TCR: Luca Engstler and Florian Thoma share race victories in TCR Middle East International Series at the Dubai Autodrome
Dubai Autodrome – 26 / 27 January 2018 –
After winning pole position on Saturday with Luca Engstler, the German team dominated both races with Luca himself and Florian Thoma. And it was not by chance, because these were the team’s fourth and fifth consecutive victories at Dubai, following those in last year’s TCR Middle East opening event (by Luca and Brandon Gdovic) and that obtained two weeks ago in the 24H Dubai (again by Luca, Thoma, Jean-Karl Vernay and Benjamin Leuchter). Such a brilliant streak of wins proved that this racetrack has no secrets for the team’s crew that knows how to set up their Volkswagen Golf cars here, even in spite of the Success Ballast.
In fact, none of the other drivers was able to stay on Engstler’s and Thoma’s pace. Not even Giacomo Altoè who struggled for the whole weekend with the 30 kilos of Success Ballast that significantly affected the performance of his Audi RS3 LMS.
Both races provided some fighting. Lorenzo Veglia elbowed his way through the field in Race 1 and recovered from 11th on the grid to third at the chequered flag. He seemed to be able to improve that record in Race 2 as he crossed the line second, but was then hit by a penalty for a race incident, just like in Abu Dhabi’s Race 2 when he was stripped of the victory.
In today’s second race Mat’o Homola survived a final lap full of contacts to collect a well deserved second place, while Giovanni Altoè failed to claim his first podium result after he got the worst of the battle.
The title fight has now taken a clear shape as a two-way battle between Engstler (89 points) and Giacomo Altoè (75), with Homola in third position (64) waiting for them to make a false step.
The series will come to its end at the Bahrain International Circuit on February 23/24.
Race 1 – Luca Engstler in a league of his own
Luca Engstler dominated the third round of the TCR Middle East International Series, inflicting a six-second gap to Giacomo Altoè. Lorenzo Veglia completed the podium.
Engstler made good use of his pole position and sprinted to the lead. His Volkswagen Golf car fitted with new front tyres, the German youngster was able to set a very fast pace in the first laps, creating a gap that Altoé was not able to fill.
Thinking about the championship, the Italian focused on bringing his car to the second place and keeping a rampant Veglia at bay. The latter made up of yesterday’s disappointing qualifying result that relegated him to 11th on the grid. He got past four or five cars at the start and then recovered up to third overtaking Kai Jordan and Mat’o Homola.
Start – Engstler sprints to take the lead from Giacomo Altoè and Jordan; Veglia takes a brilliant start and moves up from 11th to 6th; Kroes and Oriola make contact on the straight and the latter brushes the pit wall
Lap 1 – Homola overtakes Jordan for third; Kroes and Thoma make contact and the Dutch driver is forced to pit and retire
Lap 2 – Veglia overtakes Jordan for 4th; Engstler pulls away
Lap 3 – Giovanni Altoè threats Jordan’s 5th place
Lap 4 – Engstler stretches his lead to 3.5 seconds
Lap 5 – Veglia overtakes Homola for third
Lap 8 – Thoma overtakes Giovanni Altoé for 6th
Lap 9 – Thoma overtakes Jordan for 5th
Lap 10 – Engstler’s leading gap exceeds the five seconds
Lap 11 – Thoma tries to overtake Homola for 4th, but the latter keeps the position
Lap 12 – Oriola and Papantonis make contact at T18 while fighting for 8th place; they both continue after driving well beyond the track limits
Lap 13 – Veglia closes in on Giacomo Altoè
Lap 14 – Engstler wins from Giacomo Altoè and Veglia; Homola finishes fourth ahead of Thoma
Race 2 – Florian Thoma imitates his teammate
After Luca Engstler’s authoritative win in the first race, his teammate Florian Thoma provided the icing on the cake for the Liqui Moly Team Engstler by claiming victory in Race 2 in a similar way.
The Swiss was able to start well from the third row of the grid, took the lead from Giovanni Altoè on the first lap and then benefited from the fights behind him to pull away and score his first win in the series, his second in TCR after that in the opening event of last year’s ADAC TCR Germany at Oschersleben.
