Kevin Gleason finally got out of the starting blocks and scored his first points of 2016 in Rounds 5 and 6 of the TCR International Series at Belgium’s historic and evocative Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps (6-7 May).
It has been a troubled start to the year and Gleason arrived in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest for his first competitive outing at Spa with the basic aim of bagging points and getting his championship underway.
Free practice was a source of encouragement, as he set the pace with a time of 2m34.839s after a strong 11-lap run in FP2, but the American was unable to replicate that pace in qualifying and he languished out of position in 13th.
His best was almost one second off his quickest from free practice; he was blocked by a careless and unobservant rival on what would have been one of his hottest laps and was then unable to find a rhythm and unlock his inherent speed during the remainder of the session, missing out on a place in the Q2 top-12 shootout by less than two tenths of a second.
A sensational getaway in the first of two TCR International races on Friday (6 May) saw Gleason climb several places from 13th to seventh and he ran strongly while shadowing WestCoast Racing teammate, Gianni Morbidelli, to long-overdue and well-deserved points for sixth.
The second TCR International encounter on Saturday (7 May) was held in stunning and atypically hot conditions, but Gleason kept a cool head while managing high water temperatures and scythed his way through the opening-lap melee.
On the tail of Jimmy Clairet’s Peugeot 308 Racing Cup, Gleason made a brave move on the Sebastien Loeb Racing driver at the ultra-fast Blanchimont corner and was soon on terms with the brawling Team Craft-Bamboo SEATs of James Nash, Pepe Oriola and Sergey Afanasyev.
The chase went on for lap-after-lap, but the pressure eventually told and mistakes started to creep in, Afanasyev running wide at the double-apexed Pouhon and relinquishing eighth place to Gleason on the ninth and final lap.
“The weekend is both positive and negative,” said Gleason. “I can take positives from scoring my first points of the year, but it’s frustrating that I had the pace to compete up front and I was unable to make use of that speed due to a poor qualifying. I’ll have to look at that and make sure we qualify better so we can run at the front where we belong in the future.
“I was pretty happy with sixth place in race one, given where we started. It has been a tough start to the season, but I’m happy to have scored my first points for WestCoast Racing. I came here knowing how difficult Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps is to learn, but I felt good at the end of free practice two and that’s why qualifying was so frustrating. It’s all ifs and buts, though.”
Rounds 7 and 8 of the 2016 TCR International Series will be held at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari in Italy in two weeks’ time (21-22 May).