Michael lays down a marker! Michael Rossi, the runner-up in the Seat Leon Eurocup, made a stunning debut in the second-last round of the World Touring Car Championship on the Okayama circuit in Japan. He was far from home on a track he didn't...
Michael lays down a marker!
Michael Rossi, the runner-up in the Seat Leon Eurocup, made a stunning debut in the second-last round of the World Touring Car Championship on the Okayama circuit in Japan. He was far from home on a track he didn't know in a car he was racing for the first time, the Seat TDI Leon, and he was one the ten fastest in qualifying. He was just as quick in the wet races, and finished his weekend with a great comeback, recovering from 24th to 13th. He is now hoping to continue in the same vein after his first taste of the WTCC and find a permanent drive in this hotly-contested championship.
Rossi's first aim was to make it into Q2. The 27 drivers take part in an opening qualifying session called Q1. After this the last 17 places on the grid are attributed for the first race. Only the ten quickest go into Q2 which decides the first five rows. It was an exciting but difficult challenge as the field has many works drivers, world champions, former F1 drivers and other specialists in this branch of the sport who have raced in the BTCC, ETCC and WTCC for years.
Rossi was with the SR Sport team, the SUNRED division that officially represents Seat Sport in the world championship, and he fine-tuned the car and raised his game in free practice. "I concentrated on learning the circuit, working on my starts and long runs while economizing my sets of new tyres for Q1." He set some good sector times, and kept improving to find himself in the middle of the time sheets in the three sessions held on Friday and Saturday morning.
In qualifying Rossi put on a stunning performance by getting into the top 10 eliminating his prestigious team-mate former F1 Jordan driver Tiago Monteiro. The young Frenchman was only 6/10s off pole and less than 1/10s slower than his yardstick for the weekend, the other Seat SR Sport driven by the reigning world champion, Gabriele Tarquini. He was also just 4/100s behind Yvan Muller, the favourite for the 2010 title. In Q2, he only had worn tyres left, which were a second slower than the new rubber, but he still progressed and set the ninth-quickest time.
On Sunday the weather in the Okayama region was execrable. This did not discourage the Japanese as 31.000 spectators turned up to see the show put on by the WTCC drivers. The start was given under the safety car regime and did not allow drivers to gain places, but Rossi still overtook Chevrolet driver Alan Menu on lap 3. He moved up to seventh when Tarquini went off. Not a bad performance when you realize that Rossi had never tested the Leon TDI in such apocalyptic conditions. Unfortunately, tiny blockages in the gearbox when changing down began to pose problems and he went off for good. He started race 2 in twenty-fourth place and fought his way up to thirteenth at the flag!
Rossi tells us about his Japanese weekend: "The most positive point was qualifying. Seventeen drivers were covered by under a second in Q1 so every hundredth was crucial. The Leon TDI has a huge amount of torque and you can't accelerate in on/off mode that I'm used to doing in my Eurocup car. You have to accelerate progressively otherwise you spin the front wheels. That was my problem at the start of free practice, but we managed to sort it out. My performance didn't go unnoticed as I've had a lot of positive feedback from other entrants and good fallout in the press. It's a pity that the gearbox blocked in fourth in race 1 as I could have finished in the first eight, and that would have given me a place on the front row for race 2."
2011: Objective WTCC for Michael Rossi!