Photo: ACI Sport

High emotions after controversial penalty ruling that decided TCR Italy title

Franco Girolami was crowned TCR Italy champion in controversial circumstances before a wheel had even been turned at the Imola season finale, after officials elected to overturn a post-race penalty from the Monza round earlier in the year.

Girolami had originally won the Monza race on the road last month, but was demoted to ninth after being penalised five seconds for overtaking under safety car conditions.

Aikoa Racing subsequently appealed the decision, but instead of the penalty being overturned, ACI officials held a video conference hearing and recommended increasing the punishment from five seconds to 35 seconds, stripping Girolami of all points gained in the race.

However, the penalty was then withdrawn, handing back the victory to Girolami and mathematically crowning the Argentinian driver before the Imola weekend began.

In a brief statement, ACI Sport said: “The Sports Court of Appeal, on 27 October, pronounced its ruling on the appeals relating to Race 1 of TCR Italy in Monza. Specifically, number 11, i.e. the appeal of the complaint [of] the decision of the Stewards [13-16 September]. [The stewards] accepted the appeal and cancelled the sanction. Franco Girolami (Audi RS 3 LMS) therefore takes back the victory that had been handed over to his direct rival for the title, Niels Langeveld (Honda Civic FL5).”

MM Motorsport team principal Emanuele Alborghetti told TouringCarTimes that he could not make sense of the nature or timing of the decision.

“As MM Motorsport we do not understand the sudden change of ruling between the video call where we’ve been presented with one sentence and then a sudden overnight change of ruling,” he said.

“We cannot understand that no justification has been given to this critical championship deciding the night before crowning a new champion. We believe this behaviour from the championship will deter future participants and sponsorships.”

Outgoing champion Langeveld went further in his immediate reaction.

“I am extremely disappointed in the way this championship has been decided,” he told TouringCarTimes. “A championship should be decided on the track, and not with an appeal at the court.

“We didn’t get any explanation over the sudden change of the decision of the appeal for Girolami; we are completely in the dark. Over the last two years I have been racing in Italy, I have got many appeals against me. I did not make a single one myself. It says all about the way our opponents wants to beat us.

“We have shown this season again that we were the strongest out there. A very unlucky power steering issue, and especially the puncture in Vallelunga made us lose the championship.”

Girolami finished second in the opening race of the weekend, ahead of Langeveld and third in the season finale on Sunday, right behind Langeveld.

But the title battle was already decided in the Audi driver’s favour. And it should be noted that even if Girolami had been stripped of his Monza win, he would still be champion.

“The feeling is incredible!” he said. “It sounds easy, but behind it there was a lot of effort and sacrifice to achieve it. Back in 2021 when I arrived in Europe it was only to do two or three races, nothing more, and today I find myself with a European and Italian Title. I can’t believe it.

Aioka Racing and Girolami appealed the Monza penalty, stating that the Argentinian driver was ahead of Volt at the finishing line prior to the yellow flags and that it was the Honda driver who initiated an overtaking move after that, rather than Girolami.

“I think justice was done,” said Girolami. “For that there are judges and a supervisory body. We have appealed, maintaining that at the finish line I was the leader and the one who initiated the overtaking of me with a yellow flag was Volt. And they have proven us right.”