Points leader Luca Engstler has enjoyed a perfect run at Sepang for the second event of TCR Malaysia, the German Hyundai driver carding the top qualifying time in slippery conditions before prevailing once more in both torrential rain and under lights on the iconic Grand Prix circuit.
A single day event with two practice sessions closely followed by qualifying meant teams needed to be on their game with experience playing a strong hand.
With two wins under his belt from the previous weekend, it was no surprise that Luca Engstler continued to set the pace, although he concluded session one just half a second clear of TCR Germany team-mate Kai Jordan, with local hero Douglas Khoo third fastest. Engstler sat out the second session, paving the way for a great battle for the top spot between Khoo, Prince Racing Honda driver Kenneth Lau, and new Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen recruits Brendan Paul Anthony and Ahmad Azlee.
Khoo prevailed to set the fastest time, but it was Engstler who returned to the top of the timesheets in the opening 20-minute qualifier, although his pace was down on the best of the previous weekend, his 2:17.243 just three tenths clear of the impressive Jordan. Douglas Khoo maintained his outstanding TCR Malaysia performance with the third fastest time, from Brutal Fish Racing’s Martin Ryba.
Light rain fell ahead of the second leg of qualifying, and with little time to make any more adjustments than tyres, Luca Engstler stretched his advantage over his rivals to 3.5-seconds, with KCMG team-boss Paul Ip advancing to the front row for the start of round three, Jordan dropping back to P3 alongside Kenneth Lau.
Intermittent rain continued ahead of the start of round three, but despite leaving pit lane on the control Yokohama wet weather tyres, every team elected to change to slicks in the late afternoon heat as the circuit started to dry.. It was a decision which would ultimately have a big impact on the result!
Off the standing start Engstler maintained his lead from Ip, but by turn four it was Jordan who held second. The two Liqui Moly Team Engstler cars broke away from the pack, as behind them Martin Ryba began his move forward to be fourth by the end of the opening lap.
Sadly for Michael Soong, the woes continued for the second of the Engstler Hyundai’s, the Hong Kong-based driver pushed behind the wall with an ongoing technical issue which would impact both races. Douglas Khoo was the next to strike trouble, the Viper Niza Racing Cupra driver spinning in the final corner, which ultimately prompted a visit to pit lane as light rain started to fall.
That also prompted Ahmad Azlee and Michael Choi to make a change as the rain intensified, a situation which ultimately saw the field brought under the control of the Safety Car on lap five, the race director in the end faced with no other choice but to declare the race two laps later as the rain got heavier.
That gave Engstler his third win of the season – albeit on half points – with Jordan a well deserved second and Paul Ip third. Martin Ryba was classified fourth and third in TCR Cup, with TCR rookie Brendan Paul Anthony an impressive fifth from a rear-of-field start. Kenneth Lau was sixth, continuing his improvement in the new FK8 Civic, whilst Ahmad Azlee, Douglas Khoo and Michael Choi were lamenting an early decision to pit and change back to wet weather tyres.
The circuit was declared wet for the second race, with all teams starting on wets despite the fact the rain had stopped. That made things a little challenging across the early laps, but for Engstler, it played into his hands, the Hyundai driver second by turn four and around pole-sitter Martin Ryba for the lead by turn eight, the #8 Liqui Moly entry then delivering a fantastic display of wet weather driving to cross the line some 31 seconds clear of Kai Jordan.
Behind the two Liqui Moly Team Engstler drivers, Martin Ryba held on to third for a brief spell before Brendan Paul Anthony put his extensive local experience to good use to charge again from rear-of-field to be third by lap two and comfortably in control of his podium position.
In the end he crossed the line eight seconds back from Jordan, and eight seconds clear of Douglas Khoo who drove well in the conditions to once again secure a TCR Cup podium finish and a strong haul of championship points.
Martin Ryba took the iconic Brutal Fish Racing Team Volkswagen to fifth, in the process moving to third in championship points, whilst Michael Choi and Kenneth Lau gained more valuable points in the two Prince Racing Hondas.
Sadly for Ahmad Azlee, despite running strongly with the two Prince Racing entries, his event came to an end on the penultimate lap and he was declared a non-finisher, whilst Paul Ip ran off at turn one, and was forced to retire the #51 KCMG Honda early in proceedings.
Teams now enjoy a four week break until the final event of the season, with rounds five and six of TCR Malaysia scheduled for February 23-24 at Sepang International Circuit.
What the drivers had to say..
8. Luca Engstler – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Hyundai i30N TCR
“The car was amazing, it was just perfect here in the rain. I enjoyed every lap, every corner, and I just tried to improve and learn, trying to understand the tyre for the upcoming season. I wanted to say thankyou to everyone, from the team to the mechanics, and to Hyundai Motorsport and Hyundai Germany, a big, big thankyou that I am able to drive here. I felt really comfortable, I didn’t feel like I was pushing the limit. It was great under the lights, even being able to push in a sprint race, it was amazing.”
3. Kai Jordan – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“[Race 2] The car was very good, thankyou to the team. Qualifying was not quite so good, but we made up for that during the race, it was very good. We had a great setup for dry conditions and I could stick with Luca [Engstler] but in the dry, I couldn’t match him, but overall two second placed finishes, I’m very happy.”
22. Brendan Paul Anthony – Liqui Moly Team Engstler Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR
“I had lots of fun, especially from tenth place on the grid [both races]. I got a good start [race 2] and maintained the outside line and actually had more grip there going into turn one, so I managed to slide past a lot of people, and from there I just kept pushing. The first few laps were quite tricky, but actually then I had quite a lot of grip, so I was just maintaining the pace.”