First WTCR win for Honda as Ehrlacher comes out on top

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Credit: Thomas Fenetre/DPPI

The Hungaroring, one of the most atmospheric venues on the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) calendar, was brimming with expectant Hungarian fans as the first race of the weekend drew ever closer. Serenaded by an orchestra of air horns, local hero, Norbert Michelisz, lined up on pole position in his BRC Racing Hyundai i30N TCR – the car which recently dominated at the Circuit Moulay el-Hassan. In the hot conditions, a home victory looked like it could well be on the cards.

The scene was set for a moment of Hungarian glory, but Esteban Guerrieri clearly hadn’t read that particular script. Starting alongside Michelisz on the front row, Guerrieri got the better launch and promptly took the lead of the race as the cars headed into turn one. Just behind them in the mid-pack, cars scattered in avoidance as a collision between Norbert Nagy and John Filippi left the latter stranded sideways on the racing line. Ultimately, this would prove costly for both drivers as they would be forced to retire before the race had even really begun.

As Guerrieri, Michelisz and Tarquini battled for the lead, Yann Ehrlacher was able to swiftly get past all of them. Credit: WTCR

Back with the leaders, having run wide on the exit of turn one, Guerrieri was now ferociously defending against BRC Racing team-mates Michelisz and Gabriele Tarquini. As the field dived into turn two for the first time, Guerrieri shoved the Hyundai duo wide, leaving the door open for Yann Ehrlacher to move swiftly into the lead of the race. Guerrieri managed to hold onto second place just about, but once the cars had shuffled into order on entry to turn four, it was Yvan Muller who found himself in third place. Another man on the up was Rob Huff. Lunging to the inside of Tarquini into turn five, the Brit had made up three positions to work his way up into fifth place on the opening lap.

On lap two, Fabrzio Giovanardi tried an optimistic overtake attempt on Nathanael Berthon at turn four, forcing the Audi driver onto the run-off area. Berthon held firm in thirteenth position however. Just as he had done in Marrakech, Giovanardi had made a demon start in this first race at Hungary. Having started twentieth, the Italian had hauled his Alfa Romeo up into fourteenth place already. Amongst the same group of cars, Aurelien Panis barged his way past Tom Coronel, breaking something on the Dutchman’s Honda. Unfortunately for Coronel, this damage would lead to retirement.

Rob Huff made good early progress, finding himself in fifth place by the end of lap one. Credit: WTCR

In the lower end of the top ten, Thed Bjork was struggling for pace in his YMR-prepared Hyundai. Under threat from Jean-Karl Vernay, the Swede dropped down to ninth place after Vernay was able to create an overtaking opportunity on the inside line into turn two. In fact, both YMR Hyundai i30N TCRs appeared to be struggling somewhat. Up at the front, Muller was now being shadowed very closely by Michelisz, while the Honda team-mates, Ehrlacher and Guerrieri, scampered away in first and second place respectively.

On lap five, Michelisz dived to the inside of Muller on entry to turn one. The Hungarian had taken too much speed into the corner however, and thus ran out wide, off onto the run-off area. Miraculously, Michelisz slotted in between Muller and Huff once again as he rejoined the circuit – somehow, no significant time had been lost. Giovanardi’s storm up the field came to an ubrupt end on lap nine. After his Team Mulsanne team-mate, Gianni Morbidelli, had retired at the halfway stage with mechanical woes, a right rear puncture on Giovanardi’s Alfa Romeo would see his race end prematurely as well.

Norbert Michelisz (pictured) and Yvan Muller had a race-long battle for the final spot on the podium. Credit: Thomas Fenetre/DPPI

In the battle for tenth, the youngest driver on the grid, Benjamin Lessennes, made a very costly error. Locking up into turn one, the Belgian speared into the right-rear quarter of James Thompson‘s Honda. The Brit was pitched sideways and dropped down to thirteenth position, and as such, Lessennes was handed a ten-second time penalty. The main beneficiary of this was Rob Huff’s team-mate, Mehdi Bennani, who was gifted tenth place – and the championship point that comes with it – after Lessennes’ penalty. Lessennes wasn’t the only one to get a penalty for the stewards, however. His Belgian compatriot, Denis Dupont, picked up a time penalty due to exceeding track limits on five separate occasions.

Much to the delight of the fans in the grandstand, Michelisz finally managed to get the overtake on Muller completed, as the cars headed onto the penultimate lap of the race. After getting a fantastic exit from turn thirteen, Michelisz drew alongside Muller (who had become a bit of a pantomime villain after the pair came to blows in Morocco) and made the move stick on the inside line into turn one.

Yann Ehrlacher finished on the top step of the podium, with Esteban Guerrieri and Norbert Michelisz alongside. Credit: Thomas Fenetre/DPPI

Of the two local wildcard entries for the Hungaroring race weekend, it was Daniel Nagy who had the most success in race one. Behind the wheel of the M1RA-prepared Hyundai, Nagy crossed the line in a tremendous seventh place. Attila Tassi, meanwhile, brought his KCMG-prepared Honda home in ninteenth place.

But at the front of the field, it was Ehrlacher who took the race win for Munnich Motorsport, with team-mate Guerrieri just behind in second place. The loudest cheers, however, were for Michelisz. It wasn’t the race win that he’d dreamed of, but a third place podium finish is still a great result in front of his home fans.

Hungaroring Race 1 Result

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