Ultimately, my WestCoast Racing team and I had no hope of mounting a challenge for race wins in Rounds 5 and 6 of the 2015 TCR International Series at Circuit de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo (1-3 May) and a debate over the championship’s Balance of Performance (BoP) dominated the weekend’s proceedings.
All three WestCoast Racing-prepared Honda Civic TCRs had 35kgs of weight to carry following a pre-Valencia shift in the championship’s BoP, while my Italian teammate, Gianni Morbidelli, was mired by an additional 30kgs of success ballast from his race win in China, where we achieved a sensational one-two-three result.
It’s always useful to have additional time in the car, make setup changes and see how the car reacts and the day of testing we had on Friday (1 May) was definitely useful in that sense.
In addition, I had never been to Circuit Ricardo Tormo and getting in as many laps as possible before the weekend began in earnest was crucial, although the extra weight imposed on my teammates and I definitely compromised our progress.
The ballast made it tough; you can feel the additional weight in the car, but you have to accept that there’s nothing you can do about it and adjust your direction and take a different approach to figure out which setup is going to be most effective.
Of course, altering your car’s configuration under those conditions can skew your impression of the changes and could potentially make some of your work redundant if the BoP is readjusted later in the season. Having said that, anything we learn – weight or no weight – at this early stage of development is good.
Qualifying on Saturday (2 May) was positive and I learnt a few things about the balance of the car during my first of two runs in Q1 on an ever-evolving track surface. We had made some adjustments prior to the session, solving some of the handling issues I had with my car and so, on my second run I was able to piece everything together, put in a really strong time and go second quickest overall.
Rolling into Q2, fuel-flow issues prevented me from turning in a lap and resigned me to 12th on the grid. This put me on the back foot for Sunday (3 May) and, to rub salt in the wound, I missed out on the top ten reversed grid for race two.
I knew that if I didn’t make amazing starts, I’d be in for tough races. In the first encounter – Round 5 – a sluggish getaway sent me to the rear of the field, but I quickly made amends by scything my way back up the order to finish 11th.
I led my teammate, Gianni Morbidelli, in race two after a punctured right-front tyre, caused when he became entangled in a collision away off the line, forced him to pit and relegated him to the tail end of the field.
It would transpire to be a controversial race as countless drivers ignored the double waved yellows and overtook while under Safety Car conditions following the opening-lap incident.
Morbidelli, carrying front-end damage, recovered well to finish third in the final classification, directly ahead of me in fourth place.
Sadly, the fuel-flow issues that curtailed my qualifying run resurfaced during the final few laps of Round 6 on Sunday afternoon and all I could do was nurse the car home to the finish, but both of us ultimately benefited from the drive-through penalties and disqualifications handed out to drivers for passing under the Safety Car.
I have to say, you can’t question WestCoast Racing’s dedication because, while other teams in the TCR paddock packed up early and could be found drinking in their hotel bar during the evenings, our mechanics and engineers were hard at work to ensure the cars were in the best shape possible for free practice, qualifying and the races.
I’ve been impressed with what I’ve seen since day one, as the team works hard every day, with no let-up in their effort, staying at the circuits during race weekends until the early hours of the morning and then returning before 9.00am. Everything is always primed and ready to go, there’s never any rushing and I feel lucky to be part of such a professional organisation with so much commitment and talent.
And this is precisely why it’s a bit unjust that WestCoast Racing should be penalised for its efforts. The championship organisers are making quick decisions without enough information and, as you could see from the SEAT-dominated races at Circuit Ricardo Tormo, the relative performance of each car isn’t quite balanced.
WestCoast Racing has shown a great deal of professionalism and they continue to work hard, both at the track and back at base, to make the Honda Civic TCR – a brand new car for 2015 – competitive, only to be penalised.
On the whole, I’m really happy with the team and the car I’ve been supplied with and we will keep our heads down as we prepare for the next round of the season at Autódromo Internacional Algarve in Portimao, Portugal (9-10 May), in the hope that the TCR International Series can get these BoP issues sorted out.