Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has scored a double podium in a rain soaked weekend at the Salzburgring in Austria. Pepe Oriola completed a brilliant qualifying session that allowed him to take an early lead in the first race. He had a substantial lead and looked like a sure winner until an engine issue ruled him out for the rest of the weekend. James Nash had more bad luck in qualifying with a differential problem preventing him from setting a time in either session. The team stepped up as usual and did an amazing job to repair the car for the first race. Nash got down to business and moved up an incredible 13 places to take second on the podium in a flawless drive. Sergey Afanasyev was making his way up the field when a racing incident forced him off the track, into the gravel and out of the race. The team was able to repair Afanasyev’s car for race two but he was forced to start in P15. That didn’t matter as Afanasyev put in an extremely talented drive in horrendous rain to score the best result of his TCR career, a second place podium. Nash didn’t let the rain stop him either, battling his way up the field from P13 to finish just outside the podium in P4. Oriola is now P2 in the drivers’ championship, trailing the lead by only one point. Nash has reignited his championship and is in P3, while Afanasyev sits securely in P7. Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has retained their comfortable lead in the team’s championship, seeing off their competition by 43 points at the top of the table.
After a red flag early on in Q1, the session was soon underway once again. However, when Nash went to leave the pits, he lost all drive and was unable to compete or set a time in either session. The differential would later be found to be the cause of the problem and the team worked quickly to get the car repaired for the coming races. Both Oriola and Afanasyev made it easily into Q2, having set quick times before the rain started to come down in the last 10 minutes of the first session.
The weather made it difficult in the second session but that didn’t stop Oriola from posting the second fastest time, with a 1:39.359. Afanasyev made the most of the weather and recorded a 1:40.230, which was good enough to see him start in P7 for the first race.
All three Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil cars were off to a good start with Oriola holding on to his second place position into the first corner. Both Afanasyev and Nash were already making their way up the field when they both narrowly avoided the huge pileup at turn one. As Oriola made his way down the back straight, he breezed past Vernay to take the lead by the end of the first lap. Afanasyev was up to P6 and Nash had taken an incredible seven places to be running in P8. As Oriola began to extend his lead on the second lap, Afanasyev was busy challenging Dusan Borkovic for P5. Afanasyev made a pass around the outside and was forced onto the grass and into the gravel where he became beached. This resulted in the safety car being called out on lap six, bunching the cars up and eroding Oriola’s gap at the head of the field. Nash was making brilliant progress and was picking off opponents with great pace and precision. Afanasyev was rescued from the gravel and returned to the pits so the team could get to work on repairing his car. When the race restarted on lap nine, Oriola got a great jump on Mikhail Grachev and instantly began to widen the gap. Nash was looking strong and was right on the tail of P3, applying pressure at each turn. He would remain locked in this battle for the coming laps until race leader, Oriola, began to slow at the start of lap 14 with an engine issue. Nash moved into P3 and was glued to the back of Borkovic, doing everything possible to make a successful move and snatch second place. As the race entered the final lap, Nash had set himself up to make one final pass down the back straight. After a quick switchback, Nash and Borkovic were side by side, making contact during the nail biting conclusion to their epic battle. Nash managed to keep control of his car and dive into the corner from the outside to take second place with only two corners left. This was a huge result for Nash, moving up an unbelievable 13 places and scoring some much needed championship points.
Race One Quotes
James Nash, Driver #54
“Started off as a tough weekend with not being able to get out for qualifying but I made it play in the races. Luckily the grid was small, which meant that we could make some good progress and take advantage of all the carnage in the corner at turn one and carve our way through the traffic.”
Pepe Oriola, Driver #74
“Really disappointed about the result of the weekend because race one was going to be a win for me. After the safety car I had 1.5 seconds on Grachev, the car was perfect and I made no mistakes. Race two would have also been possible to get a win but due to the failure of the engine we couldn’t start race two, which was really bad luck. This lost us a lot of points but I am confident that we will still be strong and come back next round.”
Sergey Afanasyev, #77
“Race one was not the easiest, I avoided the accident at the first corner and was pursuing Borkovic but as we were side by side and I was a little bit ahead and trying to get into the fast right hander, we had a small collision and I went sideways. I couldn’t catch the car and got stuck in the gravel. Thankfully the marshals got me out and we could repair the car.”
As the cars took to the grid for the start of race two, it became clear that Oriola would be unable to compete, which was a devastating blow for the championship leader. The team had done an amazing job to get Afanasyev’s car turned around and ready for the second race, although they broke Parc Ferme to ensure that his car would be in optimum condition, leaving Afanasyev to start in P15. Nash would start one row ahead in P13; with both drivers choosing to start the race on wet tyres. This would turn out to be a great decision by the team, with all cars that had chosen slicks entering the pits at the end of the warm up lap to change to wets. Both Nash and Afanasyev got off the line cleanly and were up to P5 and P6 respectively by the end of the first lap. From here, the teammates fought cleanly, with Afanasyev getting the upper hand on the third lap and taking P5 away from Nash. They continued to persevere against the torrential downpour, battling the spray from those ahead and managing to both move up another positon by lap seven. Afanasyev was now in P4, with Nash just behind in P5. Both Afanasyev and Nash were driving flawlessly, avoiding many of the incidents that plagued some of their competitors. This allowed them to move up yet again, with Afanasyev taking P3 and Nash P4 as the safety car made its appearance on lap eight. After the race restart on lap 12, Afanasyev instantly capitalized on a mistake from Stefano Comini in turn one and settled into P2. Nash was in P4 and set himself up for a challenge for P3 but was unable to make it stick. The positions remained the same until lap 15 when Afanasyev was able to take the lead from Jean-Karl Vernay after he made a mistake. He couldn’t make it last though, and not wanting to risk a safe second place, Afanasyev slotted in behind Vernay. Not giving up though, Afanasyev gave chase right until the chequered flag, taking the best result of his TCR career and a well-deserved second place up from P15. Nash was not far behind and had managed another brilliant race, going from P13 to P4. Along with his race one podium, this has allowed him to shoot up into third in the drivers’ championship. Oriola is just ahead in second place, while Afanasyev retains his seventh place spot.
Race Two Quotes
James Nash, Driver #54
“Race two was really wet and difficult to control. I don’t know where I made the places up but I assume it was people on slicks coming into the pits to change tyres. It was then just about maintaining my position after the first corner and keeping it going.”
Pepe Oriola, Driver #74
Sergey Afanasyev, Driver #77
“The team made a decision to break Parc Ferme and get the car fully prepared for race two, even though I would have to start at the back. This was the right decision and allowed me to push for a good result. I managed to get into the lead where there was a short fight but I decided to not take the risk and collect as many points as possible.”
Richard Coleman, CEO of Craft-Bamboo Racing
“We are pleased to get some results here in difficult conditions, but we are concerned with some reliability issues with the car and we will be supporting SEAT in making the required improvements. The next round in Oschersleben will suit the Golf and the Honda, so the focus will be on minimising the damage there before heading to a happy circuit for us in Sochi.”