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MERCKX AND VERNAY TAKE FIRST-DAY HONOURS - Incident-packed support races provide top-class Singapore entertainment
Singapore, 17 September 2016 - Belgian Florian Merckx claimed the first race win in the Ferrari Challenge series at Singapore's Marina Bay Street Circuit on Friday with Jean-Karl Vernay of France the winner in Ferrari Challenge after an entertaining day's action from the supporting cast.
The first race action of the weekend came from the Ferrari Challenge - and it was superb, thanks largely to a mid-race clash that brought out the Safety Car. Florian Merckx had led comfortably - by 9 seconds - but had to defend brilliantly to hold off Rinaldi Hutasoit in a final two-lap sprint and claim his second race win of the season.
Singaporeans Ringo Chong and Greg Teo stole their own share of the spotlight. Veteran Chong, a race-winner on the Singapore streets in years gone by, strove manfully to make it on to the podium but just lost out to teenager Alexander West. Teo came through to finish fifth overall - but top dog in the Trofeo Pirelli AM class.
That's no way to treat a lady: Japan's Tomatsu Kondo may officially be a Gentleman Racer but it was his late-braking mistake at Turn 10 that brought out the Safety Car when he collected Kent Chen's 570hp V8 458 Challenge EVO, leaving the beautiful lines of both cars extensively modified in the process...
First to hit the headlines earlier on Friday had been TCR International Series pole-winner Jean-Karl Vernay. This is the ninth event in the TCR 2016 season - and the Frenchman driving a Golf Gti for Leopard Racing was the eighth man to claim pole position and five points with it. Not only that, but his time of 2:24.511 carved a staggering 1.9 seconds off last year's Singapore pole. With a reverse grid for Sunday's second TCR race, 10th-placed qualifier Kevin Gleason - the first TCR race-winner here last year - will start from the front in his West Coast Racing Honda Civic tomorrow.
TCR Race 1: race drivers usually do their utmost to shed weight, but TCR series leader James Nash gained 30 kilos between races in his Team Craft-Bamboo Lukoil SEAT Leon - the 'Balance of Performance' weight penalty after his win in Thailand last time out. While Jean-Karl Vernay won for the third time this year in a 1-2 finish with Leopard Racing Golf teammate Stefano Comini, Nash fought hard for his fifth place and now shares the overall lead on 215 points with reigning champion Comini. 'The race was just perfect,' said Vernay. 'I hope tomorrow's the same!'
Singapore first-timer Douglas Khoo from Malaysia and Dutch competitor Loris Hezemans, both in SEAT Leons, tried out the Tecpro barrier during the race and emerged unscathed. First-hand advice was close to hand: also in the race was Tecpro inventor, Frenchman Rafael Galiana, who finished 14th in his Honda Civic - without putting his product to the test.
In Porsche Carrera Cup action, the drivers' qualifying rhythm was disrupted when Class B leader Yuan Bo put his Absolute Racing entry into the wall on the way into Turn 9 and brought out the red flag; the session was stopped for seven minutes. Series leader Maxime Jousse grabbed pole for Kamlung Racing on the restart, his time of 2:17.913 beating Craig Baird's 2015 qualifying mark by just 0.086 of a second.
For their ninth race of the season Jousse is joined on the front row by series veteran Martin Ragginger of Team Porsche Holding, with teenage sensation Nico Menzel of PICC Team StarChase on the second row alongside Absolute Racing's Mitch Gilbert.
Singapore's two hopes Yuey Tan and Andrew Tang had mixed days: Class B champion Tan had a qualifying spin at Turn 5 in his Team Jebsen GT3 Cup car and qualified second in class B behind Yuan Bo - another crasher - while 21-year-old Tang of Porsche China Junior Team clouted the wall at Turn 18 but will still start from fifth on the grid.