Gleason takes pole in first TCR qualifying – points in race 1

Publicerad 29 mars 2015, 11.11 av WestCoast Racing.

WestCoast Racing sat proudly at the front of the debutant TCR International Series grid at the Sepang International Circuit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The opening free practice sessions on Friday (27 March) saw teams and organisers get to grips with the level of performance on offer from the various manufacturer cars. Struggling to keep pace with the rate of development, the Swedish-based outfit implemented several changes on its three new Honda Civic TCR machines in order to speed and slow the cars to balance the performance levels between competitors.

The WestCoast Racing team worked tirelessly in the heat and humidity of Malaysia to prepare its cars for the first of two ten-minute qualifying sessions on Saturday (28 March).

Establishing the 12 quickest drivers, a solid effort by the team saw all three drivers, Gianni Morbidelli, Kevin Gleason and René Münnich, progress to the second shoot-out session.

At the start of the all-important session, American driver Gleason held back in the pit lane, undertaking further set-up changes, whilst Münnich and Morbidelli lapped competitively fifth and sixth respectively.

After some minutes, Gleason joined the fray with enough time for two flying laps, the first banker lap moving into the top ten, before an accomplished lap delivered an unexpected but deserved pole position on his front-wheel drive touring car debut, pipping Andrea Belicchi by two hundredths of a second.

Despite the close result of all the main manufacturers being in close proximity, the organisers saw first to impose a weight penalty of 30kg 40 minutes prior to the start of the race, a decision WestCoast Racing felt unwarranted and unduly late to the effectively set-up cars.

The anticipation of the first TCR race now had an added impetus, as the cars took to the grid just ahead of the Formula 1 Qualifying session to the onlooking crowd, who were interested to see how the new touring car series would unfold.

As the lights went green, Gleason battled to keep Bellichi behind, but it was team-mate Münnich that surprised everybody with an electric start that saw him jump to the lead, as the field headed into the tight and off camber opening corner, only to run wide and slot back into position.

Gleason was able to retain the lead until the final hairpin on the opening tour, as fourth placed Morbidelli remained in contention. However, the effects of added weight were obvious, as the SEAT Cupras bridged a gap to the field on the long straights of the Sepang circuit.

For several laps, Gleason and Morbidelli held close quarter in fourth and fifth position trying to keep pace with the SEATs, and on lap seven of the nine lap race Gleason was back on terms with the Russia’s Sergey Afanasyev, as a typical touring car battle raged. Gleason bravely took a plunge to dispose Afanasyev, before losing grip off-line, allowing team-mate Morbidelli and Andrea Belicchi to pass.

While the action on track was as hot as the air temperatures, Münnich was forced to retire after a promising TCR debut for the German, as the flag fell with Morbidelli and Gleason crossing the line fourth and sixth respectively within touching distance of a podium finish.

After the race, the mood in the WestCoast camp was mixed. Ruing the opportunity to record a better result and feeling slightly hampered by the late weight penalty that drew back the advantage gained in qualifying.

Greger Petersson, WestCoast Sport Promotions Team owner, was vocal in his disappointment in the timing of the change in weight for the Honda TCR, “It’s very frustrating to impose this ruling with just 40 minutes to go before the start of the race. Our crew worked tirelessly in the preparation of the cars and did an exceptional job, so be left without proper time to set up the cars again in the manner that we are accustomed, wasn’t the best for us. I hope that the rules can be reviewed to allow a timeframe for decisions to be properly implemented as the series develops.”

Team Manager, James Nixon, was satisfied with the performance of his crew and drivers, “All in the series are learning and for a first race we did a solid job and the drivers were able to perform well under the circumstances. It has been a very hard environment to work in for the team and one of our mechanics is in the medical centre after suffering from the effects of the heat during the race. So on the whole, with the way we have learnt and developed the Honda over the course of two days, I am very pleased. Finding better and better set-ups and drawing more performance from the car the more time we have with it.”

Morbidelli, the first WestCoast Racing driver over the line in fourth position, reflected using his significant experience as a touring car champion driver, “I was not able to push as hard as I wanted as my balance wasn’t quite as I liked, and with the added weight it didn’t help, but we need more time with the car too make it more balanced and competitive.”

Disappointed not to convert his pole into victory, Gleason said, “I had great fun out there. Sure it was hard gaining the extra weight and I couldn’t really hold back the SEATs on the early laps, but I haven’t had such close racing for years and really enjoyed the battles. I need to work on my touring car racecraft and stop being so nice to the other guys, but that will come with races.”

Münnich said, “I had a great start and was in the lead but ran wide and got pushed out more by the Audi, but it was ok. I had a warning alarm in the car as the race went on, so had to retire, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s race.”

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