Photo: TCR Europe

Kobe Pauwels sets practice pace at Paul Ricard in TCR Europe

Comtoyou Racing’s Kobe Pauwels set the pace in TCR Europe practice at Paul Ricard.

Pauwels’ team-mate Viktor Davidovski put the first lap time on the board in first practice, a 2:15.876 that only briefly put him at the top of the timesheet as fellow Comtoyou driver John Filippi set a 2:15.295.

Filippi improved to 2:14.748 eight-and-a-half minutes into the half-hour session, and approaching the 10-minute mark he lost first place by 0.105s to Pauwels in yet another of the Audi RS 3 LMS II TCRs.

Top spot was traded between Comtyou drivers again a few minutes later, and this time it was points leader Tom Coronel who moved ahead with a 2:13.714 lap. Pauwels improved in second place, and Target Competition’s Marco Butti went fourth fastest in his Hyundai Elantra N TCR.

There were few improvements after that, with SP Compétition’s debuting Sacha Bottemanne slotting into third place with 10 minutes to go, ALM Motorsport’s Ruben Volt going fourth fastest a few minutes later and Pauwels reducing Coronel’s advantage down to 0.345 seconds with just over five minutes to go. Bottemanne and Volt were the only other two drivers within a second of Coronel’s pace.

Nicola Baldan and Dušan Borković had faulty transponders throughout first practice, but post-session Baldan’s lap times were registered and he turned out to be sixth quickest.

Second practice had more action, and started with Butti setting the pace at 2:16.525. Bottemanne’s team-mate Aurélien Comte set a 2:14.961 benchmark nine minutes in, and led the way by 1.117s over Aggressive Team Italia’s Levente Losonczy until Pauwels – with his first flying lap – went fastest by 0.039s.

Comte immediately responded, taking back first place by 0.261s. Approaching the halfway point of the session there was only three drivers who had lapped sub-2:16, but then Davidovski set a 2:14.715 to jump to second place.

Despite setting new personal bests in sector one in two successive laps, Comte could not improve his pace and Davidovski then demoted him to second place with a 2:14.524 lap. More drivers broke into 2:15 territory, with Coronel in last place until he finally set a flying lap with 10 minutes to go.

It put him straight into fourth, and he was on course to take first place with his next lap but then cut turn eight and opted to pit as he knew his lap time would be deleted.

With eight minutes remaining Pauwels went fastest by 2.070s, then headed to the pits. Comte finally improved but sat 1.771s behind, then Filippi got within 0.304s of Pauwels by setting a 2:12.758 with three-and-a-half minutes to go.

In the final minute Coronel set a 1:13.151 to move back up to third, and Butti finished the session in fourth and leading a group of drivers unable to break the 2:14 barrier.

Next up is qualifying, starting at 11:35 CEST on Saturday.