Vernay triumphant as Oriola takes victory

by Alessio Campigotto

Jean-Karl Vernay (Leopard Racing Team WRT) headed into the first of the two races today knowing a finish in front of nearest rival Attila Tassi would guarantee the Frenchman would seal his first ever touring car title with a race to spare. Even more comfortably, he would start the race from second on the grid alongside team-mate Gordon Shedden, whilst Tassi would be mired down on the fifth row of the grid for the start of the race.

However, Vernay would fluff his initial lines as he bogged down at the start and dropped behind his team-mate and Pepe Oriola (Lukoil Craft-Bamboo Racing), who made a blistering start in his SEAT Leon TCR to jump into the lead from the second row of the grid heading into turn 1.

Aurelien Comte (DG Sport Competition) would also make a beautiful getaway, moving into fourth from ninth on the grid whilst Gianni Morbidelli (West Coast Racing) would be forced to hobble back to the pit-lane after one lap as contact in the first corner would leave his Golfs’ front-left tyre punctured.

Tassi himself had made a decent start to launch himself up to sixth on track with Vernay in sight of the Hungarian, although he would have to make his way past James Nash and Comte in order to reach him. His task was, however, made one step easier when Comte was forced to pull his Opel into the pit-lane, his engine examined by his DG Sport mechanics although the Frenchman wouldn’t return to the track.

The safety car would then soon be deployed when contact between Roberto Colciago and Daniel Lloyd sent the Brit heavily into the outside wall nose-first, leaving his SEAT with massive front end damage. Colciago would be forced into retirement as the contact left him with a front-left puncture. Lloyd would join Comte and Alain Menu (BRC Racing), who had retired early on with mechanical issues.

The race would resume 2 laps later with Oriola leading a the tightly bunched field across the line, with Tassi now on Vernay’s tail in fifth. Gabriele Tarquini, who started last after an engine change in the remaining Hyundai, had begun to work his way up the order, reaching third from seventh within the space of 5 laps, yet a puncture on the penultimate lap would put him out of the podium fight.

The spot-light remained firmly fixed, however, on the battling title rivals in fourth and fifth behind Nash with the trio heading into the final lap nose-to-nose. Tassi would search for a way past his rival, but ultimately Vernay would be able to pass Nash for third after the Brit made a mistake, providing JK with a cushion between himself and Tassi to allow him to take a comfortable third and thus the 2017 title. Pepe Oriola would meanwhile score his first TCR victory since the opening round in Georgia, leading Shedden on his début across the line.

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