Will Brown took a brilliant victory at Eastern Creek in the first race of the Kumho TCR World Tour/TCR Australia joint event. Brown completed a spotless performance at the wheel of his MPC-run Audi in changing weather conditions, beating World Tour racers Mikel Azcona and Ma Qing Hua.
Many of the international drivers struggled to recover after disappointing Qualifying. Yann Ehrlacher climbed to cross the finish line in third position but was later dropped to sixth by a penalty for weaving behind the safety car, while the points leader Norbert Michelisz dropped at the back after going wide in the early stages. This means that Michelisz and Ehrlacher are now on equal points on top of the standings, while Azcona has reduced his gap to only six points and Rob Huff is fourth, five further points adrift.
In TCR Australia, Bailey Sweeny finished sixth and retained the lead of the standings, 35 points clear of Josh Buchan and Aaron Cameron.
At the start a light rain was falling, Ben Bargwanna led from the pole ahead of Brown and Azcona; Michelisz moved up into fourth from P8 on the grid but went wide during the first lap and dropped down. In lap 2, Santiago Urrutia retired with a broken steering arm, while Tony D’Alberto spun on the grass after a contact with Michelisz and rejoined at the back.
In lap 3, Brown and Azcona passed Bargwanna who then lost more positions to Huff, Buchan and Sweeny; further behind Néstor Girolami and Ehrlacher had climbed to eighth and ninth. One lap later, Zac Soutar’s Audi pulled up at Turn 3 with a broken wheel, and the safety car was deployed.
Racing resumed in lap 7 under pouring rain, and a bunch of drivers – including Brown, Huff, Buchan and Bargwanna – went off at Turn 1, which forced the race control to wave the red flag.
For the restart behind the safety car, the line was formed according to the positions before the red flag, with Brown and Azcona heading the field. After three laps, racing resumed for a seven-lap sprint; Brown held on to the lead from Azcona and Huff, but there were battles behind. Bargwanna dropped down the order, while Girolami, Ma, Ehrlacher and Frédéric Vervisch elbowed their way up the field. In lap 13, Ma handed P5 to Ehrlacher who then passed Girolami for P4. The Argentine slowed as he focused on the pole position of the top-ten reversed grid for Race 2. Up front, Brown won from Azcona, while Ehrlacher and Ma passed Huff to finish third and fourth. After the race, Ehrlacher was demoted to sixth behind Huff and Vervisch, with Cameron seventh – and second of TCR Australia – ahead of Michelisz, Thed Björk and Girolami who beat Jordan Cox in the sprint for the tenth position.
Brown said: “It’s cool! Before the weekend we didn’t know how we could do before the World Tour guys, so to win the race is phenomenal. We had everything: dry, wet, slippery. It was crazy, as conditions changed every second and I made a mistake at the restart after the safety car. Luckily there was the red flag and in the second part of the race I was able to build a gap and be in control.”
Azcona said: “It was a challenging race. At the beginning the car was quite competitive and I was able to move up to P3 and then P2. I was comfortable behind Brown. He was pretty fast, and I was happy to stay second. Then the rain intensified and there was a crazy moment as I nearly followed Brown when he went onto the grass. Luckily, I stayed on the track, but there was the red flag, and positions were restored as they were. The second place is a great result for the title fight.”
Sydney – Race 1
Championship points – TCR World Tour
Championship points – TCR Australia
Picture: TCR Australia/Daniel Kalisz