It turned out to be a dismal return trip to Imola for Luigi Ferrara in the V-Action Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR as he saw his TCR Italy title hopes evaporating after scoring no points from either race and he has now slipped even further behind his key championship rival.
TCR Italy headed back to Imola's Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari (which had hosted the opening round of the season at the end of April) last weekend for the fifth of seven rounds this year.
On that occasion in April, Ferrara had won both races in the Giulietta TCR to open out a lead in the points classification, but by last weekend’s return trip following a mixed performance in recent races the V-Action driver had slipped down to second in the standings, 8.5 points behind Salvatore Tavano.
In the previous race meeting at Mugello, Ferrara lost a possible victory in Race 1 because of a brake failure and did not score in Race 2, while Tavano won the first race and finished third in the second at the wheel of his Cupra run by the SEAT Motorsport Italia team. Tavano's teammate Matteo Greco was lying third heading to Imola with a gap of 17 points.
The Alfa Romeo contingent would get a boost from two to three entries though as after winning the second race at Mugello with Edoardo Cappello, Otto Motorsport quickly entered a second Giulietta for Adriano Bernazzani.
In qualifying however it was Pit Lane Competizioni’s Enrico Bettera who used the superior top speed of his Audi RS3 LMS to outpace the championship contenders and the rest of the TCR Italy field and claim his first pole position.
The 30-minute qualifying session provided a thrilling duel between Bettera and Ferrara who ousted each other from the top of the timesheet several times. Eventually, Bettera posted the fastest lap of 1:52.311 with less than four minutes left on the clock and demoted Ferrara – whose best effort was 1:52.696 – to second.
Behind them there was a close battle for the other positions that saw Massimiliano Mugelli setting the third fastest lap of 1:52.964 in his MM Motorsport Honda Civic FK7 ahead of Federico Paolino who was clocked at 1:53.010 in the BRC Racing Hyundai i30 N.
Championship leader going into the event, Tavano, qualified the SEAT Motorsport Italia Cupra in fifth position (1:53.139) and was followed by the Otto Motorsport Giulietta of Cappello (1:53.325).
Nicola Baldan’s and Eric Scalvini’s Hyundai cars would both be missing for the rest of the weekend though after a dramatic incident that occurred during the qualifying session; Baldan broke a collarbone in the impact and Scalvini was excluded for causing the collision.
Bettera won TCR Italy’s first race at Imola in his Pit Lane Competizioni Audi RS3 LMS but for the whole race he was chasing Ferrara who had taken the lead at the start from second on the grid in the Giulietta.
The Audi driver was even able to clock the race’s fastest lap, but could not overtake Ferrara. However, the Alfa Romeo driver received a 25-second penalty for not respecting the safety car procedure and dropped out of the points.
Bettera thus inherited the victory – his maiden one in TCR Italy – while Mugelli and Tavano completed the podium. Luca Rangoni claimed fourth position in his first appearance at the wheel of the Top Run-built Subaru WRX STI.
At the start Ferrara sprinted ahead of Bettera, while Mugelli and Tavano quickly moved up to third and fourth. The race was disrupted twice by the safety car, once when the Honda Civic cars of Marco Pellegrini and Josè Rodrigues went off in two different corners and a second time when Paolino’s Hyundai crashed at the Tosa.
At the end of the first neutralisation, Ferrara dropped too far away behind the safety car, which earned him the penalty and he would be classified out of the points in P16. Bernazzani finished P14 on his TCR Italy debut in a Giulietta while the third Alfa Romeo in the race, Capello, retired.
Tavano further increased his leading margin in the standings to 20.5 points over Ferrara overnight with one race still to go at Imola the next day. However, it got worse for the Alfa Romeo driver as he was now only 3.5 points ahead of Tavano’s teammate Greco, who finished sixth and won the DSG Trophy.
Tavano made a brilliant start from sixth on the reverse grid, overtook his teammate Greco for the lead during the opening lap and led for the whole race, resisting the pressure of Rangoni who finished a surprising second in the Subaru. Greco completed the podium and encored his victory the day before in the “DSG Trophy”.
The race was disrupted twice by the Safety Car. The first time, from lap 5 to 8, after Bernazzani, in just his second start in the Alfa Romeo, spilled oil on the track and then, from lap 9 to 10, when Andrea Argenti’s Opel Astra went off at the Rivazza.
The race resumed for a final lap that was plenty of action, as the drivers behind the leading trio battled for the positions. Mugelli and Alfa Romeo driver Cappello clashed and went off, while Andrea Larini took advantage from the commotion to finish fourth ahead of Massimiliano Gagliano and the Race 1 winner Bettera.
Ferrara had another troubled race to cap a dismal weekend. The Alfa Romeo driver started from sixteenth on the grid and recovered up to sixth in three laps, but then had to pit to replace the front right tyre and rejoined in seventeenth position and recovered again to finish ninth.
However, he received a 5-second penalty for an infringement during the safety car period – for the second day in a row – and dropped out of the points. Ferrara would be classified in P15.
Capello in the only other surviving Alfa Romeo came home lapped in P18 after his earlier incident as the third Giulietta of Bernazzani retired during the early stages of the race.
Following the penalty that deprived him of a victory in Race 1, Ferrara has slipped to third in the standings, 40.5 points behind Tavano and 8.5 behind Greco as he sees his title hopes going up in smoke with just two rounds and four races remaining.
The TCR Italy championship will resume after the summer break at Vallelunga on 14-16 September 14 before the season ends in Monza on 5-7 October.
Photos: TCR Italy - Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR