2009 Yokohama Independents Trophy Champion Tom Coronel showed that the combination of a Seat Leon TDi and the proven team running his car can be a winning combination in the 2010 FIA World Touring Car Championship.
The 37 year old Dutchman, who claimed the title for Sunred Engineering last year, is racing a Seat Leon TDi in the 2010 WTCC, under the new banner of SR-Sport, an offshoot of Sunred Engineering. When the plans were announced, Coronel was concerned at how the team would run 4 cars under the SR-Sport banner for him, as well as 2009 WTCC Champion Gabriele Tarquini, as well as Tarquini's Seat Sport Team mates Jordi Gene and Tiago Monteiro, as well as the Sunred Engineering cars of Michel Nykjaer and Fredy Barth. “Beforehand, I was wondering how the team would be going about to handle seven cars, but Joan Orus had it all perfectly organised and the whole system is running smoothly”
Coronel took to the track for the first time in his new number 2 TDi powered Leon, for the 30 minute test session and set the eighth quickest time, and after the session, reflected on how it went: “This is a really nice toy”, he smiled afterwards. “I didn't use any new tyres, but I am enjoying driving the car more and more.”
After another 2 practice sessions, which saw Coronel classified tenth and seventh, the Flying Dutchman went out for qualifying, which resulted in a top 10 grid position for race 1, after setting the 9th fastest time. Coronel explains how the slipstreaming works: “Before the session, we had determined by lot who would be the first to drive in front”, said Coronel. “I was already happy when I pulled the highest number, but then the others told me that that meant I would be the first one to be pulled and that I then had to help the others. Like that, I didn't have any new tyres left at the end of the session when lap times were improving.”
Coronel then reflects on the qualifying session on the whole: “I am slightly disappointed, because it also could have been fifth, sixth or seventh. But on the other hand, I know what I have done to help the others and once I will get something back in return. Now, I am simply able to be in the top ten all by myself and that is a very good thing already, because then you are in contention for a good result.”
The opening race of the 2010 FIA World Touring Car Championship was a set race, the first time that Coronel had been in the car in the wet, a whole new experience compared to the petrol powered Seat Leon's he is used to.
The opening race saw Coronel run a solid race and secure points finish on his TDi Leon debut, as he finished 8th overall and scored 4 points, and took the race 2 pole position, on the reverse grid. On the opening race, Coronel said: “I saw GenÃ© coming up behind me very quickly and I let him past, so that he could battle it out with the BMWs. I certainly didn't want to take any unnecessary risks and I know that finishing eighth would allow me to start from pole-position for the second race.”
On the weather conditions, Coronel added: “After the rain shower, I had to drive very cautiously in the early stages, because I saw many cars going off, especially at the first corner. As the race continued, the racing line dried out and I tried to save my tyres.”
Race 2 didn't go according to plan for Coronel, as he was forced to retire on the opening lap after contact with the Chevrolet of Rob Huff, breaking the rear wheel off and causing the Dutchman to end up in the gravel at turn 3. Coronel recovered to the pits and had repairs made to the car, but Coronel was back in the pits a lap later, this time for good. “Too bad as I really could have made it onto the podium”, he said. “But the potential is clear and I am gaining more and more experience. So I am looking forward to the next race at Marrakesh!”
So what has Coronel learnt over the Curitiba weekend about the car and how it works? Coronel explains: “This time, I did go out with new tyres. I have to get used to the different characteristics of the diesel compared to the petrol car. With this car, you have to make maximum use of the superior torque while accelerating out of the corners and that means that you have to turn in more carefully. That is a matter of gaining experience.”
The Dutch star will next be racing at Marrakesh, in Morocco on the 2nd May, in rounds 3 and 4 of the Championship, after the Mexican event was postponed.