Julien Briche took the chequered flag as the winner of the first TCR Europe race at Barcelona earlier today, however a post-race penalty has handed the official victory to Andreas Backman instead.
Things started unusually as both Gilles Colombani and Marie Baus-Coppens dropped out with mechanical failures before the field had even completed their warm-up lap. Then, when the cars did roll back onto the start-finish straight, Josh Files threw another spanner in the works by lining up outside of his grid box. The inevitable penalty that awaited the championship leader thus ensured that there was plenty of intrigue before the race had even got underway.
As the lights went out, Santiago Urrutia bogged down from the second row of the grid, but the driver alongside him – Julien Briche – flew up from third to first on the run into turn one. Andreas Backman bravely tried to defend on the outside line, but ran too deep and had to relinquish the position.
Meanwhile, Evgeniy Leonov and Abdullah Al-Khelaifi merged into the path of Matias Vahtel amongst the lower echelons of the pack. Consequently, the pair of Cupra TCRs span into each other in a pincer-like formation.
By sector two, Urrutia had made his way back up to fourth place following that poor start, while Jack Young had risen from eight to sixth on the first lap of his TCR debut. The fun and games were halted by the safety car however, in order to recover the Leonov and Al-Khelaifi vehicles, but not before Viktor Davidovski and Olli Kangas had their own accident at turn nine. Davidovski lost it on the exit of the curve, while an unlucky Kangas collected him. The Finnish driver’s Volkswagen therefore made it a total of three cars that needed to be recovered from the circuit after lap one.
The race got back underway with ten minutes left on the clock, and it wasn’t long before the drama kicked off again. This time, the stewards announced that Jimmy Clairet and his brother Teddy had both been awarded drive-through penalties for a discrepancy in their start procedures. Shortly after that announcement, Gilles Magnus fired off into the gravel trap at turn one, possibly as a result of contact with Portuguese guest driver, Francisco Mora.
At turn ten, Nelson Panciatici became one of the few drivers to complete a clean overtake in this race, sweeping to the inside of Dominik Baumann for tenth. On the following lap, Panciatici then pressured championship contender, Luca Engstler, into a mistake at the same corner.
Engstler ran wide and lost out to Panciatici, but as he attempted to rejoin the circuit, was clattered into by Jimmy Clairet who was yet to serve his drive-through penalty. The impact destroyed the front-left quarter of Engstler’s car, forcing him into retirement as a result. The young German already had a mountain to climb if he wanted to catch up to Josh Files in the 2019 standings, so he certainly didn’t need another set-back like this.
As the Clairet brothers came into the pit lane to serve their penalties, Jack Young found himself up as high as fifth place – a position which the Vukovic Motorsport Renault crew could only have dreamt of in races gone by.
By contrast, John Filippi, who had abandoned the Renault project in favour of Davit Kajaia’s vacated Cupra, struggled for pace and eventually dropped out of the race altogether.
In the latter stages, the drama really began to heat up. Not so much in regard to what was happening on track, but rather what was happening in the steward’s room. The top four drivers; Julien Briche, Andreas Backman, Josh Files and Santiago Urrutia had all been placed under investigation for potential misdemeanours at the start of the race. If they were all found to be guilty, Jack Young would be in prime position to take a race victory on his debut, while driving one of the least-fancied cars on the grid.
Files was the first to be dealt punishment. His incorrect starting position landed him a thirty-second time penalty, but the situation regarding the other three drivers wasn’t quite so clear cut.
So, as the chequered flag was unveiled, it was Julien Briche who gleefully won the race on the road, with Andreas Backman and Santiago Urrutia completing the podium. Files had crossed the line in second, but his aforementioned penalty would drop him outside of the top twenty in the official race results.
Even in parc ferme, there were still plenty of question marks over all three podium positions. And in fact, it wasn’t until a few hours after the race that we finally received the stewards’ decision.
Sadly for Briche, he too was found to have started the race outside of his allocated grid position, and was handed a five-second penalty as a result. His infringement was deemed to be less severe than that of Files, hence why his given punishment was also less severe.
Andreas Backman and Santiago Urrutia were both acquitted of any wrongdoing, however, and so Briche found himself dropped in between the pair of them in second place. Of course, his demotion meant that we had a new winner on our hands – Target Competition’s Andreas Backman.
The Swede had won on the road last time out at Oschersleben, but lost the result to a penalty in similar circumstances to Briche. Now though, he could finally celebrate a legitimate race victory in the TCR Europe Series.
Race Result – Top 15: