Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil has reclaimed the TCR drivers’ championship lead with a remarkable one-two victory in race one that was then followed by a dominant win in race two, further adding to the team’s history of success at the Buriram Circuit. The fantastic results were made even more astounding by the fact that the team had to rebuild James Nash’s car overnight after a huge accident destroyed the rear of the car at the end of testing on Friday. The team rallied together, pulled an all-nighter and got the car back in shape for free practice and qualifying on Saturday, with their incredible efforts not going unrewarded by the end of the weekend. Pepe Oriola ran a flawless lights-to-flag victory in race one, but it was Nash who put in an absolute flyer to go from sixth to second to join his Spanish teammate on the podium later that afternoon, where both Lukoil and LEO Beer were proudly represented. Sergey Afanasyev started and finished the race in P9 after some strong fights with the competition before starting the second race on the front row. The Russian didn’t have too much luck off the line but put in a solid performance to finish in P7 and bring home more points for the teams’ championship, which Craft-Bamboo Lukoil now leads by 119 points. Oriola suffered a puncture in race two, which forced him to pit and restart the race in 21st. The young driver never gave up and put in a stellar performance to take 10 places back and finish in P11. It was Nash though who would shine once again after starting from P5 on the grid. The Brit not only went on to take first place but he finished the race with a commanding 7.2s lead over P2. Thanks to Nash’s brilliant performance in Thailand, he now leads the drivers’ championship with 204 points, with Oriola a close second with 197, while teammate Afanasyev retains his P7 spot with 125 points. Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil is now in the perfect position heading into Singapore and will be looking to extend their lead in both championships at the Marina Bay Circuit in September.
Pepe Oriola scored his first pole position of the season in Buriram with a stunning time of 1:43.634, besting P2 by one-thousandth of a second.
James Nash was not far behind in his first ever qualifying session at the Thailand track. He recorded a flying lap of 1:43.994, which would see the #54 driver start P6 for race one.
Sergey Afanasyev managed to secure himself P9 for race one with a lap time of 1:44.344, but that secured him a front row start in P2 for the second race on Sunday afternoon.
Pepe Oriola made a great start when the lights went out for race one in Buriram, confidently maintaining his first place position before he began to widen the gap on the rest of the field. James Nash made a magnificent start from P6 and was able to claim three places by the end of the first lap, positioning him as a podium contender and proving that Friday’s incident had done nothing to diminish the Brit’s exceptional driving skills. Sergey Afanasyev was embroiled in a battle right from the get go, jostling for position in the mid field over the coming laps while trading places with the competition. As Oriola continued to extend his lead at the front, Nash began to chase down Gianni Morbidelli, and while he was close on many occasions, the #54 driver bided his time and made a great move on lap seven to take P2. Afanasyev was also moving up the order and was able to overtake Davit Kajaia on the same lap. From here, the two Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil drivers at the front continued their flawless drive to the finish, with Oriola running a perfect lights-to-flag race. By the finish, Oriola had built a 1.2s gap over Nash, who then crossed the line to complete a monumental one-two finish, greatly benefitting the team and each of their respective championship campaigns. Afanasyev had carved his way through the competition during the closing stages of the race to bring his #77 SEAT Leon home in P7 as well as a good haul of points in the process.
James Nash, Driver #54
“Firstly I would like to thank the team for doing such an amazing job of putting the car back together after the testing incident. I really didn’t expect to be out for free practice or qualifying, so for us to be ready and out there was amazing. I was able to get a good start in race one and eventually get behind Pepe, which was fantastic to have a podium after the start to the weekend.”
Pepe Oriola, Driver #74
“Really happy to get that podium positon that I had wanted all year and of course I am really happy for the victory in race one and the one-two with James just behind me. It was also fantastic to get LEO Beer up on the podium.”
Sergey Afanasyev, #77
“We found out that we needed to change the engine and the boys did a great job of getting the car ready for FP1. I pushed as hard as possible and managed to get into some good battles with those around me. There was a lot of contact going on, which made it difficult but I’m sure it was great for the spectators.”
