The opening round of the 2019 TCR Asia Series saw some outstanding action across both races, the highlight of which was the much anticipated battle between the experienced Pepe Oriola, and reigning champion Luca Engstler - the nine-time TCR winner at the highest level versus the rising star of the sport who despite his young age, is already a multiple TCR champion.
Frustratingly for Oriola, his debut with the Korean-based Solite Indigo Racing team didn’t immediately deliver, the team taking some time to settle into their TCR Asia Series groove, whilst their rival Hyundai team - Liqui Moly Team Engstler [LMTE] - picked up where they’d left off at the close of the 2018 season; on top!
Qualifying saw the Engstler team claim the top two spots for the opening race, with Oriola putting in a desperate last lap in Q2 to claim third, but a full second slower than Engstler who only recently had claimed the inaugural TCR Malaysia title with five wins from six starts at Sepang.
Race one was all about Engstler, whilst team-mate Theo Coicaud became bogged down on the line ahead of a charge back through the field to second, with Diego Moran holding out Oriola for third, whilst in race two Engstler and Oriola put in some great driving throughout the opening laps before Engstler was ultimately forced off at turn one, all the while allowing Diego Moran to break free at the front. The Ecuadorian claiming his second win on the Malaysian circuit.
Not surprisingly Luca Engstler put his TCR Malaysia experience to good use, taking the top spot in the opening leg of official practice with a 2:16.5 to be four-tenths clear of Liqui Moly Team Engstler team-mate Theo Coicaud. Reigning TCR China champion Alex Hui was next quickest in the TeamWork Motorsport Audi ahead of Oriola who was visibly muscling the #74 Hyundai around the circuit trying to extract the kind of pace that the Engstler cars had at hand.
Practice two saw the emergence of Diego Moran as an outright challenger, the former Sepang winner making the most of his Malaysian experience to stop the clocks in the warmer afternoon session clear of the top three pace-setters from P1.
The biggest setback in practice came for the second of the Eurasia Hyundai drivers, a technical issue with the #30 car sending Gao Hua Yang into the barriers at turn one early in opening practice, the team working feverishly across the remainder of Friday’s sessions and well into Saturday morning to have the car ready to go for qualifying.
By opening qualifying the big question was by how much Luca Engstler would raise the bar over his rivals - the answer in the opening leg being six tenths of a second over team-mate Coicaud, who had Diego Moran and Alex Hui breathing down his neck mere hundredths of a second behind.
With the top 12 progressing to Q2, all eyes were on the lap record, a time set by Luca Engstler’s 2018 TCR Asia title rival Mitchell Cheah during the final event of TCR Malaysia in February - 2:15.712.
From the outset it was clear the two LMTE Hyundai’s would be the ones to beat, Luca Engstler further cementing that view with a stunning 2:15.727 to fall an agonising 15 one thousandths of a second shy of Cheah’s record, but comfortably clear of team-mate Coicaud’s 2:16.111.
Behind the two Engstler Hyundais the Solite Indigo team found some valuable pace for Pepe Oriola to give the Spaniard the third fastest time, although the void to pole-sitter Engstler was almost a second leaving the Korean team with plenty to do ahead of the opening race.
Diego Moran showed again that he would be in the mix, having held third for much of the session before a last lap all-in effort by Oriola dropped the Ecuadorian to fourth, Oriola just two one hundredths faster, whilst reigning TCR Thailand champion Jakraphan Davee put his bright yellow Cupra TCR on the inside of the fifth row ahead of TCR China champion Alex Hui.
Kim Jin Soo was an impressive seventh in the second of the Solite Indigo Hyundai’s, alongside Sepang Circuit Talent Development Program graduate Adam Khalid in the second of the Oettinger Volkswagens, the young Malaysian gaining plenty of value from team-mate Moran.
Eurasia Motorsport’s Daniel Miranda was next, the young Filipino unable to translate his strong opening session qualifying time into a higher starting position after a technical issue sidelined the car towards the end of Q1, the team recovering the #20 Hyundai to locate the issue and send Miranda back out for a solitary flying lap. The silver-lining though to his lower grid position for race one, was his starting position for race two, with the reverse top ten grid..
