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Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil Regain Drivers’ Championship Lead at Spa-Francorchamps

Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil are now first and second in the drivers’ championship after a solid points haul at the famous Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium. Pepe Oriola scored a second place podium, running a lights to flag race from his P2 starting position. James Nash was on track for fourth place but was hit in the rear and forced down to P8, ruining his chances of taking the lead in the championship on Friday. He was narrowly trailed by teammate Sergey Afanasyev in P9 who managed to regain seven places after an issue hampered his start. Race two was always going to be more difficult with the reverse grid but Nash was able to retain his starting position to finish P6, followed by Oriola in P7 while Afanasyev completed the trio still in the points in P9. The Spaniard, Oriola, now leads the championship with 84 points, barely separated from his teammate, Nash, who is occupies the second spot with 82 points. Afanasyev is now in seventh and thanks to the team’s consistent results this weekend they still have a considerable lead in the teams’ championship heading into the next round at Imola.

Qualifying
All three SEAT Leons made it smoothly into the second qualifying session, with Oriola taking the fastest time of Q1. The team pushed hard to utilize slip streaming to improve lap times but it proved difficult. Oriola managed to find the best pace and finished the session with an excellent time of 2:33.306 to secure P2 and a start on the front row of the grid, giving him a good chance at finding success in the first race. Afanasyev was not far behind and put in a good performance to take P4 with a solid 2:33.560. Nash was running with 10kg of success ballast but still managed to follow his teammate closely with a time of 2:33.805, ensuring that he would start race one in P5.
Race One
The lights went out at the sunny Spa-Francorchamps circuit in Belgium and Oriola retained his spot in P2 as the race got underway. Afanasyev was unable to get off the line smoothly, which pushed him back down to P16. This caused Nash to dart to the side around Afanasyev, allowing him to move up into P4 as the grid fought for positions. Afanasyev quickly regrouped though and was able to take two positions by the second lap. On lap five, Oriola was still chasing down the lead, while Nash was starting to come under pressure from the much lighter Jean-Karl Vernay. Nash began an incredible multi-lap defence campaign against the French driver, expertly keeping him behind him at each turn. Afanasyev was carving his way through the field with confidence and was up into tenth and back in the points with three laps to go. Unfortunately for Nash, his entire race was about to be derailed by contact from Vernay. A solid tap to the rear under braking into the final chicane after Blanchimont sent the #54 driver off the road and down into P8 after a quick recovery. After nine laps at the famous circuit, Oriola had run a clean race and crossed the line in P2 to get his championship challenge back on track. Nash finished in P8, followed by Afanasyev who had taken back an incredible seven places to finish in P9.
Race One Quotes
James Nash, Driver #54
“Made a good start in race one and got alongside Pepe, so we were running in P4. I struggled in the early laps with warming up my tyres but I was waiting for them to come on later to give me the opportunity to climb back. The lighter golf behind me was making it really difficult for me and kept pushing me to defend. Ultimately he made a silly move and punted me off and I nearly hit the wall. We recovered and took P8 from there.”
Pepe Oriola, Driver #74
“Happy with the result and we are now close to the lead but I am sad with my start because it was really poor and I could have won the race. I am happy with the podium and tomorrow we will try for another top result.”
Sergey Afanasyev, #77
“That was one tough race. I didn’t start the race well, possibly due to my clutch overheating as the start procedure was quite long. Overall everything went well, I managed to take a lot of positions and get back into the points. I believe everything will be better tomorrow, we aren’t starting from the top but we will manage to do our best job and get some more points.”
Race Two
As race two began at Spa-Francorchamps, Nash got off to a good start and was able to maintain his position in P6, Afanasyev was off to a better start but was unable to hold onto P7 after being jumped by teammate Oriola. The Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil trio neatly filed into formation with Nash ahead in P6, Oriola in P7 and Afanasyev in P8. Throughout the nine lap race, all three drivers pushed each other but fought cleanly, being sure not to jeopardize anyone’s position in the championship. All three drivers held their positions until the dying moments of the race, but Afanasyev was unable to defend any longer and slipped back to P9. After the flag fell, the final positions were Nash P6, Oriola, P7 and Afanasyev P9. Although it was another tough weekend, a good collection of points allowed Oriola to retake the championship lead. His teammate, Nash, is now right behind in second place, separated by only two points. Afanasyev is seventh in the drivers’ standings with 56 points, while the team still leads the teams’ championship by 38 points.
Race Two Quotes
James Nash, Driver #54
“It was a difficult race with the temperature increase and we started to struggle with the tyres. The added ballast was also another challenge to conquer. We had a few mechanical issues during the race with the brakes, which were backing me up into Pepe and Sergey. I had to defend hard to maintain my position in the championship and it was good fun but it is always difficult to know with teammates how hard to push but we all fought cleanly. I am happy with this result and am now P2 by only two points.”
Pepe Oriola, Driver #74
“Happy with the result as I am now back in the lead after the weekend in Estoril. I am a little bit sad because I was a little faster than James but I wasn’t going to risk any points for the team. I am really happy for the team because we still have a big lead in the teams’ championship and are now one and two in the drivers’. Let’s see the BoP now that the Volkswagens have had the 1-2-3 because they deserve to have more weight now. I am looking forward to Imola next round so I can increase the gap.”
Sergey Afanasyev, Driver #77
“Race two was not easier at all, the temperature was higher and the clutch still felt a little strange but I believe a few other people also struggled. We were running in formation and because we are teammates we all had a very clean fight without any contact or any risky moments. We were still really competitive and we will always be improving.”
Richard Coleman, CEO of Craft-Bamboo Racing
“Not an easy or straight forward weekend for the team but for us to still come away well from these kind of weekends are signs of the intent of this team and where we want to be in Macau. It doesn’t mean much at this stage of the season, but it is nice to be one and two in the drivers’ championship and to also be leading the teams’ championship. The team will look forward to a quick turnaround to Imola, which is a circuit we haven’t been to before but there is no reason why it won’t suit us. My feeling has been that the VW has had an easy time in the BoP and that has been masked by the fact that WRT are new to the series and are new to the car. It is clear now that are on top of things and I hope that the BoP gets adjusted accordingly for Imola.”