The opening race of the Touring Car Racing (TCR) International Series in Bahrain on April 2 and 3 will not only mark the start of the second season of the competition – it will also see the start of a new chapter in Opel’s touring car tradition. Two new Astra TCR cars, run by the Italian Target Competition Team, will take to the track in the kingdom on the shores of the Persian Gulf.
Thirty-nine-year-old Italian veteran Andrea Belicchi and 19-year-old Spanish youngster Jordi Oriola will be behind the steering wheel of the customer racing cars from Rüsselsheim.
In the light of the specific external conditions on the Bahrain International Circuit in Sakhir, built in the middle of the desert around 30 kilometers from the capital Manama, the Target Team will face a tough challenge. The expected temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius represent a substantial challenge for the engine cooling system, the turbocharger, the transmission and the brakes. Tire wear will also be a major topic in the desert heat. The 5.412-kilometer long Bahrain International Circuit consists of six left and eight right-hand corners together with four straights, the longest being the finishing straight with a length of around 1.1 kilometer.
First major challenge
The Astra TCR is thus facing it first major challenge. The technical staff of Opel Motorsport and Target Competition made significant progress in relation to the vehicle set-up during the final test drives on the Spanish Valencia circuit. Nicola Larini, 1993 German Touring Car championship winner and former Formula One driver, also stated the Astra TCR “has a very good handling.” Larini was responsible for testing all the TCR cars of the different brands to create a basis of the “Balance of Performance” (BoP).
BoP uses the key elements weight and engine performance to create a balance between all vehicle concepts and thus give every carmaker the chance to field a competitive car for customer sport. Equal opportunity is one of the key characteristics of the TCR (Touring Car Racer Series) that was developed for five-door compact class cars with a maximum engine displacement of 2.0-liters. Another major factor in favor of the TCR is the possible use of the vehicles in a multitude of national and continental championships in addition to the global TCR International Series. Three races of the international competition, including the one in Bahrain, will be held as part of the F1 Grand Prix supporting program. Each round of the TCR consists of two heats.
Opel Motorsport Director Jörg Schrott is already excited ahead of the Astra TCR’s competitive debut but is also managing expectations. “We are a newcomer to the TCR series with our Astra and will definitely need a bit more time to further optimize the vehicle. Furthermore, the conditions in the desert are unique. Therefore, we should treat the two races in Bahrain as another important test. We aim to learn as much as possible to have a fine-tuned the Astra TCR as soon as possible after the races,” he said.