Oettinger Volkswagen’s Roland Hertner led the TCR Asia Cup field with tenth on the grid, his result also landing him pole for the start of race two, whilst local hero Douglas Khoo was unable to find his TCR Malaysia form - form which saw him out-qualifying Luca Engstler for the final event - giving the Cupra TCR driver an eleventh placed starting position clear of 2015 TCR Asia Series champion Michael Choi, David Lau, Gao Hua Yang and Kenneth Lau.
The two Engstler Hyundais had locked out the front row for the season-opening standing start, but whilst Luca Engstler fired off the line from pole position, Theo Coicaud sat stationary, hoping that the field behind him would find their way past whilst he found a gear and got mobile. Fortunately everyone was able to avoid the #27 Hyundai, but by the time the Frenchman had forward momentum, the bulk of the field had already gone past.
That left Engstler with breathing room to drive comfortably down to turn one with the lead, a lead that he would hold for the full 11-lap race distance.
Behind him Diego Moran also had a blinding start, only to be faced with the stationary Hyundai of Coicaud in front of him, the Volkswagen driver staying in the throttle but steering left around the outside of the Frenchman to emerge side-by-side with Oriola’s Hyundai, the pair holding station with the Spaniard on the inside into turn one, Moran though holding firm to have the inside for turn two.
Further back Kim Jin Soo and Jakraphan Davee followed the leaders into turn one side-by-side, the Korean with the early advantage before running deep into turn two to let the Thai driver through to fourth.
With Engstler away at the front, the focus was on the battle for second between Oriola and Moran which carried on down to turn four, the experienced Spanish star with the inside for the hard right-hander, allowing him to close Moran out on the exit, but the determined Ecuadorian driver was not to be denied, diving down the inside at the final corner to take back the position, although with Oriola locked to his outside as they ran down the main straight.
Fortunately for Moran his drive off the final corner gave him the momentum to out-drag Oriola down to turn one, the Spaniard then under fire from Davee and Theo Coicaud who had incredibly made up six positions on the opening lap after his difficult start.
Up front, Engstler was doing what he’d done so many times in the past - setting one fastest lap after another to break the back of the chasing pack and give himself a comfortable buffer to his rivals. Ultimately the best of those was his LMTE team-mate Coicaud who put in arguably the best drive of his career to work his way past first Davee, then Oriola and ultimately Moran to claim second at the flag.
Moran crossed the line comfortably third more than four seconds clear of Oriola, with Davee fifth. Daniel Miranda drove a great race to cross the line sixth, just clear of Adam Khalid with Kim Jin Soo not far behind.
Douglas Khoo held on for top honours in the TCR Asia Cup points after an early pit stop by Oettinger Volkswagen driver Roland Hertner saw him lose a lap in pit lane, elevating Gao Hua Yang and Michael Choi to the podium.
Sadly for TeamWork Motorsport they suffered a technical failure with Alex Hui ahead of the start, which left him unable to make the grid in the #11 Audi, whilst team-mate David Lau suffered an early spin which saw him tagged by Kenneth Lau forcing both into early retirement, a Safety Car intervention following to recover the second of the Audis.
Roland Hertner held pole position for the reverse-grid (top ten) second race with Eurasia’s Daniel Miranda alongside, whilst the opening race front runners would start from rows four and five with a big job ahead of them.
Despite his rookie status, Miranda got off the line like a seasoned professional, immediately jumping to the race lead as behind him pole-sitter Hertner just held on to second place as Alex Hui jumped through to third on the outside of the Volkswagen driver.
The typically challenging Sepang circuit caught out Kim Jin Soo in the Solite Indigo Hyundai as he ran three wide into turn two alongside the two Oettinger Volkswagens of Khalid and Moran, the Hyundai left stranded sideways across the circuit, whilst up front, the apex of turn two saw contact between the fast starting Alex Hui and Roland Hertner. The pole-sitting German sadly came off second best, in the process forcing Theo Coicaud out into the weeds on the exit of the corner and well back down the order.
