place. However, as the track began to dry in the final laps I saw that I could make a move and try to overtake Vernay. On the straight his car was faster, but mine was better in cornering. I made a safe attempt and passed him. I wouldn’t have done this if I thought that there was the lesser risk to spoil our race. I’m super happy, it was a great weekend for myself, Target Competition, Hyundai and Serbia!”
Jean-Karl Vernay (second): “I have done all I could. Until the track was wet and slippery I was able to stay ahead, as the car was perfect. But when the racing lines began to dry I knew I had no chance. The Hyundai is far superior by now; I was able to keep Borković at bay until halfway through the final laps, but eventually I could not prevent him from passing me.”
Dániel Nagy (third): “It was a crazy race. Before the red flag the track was very tricky and we must be super focused to avoid mistakes. I drove well and was able to move up to third. After the red flag, I began putting the pressure on Borković, but I also had to defend myself from Mora, who was right behind me. In the end I settled with third, another podium, that put me second in the championship. An excellent start of the season.”
The TCR Europe Series’s second event will be held at Circuit Zandvoort, Netherlands, on 19-21 May.
The Guru’s Thoughts…
So, we’ve had the first round of the 2018 TCR Europe Touring Car Series and as far as I’m concerned, it was a cracker!!!
With 25 drivers taking part on one of the most iconic former F1 tracks over the weekend, the racing was close and also typical of what I enjoy in Touring Car racing: A little bit of contact here and there and some good overtaking action in changing conditions.
Whilst the weather conditions helped with the race two action, it’s still clear that having either a Hyundai, an Audi or a Honda is the best choice of TCR car right now but the CUPRA is now in the mix as well thanks to the BoP adjustment released on Friday.
Ideally I’m hoping that the Volkswagen Golf and the Peugeot will also soon be in the mix too, although seeing Comini drag the Subaru into the top ten in race two despite starting from the back was just brilliant. Vernay, Nagy, Comini, Borkovic, Azcona, Files and many more drivers I could name put on a great show this weekend.
What also made me happy was seeing the mix of former champions racing hard with experienced drivers and the youngsters who are in their first season of TCR Europe that gave no regard for the respect the rest of the drivers deserved and raced hard with them too. Without a doubt we are in for a great season of racing.
As per usual, I will be keeping things up to date on here with the blog as well as with the members of the The Official TCR Talk 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, Domestic & Regional TCR Series and any news on the TCR UK Series which started this year.
All images are used courtesy of WSC / TCR Europe Touring Car Series
Until next time, all the best!