Positive final racing weekend for Francesca Raffaele at Imola in the Italian TCR
In the Imola season finale, Francesca Raffaele completed her rookie campaign in Italy's TCR series with a double top-ten finish.
The legendary Imola circuits was the stage of the final weekend of the 2020 Italian TCR season. Rookie driver Francesca Raffaele entered the season finale strong from her fourth place claimed at Monza in the penultime round, her best finish of a very convincing first year.
Joining to the usual drivers that competed in the Italian-based 2020 touring car season, the field in Imola was up to 21 entries - with the addition of drivers coming from either TCR Europe and WTCR.
The 18-year old lady at the wheel of the Target Competition Hyundai i30 N TCR hit the track in Imola on Friday for the practice sessions, where she showed good pace in FP1, which was contested under the wet conditions.
“In FP1 it was quite good, tenth place and improved quite a lot on the wet track despite I usually struggle here in Imola, it’s definitely not my favourite track.”
The challenging conditions remained throughout all Friday and forced the TCR drivers to a tackle an even more tricky FP2.
"In the second practice the track mixed-conditions were a lot more critical, we went out with rain tyres at the front and slicks at the rear. I struggled a lot and really didn’t feel good with the car, but overall I’m confident for tomorrow and we’ll try to have a good result here in Imola.” - said Francesca Raffaele.
The sun was back shining high in the sky on Saturday and the Target Competition lady qualified P14 for the afternoon's Race 1.
Jacopo Guidetti secured pole position and title condenter Eric Brigliadori completed the first row.
"This morning the qualifying didn't go to plan, we started with two new tyres but we encountered a few Full Course Yellows, so we decided to stop and change them." - explained Francesca.
"After the tyre change I only really had two laps to set a fast lap and I couldn't warm up the tyres enough, so I didn't set the time we were expecting."
"I will try to have a good start to Race 1 from P14" - said Raffaele.
At the start - as it's often the case at Imola - there was some chaotic action at the Tamburello chicane, with Matteo Poloni going through the gravel - with no significant damage to his Audi RS3 LMS TCR - and rejoining at the back of the pack.
Spanish driver Mikel Azcona - a familiar face in the European TCR and WTCR paddocks - had a phenomenal start from eight place o the grid and took the lead, followed by pole sitter Jacopo Guidetti. Francesca Raffaele was up to P13.
A big tourning point of the first race came when one of the main title contenders, Eric Brigliadori, was forced to retire after a hard battle with Felice Jelmini.
The Hyundai driver, after his fight against Brigliadori, started to pressure Guidetti's third position and overtook him on lap 6. Jelmini was in fact the fastest driver on track up until that point.
Meanwhile, Mikel Azcona pulled away and built a comfortable gap from second-place racer Jonathan Giacon. Francesca Raffaele further made up two positions and got increasingly near the top-10.
The final stages of Race 1 were marked by the battle between Igor Stefanovski, Nicola Baldan and Ibragim Akhmadov for the top five places.
At the end of a robust fight, the Russian driver of the MM Motorsport Honda retained his fifth position until the chequered flag.
Another title contender, Marco Pellegrini, saw his championship hopes coming to an end at Rivazza, finishing 12th and leaving the 2020 title battle.
Azcona won with almost a 7 seconds gap to Giacon and Jelmini completed the podium.
Francesca Raffaele ended Race 1 with a positive ninth position, recovering 5 places from the start of the race.
"Starting from P14, I scored a P9. It wasn't easy, the weather conditions were very difficult. It was very cold and was hard to warm up the tyres, but this has been an issue for all the drivers. We did a good job." - she commented.
Stefanovski took the Race 2 leadership thanks to an impressive reaction at the green lights from the second grid slot, but pole sitter Azcona recovered at Tosa.
Felice Jelmini maintained third place, while Giacon and Baldan fought for P4.
Salvatore Tavano was protagonist of a great comeback from P20 on the grid and completed the first lap in twelfth, just ahead of Francesca Raffaele.
On lap 2, Felice Jelmini - in the desperate attempt to move up into second - made a mistake and was out at the Rivazza corner, leaving third place in Giacon's hands. The latter immediately closed the gap to the two front-runners.
Jonathan Giacon tried to attack Stefanovski's second position on lap 3, but made contact with the Macedonian driver who was then forced to stop in the pits.
Eric Brigliadori took advantage from that battle and advanced to P3, followed by Pellegrini in fourth - while also Guidetti, Tavano and Baldan were bunched up in this close train of cars and in contention for a podium position.
On lap 5, Brigliadori stepped up to second place as he could overtake Giacon at Tamburello, and few laps later the MM Motorsport's driver ultimately left the battle for the podium for problem on his Honda Civic.
Francesca Raffale was flawless and kept making up positions lap after lap: she recovered up to P8 and left behind both Reduzzi and Akhmadov.
In the final minutes, Pellegrini and Baldan engaged in an intese duel for P4; the Target Competition driver went out at Tumberello as he tried to pass the rival.
Despite a late mistake that allowed Brigliadori to close the gap from the leading Spaniard, Mikel Azcona also won Sunday's race and signed a stunning double-victory for Cupra Team Girasole.
With this second place, young driver Eric Brigliadori was crowned 2020 TCR Italy champion.
Jacopo Guidetti completed the podium, and Francesca Raffaele concluded her very positive final 2020 weekend with a seventh spot - which gave the young Italian the third step on the under-25 podium.
"In the second race I had a bad start and in fact I lost out a couple of positions, but I managed to gain them back during the first and second lap." - she told us after her weekend in Imola.
"After that, I spent most of the race trying to catch up with the drivers ahead; I made some more passes and finished seventh".
"It wasn't again a very easy race, the overall level of the field during this weekend was really high. But I can say that both myself and the team are quite happy with the results in this final round".
With a fourth and a fifth place finish under her belt in her rookie season, we can definitely say that 18-year old Francesca Raffaele started off her car racing career with the right foot. With her plans for 2021 still to be confirmed, we can't wait to learn more about her next steps in motor racing in the coming months.