The unpredictability of the TCR International Series reached a new level at Sepang in Malaysia. The two races – supporting Formula One for the third and final time this season – saw victories by a driver competing in the series for the first time (Roberto Colciago in Race 1) and a driver who has missed much of the season (Kevin Gleason in Race 2), bringing the number of different race winners during 2016 to ten.
The Malaysian event was also a remarkable advertisement for the TCR community, which keeps on growing at a global level. It demonstrated that drivers coming from national and regional TCR championships (like Colciago, who won the Italian title last week, or Tin Sritrai, who is a front-runner in TCR Asia) can join the International Series and fight on equal terms with its leading competitors.
With just the two races in Macau remaining, four men are still in contention for the Drivers’ title – James Nash, Stefano Comini, Pepe Oriola and Jean-Karl Vernay – with 39 points covering the four and 55 still available, although Nash has now edged closer to the title, showing an impressive maturity that has helped him to steer away from trouble and consistently score crucial points.
The Teams’ title, on the other hand, was decided in Sepang, with Craft-Bamboo Lukoil now uncatchable.
TCR Asia competitors once again joined the International Series field and Race 2 saw Sritrai start from pole position on the reverse grid and lead for the first four laps before being hit by Comini, an incident that deprived him a possible overall podium. By finishing ninth overall in Race 2, Andy Yan of Liqui Moly Team Engstler secured the Drivers’ title.
Both TCR International and TCR Asia will end the season in Macau on November 20.
Kevin Gleason wins as Stefano Comini gets penalty
TCR International Series competitors delivered another breath-taking race at Sepang, full of overtaking manoeuvres, clashes, spins, position-swapping and safety car interventions.
Kevin Gleason emerged as the winner, stepping back on top of the podium one year after his last victory at Singapore. The WestCoast Racing driver overtook the early leader Tin Sritrai just in time to avoid the carnage behind him.
The young Thai, who had been sidelined yesterday by a turbo failure, seemed well on the way to claim a sensational result – possibly an overall podium – but saw his dream swept away by contact with Stefano Comini.
That contact cost the reigning champion dearly; he was given a drive-through penalty, which was translated into a 30-second time penalty because he was informed during the last three laps of the race.
On top of this, after Pepe Oriola was involved in a door-to-door fight with a group of other drivers during the last lap, he eventually finished out of the points.
While all of this was happening, James Nash emerged as the biggest winner of the Malaysian weekend, as he re-took the Drivers’ series lead with an advantage of 17 points.
Grid – All 23 cars are on the grid, including Galiana’s SEAT on which a new turbo has been installed
Warm up lap – The engine of Pastorelli’s Ford blows and spills oil onto the right side of the starting line; the field is stopped by the marshals at the end of the lap while dust is sprinkled onto the oil slick; the race will start behind the safety car in a single line over the reduced distance of 10 laps instead of 11
Lap 2 – The actual race starts, Sritrai leads from Gleason and Nash; Comini overtakes Morbidelli for fourth at Turn 15
Lap 3 – Gleason tries to dive through the inside in Turn 1, but Sritrai closes the gap; Comini overtakes Nash for third
Lap 4 – Comini, Nash and Morbidelli are in a close battle for third; Gleason overtakes Sritrai and takes the lead; Comini hits Sritrai who spins at Turn 14 and re-joins in 11th position
Lap 5 – Gleason leads from Comini, Nash, Morbidelli, Homola, Vernay; Oriola overtakes Grachev for 7th and Vernay for 6th
Lap 6 – Grachev and Colciago make contact while fighting for 8th; Colciago goes off onto the gravel trap and Grachev spins having lost one rear tyre
Lap 7 – The safety car is deployed
Lap 8 – The race resumes, Vernay outbrakes himself at Turn 1 and goes wide, dropping from 7th to 10th; Comini is given a drive-through for the incident with Sritrai; Vernay overtakes Hezemans for 9th
Lap 9 – Homola, Oriola and Borkovi ć are in a tough fight over 6th
Lap 10 – Gleason wins ahead of Comini (who did not observe the penalty), Nash and Morbidelli; the fight for 5th heats up between Homola, Oriola, Vernay, Borkovi ć, Hezemans and Afanasyev; there are contacts and eventually Borkovi ć finishes 5th ahead of Vernay, Hezemans and Homola, while Oriola drops to 14th
Quotes from the podium finishers in the second race
Kevin Gleason (winner): “It feels amazing to be back and to get a win. It was really frustrating not to do the whole season and so I’m grateful I could come back with WestCoast to race at Singapore and here in Sepang. With every race I missed, I dreamed about coming back with the team, so I’m really grateful I could reward them with a win like this. I had to work for the victory and that made it all the more satisfying. Soon after I took the lead, I saw some action going on behind me, but I could concentrate on staying out of trouble and hold on to win.”
James Nash (second): “Always being in the thick of the action is really hard and picking my moment to push or to attack is complicated, but it worked really well today. The point gap isn’t enough for me to be able to relax, but it’s nice to go to the last round in the lead. I think Comini was too aggressive and made the wrong move, but that’s how it is. He saw me coming up behind him going into Turn 10 and closed the door, which caused me an anxious moment, but once I knew about his drive-though I could relax for the rest of the race.”
Gianni Morbidelli (third): “I have been struggling with the power steering since the beginning of the year, but I have to say that it is not the fault of the WestCoast team. I feel really sorry for them and I’m really frustrated. I’m just happy we are nearly at the end of the season, to be honest. When you have to think about the steering instead of driving, this does not help your performance at all.”
Andy Yan (9th and winner of TCR Asia): “I’m very happy and I need to thank my team for doing a fantastic job, especially yesterday because my car had a problem in Race 1 and so they worked all night to prepare a good car for me for Race 2. Today was a good performance to achieve our target and finish first. I really love the TCR Asia series because we have good drivers and all the cars are very balanced. I think Tin Sritrai has been very unlucky this year because he has had so many problems but hopefully we can have another good fight again next year.”
Homola receives ten-second penalty after Race 2
Following today’s second race, the Stewards discussed a number of incidents that had been reported to them, but concluded that only one was serious enough to warrant a penalty.
Mat’o Homola was judged to have caused collisions with Pepe Oriola during the race and so ten seconds were added to his time, dropping him from seventh position to sixteenth.
Sergey Afanasyev, Andy Yan, Attila Tassi and Davit Kajaia all therefore moved up a place and gain points in the revised results.