By turn four Miranda was comfortably clear from Diego Moran - who had avoided the melee at turn two - Alex Hui, Oriola, Engstler and Adam Khalid who had recovered from his contact with Kim at turn one.
Under pressure from Oriola, Hui locked a wheel going into turn 14 allowing the Spaniard to get the run on him down to the final corner, Hui looking to the outside as they hit the brake marker allowing Luca Engstler down the inside and into position four.
That then laid the foundations for the very scenario that many were anticipating pre-season - a battle between reigning champion Luca Engstler and the experienced Pepe Oriola.
Oriola was again hustling the Solite Indigo Hyundai around the circuit. He was very quick through the second sector of the lap, Engstler though was very quick through the final sector allowing him to attack the Spaniard at the end of the main straight, which he did to start lap three, diving deep under brakes as Oriola came across to the apex, the pair making contact which forced Oriola sideways, but he kept in the throttle and powered out of the corner to retain his advantage.
The following lap was very much deja-vu, Oriola going in wide only for Engstler to dive up the inside very late under brakes, the two making contact once more which sent Oriola sideways again, all the while Alex Hui sat just off their tail waiting for it to all fall into his lap.
Whilst all this was going on, Diego Moran had closed onto the tail of race leader Daniel Miranda who was putting in an exceptionally mature drive to have all but the Volkswagen driver well in his wake, but by lap five he couldn’t keep Moran at bay any longer, the #23 Oettinger entry taking the inside line and the race lead down at turn four as behind them the battle for the final podium position continued.
By this stage the fight between the two Hyundais had become a four-way battle with Theo Coicaud again displaying incredible speed to work his way back from the opening lap drama to be past Hui for fifth by the final corner, the two drivers though making heavy contact at the apex forcing Hui into pit lane, and Coicaud well back behind the leaders.
The drama continued at turn one, with Oriola continuing to drive an inside line down the main straight to keep Engstler at bay, the German jumping out as they approached the turn one brake marker to pull alongside, Oriola countering to move slightly wider, the two of them making contact as Engstler started to move back across towards the turn one apex, spinning the Liqui Moly Hyundai backwards into the gravel trap and retirement.
Fortunately Oriola was able to carry on without too much damage, but the field had effectively been set, the big mover once more - the recovering Theo Coicaud who worked his way back through the pack over the closing laps to be fourth at the flag.
Up front though no-one could deny Diego Moran the win, his second at Sepang in TCR Asia, the Ecuadorian driver moving into the championship points lead with his two podium finishes, the Volkswagen driver leading Daniel Miranda to the line, the young Filipino comfortably holding out Pepe Oriola to the line.
Coicaud crossed the line fourth from Jakraphan Davee and Adam Khalid, whilst Douglas Khoo was an impressive seventh taking maximum points once more in the TCR Asia Cup.
Kim Jin Soo recovered from the opening lap contact to be eighth ahead of Roland Hertner, Gao Hua Yang, Michael Choi and David Lau.
Sadly for Alex Hui, the contact with Theo Coicaud ultimately saw him retire the #11 TeamWork Motorsport Audi, whilst Luca Ensgtler finished the second race in the turn one gravel trap.
Keep up to date with the 2019 TCR Asia Series through the Series website - www.asia.tcr-series.com - through Facebook; www.facebook.com/TCRAsiaSeries and get involved in the conversation on www.twitter.com/TCRAsiaSeries
What the drivers had to say:
1. Luca Engstler (#1 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR)
[RACE 1] “The start was amazing, I saw that I could build a small gap and that worked well, but then the Safety Car came. I thought I would do the same after that, but I could see Diego pushing hard, however I was able to establish the gap again and hold it to the flag.”
