Despite two fighting drives that netted two runners up finishes in the sixth and penultimate round of TCR Italy last weekend, V-Action Racing Alfa Romeo Giulietta driver Luigi Ferrara still saw his title hopes evaporate into the realms of mathematics.
Ferrara led this year's championship from the start and was in the hunt all season; however over recent races his hopes have taken a tumble and although he picked up plenty of points last weekend in Vallelunga the championship leader Salvatore Tavano (SEAT Motorsport Italia Cupra) matched them.
Prior to the event getting underway Team Mulsanne, the official team which runs the Romeo Ferraris-developed Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR in the FIA World Touring Car Cup announced that they would run their new signing Kevin Ceccon at Vallelunga.
Ceccon, who replaced Gianni Morbidelli at Team Mulsanne for the last World Touring Car Cup round, would be handed the task of helping Ferrara in the last gasp fight for the title. Ferrara was lying third in the standings going into Vallelunga, having won three races in the Giulietta run by V-Action Racing Team during the year.
Michela Cerruti, Romeo Ferraris Operations Manager said before the race: “I am confident that Kevin and Gigi will be in a position to exploit the whole potential of our Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR, and the Romeo Ferraris' staff will be at Vallelunga to give full support to our customer teams. For Kevin, it will be useful to be back at the wheel of the car two months after his debut in WTCR at the Slovakiaring, while Gigi is ready to defend his title chances in the final part of the championship.”
In qualifying it was César Machado however who claimed his first pole position in TCR Italy at the wheel of his Target Competition Honda Civic FK2.
In a thrilling qualifying session four different drivers alternated on top of the timesheet until the Portuguese clocked the fastest lap of 1:40.070 five minutes before the end of the session. This demoted Ceccon to second place as the young Italian had previously posted a provisional fastest lap of 1:40.097.
After topping the list for a while with a lap of 1:40.381, Eric Scalvini qualified third in the BRC Racing Hyundai i30 N, improving twice in the final moments to 1:40.252 and 1:40.126.
Another provisional fastest lap setter, Ferrara, ranked fourth (1:40.264) followed by the championship points leader Tavano (1:40.475) and the Pit Lane Competizioni Audi RS3 LMS of Enrico Bettera (1:40.603).
Nicola Baldan (M1RA Hyundai) and Massimiliano Mugelli (MM Motorsport Honda Civic FK7) qualified in seventh and eighth respectively, immediately ahead of Giovanni Altoè (Pit Lane Audi) who topped the DSG Trophy. Federico Paolino (BRC Racing Hyundai) rounded off the top ten, while there was good news for Ferrera as Tavano’s teammate Matteo Greco, who second in the championship standings, qualified 11th in his Cupra DSG. The session was disrupted by the red flag after a few minutes, when Andrea Larini crashed at T13.
Machado converted his pole position to a lights-to-flag victory, the maiden one for him in TCR Italy as he took command at the start and never looked back. For the whole race he was chased by Ferrara and Scalvini who eventually filled the other podium positions.
The second place helped Ferrara to cut a useful 11 points off Salvatore Tavano’s leading margin in the standings. However, Tavano still had an advantage of 29.5 points and by finishing seventh due to the reverse grid he would start the final race of the weekend from the front row.
Machado took a perfect start from the pole, while Ceccon from second on the grid dropped behind Ferrara and Scalvini. The Safety Car was deployed twice, once from lap 3 to 5 to recover Gunter Benninger’s Cupra stranded at the Cimini bend and then again from lap 7 to 10 when Marco Pellegrini’s Hyundai lost a front wheel and stopped along the track.
The race resumed with only four minutes left on the clock. With the first three positions frozen, attention shifted on the fight for fourth between Ceccon and Baldan. On the last lap Enrico Bettera benefited from the situation and overtook Baldan to finish fifth behind Ceccon. Meanwhile Altoè’s was classified tenth and won the DSG Trophy.
With an authoritative victory in Race 2, Tavano staked an overwhelming claim on the TCR Italy title and despite Ferrara putting in a good drive to finish second Tavano’s leading margin in the standings stretches out to 35.5 points (31.5 considering the state of play with drop scores at the present time) with a total of 43 points on offer from the final event to be held at Monza next month.
The weekend’s second race saw a number of front-runners hitting trouble with their front tyres during the second half of the race and the final results rewarded those who had a consistent pace, like Paolino, third, and Altoè, who won the DSG Trophy after finishing fourth overall.
Tavano made the difference from the start, when he sprinted from the second spot on the top-eight reverse grid to take the lead from the pole sitter Mugelli. Behind them Baldan was chased by Scalvini, Bettera, Ferrara and the previous day’s Race 1 winner Machado.
Baldan and Ferrara seemed especially determined to attack Mugelli and Bettera, but the first driver who ran into troubles was Scalvini who pitted with a flat front-right.
On lap 4, Ferrara managed to overtake Bettera for fifth and began putting the pressure on Mugelli and Baldan. On lap 6, Mugelli retired with a broken driveshaft.
The fight between Baldan and Ferrara became red-hot; the latter was also given a warning flag after he repeatedly knocked on Baldan’s rear bumper. On lap 8, Machado, Bettera, the DSG leader Greco and Ceccon joined the Baldan-Ferrara duo. On lap 10, both Greco and Bettera went off after making contact, only Greco was able to rejoin, but he lost the lead in the DSG Trophy to Altoè.
On lap 11, Ceccon hit Machado pushing him sideways and moving up to fourth, however, the Ceccon retired with a flat front tyre soon afterwards. On lap 12, Ferrara overtook Baldan for second, immediately before the reigning champion stopped his car alongside the track with a flat front tyre; Machado retired too from fourth.
In the final laps, Ferrara pushed hard and cut off Tavano’s leading margin by 1.5 seconds per lap, but it was too late and he never got close enough to try an overtaking manoeuvre.
Photos: TCR Italy - Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR