John Filippi recorded his third maximum points score of the 2023 season when he took a lights-to-flag win in Race 1 at the Circuit Paul Ricard at Le Castellet. The French driver finished just over a second ahead of Italy’s Nicola Baldan with Kobe Pauwels completing the podium places. With Drivers’ Championship leader Tom Coronel finishing fourth, Audi RS 3 LMS cars of sister teams Comtoyou and Comtoyou Racing filled all of the top four places.
Pole-sitter Filippi got away cleanly at the start, but alongside him on the front row of the grid, Coronel wasn’t so fortunate. A poor start saw the Dutch driver passed by both Baldan and Pauwels, who’d started from fourth and third places respectively. By the time the field streamed through Turn 1, Coronel had dropped to fourth ahead of the SP Compétition CUPRA of 2017 TCR Europe Champion Aurélien Comte.
The four Audi cars then ran together for the entire ten-lap race, with Filippi gradually easing away slightly from Baldan, but Coronel right behind Pauwels on each lap. Concerns about the high track temperatures and the possible effect on tyres meant caution was the order of the day, with all four Comtoyou drivers aware of the damage an ill-judged passing move would mean for their colleagues. In addition, Baldan was effectively invisible as far as Teams’ points were concerned, with Coronel and Pauwels the two nominated points-scoring drivers for Comtoyou Racing.
While the leading group eased away, Comte drove a lonely race in fifth place and was never threatened, although behind the CUPRA there were some good battles going on between Ruben Volt (ALM Motorsport Honda Civic Type R FL5), Viktor Davidovski (Comtoyou Audi RS 3 LMS) and Lewis Brown (Volcano Motorsport Audi). Brown had been given a two-place grid penalty after making a practice start during Qualifying, which meant he started from eighth on the grid. Davidovski passed Volt for P6 on the opening lap, but the trio would continue to fight throughout the race.
Also on the opening lap, there was contact between the CUPRA of Sacha Bottemanne and Daniel Tkachenko’s Volcano Motorsport Audi. Comte’s teammate Bottemanne retired almost immediately as a result of the incident, but while Tkachenko was able to limp back to the pits for repairs, his race too ultimately ended in retirement. After the race, Tkachenko received a formal reprimand from the Stewards for causing the collision.
On Lap 4, Volt dived up the inside of Davidovski in the last corner to briefly grab sixth place, but the Honda ran wide and so Davidovski was able to retake the position as the pair headed down the start/finish straight. Volt tried the same move one lap later and this time made it stick, with Brown also briefly passing Davidovski for P7 before the Macedonian driver retook the place.
The remainder of the race was then fairly processional, although Coronel continued to threaten Pauwels’ third place. When the chequered flag fell, Filippi’s winning margin over Baldan was just over 1.1 seconds, with Pauwels finishing under half a second clear of Coronel. The result means that both Filippi and Pauwels have closed the gap on Coronel in the Drivers’ Championship while Pauwels has extended his lead in the battle for the Rookies’ title.
1. John Filippi (Comtoyou, Audi RS 3 LMS) 10 laps
2. Nicola Baldan (Comtoyou Racing, Audi RS 3 LMS) +1.141
3. Kobe Pauwels (Comtoyou Racing, Audi RS 3 LMS) +2.755
4. Tom Coronel (Comtoyou Racing, Audi RS 3 LMS) +3.222
5. Aurélien Comte (SP Compétition, CUPRA Leon Competición) +9.960
TCR Europe Championship points
1. Tom Coronel 327pts; 2. John Filippi 299pts; 3. Kobe Pauwels 278pts; 4. Dušan Borković 190pts; 5. Viktor Davidovski 177pts.
Race 2 is scheduled for 12.10 CEST on Sunday and will be streamed live on tcr-series.tv, the TCR TV app and the TCR TV YouTube channel