Stefano Comini confirmed himself as the ‘king’ of the TCR International Series by winning a second consecutive Drivers’ title in what was, arguably, the most chaotic race meeting in the short history of the category.
Despite the fact that both races were dramatically shortened by red flags and suspensions, the Swiss driver was able to exploit the remaining track time to show his driving skill and strategic view. A perfect start meant Comini put himself in the best position to win Race 1 and reduce his gap from James Nash (who retired after a collision with another car) to a mere half point.
In the second race, Comini did not take any risks and let Tiago Monteiro, Jean-Karl Vernay and Pepe Oriola through to claim the podium positions, settling on a fourth place that granted him the title.
There was recognition too for the great efforts put in by Leopard Racing and Volkswagen Motorsport on their first season in TCR. The icing on the cake for them was Vernay’s third position in the Drivers’ standings.
Craft-Bamboo Lukoil teammates James Nash and Pepe Oriola had to bow to the Comini-Vernay duo and placed themselves second and fourth in the championship. Both would have deserved to be champion, but were victims of the Guia street circuit ‘law’ that always favours those who are good (or lucky) enough to keep out of trouble.
TCR promoter Marcello Lotti commented: “It was a shame that such an exciting season has come to an end with two races that were plagued by incidents and suspensions. We knew that this is always a risk you take when you decide to race in Macau but I’m afraid that this year, troubles have been increased by the decision to allow cars complying with different regulations to race together.”
This is also the reason why Macau has not been included in the provisional calendar of the 2017 TCR International Series.
Comini wins a chaotic Race 1, as Nash crashes
The first race turned into a complete chaos. A number of incidents prompted the red flag once and forced the safety car to intervene twice.
Eventually only five laps were completed, equating to 50% of the scheduled race distance. As a consequence only 50% of the points were awarded.
With Stefano Comini emerging as the winner and James Nash eliminated after he hit the wall, the gap between the two was reduced to only half-a-point before the final race, with the Briton still in the lead.
The only other driver still in contention – at least theoretically – was Jean-Karl Vernay, 25 points behind the leader.
Start – Comini takes the best start from Monteiro and Vernay
Lap 1 – three local drivers crash into each other at T1; Morbidelli crashes at Mandarin; Vernay overtakes Monteiro at the Lisboa bend and moves up to second; Nash climbs to fourth ahead of Borković
Lap 2 – The safety car is deployed; Afanasyev pits with engine problems
Lap 4 – The race resumes after one lap behind the safety car, with only seven minutes left on the clock
Lap 4 – Homola hits the barrier at the Lisboa bend and blocks the track; Buri, Files, Tassi and a number of other cars are stuck behind him
Lap 4 – Nash hits the wall and breaks the rear left suspension
Lap 5 – The safety car is deployed once again; Comini leads from Vernay, Monteiro, Borković and Oriola
Lap 6 – The race finishes but the chequered flag is not being waved… the drivers resume racing, but they are slowed down by the full course yellow in the second half of the lap
Race 2 – Monteiro wins and Comini is champion
Another chaotic race sacred Tiago Monteiro as the winner and Stefano Comini as the 2016 TCR International Series champion. This was the second consecutive title for the Swiss driver and the first one for Leopard Racing and the Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR car.
Once again a pile up caused by the drivers from the Chinese championship forced the clerk of the course to suspend the race that resumed with only two laps to go.
Once again half points were awarded.
Guest star Monteiro who had pipped Comini and Jean-Karl Vernay at the start, emerged as the winner ahead of Vernay, Pepe Oriola and Comini who clinched the Drivers’ title with only 3.5 points from Nash.
Grid – Nash is on the grid, after the Craft-Bamboo crew performed a miracle and repaired his car; Tassi and Buri start from the pit lane
Start – Monteiro sprints from the second row of the grid and takes the lead from Comini and Vernay
Lap 1 – Borković and Oriola follow in fourth and fifth positions
Lap 2 – Grachev, Files and Belicchi advance to sixth, seventh and eight respectively; Nash is up to ninth
Lap 3 – Oriola overtakes Borković for fourth; Nash overtakes Sritrai for ninth and Belicchi for eighth
Lap 4 – Another pile up is caused by the drivers from the local championship at the Police bend; the track is blocked and the race is suspended
Lap 6 – The race resumes after one lap behind the safety car with only two laps to go; Vernay overtakes Comini for second at the Lisboa; Files overtake Grachev for sixth
Lap 7 – Oriola overtakes Comini for third; Yan overtakes Sritrai for tenth; Monteiro wins from Vernay, Oriola and Comini
Quotes from the podium finishers in both races
Stefano Comini (2016 TCR International Series Champion – 1st in Race 1: “Champion again, that’s simply great! Last year I won with my guts, this time with my head… It was a difficult challenge but we made it, and it has really been a collective effort. I want to thank everybody at Leopard Racing, at WRT and at Volkswagen Motorsport, and give special thanks to Jean-Karl, whose help was really crucial this weekend to get the success. It has been a tough season, we had a difficult start with the car, but then we improved race after race. At this moment, I can only say that I am very, very happy.”
Tiago Monteiro (3rd in Race 1; 1st in Race 2) – “The objective was to win Macau and I achieved it. It’s a race that means so much to any driver and a place so special for us Portuguese… I am very happy and it is a revenge on the bad luck when I lost the race one lap to the end two years ago… I knew the competition was going to be very tough in TCR and so it was. Still, it was a very strange and very long race, with so many interruptions, but the few laps of real racing were very intense. I knew I had to attack and did it at the start and the restart in Race 2, and that proved to be a smart move.”
Jean-Karl Vernay (2nd in Race 1 and Race 2): “I feel a little bit sorry for the fans, who did not get the real TCR show, but Macau is Macau… For us, the target was to help Stefano to become champion, and I am happy we made it. Second twice leaves me a little bit disappointed, I really wanted to win one of the races, but it wasn’t possible. In Race 2, in the two laps that were left I attacked hard, could almost try something on Tiago, who was very fast, but made a small mistake at the Melco hairpin, and that was it.”
Pepe Oriola (3rd in Race 2): “It’s a little bit of a pity that we could not offer a good show to spectators and TV watchers but it’s Macau…Personally, I am happy to be on the podium and of my performance, that’s really the only thing to say…”
James Nash (Vice-champion in the 2016 TCR International Series): “It was a good season but not good enough… It was a difficult and disappointing weekend, but that’s how things go sometimes. Regarding the incident with Homola, I don’t understand where he wanted to pass, there was no space, it was silly…”