Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has extended their lead in both the drivers’ and teams’ championship at the historic Italian circuit of Imola. After scoring P2 in race one and P5 in race two, Pepe Oriola now leads the drivers’ championship by 15 points; an incredible feat considering his 20kg weight penalty. James Nash was looking like he would be a strong competitor this weekend but after suffering contact and an engine issue in race one, the #54 driver had to retire. With very little time between races, the team could not repair the car and Nash was unable to compete in race two, leaving him fourth in the championship. Sergey Afanasyev had a great race one, charging through the field to claim P4 as well as a good haul of points. Starting P3 on the grid for race two, Afanasyev was in line for a top result but a broken drive-shaft on the grid forced him to be pushed back into the pits and out of the race. The #77 driver is now P7 in the standings and thanks to their results this weekend Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has extended their lead in the teams’ championship to 239 points.
The lights flashed green and Pepe Oriola got off the line in P2 but was nudged down into P4 as he entered the first corner. Teammate Sergey Afanasyev made a good start and was able to take two places as he began his race one charge.
James Nash was fighting to gain positions from P11 and he began climbing up the order by the end of the first lap and into P10. “We had some temperature warnings inside the car during the first race and ultimately a lack of pace and engine speed,” said Nash. “The engine is gone and there isn’t enough time to get it fixed before race two. Usually the SEAT engine is very reliable and the manufacturer is looking into it for us. Obviously I am very disappointed about the lack of points this weekend but we will be ready to fight back at the Salzburgring.”
From the start of lap two, Oriola was determined to regain positions and was all over the tail of P3, while Afanasyev was all over the back of P5. Unfortunately for Nash, contact caused a great deal of damage to the rear of his car, which began to immediately halt his progress. By lap five though, an engine management issue caused the #54 car to lose pace and eventually force Nash into the pits and out of the race. Further contact between two Hondas on lap five allowed both Oriola and Afanasyev to gain a position, with the Spaniard now in P3 and the Russian in P5.
James Nash was unable to make the start of race two, with the engine issue unable to be resolved before the start. Sergey Afanasyev was looking like he would be in for a good result after lining up P3 on the grid, but a broken driveshaft on the warm up lap ruled him out of the race.
Thanks to the reverse grid Pepe Oriola started in P8 and he was determined to continue with the great pace and performance that had been seen in race one. Race two got underway and Oriola was off to a great start, taking two positions before the end of the first lap. Oriola continued with his run up the field and on lap three capitalized on the battles ahead to sneak past his 2015 rival, Stefano Comini, into P5. Carrying this momentum through the next few corners, Oriola was able to hold the inside line and snatch P4 from, Atilla Tassi. Continuing his push for the next couple of laps, Oriola began to close in on the leaders and began to line up his next move. The Spanish driver made another overtaking move down the inside at Rivazza to claim P3 by the end of lap five in an incredible display of driving.
Oriola was looking incredibly strong but was unable to defend P3 at the end of lap 11. The extra ballast greatly affected his performance towards the end of the race, pushing his brakes and tyres to the limit at the hilly Imola circuit. Oriola did everything to reclaim his position, battling down the straight with every ounce of talent. Unfortunately, another competitor was able to capitalize on this fight and crept past him at the first chicane. He remained pinned to the tail of P4 for the final two laps, but the extra weight penalty just kept him out of reach. Oriola’s fifth place finish still provided him with a good amount of points and combined with his race one podium, he now leads the drivers ‘championship by 15 points.
Speaking after the race Pepe was understandably disappointed: “A little bit disappointed with the race two result as I lost my podium position and a lot more points but still really lucky because I wasn’t involved in any incidents and I was able to finish both races. I am now leading with 15 points and I hope to do well at the Salzburgring, so my championship is going the right way.”