The Romeo Ferraris-built Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCRs endured an unrewarding last weekend at Zandvoort as the FIA World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) moved onto Holland last weekend for its third round of the year, the 'Race of the Netherlands', as accidents and mechanical troubles left Team Mulsanne empty handed.
Following a tough time at the previous round of WTCR, held at the Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany the weekend before, where the all-Italian machines continue to show flashes of promise but the efforts of its veteran drivers, Fabrizio Giovanardi and Gianni Morbidelli, once again went unrewarded, the team had been hoping for better fortunes as the series pitched up at Zandvoort.
“The WTCR round at the Nordschleife was something unique and so will be the next stop at Zandvoort as well,” said Romeo Ferraris’ Operations Manager Michela Cerruti in the run up to last weekend’s event in Holland. “We have understood that it is essential to adapt better to the Yokohama tyres used in the [WTCR], to which we were not used, especially in qualifying, in order to show the true potential of our cars.
She reflected on their lack of results in Germany. “In the race, Fabrizio and Gianni, who was racing on the Nordschleife for the first time, were able to cope with the many variables of the Green Hell, although the outcome was pretty [disappointing],” Cerruti said. “Fabrizio suffered a puncture while he was having a really good pace, while Gianni was the faultless victim of nasty accident, which luckily did not have serious consequences.”
The team was handed some good news as it headed from Germany to Zandvoort as the organisers allowed the them to change Morbidelli’s engine without penalty, an acction that was necessitated due to damage accrued in that accident at the Nordschleife.
Because Morbidelli was adjudged not to be at fault for the incident that led to his retirement in Germany, the panel of stewards sitting in Zandvoort agreed the engine changes could be made without the Italian driver essentially dropping to the back of the grid as is often the case.
That quick boost evaporated very quickly when the WTCR cars took to the track for the first time at Zandvoort last Friday as Morbidelli was forced to sit out the Free Practice 1 session due to a fault with the power steering on his Giulietta.
The ex-Formula One driver was unable to venture out onto track after the problem materialised ahead of the first running. “We had a problem with the powersteering so we couldn’t drive,” Morbidelli said.
“It’s a shame of course because to lose 30 minutes of practice means a lot but this is unfortunately part of the job," he continued. "But the team check everything and hopefully we’ll be ready for FP2." Meanwhile, his team mate Giovanardi didn't show much early pace and finished the first session down in P24.
In qualifying for Race 1 Morbidelli and Giovanardi wound up setting the sixteenth and twentieth fastest times, respectively, with four-tenths of a second separating the pair.
In the first race Morbidelli had a steady run and made up a few places in the end to finish P13. However there was disaster for Giovanardi as on lap 10 as he got on the grass during a battle with Zeng Motorsport’s Zsolt Zsabó.
The Italian driver ended up smashing into the wall on the outside of Hugenholtz and the Safety Car was immediately called out as the stricken white, red and green #88 Alfa Romeo was hauled away.
The final day, last Sunday, saw a massive crowd that the organisers put at around 110,000 fans – and which included Dutch F1 superstar Max Verstappen in its number – flooding into the circuit.
In Qualifying Q1 for Race 2 the Team Mulsanne drivers’ only managed to grab sixteenth and seventeenth place on the timesheets, the pair separated by just a tenth of a second, with Giovanardi just getting ahead of Morbidelli this time.
Come the second of the event's three races and Morbidelli again chipped away a few places to finish P13 for the second time in two races, however – once again – Giovanardi was right in the wars and on lap 5 he was out on the spot after a big collision with the DG Sport Competition-run Peugeot 308 TCR driven by Frenchman Aurélien Panis.
The damage to Giovanardi’s Giulietta was deemed too excessive to be fixed in the short time gap before Race 3 went to the grid and that left Giovanardi as a spectator and Morbidelli as the only representative of Team Mulsanne in the action when the lights went green. It proved to be a damp squib ending to the weekend as Morbidelli eventually came home in P21, having completed fourteen laps, the Giulietta lapped by the race leaders.
The next WTCR round takes place in exactly a month's time at Portugal's Circuito Internacional de Vila Real. A demanding street circuit, Team Mulsanne will be hoping that they can capitalise on these characteristics that always rattle the form book to finally return home with a decent helping of championship points.
Photos: Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCR - FIA World Touring Car Cup 2018