tcr / Row-2 start for Vernay: close battle expected tomorrow in Rustavi.
The Frenchmen of the Leopard Racing Team WRT, among the fastest drivers in both practice sessions yesterday, confirmed his brilliant form this Saturday afternoon in the official qualifying sessions and claimed his first two championship points at the Rustavi International Motorpark (Georgia).
The Leopard Racing Team WRT started on the right foot and is aiming for victory in the two races taking place tomorrow at the Rustavi International Motorpark, the track hosting the TCR 2017 opening round. At the wheel of his Volkswagen Golf GTi, Frenchman Jean-Karl Vernay drove brilliantly to set fourth fastest lap time in Saturday’s qualifying sessions.
The 4.1 km race track is located on the right bank of the Mtkvari river, along the Tbilisi-Red Bridge highway, 20 km away from Tblisi. It was in the capital of Georgia that, last Thursday, a signing session with the drivers worked as a great appetizer in view of Friday’s FP1 and FP2 show.
Jean-Karl Vernay gave it his all fighting hard in a narrow elite of four riders (including Ficza, Tassi and Kajaia) who kept on repeatedly trading places at the top of the timesheet. It is no coincidence these names ended up on top also in both qualifying sessions today.
In a hard-fought Q1, Kajaia and Colciago were the first to take the lead with Jean-Karl Vernay in provisional third. Ficza was not far behind before he leapt into the lead but his joy was short-lived as Colciago immediately returned the favor. In the end there was glory also for Tassi who managed to sneak in between the two disputants. Some issue, apparently, for reigning world champion Stefano Comini, among the last drivers to gain access to the Q2.
The 12 best cars went for broke in the crucial 10 minutes of the final session: while former teammates Comini and Vernay were switching spots in second and third, the French driver of Leopard Racing Team WRT got back in front with Colciago also up there. Tassi and Ficza came back once again at the end of the session but eventually it was Kajaia to snatch the first pole of 2017 to the delight of newcomer manufacturer Alfa Romeo.
Local hero Davit Kajaia will then start tomorrow’s races from pole position and collected 5 points championship points, leading in front of Hungarian Attila Tassi (4 p.) and fellow countryman Ferenc Ficza (3 p.). On the second row of the grid, the latter will find Leopard Racing Team WRT Jean-Karl Vernay (2 p.) at his side. Traffic lights for tomorrow’s Race-1 will turn off at 13:35 local time while Race-2 will start at 15:35 with a reverse grid.
Jean-Karl Vernay, 4th (1’41.607):
“In FP1 and FP2 it was ok, we were in P4 at the beginning even if we were struggling a little bit with the set-up. But things got better when we used new tyres and ended up in P2. However, the car still wasn’t perfect as we were lacking stability at the rear. We managed to improve that for qualifying: in Q1 I was in the top 4 again and the balance of the car was fine, so we thought we could do well in Q2. In Q2 I’m pretty sure something got broken at the front as I heard a big noise and the car was no longer cornering left and right in the same way. At that point, because of this problem, I thought we could go maybe for P3 but the pole position was just impossible. Looking at the gap now, which is pretty big, everybody here is a little surprised: we didn’t think we could be that close to the front. The team did a really good job and our performance was pretty decent in comparison to Seat and Audi. It is just suprising to see the Hondas and the Alfas so quick. We want to get some good points tomorrow, then we will see what will happen.”
Rustavi International Motorpark – Qualifying:
1 – D. Kajaia / GEO / GE-Force / Alfa Romeo Giulietta / 1’40.693
2 – A. Tassi / HUN / M1RA / Honda Civic Type-R / +0.593
3 – F. Ficza / HUN / Zele Racing / Seat Leon / +0.601
4 – J.K. Vernay / FRA / Leopard Racing Team WRT / Volkswagen Golf GTI / +0.904
5 – R. Colciago / ITA / M1RA / Honda Civic Type-R / +0.944
6 – S. Comini / SWI / Comtoyou Racing / Audi RS3 LMS / +1.030
7 – G. Morbidelli / ITA / West Coast Racing / Volkswagen Golf GTI / +1.062
8 – H. Valente / FRA / Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing / Seat Leon / +1.304
9 – P. Oriola / SPA / Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing / Seat Leon / +1.318
10 – G. Altoe / ITA / West Coast Racing / Volkswagen Golf GTI / +1.541
TCR International Series 2017 – Schedule (Local Time, GMT +4):
Sunday, April 2nd:
13:35 (15 Laps) – Race1
15:35 (15 Laps) – Race2