1. Diego Moran (#23 Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR)
[RACE 2] “I had a good start and took advantage of the contact at the first corner, then I had clean air that allowed me to close on Miranda. I also took care of my tyres to give me a chance to attack later, and after that I just conserved to the finish. It has been a great start to the season, I can’t thank the team enough.”
2. Theo Coicaud (#27 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR)
[RACE 1] “I had a small issue at the start, the hand brake stayed on and I lost a lot of positions. After that I was just pushing as hard as I could and in the end I made it to second place.”
2. Daniel Miranda (#20 Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30 N TCR)
[RACE 2] “This was my first race in TCR, so a big step in my career. Overnight the team did a great job transforming the car, so today I had a good start, kept calm and finished the race on the podium.”
3. Pepe Oriola (#74 Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR)
[RACE 2] “Like yesterday, we didn’t have the straight line speed, so I just used my experience and put myself in defence mode on the straights, so if you want to pass me, you have to work really hard. He [Engstler] put himself out in the first corner - from the outside he tried to squeeze me on the inside and we made contact. I’m sorry for him but there was nothing I could do. I’m happy to get the podium for the team and thankful for Hyundai to have me here, because it was a challenge that was harder than I expected.”
DNF. Luca Engstler (#1 Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR)
[RACE 2] “I saw that I was faster than the car in front of me but he did a good job in blocking. I tried different things, tried to jump in on the inside and then out and he directly closed the door and we had contact. Then I knew I had to keep going because my goal is always to win the race, I am not here to finish fourth or third. So I tried another time, the car was a bit light under braking, we touched and then I spun. But that is racing - of course I learn. It’s still a long way for me, still a lot to learn. There is still four race weekends to go and at the moment I am just looking forward to Zhuhai. I’d be happier if I can jump on the plane now and go to Zhuhai and clean my mistake but that’s it, we will see.”
1. Douglas Khoo (#65 Viper Niza Racing Cupra TCR) - 1st TCR Asia Cup
[RACE 2] “Turn one there was a bit of a skirmish but I managed to avoid people which was good, then I had some good fights mid pack, but overall I’m very happy with the weekend.”
Sepang International Circuit, Malaysia
Round#1/2 - 2019 TCR Asia Series (5-7 April, 2019)
Qualifying#1 (6 April, 2019)
1. 1. Luca Engstler - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:16.179
2. 27. Theo Coicaud - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:16.769
3. 23. Diego Moran - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR - 2:16.840
4. 11. Alex Hui - TeamWork Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 2:16.956
5. 20. Daniel Miranda - Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:17.343
6. 74. Pepe Oriola - Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:17.881
7. 97. Kim Jin Soo - Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:17.896
8. 4. Adam Khalid - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR - 2:17.941
9. 33. Jakraphan Davee - Alpha Factory by Pulzar Cupra TCR - 2:17.974
10. 3. Roland Hertner - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR# - 2:18.394
11. 65. Douglas Khoo - Viper Niza Racing Cupra TCR# - 2:19.147
12. 7. Michael Choi - Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR - 2:19.710
13. 36. David Lau - TeamWork Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 2:20.869
14 30. Gao Hua Yang - Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:20.918
15. 2. Kenneth Lau - Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR - 2:21.214
#TCR Asia Cup
Qualifying#2 (6 April, 2019)
1. 1. Luca Engstler - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:15.727
2. 27. Theo Coicaud - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:16.111
3. 74. Pepe Oriola - Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:16.709
4. 23. Diego Moran - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR - 2:16.729
