A new TCR season begins Europes finest battle the world

May 03, 2023

Written by: Chris Hosie

Image credit: tcr-series.com

The 2022 TCR Europe Series was one of the most hotly contested seasons in the championships history. With some of Europe’s finest Touring Car stars battling for glory. This year the stakes are higher as TCR Europe becomes global.

The 2023 TCR scene sees a very radical change as this year sees the introduction of the new TCR World Rankings. This means drivers from all TCR championships will score points on a world ranking board, similar to that of Tennis or Golf. TCR Europe is no exception seeing many of its driver competing for points in the world table. Another exciting aspect of this is the new World Final which will see 15 stars from the new TCR World Tour competing alongside 45 drivers with the most World Ranking points. This will take place in early 2024.

The new 2023 TCR Europe season kicked of In Portugal alongside the stars of the new Kumho TCR World Tour. With a combined field of 22 cars taking the start. The drivers to watch from the world tour side included the Hyundais of Michael Azcona and Norbert Michelisz, the Comtoyou Audis of Rob Huff and Frederic Vervisch and the Lynk&Co cars of Ma Qing Ha, Santiago Urrutia, Yoann Ehrlacher and former Scandinavian and WTCC champion Thed Bjork. Australian TCR star, Ben Bargwanna was also in attendance. He would be fielding his trusted Peugeot 308 TCR.

The European series contingent was brimming with incredible talent and a wealth of impressive drivers. With Tom Coronel and John Filippi spearheading Comtoyou’s 4 car effort in TCR Europe. Ruben and Felipe Fernandez were back with their Audis along side those of TCR UK stars Isaac Smith and Lewis Brown. Both brits driving for Volcano Motorsport. Dusan Borkovic returns to TCR Europe with his Hyundai Elantra. With the cars of Nicola Baldan, Mikeal Karlsson and Levente Losonczy spearheading Hyundai’s European efforts.

Also competing in the European series this year as potential front runners would be the privately entered Lynk&Co of Scandinavian star Viktor Andersson and the Audi of PMA Motorsport. Which would be piloted by former Hyundai man Felice Jelmini. Nestor Girolami would be Honda’s representative this weekend. Piloting the new 2023 spec Civic TCR and would also be competing for World Tour points against the rest of the former WTCR contingent from last year.

The event took place alongside the opening rounds of the EuroFormula, GT Cup and International GT Open championships. Making the weekend an excitingly and appropriately international affair.

Race one saw a mix of four different brands in the top six places with two Hyundai’s, two Audis, Girolami’s Honda and the Lynk&Co of Hau. 9 of the top 10 drivers were the highly experienced WTCR stars with Belgium’s Kobe Pauwels being the first of the European series stars in P9. The front row seeing Michelisz on the pole alongside his teammate Azcona. Rob Huff lining up in third and spearheading the vast Comtoyou Audi party. Ehrlacher started 11th with Bargwanna starting 19th behind his fellow commonwealth competitors Smith and Brown.

Viktor Davidovski started 13th alongside Borkovic in 14th. Anderson lined up 15th and the Fernandez brothers lining up 16th and 20th. The Hyundais of Baldan and Karlsson rounding out the 22 starters.

The first race of the new World Tour and Europe series seasons for of to a frenzied start. The Hyundais just barely keeping first and second from the Audis of Huff and Vervisch. Further back Urrutia and Coronel came to blows with the Argentine driver in blue having to pit thanks to a flat front left. Bargwanna had a terrible start in his Peugeot, he dropped right to the back between Baldan and Karlsson’s Elantras. Pauwels lost two places to the Lynk&Co’s behind him and would lead all four European Comtoyou Audis in pursuit of a top 7 crammed with World Championship grade drivers.

The race would see 12 action packed laps with many crucial moves for position taking place in the European ranks. Pauwels being one who came of worse from this shuffling, as his teammate Filippi took over the lead of the TCR Europe section of the grid. Things would take a sour turn for Viktor Andersson and he had contact with one of the Fernandez Brothers and would limp back to the pits with a flat tyre. A few excursions also occurred during the race. Mainly perpetrated by the Audis as they found the limits under the Portuguese afternoon sun.

Up front in World Tour and overall there was no stopping the Hyundais and, in particular, Norbert Michelisz. He would take a commanding victory with his teammate in second. The Audis of Huff and Vervisch and the Honda of Girolami rounding out the top five. The three surviving Lynk&Co cars of Hau, Ehrlacher and Bjork rounding out the top 8. The latter two drivers having climbed up into their final positions after very impressive starts on lap one.

Bargwanna got the better of the Hyundais to claim 18th overall ahead of Baldan and Karlsson. British Drivers Smith and Brown doing well in their first international contest. With Isaac Smith finishing 14th overall. John Filippi winning the European battle ahead of his Comtoyou teammates Pauwels and Coronel. Borkovic coming fourth in the standings with the Audis of Smith and the Fernandez brothers finishing sixth, seventh and 10th in European points. Bargwanna scoring ninth in points with Baldan taking eighth place in the European standings.

Race two took place on Sunday and it once again saw a dominant drive from the World Tour Contenders. Only this time, it was the Lynk&Co of Santiago Urrutia would lead from the pole and take a resounding victory. More than making up for his dismal finish in race 1 on Saturday. The race saw a very frenetic start with the Audis and Hyundais squabbling among the Chinese built blue cars from the Lynk&Co factory outfit.

Disaster would strike Pauwels on lap one with the Belgian retiring after violent contact with Dusan Borkovic on the first lap. Both driver unhurt but both out of contention. Rob huff chased the cars of Urrutia and Bjork. However, he would drop to sixth thanks to the efforts of Vervisch and Coronel and the Elantra of Azcona. The latter finishing fourth between the Audis. The Fernandez brothers came 11th and 12th with the Peugeot of Bargwanna taking 13th. British drivers, Smith and Brown came home 14th and 17th. Also retiring with damage was the sole Honda of Girolami. Making it an unfortunate ending to what had been a very promising weekend.

In the championship standing, for the TCR Europe contenders, Coronel and Filippi share the lead with 80 points apiece. The Fernandez brother are third and sixth with Issac Smith in fourth. Pauwels is currently fifth with  Bargwanna, Davidovski, Baldan and Borkovic rounding out the top 10.

In the World Tour standings, it’s the Hyundais of Michelisz and Azcona who lead. The gap between them just two points. Vervisch, Huff and Bjork round out the top 5 with Urrutia sixth thanks to his race 2 victory. Ehrlacher, Hau, Coronel and Girolami round out the World Tour contingent in the standings. 

Next time out the European stars of TCR Europe head to the iconic street circuit of Pau in France. Where they will be joined by the EuroFormula Open championship for the Pau Grand Prix. Will the Audi domination  be halted or can the Comtoyou team extend their early advantage over the rest of the pack? Find out on the 13th and 14th of May when the race for the TCR Europe title continues.


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