Rounds 15 and 16 of the 2015 TCR International Series were held at the Red Bull Ring in Austria as the championship had its last weekend of the European season before heading to Singapore in September and it offered more of the thrills and spills that are becoming the norm this year.
Whilst qualifying yeilded a WestCoast Racing 1-2 front row for Gianni Morbidelli and Kevin Gleason, race one offered some of the best action so far this year. By the end of lap one, the lead of the race changed from Morbidelli to Gleason and then to Team Target Competition‘s Stefano Comini. A heated race long battle then ensued between Morbidelli, Comini, Andrea Belicchi and Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing‘s Pepe Oriola with positions changing on a lap by lap basis.
Despite the close, exciting racing on track, Morbidelli made plenty of moves to regain positions during the race with plenty of contact and whilst he won the first race on track after Comini went wide at the final corner, the stewards later awarded the WestCoast Racing driver a 30 second penalty, dropping him out of the points. Comini took the win with Belicchi giving Team Target Competition a 1-2 victory with Oriola in third.
Behind the battle for the lead, on lap three Zengo Motorsport debutant Daniel Nagy made contact with Engstler Motorsport‘s Mikhail Grachev and ended up in the wall after a fine third place in qualifying. Gleason suffered during race one, going backwards down the field after being passed by Jordi Gene and Sergey Afanasyev, however the American would fight back to take fifth place from Gene. Meanwhile Grachev and Pol Rossell, making his debut in the new Volkswagen Golf, brought their cars home in 7th and 9th places respectively, sandwiching team mate Lorenzo Veglia in his SEAT Leon Racer. Michaela Cerruti finished in tenth place on her debut for Team Target Competition ahead of Morbidelli.
Race two saw the first ever win for the Golf as Rossell started from the second race Pole Position and resisted race long pressure from both Oriola and Gene in their SEATs. However the front runners from the first race suffered a terrible time in race two. Comini managed to crawl home in ninth place whilst Morbidelli and team-mate Igor Skuz retired with brake issues and Belicchi retired with mechanical issues. Afansyev backed up a fine day for Lukoil Craft-Bamboo by finishing in fourth with Gleason taking another fifth place.
Grachev brought his Golf home in sixth place whilst Veglia came home ahead of Cerutti who scored points in both of her races in her debut weekend. With Comini in ninth, Gabriele Marotta scored his first points in tenth place.
As the championship takes a break now until the Singapore Grand Prix weekend over 19-20 September, Pepe Oriola now takes the lead of the Drivers Championship ahead of Comini and Gene with Morbidelli in fourth place. In the Teams Championship, Team Target Competion leads Lukoil Craft Bamboo Racing by 14 points with WestCoast Racing in third.
Stefano Comini celebrated his race one win, feeling justified with the penalty handed to Morbidelli.
“The Honda was very fast and consistent here, I tried to be tactical, but it was difficult to stay in front. On top of that, Morbidelli hit me in the back at the beginning of the race and a few more times, which significantly affected my car’s performance in the closing laps. In my view the penalty he was handed was more than justified.”
Pol Rossel was overjoyed with his first TCR win over his debut weekend.
“It’s fantastic! To come here, the first race of the Golf and my first in TCR, and to win, it’s just great! It has been a tough weekend, it was difficult to find the right balance and I had to adapt to Michelin tyres, which were new to me, but eventually everything went well. I took a perfect start and was able to build some breathing space, I wouldn’t call that a real gap, but in the last five laps, I was struggling with the tyres and oversteer and it was hard to resist to Jordi and Pepe.
“I was involved in the testing programme of the new Golf, so it’s a special feeling to achieve this result. It is a very good car, easy to drive, and I think we will see it often on the podium. Of course, it shares many components with the SEAT Leon, but the bodywork is different, and that leads to some differences also in the behavior and driving style required.”
Pepe Oriola exceeded his own expectations by taking the championship lead.
“I never raced here before, so it’s nice to be on the podium twice and finish the weekend achieving the goal I had set for myself: to take the lead in the championship. I spent many hours on the simulator to learn the track and took advice from my brother Jordi, who raced here last week, but still, reality is always different.
“Race 2 was tough, because first I had to pass Belicchi and then hope for a mistake from Grachev. Then I could catch up Jordi and pass him when he went a bit wide in Turn 2, but I couldn’t do the same with Rosell, although he also went wide a couple of times, although not enough to attempt a clear overtaking. Also, I didn’t want to take any risk and preferred to go for the points, considering also the misfortunes of some of my rivals, like Comini and Morbidelli.”