Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has extended their lead in both the drivers’ and teams’ championship at the historic Italian circuit of Imola. After scoring P2 in race one and P5 in race two, Pepe Oriola now leads the drivers’ championship by 15 points; an incredible feat considering his 20kg weight penalty. James Nash was looking like he would be a strong competitor this weekend but after suffering contact and an engine issue in race one, the #54 driver had to retire. With very little time between races, the team could not repair the car and Nash was unable to compete in race two, leaving him fourth in the championship. Sergey Afanasyev had a great race one, charging through the field to claim P4 as well as a good haul of points. Starting P3 on the grid for race two, Afanasyev was in line for a top result but a broken drive-shaft on the grid forced him to be pushed back into the pits and out of the race. The #77 driver is now P7 in the standings and thanks to their results this weekend Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has extended their lead in the teams’ championship to 239 points.
With all three SEAT Leons making it into the second qualifying session, the push for the best times was underway. Pepe Oriola defied his 20kg weight penalty to score P2 with an incredible 1:53.285, while Sergey Afanasyev looked good with a 1:54.004 to secure P8 for race one and a good starting position for race two. James Nash was in line for a front row race two start but was later dropped to P11 after his best time was deemed to have been set while exceeding track limits.
The lights flashed green and Pepe Oriola got off the line in P2 but was nudged down into P4 as he entered the first corner. Teammate Sergey Afanasyev made a good start and was able to take two places as he began his race one charge. James Nash was fighting to gain positions from P11 and he began climbing up the order by the end of the first lap and into P10. From the start of lap two, Oriola was determined to regain positions and was all over the tail of P3, while Afanasyev was all over the back of P5. Unfortunately for Nash, contact caused a great deal of damage to the rear of his car, which began to immediately halt his progress. By lap five though, an engine management issue caused the #54 car to lose pace and eventually force Nash into the pits and out of the race. Further contact between two Hondas on lap five allowed both Oriola and Afanasyev to gain a position, with the Spaniard now in P3 and the Russian in P5. The safety car was subsequently called out and returned to the pits at the end of lap seven. Oriola made a fantastic restart, getting a great run down pit straight before performing a fantastic switchback manoeuvre in the chicane to take P2. By the 11th lap, Afanasyev had closed in on P4 and was desperately trying to find a way past. After waiting to make his move, the first corner of lap 12 provided the perfect opportunity and Afanasyev dived past to snatch P4. With only two laps left, Oriola and Afanasyev continued their great drive to the chequered flag, securing a load of points and keeping the cars in good condition for race two.
Race One Quotes
James Nash, Driver #54
"We had some temperature warnings inside the car during the first race and ultimately a lack of pace and engine speed. The engine is gone and there isn’t enough time to get it fixed before race two. Usually the SEAT engine is very reliable and the manufacturer is looking into it for us. Obviously I am very disappointed about the lack of points this weekend but we will be ready to fight back at the Salzburgring. ”
Pepe Oriola, Driver #74
“Really happy with the result this weekend especially considering the 20kg of ballast, scoring a podium is a great feeling and the 18 points will really help me with the championship lead. Excited to see what happens with race two but I know it will be much more challenging.”
Sergey Afanasyev, #77
“It was a fantastic start; I immediately moved up and pushed the others to fight. Step by step I was moving up and I ended up in P4. It was a pity I was stuck in a fight and unable to close on P3 because with the potential of the car I could have been next to Pepe.”
James Nash was unable to make the start of race two, with the engine issue unable to be resolved before the start. Sergey Afanasyev was looking like he would be in for a good result after lining up P3 on the grid, but a broken driveshaft on the warm up lap ruled him out of the race. Thanks to the reverse grid Pepe Oriola started in P8 and he was determined to continue with the great pace and performance that had been seen in race one. Race two got underway and Oriola was off to a great start, taking two positions before the end of the first lap. Oriola continued with his run up the field and on lap three capitalized on the battles ahead to sneak past his 2015 rival, Stefano Comini, into P5. Carrying this momentum through the next few corners, Oriola was able to hold the inside line and snatch P4 from, Atilla Tassi. Continuing his push for the next couple of laps, Oriola began to close in on the leaders and began to line up his next move. The Spanish driver made another overtaking move down the inside at Rivazza to claim P3 by the end of lap five in an incredible display of driving. Oriola was looking incredibly strong but was unable to defend P3 at the end of lap 11. The extra ballast greatly affected his performance towards the end of the race, pushing his brakes and tyres to the limit at the hilly Imola circuit. Oriola did everything to reclaim his position, battling down the straight with every ounce of talent. Unfortunately, another competitor was able to capitalize on this fight and crept past him at the first chicane. He remained pinned to the tail of P4 for the final two laps, but the extra weight penalty just kept him out of reach. Oriola’s fifth place finish still provided him with a good amount of points and combined with his race one podium, he now leads the drivers ‘championship by 15 points.
Race Two Quotes
James Nash, Driver #54
Pepe Oriola, Driver #74
“A little bit disappointed with the race two result as I lost my podium position and a lot more points but still really lucky because I wasn’t involved in any incidents and I was able to finish both races. I am now leading with 15 points and I hope to do well at the Salzburgring, so my championship is going the right way.”
Sergey Afanasyev, Driver #77
“We prepared well for race two and then I was unable to start. I had a technical issue on the warm up lap and I was unable to get any laps in. We will find this problem and solve it for Salzburgring. The team did a great job for a one day race weekend and I thank everyone who was involved.”
Richard Coleman, CEO of Craft-Bamboo Racing
"A race weekend of ups and downs, there were a lot of challenges with the timetable being compressed to just one day. I am pleased with Pepe who had a strong weekend from beginning to end, his qualifying lap was about as good as I have ever seen from him. If it wasn't for that 20kg of success ballast I am sure it would have been pole. A tough weekend for Sergey and particularly for James but I am sure that the drivers and the team will bounce back from this disappointment. It is also still galling to see the VW 60kg lighter than Pepe, there is just nothing we can do towards the end of the race given that the lighter VW is so kind to its tyres and brakes. I am hoping that this will be addressed for the next race."