2017 TCR Middle East Series: Dubai

TCR Middle East to kick off in Dubai

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The inaugural season of the TCR Middle East Series kicked off Friday at the Dubai Autodrome in the United Arab Emirates, within the frame of the 24H Dubai event.

The TCR Middle East Series was officially launched during a media and test day at the Bahrain International Circuit on 2 December 2016 . After the opening meeting in Dubai, two further rounds will follow, at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit on February 9/10 and Bahrain International Circuit on March 9/10.

The upcoming weekend will be packed with action, as the TCR Middle East Series shares the bill with the 24H Dubai – first round of the 24H Series – and the 3x3H Dubai – promotional event of the 24H Proto Series.

The TCR Middle East Series will hit the track on Thursday, with two 30-minute Practice sessions and a 35-minute Qualifying.

The two back-to-back 60-kilometre races will take place on Friday morning.

Michela Cerruti at Dubai in the 2017 Giulietta

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Mulsanne Racing will run the 2017-spec Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR in the opening round of the TCR Middle East series next week at the Dubai Autodrome.

A number of improvements have been made to the Italian car by the Romeo Ferraris engineering as are explained by team manager Claudio Bortoletto: “There were many things that were possible to develop, in the chassis, suspension, electronics and so on. We tested the updated car at Vallelunga before Christmas and were very happy with the lap times. Now we need to replace the 1.7-litre engine with the new 2-litre from the Giulia, and we expect to do it by March.”

Mulsanne Racing regular Michela Cerruti will drive in Dubai; this will be her comeback to racing after she was sidelined six months on medical grounds.   

A strong five-car line-up for Liqui Moly Team Engstler

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The Liqui Moly Team Engstler has entered a strong five-car line-up for the event in Dubai.

The German outfit’s Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR cars will be driven by an array of drivers that span from very experienced to rookies.

TCR International Series race winner Mat’o Homola is surely the team’s point man, though he faces his first appearance in the Golf.

Homola declared: “I’m glad that the TCR family grows with a new championship, which for me is an opportunity to stay in shape and prepare myself for the upcoming season in the International Series. I am looking forward to racing in the Volkswagen Golf that is new to me, even though it has many points in common with the SEAT I drove last year. I tried the Dubai circuit on the simulator and I really like it, as it is full of long fast corners that suit my driving style.”

Homola joins a trio of TCR rookies: Luca Engstler, Brandon Gdovic and Stefan Goede.

The son of Touring Car veteran Franz Engstler, the 16-year old Luca looks at the Middle East series as a preparation to for his commitments in the ADAC TCR Germany series: “It will be my first ever race in a touring car and, of course, I am a bit nervous. But this will be a perfect training for TCR Germany and my goal is to learn as much as possible during these three events.”

Gdovic, 24 years old from Pittsburgh, has competed in different NASCAR series before successfully switching to the Lamborghini Super Trofeo in 2015. “I’m really excited to be racing in Dubai for the first time and getting the opportunity to race in the TCR series. It will be a lot of firsts for me, but I’m looking forward to it and hoping for some good results,” he said.

Goede, 31 years old from Bavaria, has only approached motor racing in recent years and from 2013 he became a regular competitor in the Austrian Histo-Cup. “I look at TCR as a big challenge and a learning experience. I am looking forward to working with an extremely professional race team managed by a touring car legend such as Franz Engstler,” he said.

Homola’s Slovak countryman Filip Sládecka, with past experience in the FIA European Touring Car Cup, completes the team’s line-up.

The Top-Run Subaru in the hands of Luigi Ferrara

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Top-Run Motorsport will rely on the experienced Luigi Ferrara to drive the Subaru WRX TCR in Dubai.

The Japanese car has been thoroughly updated since its most recent appearance, at Buriram in the TCR International Series. Ferrara was able to finish third at Monza in the TCR Italy series’ Race 1 and was then eliminated in an incident at the start of the second race.

“The car was significantly improved between our last appearance in the International Series in Thailand and the Monza event,” explained team manager Renato Russo.“We can now consider this as the final evolution step. Our main concern was the engine reliability, so we focused our work on this and I have to say that we are happy with the results.”

