Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil dominated the TCR International Series opener in Bahrain, where the trio took pole position and won both races in commanding fashion. This firmly puts the team in the lead of both the Drivers’ and Teams’ championships after only the first round of the season. Sergey Afanasyev claimed his first pole position of his TCR career with a stunning qualifying lap on Saturday. However, it was undoubtedly Pepe Oriola who was the man of the weekend, taking victory in both races, which has given him a big lead in the drivers’ championship. While it was James Nash’s first TCR International Series weekend, that didn’t stop him from taking a double podium; scoring P3 in race one before taking P2 for the final race. This remarkable start to the season sees Nash currently second in the drivers’ championship behind Oriola, while Afanasyev is joint third after taking P4 and P5 over the weekend.
As the lights went out for the first time in Bahrain, Nash made a lightning start from P3 to pass his teammate, Afanasyev, who was on pole. Oriola also made a quick start as he drove out wide in an attempt to get alongside Afanasyev. It was a fantastic battle between teammates throughout the entire first lap. “It’s definitely a good result for the team and also for me,” said James Nash. “My race was good and it’s nice to be immediately competitive on my return to touring car racing. Maybe we fought a little bit too hard with Pepe, but the important thing is that we brought home an excellent result. I really look forward to this championship and to working with my team.”
Nash was up front, fending off a fast charging Oriola, while Afanasyev was still firmly in the battle and giving chase in P3. The jostling continued onto the third lap and Oriola had managed to squeeze past Nash into P1, but the British driver showed no signs of giving up, remaining pinned to the back of him. Afanasyev was starting to feel the pressure from Gianni Morbidelli and after showing off some great defensive moves was unable to stop him down the straight. Over the coming laps, it was a fierce battle between front runner Oriola and teammate Nash, who managed to keep the gap down to half a second until the closing couple of laps. While Nash was battling with Oriola, Morbidelli was able to close in on the pair and challenge Nash with several attempts to overtake. By lap nine, Nash had done all he could and Morbidelli managed to squeeze by. The scrap between the pair was good news for Oriola, who by now, had stretched out a magnificent lead at the head of the field. As the flag fell, Oriola crossed the line to take a commanding first victory of the season. In his first ever TCR race, Nash had proven that he will be one of 2016’s front runners with a solid P3. Right behind his teammate, Afanasyev closed out the Team Craft-Bamboo LUKOIL trio in P4 to finish off a spectacular start to 2016.
“It’s definitely a good way to start the season,” said Oriola. “It was a pretty good race for me, although not easy. I did only one mistake at the beginning, when I attacked James Nash too hard. Other than that, the only real trouble is that the tyres started to get consumed by mid race, which brought massive understeer. That allowed Gianni to close the gap a bit, but I managed to hold on. It is a really enjoyable experience to be racing here at Bahrain within the F1 Grand Prix, although it means less practice time.”
The reverse grid had Oriola starting in P5, Nash in P8 and Afanasyev in P10. Oriola and Nash shot off the line and charged towards the first corner, dashing down the inside of the competition. By the second lap, Oriola had muscled his way up five places into P3, while Nash followed in P4. Afanasyev had made a good start and took P9 after becoming caught in the first corner fray. From here, it was Oriola versus Nash and the pair continued to trade places before Oriola was able to firmly take P2, while Nash remained in P3. After a constant battle with the Hondas, Oriola snatched the lead by making an incredible manoeuvre around the outside of the first corner on lap eight. Nash saw his opportunity and completed his overtaking challenge on the Honda at the next corner, leading to a Team Craft-Bamboo LUKOIL one-two. Afanasyev was also making his way through the field and was able to take P5 by the race’s closing stages. Now out in front, the pair of Oriola and Nash pulled away from the competition and took a dominant one-two finish to close out a perfect weekend of results and secure the team’s place at the top of the leader boards.
“A fantastic weekend for the whole team, it was a challenging winter getting everything together,” said Craft-Bamboo Racing CEO Richard Coleman. “It is great to get off the board this way and I am really happy with how the drivers and the teams have performed with Sergey’s pole position, Pepe’s two race wins and James’ two podiums. It can’t really get much better than that, we know the competition will catch up and we will be working very hard before Estoril. For now though, we will be enjoying the trophies and the points. I also want to thank the entire team for their tremendous effort leading up to Bahrain and throughout the race weekend itself, great job.”