Mikel Azcona, driving a Volcano Motorsport CUPRA Leon Competición, set the fastest time in Free Practice 1 at Monza, with his nearest rival for the TCR Europe Drivers’ Championship Franco Girolami second quickest in a PSS Racing Honda Civic Type-R.
For much of the session, it seemed as though it would the Sébastien Loeb Racing Team’s Felice Jelmini who would be fastest. His Hyundai Elantra N was the early pace-setter with a lap time of 1:59.237 and while several drivers were able to get close to the Italian – among them Jack Young (1:59.577) and Mehdi Bennani (1:59.891) – nobody could quite beat his time.
Behind Jelmini, the Audi RS 3 LMS cars of Dušan Borkovič (1:59.403) and his Comtoyou Racing teammate Tom Coronel (1:59.267) took it in turns to go second quickest, with Girolami then going P3 with a lap of 1:59.647 and Mat’o Homola setting the fifth fastest time of 1:59.406. When Jelmini improved his time with a 1:58.647, becoming the first driver to break the 1:59 barrier, it seemed even more likely that it would be the Hyundai at the top of the timesheet at the end of the half-hour session.
Into the second half of the session, the Peugeot 308 of Jimmy Clairet went P2 (1:59.220) and Jack Young broke back into the top five with a lap of (1:59.343) with Young then improving on his next lap to leapfrog Clairet with a 1:59.181. Coronel then lapped in 1:58.890 and later improved with a lap of 1:58.834 to sit in P2 behind Jelmini.
As the clock ticked into the last five minutes, however, Azcona struck from nowhere with a stunning lap time of 1:58.247. Martin Ryba went P4 with a 1:59.129 and then improved with a 1:59.074 but the dramas of the session were reserved for the final minute. Girolami had been P3 behind Azcona and Jelmini with a best lap of 1:58.701 but he briefly dropped to P4 thanks to a last-lap 1:58.672 from Ryba before setting the session’s second fastest time of 1:58.530 just as the chequered flag fell. With yellow flags being waved in the second sector thanks to Homola’s Hyundai being parked up, there were no further chances for any other improvements and so Azcona ended the session fastest by 0.283 from Girolami.
Mikel Azcona (fastest): “It’s a really good way to start the weekend like this, being the fastest in this really high-speed track. It’s only Free Practice 1, but we saw on the last lap that Girolami set the fastest top speed in a straight line with 60kgs of ballast, so it means he was also really fast. We are battling for the Championship and before Free Practice I thought he would struggle with 60kgs, but he was only two-tenths behind me and so I need to work hard and go faster because he is really, really good. I like this feeling, to be honest, as I like this kind of battle. I like Girolami because he is a good driver and I’m happy that we are battling every race in this hard but fair way. I will always try to be the best, but I like to have battles like this.”
1. Mikel Azcona (Volcano Motorsport, CUPRA Leon Competición) 1:58.247
2. Franco Girolami (PSS Racing Team, Honda Civic Type-R) 1:58.530
3. Felice Jelmini (Sébastien Loeb Racing, Hyundai Elantra N) 1:58.647
4. Martin Ryba (Brutal Fish Racing, Honda Civic Typr-R) 1:58.672
5. Tom Coronel (Comtoyou Racing, Audi RS 3 LMS) 1:58.834
Free Practice 2 is scheduled to start at 16.20 CEST. Live timing will be available via the TCR Portal tcr-series.tv