Just before Christmas the team completed a test at Vallelunga, where Ferrara drove a long run of 14 laps in race set-up without any problems and clocked lap times that were faster than those the TCR Italy top drivers had set during the race meeting in June.

“We were very pleased with that test. Now at Dubai we have the opportunity to check the car’s performance and reliability in different weather conditions, which is very important for the upcoming season in the International Series,” Russo added.

CadSpeed Racing is the first to run the Audi RS 3 LMS

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CadSpeed Racing in cooperation with A Tech will be the first team to run the brand new Audi RS 3 LMS TCR. Besides entering the German sedan in the 24H Dubai – opening round of the TCR Series – the EAU-based outfit will also take part in the TCR Middle East Series inaugural event.

The Audi will be driven by touring car veteran James Kaye who amassed lots of experience during his long career.

After clinching five British titles in the Eighties – four in the Production Saloon Car Championship and one in the Ford Fiesta Cup – Kaye became a regular competitor in the British Touring Car Championship, winning the Independents’ title twice (1992 and 1994) and the Production Class title once (2002). He was also a member of the Honda UK factory team.

Kaye knows that all eyes will be on him: “It is very exciting to work in close cooperation with the people of Audi Sport. They are very keen to support us and want to collect as more data as possible to help in the final development of the car.”

CadSpeed will receive a second RS 3 by mid February. “Our priority is the TCR class of the 24H Series. However, we have already been contacted by drivers who want to race in the TCR Middle East. So, it is quite probably that at least one of our cars will take part in the whole series.”

TCES reigning champion to race in Dubai

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Rik Breukers, the reigning champion of the Touring Car Endurance Series’ TCR Class will join the TCR Middle East Series field in Dubai at the wheel of a Red Camel-Jordans.nl SEAT León TCR DSG.

The bright orange SEAT is the very same car Rik and his father Ivo drove last year to clinch the TCES title and it has also entered in the 24H Dubai – opening round of the 24H Series – that shares the bill with the TCR Middle East Series.

Despite a still short racing career, the 18-year old Dutchman has already shown talent and versatility at the wheel of very different cars like the SEAT or the Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo with which he was vice European championship and third in the World Final.

Besides racing in the TCR Middle East Series, Rik Breukers is also driving a Lamborghini Huracan in the 24H Dubai and a Ginetta G57 in the 3x3H Dubai for prototypes.

The team later confirmed that Rik Breukers would be replaced for the event by Englishman Kane Astin.

Six TCR cars to compete in the 24H Dubai

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Six teams will compete in the TCR class of the 24H Dubai, the opening round of the 24H Series.

United Arab Emirates-based Lap 57 Motorsports will run a Honda Civic TCR for local drivers Mohammed Al Owais, Abdullah Al Hammadi, Zader Zuhour and Saeed Al Mehairi.

Four SEAT León cars have been entered in the endurance race, two each fitted with the DSG and the sequential gearboxes.

The 2016 Touring Car Endurance Series champion car run by Red Camel-Jordans.nl is driven by England’s Kane Astin and Daniel Wheeler, Iran’s Aram Martroussian and Netherlands’ Christian Dijkhof. Polish young lady Gosia Rdest shares the secondLeón DSG of Zest Racecar Engineering with Philippe Ulivieri from France and a trio of Americans: Josh Allen, JT Coupal and John Weisberg.

The two León SEQ cars have been entered by Team Bleekemolen – for the all Dutch line-up of Michael Bleekemolen, Sebastian Bleekemolen, Dennis de Borts and Aart-Jan Ringelberg – and Hong Kong’s Modena Motorsports – with the Canadian pair of Wayne Shen and John Shen sharing driving duties with Francis Tjta of Netherlands and Mathias Beche of Switzerland.

However, all eyes will be on the debutante Cadspeed Racing’s Audi RS 3 LMS in the hands of Touring Car veteran James Kaye and his fellow countryman Julian Griffin.

The 24-hour race will kick off Friday at 14:00 local time (11:00 CET); results, news, live timing and live streaming will be available at www.24hseries.com .

