Photo: TCR Europe

John Filippi reflects on route to first TCR World Tour win

John Filippi had to wait 122 races at touring car racing’s top level before making the top step of the podium, and now he is secure he can do it again.

The Comtoyou Racing driver won the reversed-grid TCR World Tour race at Spa-Francorchamps last weekend, putting him ninth in the standings there but also second in the TCR Europe points table as the races counted towards both.

Filippi’s first four years at the top level were in the World Touring Car Championship, driving a SEAT Léon WTCC and then a Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 for Campos Racing over three seasons and finishing no higher than eighth, then switching to Sébastien Loeb Racing and the previously dominant Citroën C-Elysée WTCC chassis for his fourth season and finishing fourth in two races.

He then returned to Campos for the first season of the World Touring Car Cup and netted a best finish of fifth before switching focus in 2019 to TCR Europe. TouringCarTimes spoke to him after he finally claimed his first victory at the world level.

“Well I will say it was much easier than yesterday’s race, because the track temperature was a little bit lower,” Filippi said.

“We took some risk on the set-up [in Race 1] to see where we can find the limit of the car to use the maximum potential of the tyre during the race without having too much degradation for the end of the race. Because the biggest risk here, even if we take a good start and you’re leading the race, is the safety car.

“If you have the safety car and you have a restart and the guy behind is very close and has a good tow, he can overtake in turn five. So it was really, really, really important to be focused on the tyre degradation, so the game was pushing without overpushing the tyre.”

The race one plan worked out perfectly for race two, as Filippi converted his pole position slot on the grid into a lights-to-flag win. He also evaded the engine temperature concerns that some of the drivers behind had.

“My temperature was okay because I had nobody in front. So when I checked sector one and sector three, I’m one of the slowest of the pack at the front because I don’t have a slipstream. So it’s making a big difference [in speed but also temperature].”

On what it actually meant to win, Fillipi said “it’s amazing” after “a long time that I’m waiting for this moment”. To be precise, it was 3332 days on from his WTCC debut.

“I think it’s one of the best moments of my career because I achieved something that I was waiting and working for for so long. But the race by itself is just a demonstration of everything that I learned in the past, and it’s a good feeling to show this, to show to everyone that finally I’m able to do this.

“If you look when I started my career in the WTCC, it was the big years of Citroën, Honda, I was fighting with the Chevrolet as a private driver against manufacturer drivers. So it was very difficult to have a win, I remember this. Also, one year that I’d been in WTCR when it was more, I would say ‘easier’ to achieve a win, I did only one year there. And it was not my [best] year, honestly.

“It’s only the second race weekend since I’ve come back to world-level events this year, and I won with a very good team, with myself much more experienced on my side. So I was much more confident than in the past years.”

Coming into the Spa weekend, the rest of the paddock had predicted the Audi RS 3 LMS II to be the car to beat, and particularly in the hands of Comtoyou’s drivers. While TCR now is far more equal than the old days of the WTCC thanks to Balance of Performance measures, there are some tracks that still favour certain car types and the long straights of Spa was a point of strength for the Audi.

“All you have to do is focus on yourself, on your car, use the maximum of the potential of the car in the good part, and try to save the car in I would say the weakness that the car can have on some tracks,” Filippi said when asked if his long-awaited victory would have been possible with a less favourable BoP.

“For sure in Spa I can say that the Audi is good, [especially] in sector one, but we struggle a lot in sector two. And this is very important for the driver to be able to do the difference in both. Because for example it’s not easy to be flatout in Eau Rouge, and if you are not, you can not do a good sector one or taking a gap to the guys behind you for sector two. And then after, you’re in danger for sector three. So all the game is here for TCR drivers is to be able to adapt themself to the car.”

Filippi’s priority this year is actually TCR Europe rather than the TCR World Tour, and he has claimed the points for a podium result in five of the six races despite finishing two of those outside of the top eight due to non-scoring World Tour entrants finishing ahead of him. A continuation of that points-scoring form is “for sure” an expectation now, but Filippi is also aiming for more World Tour success too.

“We have a good wind behind, and we have to continue. I’m thinking of going to Vallelunga for the World Tour to fight I’d say without the pressure of the championship of TCR Europe, and be able to fight with the guys of the World Tour a bit more wheel-to-wheel. Actually, in this kind of race this weekend, I can’t fight them – for me they are like ghosts. At the end I am losing positions in the general classification, but I’m focused on the TCR Europe classification because it’s a championship for me, it’s very important.”