Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing‘s Jordi Gene has secured Pole Position for the first of the two TCR International Series races at the Sochi Autodrom, despite having his fastest time disallowed for exceeding track limits.
The experienced Spaniard originally set a time of 2m20.890s to take pole, but that time was disallowed. However his second fastest time of 2 minutes 20.976 was still enough to keep the position. Team Target Competions Andrea Belicchi qualified on the front row to make it an all SEAT front row for race one. Gene’s team-mate Pepe Oriola, who carries 10kgs of success ballast for the Russian TCR races, took third on the grid.
Whilst Gene would take pole position by the end of the session, he was also challenged during the session by Mikhail Grachev, who held the fastest time in qualifying for a while before Gene improved. The Engstler Motorsport driver lines up in fifth place behind his new team mate Tomas Engstrom, who took his SEAT Leon Racer to a creditable fourth place for race one.
Championship leader Gianni Morbidelli qualified in eight place, six tenths of a second from Gene in his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic laden with 20kgs of success ballast whilst his team-mate Kevin Gleason finished in tenth place for race one in his Civic, which confirms he will start from Pole position for race two. The two guest drivers of Alexsei Dudukalo (Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing) and Ildar Rakhmatullin (WestCoast Racing) qualified in 11th and 12th respectively after they both won their own races in the Russian Circuit Racing Series.
Gene explained how accurate his lap had to be to secure pole position.
“The car performed perfectly from the very first moment on this track and it’s nice to conquer my first pole,” said Gene. “Races will be another story, as this is a fast track where it is easy to overtake.
“My best lap was cancelled, but my second best was enough to grant pole. Really, it is very difficult to know when you are off the track limits, you really have to target sharply the correct line to stay legal.”
Belicchi was unhappy with a slower car halting his run at pole.
“Since the engine change prior to the Salzburgring round, my car is working perfectly and I can be again at the top,” said Belicchi. “I could have done pole today but got two laps ruined, one by a small mistake the other by a slower car.
“We still have some work to do to correct some over-steering that is quite disturbing. Just like Jordi, I found it difficult to cope with track limits, it’s sometimes a matter of a few centimetres…”
Oriola meanwhile was surprised to qualify in third place.
“I’m even quite surprised to be third-fastest, as I thought I was further down,” reflected Oriola. “I must have had an issue with brakes, maybe they were too worn out or there was a faulty pad, because I couldn’t avoid locking the wheels at every strong braking. Never had such a lock-up before, with the car filled with smoke.
“To be able to respect track limits seems the biggest issue on this circuit, it’s easy to be off as visibility in some corners is limited and there are few reference points in sector 2.”