The TCR International Series made its debut at the Sochi Autodrom last weekend, with the race victories being taken by Jordi Gene and Stefano Comini respectively, in an event that has left the top of the Drivers Championship changed completely.
Despite having his fastest time disallowed in Qualifying, Gene still claimed Pole Position in his Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing SEAT Leon Racer for race one. He went on to make an excellent start at the lights and would move into a lead that he would never be challenged for or lose. Team-mate Pepe Oriola slotted into second place at turn two, beating both the Team Target Competition entry of Andrea Belicchi and the Engstler Motorsport car of Tomas Engstrom off the line.
Whilst Belicchi had a quiet run to third place, Engstrom’s team-mate Mikhail Grachev started off well, however he lost ground throughout the race eventually losing places to Comini and Sergei Afanasyev. Michel Nykjaer was involved in many different scraps during the first race, fending off charges from Engstrom and Gianni Morbidelli, who would go on himself to finish in seventh place. Engstrom would make a last gasp attempt to pass Nykjaer on the final lap, but this resulted in contact between the two drivers as Gene won from Oriola and Belicchi.
Gene was satisfied with his race one victory.
“The race was just fantastic, everything went as planned and the SEAT cars seemed to like this track a lot,” said Gene. “Having Pepe Oriola behind me gave me some confidence that he wouldn’t do anything silly that could jeopardize a good team result, something very important here, in the home track of our sponsor.
“Still, he was better in some parts of the circuit, and I was in others, so nothing was easy. I think my brakes balance wasn’t ideal and that showed mostly in turn 14, where Pepe could brake much later, gaining almost 40 meters. I feared he could take a tow there and pass me but luckily, that didn’t happen.”
Race two saw Kevin Gleason sit on pole position after the American driver qualified tenth for race one in his 30kgs heavy WestCoast Racing Honda Civic. However his team mate Morbidelli had to withdraw from the second race with a blown turbo in his Honda, meaning the title was would be blown wide open after this weekend.
Grachev made an excellent start, getting ahead of Gleason and Nykjaer and taking Comini with him as the field filed into turn two, almost four abreast. Comini past Grachev for the lead on lap six and he settled in for what would be his third victory of the season, ahead of Oriola, who closed on him in the final laps. Grachev held on to finish in third place at the flag, ahead of Lukoil Craft-Bamboo duo Afanasyev and Gene, who finished fourth and fifth respectively ahead of the first Honda home driven by pole sitter Gleason.
Belicchi had a tough second race which ended in retirement after attempting a move on Grachev and trying to follow Comini through to try and take second place. Contact was the result, which saw Belicchi spin out and hit the wall whilst Grachev kept on going. Nykjaer was another Team Target Competition driver to retire from the race after more contact with Engstrom.
Comini was happy to take the win and the Championship lead.
“A great weekend for me, as I was able to retake the leadership in the championship; I am really happy,” reflected Comini. “My objective arriving here was to take heavy points, so I can be happy.
“Race 2 was really funny, I hope also for those who were watching. I took a perfect start, but Mikhail Grachev did even better, I was really surprised to see him passing everybody at the first corner. I could pass and take the lead a couple of laps later and that was the right moment, as I then started to struggle a bit with my tires.
“I found the circuit different when you are racing, as opposed to practice or qualifying. It’s challenging on tires and it’s not so easy to overtake.”
All this now means that Comini leads the Drivers Championship by two points from Pepe Oriola, who is looking for consistency in the final few races. Morbidelli has fallen to third place on 181 points with Jordi Gene in fourth place on 174 points.
The TCR International Series returns to Austria in three weeks time, where they will race at the Red Bull Ring.