Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing triumphed in the opening round of the TCR International series in Georgia with a stunning one-two finish from Pepe Oriola and Hugo Valente in race two. Unfortunately, a very close call was handed down by the stewards after the race, penalizing Valente for overtaking under a yellow flag during the opening lap fight for second place. He was given a 30 second penalty, subsequently dropping him to P9. It was a tough decision to take but Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing are still firmly positioned in the fight for the drivers’ and teams’ championship title. Overall, it was a challenging weekend for the team, tough starting positions and adverse weather conditions in race one and the unlucky penalty in race two prevented them from maximizing their results. Oriola was able to move up two places in race one and take P7, while James Nash finished in P13 after some tough battles. New teammate, Hugo Valente, made a calculated move to enter the pits to perform a setup change for race two at the expense of a race one result. This proved to be the right call from the team, with Valente putting in a great performance to finish the second race in P2 before the penalty. Nash made a brilliant charge from 11th to finish fifth overall, expertly picking off his opponents to score a haul of points for his championship challenge.
With all three cars securely into Q2, the Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing boys had 10 minutes to decide their starting positions for the weekend. All three drivers were pushing to extract the best lap times out of their cars but struggled to reach their full potential. Newcomer Hugo Valente went fastest of the trio with a 1:41.997 to take P8, followed by Pepe Oriola in P9 with a 1:42.011. This gave Oriola and Valente a good chance for the second race’s reverse grid, where they would start P2 and P3 respectively. James Nash just missed out on the reverse grid though, recording a 1:42.337 that would see him start P11 for both races.
The first race proved the most difficult for the three Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing cars as they battled weather conditions and tough starting positions. Oriola got off to a strong start and took two places within the first few laps before continuing his fight to close the gap to those ahead. Valente struggled at the start and made contact into the first corner which affected his steering, losing him several positions by the end of the first lap. He regrouped as best as possible and put his head down, regaining two places before a fifth lap battle forced him to lose track position once more. With Valente now running outside the points, the team decided to make a strategic call and bring him in for a race two setup change. This gutsy call would prove to be a great success in the second race, with Valente able to properly challenge from his P3 start position. James Nash was unable to fully find the pace after starting from P11 but put in a solid performance in the adverse weather to bring his #54 SEAT Leon back in P13.
With the reverse grid now working in the team’s favour, Oriola was able to get off to a great start from P2 and begin the fight at the first corner. Right behind him was teammate Valente who started the race from P3. Both Craft-Bamboo cars were on the hunt for positon and managed to take P1 and P2 in the final few corners of the first lap. James Nash had also managed to get off to a good start, moving from P11 to P8 by the start of the second lap. After a brief safety car period, the race got back underway on lap three and Oriola and Valente began to build an increasing gap over the rest of the field. Nash was intent on continuing his climb up the order and was fighting hard from P8 when he found a chance to take P7 on the seventh lap. The #54 driver was gaining ground and began the fight for P5 amongst a tightly knit group on the tenth lap but was unable to make a move stick. Nash never gave up and kept fighting until the chequered flag fell on lap 17 where he managed to cross the line in P5 and score a good chunk of championship points. Oriola and Valente had secured a significant lead at the head of the field to take a one-two finish. Unfortunately, a decision was handed down after the race stating that Valente had overtaken under a yellow flag before the start of the safety car procedure on lap two. This was a crushing blow to Valente and the team who had demonstrated a brilliant race two performance. The unlucky penalty ultimately cost the team the lead in the teams’ championship and a vast amount of points for Valente’s drivers’ championship campaign.
Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing now heads to Bahrain third in the teams’ championship with 41 points, 11 behind first place. Oriola is third in the drivers with 31 points, Nash is ninth with ten points and Valente is 13th with two points.
Richard Coleman, CEO of Craft-Bamboo Racing
“Challenging weekend for the team, really terrible pace and never really got to grips with the circuit, so we are really delighted to come away with the win. I am really proud of the team for not giving up and turning things around in the second race and finding some good pace in the cars. Moving to Bahrain, I am sure we will be back to form on a circuit that we’ve been very successful at in the past, taking both wins and pole position.”
Hugo Valente, #7 Driver
“My start in race one was not good and I had contact into the first corner, which made the car very difficult to drive, especially in the rain. So I decided to pit and start repairing the car ahead of race two which I knew would still be a good opportunity for us to score points. Race two was a great 1-2 for the team on a difficult weekend. We still managed to pull that off and that's what you need to do when weekends are hard to have a good chance at the championship.
Unfortunately, I was penalized for overtaking under a yellow flag, a decision that I still don't fully understand. I had two drivers in front of me battling for position and two behind me trying to overtake. The two drivers in front overtook each other in the chicane, they had a bad exit and I was able to gain a position right at the exit of that chicane. I got a penalty for that, even though you clearly see the two drivers also overtook each other in that chicane, but no penalty. It's a mystery for me.”
James Nash, #54 Driver
“It was a really tough weekend for me. The conditions in the first race made it difficult to gain ground from my P11 start position but I did what I could. The second race was a big improvement. I was able to utilize the car’s performance to a much greater degree and gain a considerable amount of positions and come away from Georgia with some points. I am looking forward to Bahrain where I have raced before and I can take back some positions in the championship.”
Pepe Oriola, Driver #74
“I am very happy with the result of the race win. It gives us a lot in the championship which is good because yesterday’s qualifying was disappointing. I am really happy with the victory and my seventh position in race one. I am also happy we found the pace with the car. At least we will know what to do for next year. I am looking forward to Bahrain; where I had two wins last year and I think we can achieve some more good results.”
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