O’Keeffe puts emphasis on qualifying ahead of WTCR debut
Australian Dylan O’Keeffe says that qualifying is where he placing most of his focus ahead of his landmark debut in the FIA WTCR at Zolder this weekend.
O’Keeffe will drive a Vukovic Motorsport Renault Megane RS TCR car in the opening round of the touring car world championship at the famous Belgium circuit. He will become the first Australian to compete in the championship.
While TCR regulations are heavily based on parity and consistent performance amongst as many as 10 different car brands, the Vukovic Renault package is a relative newcomer in the TCR world, fighting against established brands like Hyundai, Honda, Audi, Volkswagen and more.
The qualifying format for WTCR is broken into three segments, and if you qualify outside the top 12, you start from that same position for both races. Cars qualifying inside the top 12 will get varying grid spots thanks to the unique reverse grid and shoot out qualifying system.
O’Keeffe, 22 from Melbourne, says that his focus will be to qualify as strong as possible.
“Our emphasis is going to be on qualifying pace,” O’Keeffe said.
“Zolder is a great circuit, but it will be one that is tricky to overtake, so it will be the old story of where you qualify is where you race.
“Qualifying is important because where you qualify is where you start both races. If you don’t have such a Race 1, you still start Race 2 where you qualified. So you have to make sure that you get qualifying right.
“It’s going to be intense but I’m really looking forward to it.”
O’Keeffe is under no illusions of the task at hand, understanding the calibre of drivers that he will face in his world touring car debut.
“Obviously we saw those big names come to Australia last year (Jean Karl Vernay and Nestor Girolami) and they were very quick,” he said.
“They real excel on the car knowledge side, but we have an open test day on Thursday, so we’ll have plenty of track time to get the car handling pretty well, and then we’ll know where we stack up.
“There’s 12 factory drivers in the field, so if you finish P13, it’s actually still very good. That doesn’t sound good, but it still is.
“We’ll have our work cut our for us, there’s no doubt. It will probably be the most competitive field I’ve ever raced in. But I’m trying not think about those guys too much. Yes, they are the best touring car drivers going around, but I’m here to do the best I can so I’ll worry about what I have.
“Hopefully I can have some good battles against these guys and help the team along the way.”
An official test will be held at Zolder on Thursday ahead of more practice on Friday, qualifying on Saturday and two races on Sunday.