The TCR Eastern Europe at the Red Bull Ring is always a spectacular event, featuring thrilling races, and this year was no exception. The Vuković Motorsport team lived up to its favorite status, but success came only in the first race. In the second race, Mertel Motorsport took control.
Due to weight compensation, the Renault Méganes, carrying just ten kilograms of added weight, held an advantage over their competitors. The fast car, created and driven by father and son duo Milan and Milenko Vuković, secured pole position and third place on the grid for the first race – a result that was anticipated. René Kircher and Davit Kajaia’s Hondas, from Mertel Motorsport, carried the same amount of weight and claimed second and fourth place on the grid. On the other hand, championship leader Maťo Homola had to carry 40 kilograms, and with the relatively low top speed of his Hyundai Elantra, Homola faced a significant disadvantage at the Red Bull Ring. Nonetheless, the Slovakian driver did his best, finishing fourth and third in both races, ensuring he still holds the championship lead.
The Red Bull Ring was all about the Vuković and Mertel teams, as well as Aditis Racing. Milan Vuković claimed his second win in the opening race in Austria, with Kircher finishing second and Milenko Vuković third. Although they finished in the same positions they started in, it doesn’t mean the race was dull. The battle between leader Vuković and second-place Kircher in the race’s opening stages was thrilling, as were the heated midfield battles for position.
The second race always promises excitement due to the reversed grid. This time, the first nine drivers from Race 1 started in reversed positions. This meant a pole-position start for Phillip Dietrich in only his third race driving a Cupra TCR car. Beside him was Carlo Czepiel, but both drivers had slow getaways from their positions, allowing Davit Kajaia and Sebastian Steibel, starting from the second row, to move into the lead.
For a brief moment, it seemed like Kajaia would cruise to victory without any trouble, and the TV cameras turned their attention to the fierce battle for the last podium spot between Homola, Ghermandi, the Vukovićs, Kircher, and Czepiel. As Homola stated after the race, “I was just waiting for something to happen…” And it did – a minor scuffle between Milenko Vuković and Ghermandi on the track led to Vuković spinning out of the race.
When the safety car phase ended, the real battle for the win began. Steibel, in his Audi from Aditis Racing, was significantly faster, but Kajaia defended his position so well that Steibel couldn’t find a way past. There were a few contacts between the two, but after the race, both drivers were pleased with the outcome. Steibel was slightly disappointed but enjoyed his first podium finish of the season. Maybe next time?
The fourth event of TCR Eastern Europe will take place at the fast Slovakia Ring, featuring sweeping corners. The outcome could be entirely different. Homola will shed his weight ballast, and as it’s his home track, expect him to be at the front again. We’ll find out in three weeks’ time.