THOMPSON WINS ETCC AFTER A TOUGH FIGHT
Touring car ace James Thompson added another jewel to his already rich crown by clinching the FIA European Super 2000 Cup after a couple of hectic races at Braga yesterday (Sunday).
After finishing third in the first race on a wet track, the Briton and his Honda Accord took the most out of the nearly dry asphalt in the second race and overturned the situation by jumping ahead of rivals Franz Engstler and Norbert Michelisz. The final result meant that there were three different manufacturers represented on the podium: Honda, BMW and SEAT. In five editions of the cup Honda is the fourth manufacturer to win the S2000 trophy after BMW, SEAT (twice) and Chevrolet. Thompson’s victory, added to Harry Vaulhards points, also meant that Great Britain was awarded the Nation’s Cup. Latvian driver Marcis Birkens (Honda Civic) won the Super Production cup, becoming the first Baltic driver to win an FIA ETCC title, while Carsten Seifer (Ford Fiesta) continued Germany’s winning tradition in the S1600 cup.
RACE 1 – MICHELISZ FROM LIGHTS TO FLAG
Norbert Michelisz claimed a serious stake on the 2009 FIA European Touring Car Cup by obtaining a lights to flag victory in Braga’s first race. The young Hungarian gave convincing proof of maturity, managing to handle his SEAT León TDI car fitted with rain tyres on a track that was drying up quickly and also resisting the pressure from experienced BMW man Franz Engstler. All drivers chose rain tyres as the asphalt was wet before the start. Michelisz dashed from pole position and pulled away from Engstler. Behind them Britons Harry Vaulkhard and James Thompson fought for third position, with the Honda driver able to jump ahead during the second lap. The first casualties were Francisco Carvalho who hit the tyres in the chicane but continued, and Per Poulsen who went off at Turn 1 and remained stranded in the gravel trap. On lap 2, Duarte Félix da Costa rejoined after spinning off the track while fighting with Michel Nykjær for fifth position. The Dane was then chasing Vaulkhard for fourth, which he eventually claimed when the young Englishman spun on lap 12. Gaps among the first three were fluctuacting. Halfway through the race Thompson closed in on Engstler, but in the latest stages the German pulled away again and threatened closely Michelisz’s lead. However he did not manage to find a gap for an overtaking manoeuvre. Michelisz, Engstler, Tompson and Nykjær crossed the line in the order, with Vaulkhard in fifth; da Costa recovered to eighth and won pole position on the reverse grid for Race 2. Latvian racer Marcis Birkens won the Super Production class in his Honda Civic, overtaking Mikhail Zasadych’s BMW on lap 3. Carsten Seifert completed his solo flight in the S1600 class and crossed the line in 13th position overall.
RACE 2 – THOMPSON’S FANTASTIC RECOVERY
James Thompson completed a fantastic recovery in the second race, claiming victory and the Super 2000 cup. After finishing third in Race 1, Thompson saw his chances nearly jeopardised by a first lap pile up at the start. He managed to rejoin, but only in eighth position, while the reigning S2000 champion Michel Nykjær had to retire. Of the other drivers involved, José Monroy was forced to pit with both the front and rear bumpers hanging loose, while Race 1 winner Norbert Michelisz also rejoined in seventh position. Franz Engstler’s BMW seemed to be dancing on the track as the German driver swerved in avoidance, squeezed among other cars and took fourth position behind Duarte Félix da Costa, Francisco Carvalho and Harry Vaulkhard. The track was nearly dry and most of the drivers had gone for slicks, except Michelisz who had rain tyres at the back, which proved to be the wrong choice. As he dropped down, the fight for the lead intensified. Da Costa spun off on lap 2 and rejoined at the back. Vaulkhard stole the lead from Carvalho on lap 3 and the Portuguese lost another place to Engstler on lap 5. In the meantime the Honda cars of Thompson and Tomas Engström were elbowing their way through the field. On lap 8 Thompson overtook Carvalho for third and on lap 11 he got past Engstler for second. The Honda driver was now chasing his fellow countryman Vaulkhard; under pressure the latter went wide at Turn 1 on the 12th lap and dropped to sixth. Thompson had the race in his hands and controlled Engstler’s last efforts, while Engström managed to climb up to third after swapping paints with Carvalho on the penultimate lap. Marcis Birkens won again the Super Production race, followed by Carsten Seifert who clinched the S1600 cup.
WINNING DRIVERS’ QUOTES
James THOMPSON (Honda Accord) – Winner in Super 2000
“After qualifying eighth I had few hopes to win today. Being sixth on the grid with a SEAT turbodiesel far ahead was not encouraging. I thought that I could maybe finish in the top three of the first race and then try everything in the second. And it worked, although a lot of credit for this goes to my engineer who led me towards the right tyre choice. I usually go for the wrong one… I also have to thank the team, because they have done an amazing job. The car was perfect in both races. Quick and consistent.”
Franz ENGSTLER (BMW 320si) – 2nd in Super 2000
“I am really happy! For the whole weekend I found myself driving the car in the worst possible conditions for rear-wheel drive. I had a lot of oversteering and it was not easy to stay on the track and try to catch the others. I was also lucky to escape the incident at the start of the second race. When I rejoined after swerving on the grass I said to myself: let’s hope that nobody hits me now!”
Norbert MICHELISZ (SEAT León TDI) – 3rd in Super 2000
“Everything worked very well until the second race. Then we made the wrong tyre choice. It was a shame, but I’m happy anyway. This was a great opportunity and I am proud of myself, because I was able to claim pole position and to win the first race on my first outing with the TDI car and in such difficult weather conditions. I wish to thank SEAT Sport for giving me this fantastic opportunity.”
Marcis BIRKENS (Honda Civic Type-R) – Winner in Super Production
“The beginning has not been easy for us, as Zadyisich and his BMW proved that they could be strong competitors. And in fact they were faster in qualifying. But we did some changes, which enabled me to have a consistent race pace. I’m proud to be the first Baltic driver to win the European Cup.”
Carsten SEIFERT (Ford Fiesta) – Winner in Super 1600
“We came here to win the Cup and we accomplished our mission, which is a good way for the team to end the season. Obviously I would have been happier if there were other competitors, but we have worked to improve performance during the weekend and I was able to achieve a very good pace.”