Volkswagen and the Liqui Moly Team Engstler won both races in the inaugural event of the TCR Middle East Series.
The 16-year old Luca Engstler, who had set pole position in Qualifying, managed to win his maiden Touring Car race, while the second race went to Brandon Gdovic who was also making his debut in TCR.
Despite a field of only nine cars, both races provided full of excitement, with a number of close fights and some brilliant overtaking manoeuvre.
Race 1 also marked the first podium result for the Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta driven by a very determined Michela Cerruti who fought door-to-door with her male competitors.
The debutante Audi RS 3 LMS was also very impressive in the capable hands of James Kaye. The German car showed consistent progress over the two days and eventually was deprived of a possible victory in the second race by an arguable penalty.
The Slovak duo of Mat’o Homola and Filip Sládecka had also reasons to be pleased as they finished on the podium in Race 2.
Luigi Ferrara was less lucky in the Top Run Subaru WRX. After qualifying in a promising fourth place, Ferrara was ahead of Race 1 eventual winner Engstler when retired with a transmission failure. The Japanese car seems to have reached a fairly competitive stage, but still need to find reliability.
The TCR Middle East Series will hit the track again at Abu Dhabi Yas Marina Circuit on February 9 and 10 for Rounds 3 & 4.
Race 1 – Engstler wins as Homola gets penalty
Luca Engstler won the inaugural race of the TCR Middle East Series, while his Liqui Moly Team Engstler teammate and main rival Mat’o Homola spoiled all his chances with a false start that cost him a drive through penalty.
It was a great debut for the 16-year old German on his first Touring Car race.
Behind Engstler, Michela Cerruti put in a great show in the Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta. First she stole second place from Filip Sládecka with a great overtaking manoeuvre, then she managed to resist the return of Brandon Gdovic who finished in third.
James Kaye completed the maiden race of the CadSpeed Racing Audi RS 3 LMS that was classified fourth, only a few seconds behind the third, and clocked some promising lap times.
Start – Homola moves well before the green light and leads from Ferrara and Engstler
Lap 1 – Homola is under investigation fior a false start; Engstler chases Ferrara for second place; Sládecka and Cerruti follow in fourth and fifth
Lap 2 – Ferrara stops on the track with transmission problems; Gdovic overtakes Goede for fifth
Lap 3 – Homola is given a drive through for jump-start; Engstler inherits the lead; Kaye overtakes Goede for fifth
Lap 4 – Cerruti makes a great move and overtakes Sládecka for second
Lap 6 – Engstler has built a 4-second leading margin, but Cerruti is faster by one tenth per lap
Lap 7 – Gdovic overtakes Sládecka’s for third, Kaye follows them closely in fifth
Lap 9 – Kaye closes in on Sládecka, they make contact and Sládecka spins and then pits
Lap 10 – Gdovic closes in on Cerruti; Homola overtakes Astin for sixth
Lap 12 – Engstler wins with a comfortable margin; Cerruti keeps Gdovic at bay to secure second; Kaye finishes a respectable fourth
Race 2 – Victory for Brandon Gdovic
Brandon Gdovic claimed a brilliant victory at the end of an eventful race, beating Mat’o Homola and an impressive James Kaye who was deprived by a penalty of a first podium result in the debuting Audi RS 3 LMS.
The race was quite exciting, despite the field lost the Top Run Subaru before the start and the Red Camel SEAT in the early stages. For eight of the twelve laps there was a close battle for the first positions, with six drivers – Gdovic, Homola, Filip Sládecka, Luca Engstler, Kaye and Michela Cerruti – running one behind the other.
Kaye managed to bring his Audi to the lead with two laps to go, but eased down his pace when he was informed that the Stewards had imposed him a time penalty for a clash with Sládecka.
This helped Gdovic to win ahead of Homola and Sládecka in a 1-2-3 finish for Volkswagen and the Liqui Moly Team Engstler.