It was a chaotic start for race two and Afanasyev dropped down the order after experiencing some wheel spin off the start line. Nash got off to another flying start and was able to make a great move down the inside into the third corner to take P3. Oriola suffered the worst fate of the trio after starting from P10, collecting a front tyre puncture during the starting battle. The first lap chaos wasn’t over yet though as Gianni Morbidelli spun and hit the wall at turn eight, resulting in a safety car period. Oriola was able to use this to his advantage by heading into the pits and changing his front left tyre. Unfortunately for the Spaniard, he re-joined in 21stposition and would have a monumental task ahead of him in an attempt to break back into the points. After the race restart on lap three, Nash was in P3 and Afanasyev P6; both immediately making good restarts to get them back in the challenge. Nash in the #54 knew he had the pace to eventually challenge for the lead but needed to get by Kantadhee Kusiri for P2. The British touring car driver was constantly looking for ways past but there was nowhere he could squeeze by until lap five. Nash lined up Kusiri with laser guided precision and once again dove down the inside of turn three to claim another position. He was now in P2 and on a charge to take P1 from, Mikhail Grachev. Afanasyev was locked in a big battle in the mid-field but unfortunately ran wide at turn 12 on lap seven, dropping himself down to P10 in the process. By lap eight, Nash had closed in on Grachev and after some great defence from the Russian; Nash made a great manoeuvre at turn one to claim the lead. From here, Nash was in a class of his own. He focused on his lap times and built on his lead with each and every sector. When Nash crossed the line, he was an incredible 7.2s ahead of P2, claiming a commanding victory and also the lead in the drivers’ championship. Afanasyev had managed to make up some positions after some spirited fights with his opponents in the mid-field, finishing in P7 to take another good chunk of points that would help bolster Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil’s generous lead in the teams’ standings. It wasn’t the result Oriola wanted for race two but he showed incredible speed and skill by taking 10 places and finishing in P11, just outside the points. Nash now sits at the top of the drivers’ table with 204 points, with Oriola a close second with 197 points, while teammate Afanasyev retains his P7 spot with 125 points.
Race Two Quotes
James Nash, Driver #54
“The car felt really good and suited the track straight away from the first few laps I did here, so everything seemed to click and it was just about making zero mistakes and another good start. I managed to pick off a few drivers after looking at the race one results and I could see them struggling with times, so it was just a case of being patient and picking my moment. Once out in front I was able to get my head down and focus on securing the win. What a great feeling to be leading the drivers’ championship at the end of the weekend.”
Pepe Oriola, Driver #74
“Race two did not go the way we wanted with the tyre puncture. I had to enter the pits and change my tyre, but I was able to fight back from last and up to P11, just outside the points. We still have a few races to go and I hope that I can take back the lead in Singapore to prepare my championship for Macau.”
Sergey Afanasyev, Driver #77
“It was not the easiest weekend, but we are getting back there. Consistency is nearly there and just a few more steps and we will be back on the podium, but our target is to win of course. Thank you to all the team; the mechanics were absolutely incredible this weekend and they were working like machines. Big thanks to them for bringing us up so high in the standings.”
Richard Coleman, CEO of Craft-Bamboo Racing
“From where we were on Friday night, I didn’t really think this kind of weekend was possible. For James to bounce back like that and take a second and a first for his best points haul yet, and to now top the drivers’ championship with Pepe just behind after a great win in race one is amazing. I was also really pleased with Sergey who picked up some good team points to extend our lead in the teams’ championship. We have a lot of work to do ahead of Singapore and I am really pleased for all the boys who haven’t had much sleep this week. Huge thanks to LEO Beer for partnering with us and thanks to Lukoil for their continued support throughout every weekend.”
The pursuit of the 2016 TCR International Series title would not be possible without the support of LUKOIL, SEAT Sport, LEO Beer, Gravity, Orangebus, Team Dynamics and Tunewear.