Touring Cars: Inaugural TCR International Series kicks off in Sepang
Sepang, Malaysia – 28/29 March 2015-The inaugural season of the TCR International Series kicked off at the Sepang International Circuit, as support event to the Formula 1 Malaysia Grand Prix.
The entry list of the season opener features 17 drivers of ten nationalities at the wheel of cars produced by five manufacturers: Audi, Ford, Honda, Opel and SEAT.
Among them are many familiar faces, such as former F1 driver and Ferrari tester Gianni Morbidelli and a trio of Touring Car experts; Franz Engstler, Michel Nykjær and Jordi Gené. They will face ambitious youngsters like Pepe Oriola, Sergey Afanasyev, Stefano Comini and three promising teenagers Ferenc Ficza, Lorenzo Veglia and Jordi Oriola. The field was completed by celebrated Hong Kong architect Frank Yu who is also a successful amateur racer.
Rounds 1 & 2 – as it happened
Race 1 -Stefano Comini was the first winner of a TCR race!
The first-ever winner of a TCR race was a Swiss: Stefano Comini took a resounding success in today’s Race 1 at Sepang. The Target Competition driver took a wonderful start and despite a slight mistake at turn 1 was able to take the lead as from lap 2 and pulled away thanks to the fierce battle behind him.
The SEAT cars eventually managed to monopolize the podium with two Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil boys, Pepe Oriola and Sergey Afanayev in second and third. Still, they had to sweat in their fight with the West Coast Honda Civic TCR cars of Gianni Morbidelli and poleman Kevin Gleason. The Japanese cars finished fourth and sixth, with Andrea Belicchi (Target SEAT) who clinched fifth on the penultimate lap.
Quotes from the podium
Stefano Comini, first: “It’s incredible to win the very first event of the TCR International Series! A moment I’ll always remember! I feel I have been very lucky in this race: I had a good start but missed the breaking point at turn 1 and had to do some drifting… I recovered well and was able to take the lead, pushing a lot in the first four laps to build a good advantage. The guys behind made my task easier as they were battling fiercely between them!”
Pepe Oriola, second: “I’m happy with second, I couldn’t do better after a somehow poor qualifying, which was a pity following excellent free practice. In the race I was hit a couple of times in the first lap, but then could find the way through and take second. Stefano, though, was too far away and it was too late to try and catch him.”
Sergey Afanasyev, third: “First of all, I have to say I am enjoying this new experience very much and want to congratulate everybody who put together such a nice series. My race was lively and I was involved in a lot of battles. I was worried about how the tyres would behave in the final laps and indeed, I had to struggle a bit, but I am happy to be on the podium in this very first race, especially because the level is very high and I think people behind me were already being tactical about avoiding success ballast…”
Race 2 –
Jordi Gené returned to the first step of the podium in an international event after brilliantly controlling a lively and closely-fought Race 2 today in Sepang.
Despite the heat, the 44-year-old Spaniard kept his cool to make a perfect use of pole position and managed to keep the lead throughout the entire race, but had to resist to the furious attacks of other contenders, which included Ferenc Ficza, Jordi Oriola and Gianni Morbidelli. Eventually, Team Craft-Bamboo LUKOIL posted a one-two, as Pepe Oriola took second, like yesterday in Race 1, and Gianni Morbidelli gave the Honda Civic car its first TCR podium finish. The Italian briefly lost the position to Andrea Belicchi in the last lap, but won it back with a superb overtaking in the very last corner that cost Belicchi one more position, as his team-mate and yesterday’s winner Stefano Comini took fourth. The Swiss leaves Sepang as the first point leader of the series.
Race 2 – Quotes from the podium
Jordi Gené, 1st: “I am really very happy. I never expected to win in this opening event, first because I haven’t been racing at this level for two years, then because it was a new circuit for me, and also because in practice and in qualifying I had some power issue in my car due to the heat. But everything went perfectly today. It was a very tough race, as my opponents were extremely close. I just pushed as much as I could. In the last two laps, I started feeling the tyres were suffering, but I could keep everybody at bay. It has been a wonderful debut for the TCR, the level is already extremely high and I am completely convinced we are going to have close and tough racing throughout the season.”
Picture: Gené congratulated by his younger brother Marc.
Pepe Oriola, 2nd: “Two seconds was a good result to start the season and I am quite satisfied. The fight today was just fine, it was fun, but I knew that beating Jordi was going to be difficult. And he proved that he is still a very fast driver. I am really happy for the team, as they did a great job.”
Gianni Morbidelli, 3rd: “I am really happy with this podium finish, it’s a well-deserved reward to the great and hard job made by the team. I feel proud to work for such a squad that put a tremendous amount of effort in the latest weeks. This first weekend also proved how good the TCR concept is, this is the best response to those who did not believe in it. The race today was fun, I had a nice battle in the final lap with Belicchi. He managed to pass me, but then in the very last corner he opened slightly the line and I dived into the gap.”
Morbidelli elected TCR Man of the Race in Sepang
West Coast Racing’s Gianni Morbidelli was elected TCR Man of the Race for the event at Sepang International Circuit.
The jury formed by WSC CEO Marcello Lotti, Race Director Marc Duez, TV Commentator Mark James, TV Director Alessandro Dragosei, Communication Director Fabio Ravaioli and Press Officer Alfredo Filippone, elected the Italian driver for his brilliant overtaking manoeuvre on Andrea Belicchi that earned him third place in today’s Race 2.
Other nominees were Kevin Gleason (for his pole position), Pepe Oriola (for his fair and effective driving) and Igor Skuz (for his sporting spirit in spite of his bad luck).
Campos Racing won its own battle in Malaysia
The inaugural event of the TCR International Series has had many heroes, but there is no doubt that among them there is a bunch of guys who deserve special praise: the crew of Campos Racing.
The mechanics and technicians of the Spanish squad have worked round the clock to solve the technical problems that plagued the two Opel Astra OPC cars of Igor Skuz and Jordi Oriola and were able to get Skuz on the grid for Race 2.
It was a race against time to get the cars ready for the opening event. They arrived in Malaysia without the necessary development and testing and soon encountered power problems due to the extreme heat that triggered the activation of the electronic auto-protection system.
Eventually the team had to work out a creative solution to the problem, by fitting a larger radiator built on the spot from an after-market spare found in a local retail shop. The heavier piece required stronger brackets, which were crafted from a … fire extinguisher! Campos Racing staff worked long hours and until 5am on Sunday morning to allow Skuz’s car to start Race 2.
Achieving that obviously had the taste of success. “We came a long way to Malaysia and this first race,” commented team manager Rubén Espín, “and there was no way we wouldn’t try the impossible to be at the start of at least one race with at least one car. We won that challenge and now we will work to be ready for Shanghai. We know that we still have a lot of work ahead with the cars, as they are brand new, but we are ready for the challenge.”
The TCR International Series will resume for Rounds 3 and 4 at Shanghai International Circuit on April 11 and 12, in the frame of the Formula 1 China Grand Prix.