Grid – Ferrara’s Subaru can’t join because the bevel gear broke down in the first race
Formation lap – Pole sitter Astin comes back to the pit at the end of the lap
Start – Goede stalls his engine; Sládecka takes the lead from Kaye and Homola
Lap 1 – Cerruti overtakes Gdovic for fourth
Lap 2 – Homola overtakes Kaye for second; Gdovic retakes fourth from Cerruti
Lap 3 – Astin – who had rejoined after pitting – retires with a tyre problem
Lap 4 – Engstler and Cerruti fight door-to-door; Engstler moves up to fifth
Lap 5 – Sládecka, Homola and Kaye have a close fight for the lead; Cerruti overtakes Engstler for fifth
Lap 6 – Gdovic closes in on the leading trio; Sládecka defends the lead, Kaye takes the advantage and moves up to second ahead of Homola
Lap 7 – Engstler overtakes Cerruti again for fifth
Lap 8 – Cerruti retires with a broken suspension
Lap 9 – Kaye is chasing Sládecka closely and takes the lead; Homola moves up to second
Lap 10 – the top five are within nine-tenth; Sládecka and Kaye clash; Kaye keeps the lead; Gdovic overtakes Engstler and Sládecka, moving up to second
Lap 11 – Kaye slows down having been informed he has received a time penalty and drops to third; Gdovic takes the lead from Homola
Lap 12 – Gdovic wins from Homola and Sládecka
The word to the Dubai race winners
Luca Engstler (Race 1 winner): “It has been an unbelievable feeling to win my first race ever in Touring Car. I was under a lot of pressure after I set pole position yesterday, but I managed to stay cool and I did not make any mistake. After Homola was given the drive through for the false start I knew I had to avoid risks and manage my advantage on the Alfa Romeo. The second race was less lucky, as a suspension broke down and I had to limp until the end.”
Brandon Gdovic (Race 2 winner): “It was an exiting race. I’m sure that those watching it had as much fun as we had from the inside. It was great fighting door-to-door for the lead with a bunch of very fast drivers. I am very pleased with myself with these first TCR races; the car is very much different from the GT I used to drive so far, I still have to learn, but I was able to adapt myself to it quite quickly. Now that I’m leading the championship after the first event, I am determined to go ahead with it and race in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain.”
The new Audi impressed in the hands of James Kaye
James Kaye and CadSpeed Racing team manager Julian Griffin were adamant from the very beginning: “We are happy to race in the TCR Middle East, but our priority is the 24 hour race, so we won’t take any risks.”
However, drivers are drivers and a Touring Car veteran like Kaye could not keep from fighting once he was involved in the battle for victory in the second race. He managed to overtake Filip Sládecka’s Volkswagen Golf for the lead with two laps to go, but the contact he had had with the Slovak resulted in an arguable time penalty that deprived him of a possible victory.
“I don’t think I did something wrong! He missed a gear and I got past!” said Kaye who was more delighted for the performance of the car rather than being disappointed for the race result.
“The Audi has a great potential. We have managed to improve it step by step during these two days and, though there is still a lot of work to do, it has proved that can already compete with the Volkswagen Golf on equal footing.”
Michela Cerruti gives first podium to the Giulietta TCR
Michela Cerruti put in a great show in the Dubai first race and ended up by giving the first podium finish to the Romeo Ferraris–built Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR.
In the first race, Cerruti had a close and exciting battle with Filip Sládecka’s Volkswagen Golf for the second place. On the fourth lap, the Italian lady made a brilliant move, diving inside the German car and overtaking it. Cerruti was then able to pull away and in the final laps she managed her advantage for keeping Brandon Gdovic at bay and finished second.
“It has been a great result that repaid me and the team of all the work we have done since we started this programme. Today the Giulietta was brilliant and for the first time we were able to fight with the fastest cars. Its performance began to fade only in the final laps, but I had built enough a margin ahead of Gdovic,” Cerruti commented.
In the first half of the second race, the Alfa was once again fighting for the top positions. Cerruti had a fair fight with Luca Engstler as they swapped fifth and sixth places several times. They were still in contention with the leading quartet of Brandon Gdovic, Mat’o Homola, James Kaye and Sládecka when both slowed down with technical issues.
Eventually Cerruti stopped and retired: “I had the same problem of Engstler: a broken suspension. It was a shame, because the car was as good as in the first race. But today we have proved that the Giulietta has a great potential.”