The battle for the second place was red-hot between Giovanni Altoè, Mat’o Homola, Lorenzo Veglia and Engstler. A series of clashes on the final lap ended up with Veglia crossing the line second, followed by Homola, Engstler and Altoè. But Veglia was later demoted by a 30-second penalty for a previous incident with Costas Papantonis.
Giovanni’s younger brother Giacomo was classified sixth after struggling to recover.
Start – Papantonis takes advantage of the pole position on the reverse grid and takes the lead from Giovanni Altoè and Thoma
Lap 1 – Giovanni Altoè and Thoma overtake Papantonis, then Thoma steals the lead from the Italian
Lap 2 – Homola tries in vain to overtake Giovanni Altoè for third; Veglia and Engstler move up to 6th and 7th respectively
Lap 3 – Papantonis and Homola swap positions a couple of times; Jordan overtakes Kroes for 8th
Lap 4 – Veglia and Engstler overtake Oriola and climb to 5th and 6th
Lap 5 – Thoma has a leading gap of two seconds
Lap 6 – Veglia hits Papantonis who crashes at T11 and retires from 4th; Giacomo Altoè overtakes Kroes for 8th
Lap 7 – Giovanni Altoè bravely defends his second position from Homola
Lap 8 – Veglia and Engstler are in a close fight for the 4th place
Lap 10 – The fight for the second place involves Giovanni Altoè, Homola, Veglia and Engstler
Lap 11 – Veglia overtakes Homola for third
Lap 12 – Jordan overtakes Oriola for 6th
Lap 13 – Giacomo Altoè overtakes Oriola for 7th
Lap 14 – Thoma sails to victory; behind him the fight between Homola, Veglia and Giovanni Altoè results in a three-car contact; Veglia squeezes among his rivals and crosses the line second, but is later penalised for his incident with Papantonis
Quotes from the podium finishers in both races
Luca Engstler (winner of Race 1 and third in Race 2): “In the first race my car was absolutely brilliant! Compared to the others I had a big advantage: new front tyres that I had saved from yesterday’s practice sessions. This made me able to push during the first laps like in qualifying. In this way I created a comfortable gap and then I just had to control the race in the second half, taking care of the tyres and brakes.
The second race was a tough one. I was driving very aggressively in the first laps, fighting with Veglia. Then I said to myself that it was better to try and follow him, because he could open the way. And it worked. The car was good, but of course not as good as in the first race, because when you have to fight for the positions it’s completely different. For example, when I was trailing the cars in front of me the water temperature peaked over 100°. Eventually the third place was a great result for the title fight.”
Florian Thoma (winner of Race 2): “I have to say that it was quite easy at the beginning, because I managed to overtake a lot of cars at the start and then took the lead very early. After that it was just normal driving until the end. I really have to give credit to the team for the incredible job they have done. They gave Luca and me two cars that were really faster than the others and did no give us any problems in both races. Now my goal is to finish the championship on the podium.”
Giacomo Altoè (second in Race 1): “From the beginning I was struggling a lot. I did my best to save tyres and brakes keeping a steady pace at the beginning of the race. However, with the 30 kilos of success ballast I couldn’t prevent them to wear significantly. All considered, second was a good result.”
Mato Homola (second in Race 2): “I tried my best to recover positions at the beginning of the race, but Giovanni Altoè was really driving fast. It was not possible to overtake him on the straight and I began to have some issues with the cooling of the engine. I tried several time to overtake him, but always avoiding to make contact. Then Veglia overtook me, but with all the clashes on the last lap, luckily I was classified second. I want to thank my team, and especially my mechanic Sergio. He did a great job. We cannot talk because he only speaks Italian, but he’s a nice guy and I really like him.”
Lorenzo Veglia (third in Race 1): “I took a great start and was able to pass three or four cars straight away. And then I managed to overtake some other drivers one by one without losing time. I had a very good pace and managed to closed the gap on Giacomo, but I couldn’t catch him up.”
2018 TCR Middle East Series – calendar
19/20 January – Yas Marina Circuit, Abu Dhabi
26/27 January – Dubai Autodrome
23/24 February – Bahrain International Circuit