Dubai: Vernay is crowned TCR Drivers’ champion, Oriola and Comini share race victories
The 2017 TCR International Series’ final event at the Dubai Autodrome was a thrilling decider for all three titles on offer.
Jean-Karl Vernay was crowned the new Drivers’ champion, while M1RA and the Volkswagen Golf GTI claimed the Teams’ and Model of the Year awards respectively.
Vernay settled the matter in the first race and in his way: a display of clean and faultless driving, in full control of his only real competitor Attila Tassi and patiently waiting for the opportunity to strike the winning blow. That opportunity came on the penultimate lap when the Frenchman overtook James Nash for third, crushing Tassi’s last remaining hopes. Vernay’s success also meant that the alliance between Leopard Racing and WRT successfully took one of their drivers to the title for the second consecutive year.
Pepe Oriola and Stefano Comini ended the season on a high note, winning one race apiece. Oriola proved that the SEAT León – the first ever TCR car – is still very competitive on its third racing season. Comini – who wanted to abdicate in style while handing the title to his former teammate – was tantalisingly close to securing the second place in the standings, but he eventually lost it to Tassi by a single point.
The young Hungarian had high hopes before Dubai, but he failed to keep the title fight alive until the last race. He was also denied victory in the second race from pole position as he was punished for a jump-start. However, finishing as the vice-champion in such a competitive series at the tender age of 18, means he already owns the skills to become one of the leading Touring Car drivers in the years to come.
In Race 2, the WestCoast Racing duo of Gianni Morbidelli and Benjamin Leuchter scored the points that helped the Volkswagen Golf to beat the Honda Civic in the Model of the Year Trophy by just five points. Consolation for the Japanese brand came from the Teams’ title that was won by M1RA, which was a great result for the Hungarian team founded by Norbert Michelisz in its maiden season.
Race 1 – Oriola wins, Vernay secures the title
Jean-Karl Vernay of Leopard Racing claimed the 2017 TCR International Series Drivers’ title by finishing third in a race that was dominated by Pepe Oriola.
The Spaniard’s winning move was a perfect start that propelled him from fourth on the grid to first at Turn 1, ahead of the pole sitter Gordon Shedden and his teammate Vernay.
For the rest of the race, Oriola was very focused and managed to never offer Shedden the hint of a gap to try an overtaking manoeuvre.
Behind them, Gabriele Tarquini elbowed his way through the field, from 21st on the grid up to third, only to retire on the penultimate lap with a puncture.
The title fight drew the most attention as Vernay was lying fourth, closely chased by Attila Tassi. The Frenchman kept his cool, driving without mistakes and eventually settled the matter by moving up to third and placing James Nash between himself and Tassi.
Grid – Tarquini was dropped to the back of the grid following an engine change
Start – Shedden and Oriola make great starts, but the Spaniard overtakes the Scotsman at T1 and takes the lead
Lap 1 – Oriola leads from Shedden, Vernay, Nash, Comte and Tassi
Lap 2 – Tarquini climbs to 12th, Menu and Morbidelli pit after clashing
Lap 3 – Nash overtakes Vernay for third, Comte pits with an engine issue
Lap 4 – Tarquini overtakes Vervisch for 8th; Vervisch and Leuchter make contact
Lap 5 – Tassi and Files are chasing Vernay; Tarquini overtakes Comini for 7th; Lloyd hits the barrier after contact with Colciago
Lap 6 – The safety car is deployed; Colciago pits for repairs
Lap 9 – Racing resumes
Lap 10 – The top-ten are covered by three seconds
Lap 11 – Tarquini overtakes Files for 6th
Lap 12 – Dupont stops on track after a contact
Lap 13 – Tarquini overtakes Tassi for 5th
Lap 14 – Tarquini overtakes Vernay for 4th
Lap 15 – Tarquini overtakes Nash for third
Lap 16 – Vervisch receives a drive-through penalty for track limits
Lap 18 – Tarquini slows down with a flat tyre; the fight for third between Nash, Vernay, Tassi and Files, is going to decide who’s the champion between Vernay and Tassi
Lap 19 – Oriola wins from Shedden; Vernay overtakes Nash for third and secures the Drivers’ title
After the race, Homola is given a 30-second time penalty for a collision with Panis that drops him from 8th to 12th.
Race 2 – Comini abdicates with victory
Double TCR champion Stefano Comini abdicated in style, as he won the International Series’ final race in his Comtoyou Racing Audi RS3 LMS.
The Swiss driver inherited the lead when Attila Tassi observed a drive-through penalty for a jump-start, and then crossed the line ahead of Gianni Morbidelli. Josh Files completed the podium after a brilliant fight with Denis Dupont who eventually failed to finish due to a flat tyre.
Tassi managed to recover from 17th to 12th – that was actually 10th because of the ‘transparency’ of the two Hyundai cars – scoring a single point that salvaged his second place in the Drivers’ championship ahead of Comini.
