Point scoring weekend for Francesca Raffaele in TCR Italy
Updated: Sep 6, 2022
Francesca Raffaele was the protagonist of great battles and good comebacks in TCR Italy's fifth round of the season at Imola, where the young Italian scored points in race 1 and was involved in a contact on the final lap in race 2, which cost her another point-scoring finish.
The return season of Francesca Raffaele to TCR Italy has been a really positive one, with plenty of positives - as well as lots of bad luck.
At the season opener in Monza, Raffaele reacclimated with the car after a year-long hiatus following an injury - but she was straight back in the game from the second round in Imola, where she scored points in both races.
Misano, in June, was one of her strongest weekends to date - but her pace couldn't be converted into race results after she was hit and crashed out of the races both on Saturday - on the formation lap - and on Sunday.
She would bounce back in Mugello, where the young Target Competition driver was back in the top 10, claiming her best result of the season to date with P8 in race 1 and yet another point-scoring finish in race 2.
While she has never hidden the fact that Imola is not one of her favourite tracks, Francesca Raffaele has historically performed well at Autodromo Enzo and Dino Ferrari - and the fifth round of the season seemed to suggest another double-point scoring weekend.
In one of the most competitive TCR championship worldwide - the Italian series had a 37-car field in Imola - Francesca was right in the mid field in the opening practice sessions and she set the 19th fastest time in qualifying: starting from P18 and P19 in the two races, Raffaele would have some extra work to do in the 30 minute plus one lap races to do in order to grab some points. But tenacity is certainly not a missing feature in Francesca's character.
Niels Langeveld (Target Competition) snatched first place from Tamburini at the start of the first race of the weekend, as the almost 40 cars approached the Tamburello corner - some of them drifting off the track. The Safety Car was deployed soon after, when Ruben Volt was off at the second chicane, neutralizing the race.
With a brilliant start off the line, Francesca Raffaele had already gained a few places and, at the race restart, she had slotted into P15.
The Peugeot 308 of Jimmy Clairet also had a great first lap, but then lost positions at the green flag when he dropped behind Babuin and Jelmini in eighth.
Meanwhile, Langefeld had checked out from the two fast MM Motorsport Honda Civic FK7 of Iannotta and Tamburini.
Raffaele continued her charge and, having gained 14th place, she battled with Ventaja. She could further advance to P13 when Babuin retired after a hard hit on the kerbs and Jelmini also hit trouble, having picked up a puncture.
After a close fight with Ruben Fernandez (Auto Club RC2 Valles Audi RS3 LMS), Raffaele was hit at Tamburello and lost a position but could continue.
Another exciting duel saw Sabatino Di Mare and Steven Giacon battling for the DSG class lead: after a small mistake at Villeneuve Chicane, Di Mare lost first place when Giacon completed a stunning move around the outside at Piratella. Di Mare, though, fought back at Variante Alta and forced Giacon to straight-line the chicane.
In the final minute of the race, Damiano Reduzzi crashed heavily at the exit of Villeneuve chicane, bringing out the red flag. While the Hyundai i30 was not in great shape, the driver emerged unhurt.
With a dominant performance, Niels Langeveld took victory and preceded Marco Iannotta and Carlo Tamburini. The red flag meant that the race was called on lap 13 and Francesca Raffaele was classified in P15 - which gained her one point for the championship.
On another very hot Italian summer day, the second race of the weekend went underway at 13:10 local time.
Matteo Poloni (BF Motorsport) shared the front row of the grid with Denis Babuin, just ahead of championship leader Salvatore Tavano.
At lights out, Poloni held the lead as the top three immediately opened a gap to the rest of the pack. Manel Bissa went off and hit the tyre barriers at Tosa, but the race remained green.
From 19th on the grid, Francesca Raffaele lost one place to Fernandez, but soon gained it back when Tamburin was pushed off track at the exit of Acque Minerali.
Raffaele continued to recover positions and climbed to P16 after a hard battle - that would go on for most of the race - with Cappello and Gurrieri.
A Safety Car midway through the race was triggered by Giacon's Tecnodom Audi TCR DSG coming to a halt on the run down towards Rivazza.
The green flag waved once again with 6 minutes to go, giving Babuin the perfect opportunity to attack Poloni - but the latter defended well. Clairet, meanwhile, had to cut through the gravel at Tamburello and dropped down the order, as race 1 winner Langefeld tried to recover from seventh place.
After a brilliant restart, Francesca Raffaele gained more positions and was up to P13, breaking in the point scoring positions.
Babuin kept the pressure on Poloni and eventually made a move stick with one minute left on the clock - as also Tavano seized the opportunity to snatch second place. Poloni lost momentum and was overtaken also by Brusa, Langeveld and Vahtel.
Denis Babuin claimed victory after a dramatic final lap, preceding Tavano and Brusa.
On the last lap, Francesca Raffaele suffered turbo-related issues that cost her the points. She was ultimately classified in P22.
Despite the final lap chaos, Francesca showed great fighting spirit and had good comebacks in the races, always making up positions from the start.
She will take the positives into the final race weekend of the season, as TCR Italy will head to Vallelunga, outskirts of Rome, in two weeks' time for the final double-header.