Luca Engstler claims first ever pole in TCR Middle East

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The 16-year old Luca Engstler claimed the first pole position ever in the TCR Middle East Series. During the inaugural Qualifying session at Dubai Autodrome, the German teen-ager drove his Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR to a fastest lap of 2:10.133, inflicting a half-a-second gap to his more experienced teammate Mat’o Homola.

Homola was on top of the time sheet in the first part of the session when he set a provisional fastest lap of 2:11.290 that he managed to improve to 2:10.632.

Brandon Gdovic moved provisionally into second position with a lap of 2:10.759, but was then demoted to third when Engstler posted his pole position time a few minutes before the end. Engstler, Homola and Gdovic meant a brilliant 1-2-3 result for the Liqui Moly Team Engstler.

The Italian duo of Michela Cerruti and Luigi Ferrara was involved in a close fight for the fourth position. Ferrara was clocked at 2:11.059 in the Top Run Subaru that provisionally placed him in second position. A few moments later Cerruti exactly matched Ferrara’s time, but the two of them dropped to fourth and fifth following the improvements by Engstler and Gdovic.

Both Ferrara and Cerruti went out for a final attempt; Michela in the Mulsanne Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta clocked her own second fastest lap of 2:10.073 that helped her to move up from fifth to fourth, while Ferrara could not improve.

Filip Sládecka ended in sixth place ahead of James Kaye in the CadSpeed Racing Audi. Both Kaye and Kane Astin (Red Camel-Jordans SEAT León) were struggling as the teams had to adapt the cars to the different specs of the TCR Middle East and the 24 hour race in terms of weight, ride height and tyres.  

Driver quotes after Dubai Qualifying

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Luca Engstler (pole position): “I’m over the moon! To be on pole position on my first Touring Car appearance is fantastic. It was not an easy task to face a quick and experienced driver like Homola, and I have to thank my team for working all night to prepare my car at its best. I have to say that the intense testing programme we worked on during the winter has really paid off. Now I can focus on tomorrow’s race and I hope I can win them.”

Mat’o Homola (second fastest): “I am a bit disappointed, because we had a problem with the fuel pump, and this affected the power every time I was coming out of the corners. Obviously this meant that I could not attack in the proper way and eventually prevented me from making a final attempt for improving my lap time. It was a shame, because we have worked a lot on the set up and the car’s handling has improved a lot since this morning. I am confident that the team will solve the problem for tomorrow’s races.”

Brandon Gdovic (third fastest): “It is an interesting experience to be in a front-wheel drive racing car for the first time. Here I’m also racing a Ginetta GT4 in the 24 hours, which means a complete change of set up and feelings between the two cars. I am having a lot of fun! I’m pretty happy with the third fastest lap; I did not exactly know what to expect, so I am pleased with myself for having found the right way to drive fast in qualifying.”

Michela Cerruti (fourth fastest): “We cannot complain. We have worked a lot on the set up of the cars and it paid off. This morning we were losing a lot of time in the second sector, while this afternoon my car was the fastest. We are still struggling with the traction out of the slow corner, so we think that there is a margin for a further improvement. But being fourth, four tenths behind Homola’s second fastest lap is definitely a good result.”

Luigi Ferrara (fifth fastest): “I am a bit disappointed, because I feel the potential of the car is better than it appears from the fifth fastest lap. Our main issue has always been the understeer, which had been amplified by the fact that the GT cars have left a lot of rubber on the track. Therefore, in my final attempt, I had to fight with too much grip after setting a fast time in the first sector. But I am confident for tomorrow’s race one, because at 9:00 in the morning the track should be smoother.”

Engstler and Gdovic shares victories for Liqui Moly Team Engstler

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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

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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.

Race One Key Facts

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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

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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.

Race Two Key Facts

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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

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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

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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

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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.”

TCR International Series Sepang, Malaysia 29 September - 01 Octo

As per usual, I will be keeping things up to date on here with the blog as well as the members of the TCR Talk Facebook Group who will also be sharing their thoughts as well as any news from the series.

Until next time, all the best!

Phil!!!

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