Craft-Bamboo Lukoil have secured the TCR Teams’ Championship title with one round left to go in the 2016 season after another incredible double podium weekend in Sepang, Malaysia. James Nash scored a third and second place podium to help him retain his lead in the Drivers’ Championship and give him a 17-point margin over second place as he heads into Macau with the hopes of claiming the title.
Pepe Oriola finished P4, just behind Nash in race one to help keep his championship fight alive, but after some unfortunate contact at the end of race two, he was dropped out of the points but still retains his third place position in the standings. Sergey Afanasyev had a consistent weekend of points and was instrumental in helping the team to secure the Teams’ Championship with his P9 finish in race one and P7 finish in race two.
All the hard work that the team and the drivers have put into this season has paid off early and it is a great honour to be able to be crowned the 2016 TCR International Series’ Teams’ Champions. Craft-Bamboo Lukoil are now focused on taking the Drivers’ Championship in Macau in November with James Nash and Pepe Oriola.
Oriola did not have the best start off the line and fought to defend his second place position but was squeezed to the outside and dropped a few places back. Nash had made another strong start from P8 and managed to catch Oriola and make a great overtaking move around the outside before the pair traded places once again.
Thanks to an incident on the first lap, the safety car was called out while Davit Kajaia’s car was removed. Now behind the safety car, it was Oriola P5, Nash P6 and Afanasyev in P10, who had managed to make up a couple of places during the first lap chaos. The race restarted on lap four and Oriola and Nash got stuck in, fighting a clean but intense battle with each other. It was on lap five where Nash was able to get ahead of his teammate with a move around the outside to gain P4, while Oriola slipped back behind him in P5.
The pair continued to trade blows but kept it clean as they raced towards the chequered flag. Nash and Oriola were making progress up the field, now in P3 and P4 respectively with seven minutes remaining. Afanasyev had been driving a solid race, moving into P9 and beginning to close in on, Kevin Gleason. As the time ticked towards zero, Nash and Oriola continued their fight, seemingly attached by a rubber band.
The teammates never stopped, with Nash providing expert defence throughout the entire race, keeping Oriola’s advances at bay until the flag fell. Nash crossed the line in P3 for his tenth podium of the season, with Oriola just behind in P4. This gave the pair a great chunk of points for their Drivers’ Championship campaign. Afanasyev had run a solid race, making up several positions and finishing in P9, to pick up some points for Craft-Bamboo Lukoil’s Teams’ Championship.
“I had a few problems with my brakes during the race and so it was tough going,” said Nash. “If I’m honest, I didn’t think going from eighth to third was possible as I had a lot of good guys around me, so I had to make a few brave moves. Oriola had a few contacts during the race, which made life easier for me. We had a discussion in Qualifying about whether I should go out again or to stay where I was and the strategy worked well.”
It was a dramatic start to the second race, with one of the competitors spreading oil on the first three grid boxes on the right hand side of the track during the warm up lap. This caused the start to be aborted and forced the race to begin under the safety car on lap two.
Nash began his challenge in P3 and gave chase to the Hondas ahead, piling on the pressure and doing his all to find a way past. In the ensuing battle, Nash lost a position to Stefano Comini and was now in P4 on the fourth lap. Oriola was stuck behind Mikhail Grachev in P9, unable to squeeze by and preventing the Spaniard from making any progress. Afanasyev had a tough few opening laps and was running in P14 but was still firmly in the fight and on the pace. Towards the end of lap four, Comini hit Tin Sritrai who was in the lead, a move which Comini would later receive a 30 second penalty for.
On lap five, it was Nash in P3, Oriola in P8 after taking Grachev and Afanasyev in P14. Oriola was making great strides up the order and had taken an incredible three places on lap six, showing great speed and skill in the process. An incident between the two Hondas on lap six brought out the safety car for the start of lap seven. The race restarted on lap eight and Nash was looking strong in P3, Oriola continued to make progress in P6 and Afanasyev had moved up into P11. Oriola was focused on doing everything he could to carve his way through the field, and with only two laps left the Spaniard became more aggressive with his challenges.
On the final lap, Oriola was locked in an intense fight with Mat’o Homola and the pair made contact on multiple occasions, ultimately forcing Oriola off the track and out of the points, finishing the race in P14. Once again it was Nash who fought a clean and calculated race to take P2 and his second podium of the weekend.
Not only did this secure his lead in the Drivers’ Championship with 262 points, a lead of 17 points over second place Comini, but it allowed Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil to claim the Teams’ Championship title. Undoubtedly, Afanasyev and his fantastic march from P12 to P7 was essential to the team being able to claim the championship with one round still to go in Macau.
Richard Coleman, CEO of Craft-Bamboo Racing: “I am proud and humbled by the efforts of all our team, drivers and partners to have secured the Teams title with a round to spare. A huge reward for the hard work and commitment of everyone in the entire company. This weekend worked out very well for James and not so well for Pepe in the drivers’ standings, but Macau is Macau and anything can happen.”