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MASTERCLASSES ON THE MARINA BAY STREET CIRCUIT - Merckx, Ragginger and Grachev complete European hat-trick
Singapore, 18 September 2016 - Singapore was the spectacular stage but Europeans were the leading players as three days of hectic support race action concluded ahead of today's 2016 FORMULA 1 SINGAPORE AIRLINES SINGAPORE GRAND PRIX.
Whatever else happens in Florian Merckx's racing career, the Belgian has already looked after family matters. Asked what his ambition behind the wheel might be, Merckx said, 'Some day I want to tell my grandchildren I won a race in Singapore.' In fact he can tell them he's won two: on Sunday he added Race 2 of the Ferrari Challenge to his Saturday win to make it the perfect weekend on the Marina Bay streets.
Merckx, remarkably, had not won a race since the very first one in Japan in March, but his #1 laid on a master-class in Singapore, winning race 2 by the handsome margin of 17.2 seconds from Renaldi Hutasoit. Merckx also laid rubber, carving out the perfect 'doughnut' for all the Ferrari fans to celebrate his double success.
Singapore's Ringo Chong used all his vast experience to put pressure on youthful racer Alexander West in the second half of the 10-lap race - and it paid off when the teenaged Swede went into Turn 1 too hot, lost the rear of his 458 Challenge EVO and rearranged its aerodynamics against the barriers. Chong went on to finish a fine third (though he dropped his champagne in pit lane!), while compatriot Greg Teo was unable to repeat his Trofeo Pirelli AM win from Saturday when the car let him down early in Race 2 and he could finish no higher than 16th. Eric Cheung was the AM winner in sixth place, while Sky Chen took out the Coppa Shell honours in P12 overall.
Russian Mikhail Grachev in his WestCoast Racing Honda Civic won the second race - his fourth victory of 2016 - in the 'United Nations' category that is the TCR International Series. With some 18 nationalities and half a dozen marques represented, Grachev led Serbian Dusan Borkovic's SEAT Leon home ahead of Britain's James Nash in another SEAT in a race curtailed by the intervention of the Safety Car - not once, but twice.
It came out first after just three laps when the developing squabble between Attila Tassi and Sergey Afanaseyev ended as these things so often do - in tears, with Afanasyev's SEAT severely damaged in contact with the wall on the exit of Turn 9. In fact Turn 9 was the place to be for the action: the second trigger to the Safety Car was a clash between Tecpro boss Rafael Galiana's Honda Civic and the SEAT Leon of Pepe Oriola.
Earlier Loris Hezemans, whose SEAT Leon seemed to make more stops through the weekend than a Singapore bus, was the first driver to retire after another 'off' on only the second of the scheduled 10 laps. Saturday winner Jean-Karl Vernay was sixth in race two.
The Porsche Carrera Cup Asia drivers are Singapore regulars and they laid on their regular colourful show in Round 9 of their championship. Martin Ragginger of Team Porsche Holding resisted a mid-race challenge from PICC Team StarChase driver Nico Menzel to win by just over a second, with series leader Maxim Jousse third for Kamlung Racing after a breathless 12 laps. Jousse took pole on Saturday but was penalised for exceeding track limits on Saturday and started third.
An unusually disciplined race took a distinctly undisciplined turn on the final lap when Yuan Bo - penalised on Saturday for causing a collision - overcooked things at the notorious Turn 18, hit the wall hard and left Vitikorn Inthraphuvasak nowhere to go. The Thai est cola driver did superbly well to recover and hang on for Class B honours. Theirs was just one of several collisions on that chaotic final lap.
Local hero Yuey Tan pulled out all the stops after the big shunt at Turn 18 but his bid for top spot in Class B fell agonisingly short and he was classified ninth, four places behind fellow-Singaporean Andrew Tang. Tang lost time behind Zhang Da Sheng mid-race and could not close the gap to fourth-placed Mitchell Gilbert, the Australian-born Malaysian who races with the Union Jack on his car because that's his racing base!