Morbidelli’s second place, combined with the sixth position achieved by his WestCoast Racing teammate Benjamin Leuchter earned the ‘Model of the Year’ trophy for the Volkswagen Golf by five points ahead of the Honda Civic.
Grid – Menu and Comte are at the back of the grid following neutralization of the parc fermé; Lloyd and Colciago are missing, as their cars were not repairable after the incident in Race 1
Start – Tassi sprints from pole; Files and Nash make contact at Turn 1
Lap 1 – Tassi leads from Comini, Morbidelli, Dupont and Files; Tarquini spins after a contact with Oriola who retires
Lap 2 – Leuchter overtakes Homola for 9th
Lap 3 – Homola slows down and retires with a broken suspension
Lap 4 – Vernay overtakes Nash for 7th
Lap 5 – Menu and Nash make contact; Menu moves up to 8th
Lap 7 – Tassi is given a drive-through for jump start
Lap 8 – Tassi pays the penalty; Comini leads from Morbidelli
Lap 9 – Dupont defends third from Files; Tassi drops to 17th
Lap 10 – Leuchter overtakes Menu for 8th
Lap 11 – Kajaia overtakes Panis for 13th
Lap 12 – Files overtakes Dupont for third
Lap 13 – Vervisch and Vernay overtake Dupont for 4th and 5th
Lap 14 – Dupont goes straight at Turn 1 with a flat front tyre
Lap 15 – Tarquini and Comte overtake Kajaia for 11th and 12th
Lap 16 – Vernay stops on the track; Tassi is 12th
Lap 17 – Kajaia overtakes Nash for 10th; Comini wins from Morbidelli and Files
Quotes from the podium finishers in the two races
Jean-Karl Vernay (third in Race 1 – 2017 Drivers’ champion): “I don’t know yet how I feel… but obviously, it is great to be champion! I am very happy for Leopard Racing, WRT and Volkswagen. My start today was poor, so the race wasn’t easy. Strategy did not work, as there was another car between Shedden and me, so I had to do things on my own… I fought with Nash and had Tassi pushing behind, but I remained calm. Towards the end, Nash was slower because his tyres were gone, so I knew I could pass him, but waited until the last lap not to create a new fight. Personally, this title means a lot to me, as it comes after titles in LMP, GT and single-seaters, proving that I can will with all sorts of cars.”
Pepe Oriola (winner of Race 1): “I am really happy with this win, it was about time. I won at first event and now at last, it’s a pity we had such bad luck in-between… My start was really great, I was at the edge of stalling, but luckily it didn’t happen. I saw enough space close to the wall and just kept going, as I had nothing to lose. All this put me in P1 at first corner, but it was a very tough race as gaps were always very close, given also the safety-car period. Shedden was faster than me in some points, especially in turn 7, but I knew I could control the situation. Nothing bad happened this time and it is really nice to finish the season on a high.”
Stefano Comini (winner of Race 2): “It’s nice to finish the season on a high and to hand over the crown to Jean-Karl Vernay with a win. It has been a very tough year for us, but it was great to be part of the Comtoyou project, which only took off two weeks before the start of the season. Race 2 was pretty good; it generally is when you start at the front and have no extra weight! Missing the runner-up position in the final standings by only one point is not a problem: second is always the worst place to be, but to be on top of the final podium is a good reward for everybody in the team and at Audi.”
Gordon Shedden (second in Race 1): “Being my first race in TCR, with this car and these tyres, I am happy with the result. My start wasn’t terrible but not very good either, clearly I lack some experience with TCR cars, but after, I could keep a good pace, trying not to do anything stupid. The car performed well, although I lost an aero part at some point, and I am very happy the team secured the title already in Race 1. Now we can have fun in Race2.”
Gianni Morbidelli (second in Race 2): “I am happy to finish the season with a second place. It’s a very good result, considering the 20 kilos of Success Ballast we had; on a circuit like this you can really feel the difference. It’s also nice to finish the season like that, after a very difficult first part, when we had to learn the car and come to grips with it. We really did a very good work with Volkswagen and WestCoast Racing, and I am really proud of what we achieved together. I’m also proud to have scored the points that earned the Volkswagen Golf the Model of the Year award.”
Josh Files (third in Race 2): “It’s the end of a very busy and intense TCR season for me, which started here by winning the Middle East series, an excellent way to prepare the season. Then came a second title in the TCR Germany, the toughest TCR series, after a long and closely-fought season. I was in contention also for the Europe Trophy in Adria, finishing on the podium, and here I am again on the podium in the closing round of the TCR International. I thank M1RA for inviting me. Of course, the objective was to help Attila Tassi in his title quest, but it turned out it was not to be for him. In Race2, I had fun battling with Dupont, I knew he had a puncture and I would pass him, but it was intense and fun the entire race.”