5. 33. Jakraphan Davee - Alpha Factory by Pulzar Cupra TCR - 2:16.919
6. 11. Alex Hui - TeamWork Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 2:17.019
7. 97. Kim Jin Soo - Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:17.632
8. 4. Adam Khalid - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR - 2:17.633
9. 20. Daniel Miranda - Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30 N TCR - 2:18.151
10. 3. Roland Hertner - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR# - 2:18.715
11. 65. Douglas Khoo - Viper Niza Racing Cupra TCR# - 2:19.377
12. 7. Michael Choi - Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR - 2:19.402
#TCR Asia Cup
Round#1 (6 April, 2019)
1. 1. Luca Engstler - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR - 11-laps
2. 27. Theo Coicaud - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR +4.658
3. 23. Diego Moran - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR +6.168
4. 74. Pepe Oriola - Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR +10.714
5. 33. Jakraphan Davee - Alpha Factory by Pulzar Cupra TCR +15.852
6. 20. Daniel Miranda - Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30 N TCR +17.837
7. 4. Adam Khalid - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR +17.956
8. 97. Kim Jin Soo - Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR +19.846
9. 65. Douglas Khoo - Viper Niza Racing Cupra TCR +30.517
10. 30. Gao Hua Yang - Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30 N TCR +36.105
11. 7. Michael Choi - Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR +36.622
12. 3. Roland Hertner - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR# - 10-laps
DNF. 36. David Lau - TeamWork Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR# - 1-lap
DNF. 2. Kenneth Lau - Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR - 1-laps
DNF. 11. Alex Hui - TeamWork Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 0-laps
#TCR Asia Cup
Round#2 (7 April, 2019)
1. 23. Diego Moran - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR
2. 20. Daniel Miranda - Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30 N TCR +3.516
3. 74. Pepe Oriola - Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR +12.167
4. 27. Theo Coicaud - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR +17.410
5. 33. Jakraphan Davee - Alpha Factory by Pulzar Cupra TCR +22.130
6. 4. Adam Khalid - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR +22.616
7. 65. Douglas Khoo - Viper Niza Racing Cupra TCR +30.695
8. 97. Kim Jin Soo - Solite Indigo Racing Hyundai i30 N TCR +31.107
9. 3. Roland Hertner - Volkswagen Team Oettinger Golf GTi TCR# +41.592
10. 30. Gao Hua Yang - Eurasia Motorsport Hyundai i30 N TCR +46.693
11. 7. Michael Choi - Prince Racing Honda Civic FK7 TCR +46.932
12. 36. David Lau - TeamWork Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR# +1:08.566
DNF. 1. Luca Engstler - Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30 N TCR - 6-laps
DNF. 11. Alex Hui - TeamWork Motorsport Audi RS3 LMS TCR - 6-laps
#TCR Asia Cup
TCR Asia Series - Driver’s Championship points (after two rounds of ten)
1. Diego Moran (42-points), 2. Theo Coicaud (34), 3. Luca Engstler (30), 3. Pepe Oriola (30), 5. Daniel Miranda (26), 6. Jakraphan Davee (21), 7. Adam Khalid (14), 8. Douglas Khoo (8), 8. Kim Jin Soo (8), 10. Roland Hertner (2), 10. Gao Hua Yang (2), 12. Michael Choi (0), 12. David Lau (0), 12. Kenneth Lau (0), 12. Alex Hui (0)
TCR Asia Series - Cup Driver’s Championship points (after two rounds of ten)
1. Douglas Khoo (54-points), 2. Roland Hertner (41), 3. David Lau (15), 4. Kenneth Lau (0)
TCR Asia Series - Asian Drivers’ Classification points (after two rounds of ten)
1. Jakraphan Davee (48-points), 2. Daniel Miranda (44), 3. Adam Khalid (32), 4. Kim Jin Soo (25), 5. Douglas Khoo (22), 6. Gao Hua Yang (16), 7. Michael Choi (12), 8. David Lau (4), 8. Alex Hui (4)
TCR Asia Series - Team’s Championship points (after two rounds of ten)
1. Liqui Moly Team Engstler (64-points), 2. Volkswagen Team Oettinger (56), 3. Solite Indigo Racing (38), 4. Eurasia Motorsport (29), 5. Alpha Factory Racing Team by Pulzar (21), 6. Viper Niza Racing (8), 7. Prince Racing (1), 8. TeamWork Motorsport (0)
TCR Asia Series - Car Model of the Year Championship points (after two rounds of ten)
1. Hyundai (85-points), 2. Volkswagen (63), 3. Cupra (42), 4. Honda (12), 5. Audi (5)