In the wake of the dramas from race two, neither Rene Rast nor Gabriele Tarquini made it to the start of race three. For Rast, this would signal an underwhelming end to his wildcard appearance in the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR). After his rapid pace in free practice, penalties and collisions meant that the reigning DTM champion never really had the opportunity to string together the race results that he threatened to produce. While this will have been disappointing for the local German fans, it is the BRC Racing team who’ll be most concerned. A non-start for their lead driver Tarquini meant that the championship leader would score a grand total of zero points from the Nurburgring. After seeming untouchable in the early rounds, the tables have well and truly turned on the experienced Italian.
As such, Tarquini’s championship rivals would’ve wanted to capitalise as much as possible on his absence, and they were in good positions to do so. Thed Bjork lined up from pole position for race three in his Hyundai, while Tarquini’s closest rival, Yvan Muller, would start from the second row of the starting grid. As the lights went out, Muller made easy work of getting by Norbert Michelisz, forcing the Hungarian out wide at turn one. As a result, Yann Ehrlacher and Rob Huff also took advantage, but Benjamin Lessennes‘ attempt at getting past Michelisz didn’t quite materialise.
Just behind, Jean-Karl Vernay found a way past Tom Coronel, and in the same manoeuvre Gordon Shedden and Mehdi Bennani followed him through on the outside line. Once off the Grand Prix track and onto the Nordschleife circuit, Esteban Guerrieri had passed Lessennes and was now latched onto the back of Michelisz. Eager to push forward after his victory in race two, Guerrieri lunged to the inside line at Arenberg and barged his way by Michelisz’s Hyundai. The Hungarian had been dealt a pretty rough draw in the early stages of this race, and after his latest shove, found himself drop to eleventh place having started from third.
The stewards took notice of Guerrieri’s rather brash behaviour, and promptly awarded him a ten second time penalty. Having wound their way through the vast forests of the Nurburgring, the field eventually made their way onto the incredibly lengthy straight, Dottinger Hohe. Due to the effect of the slipstream, this would be one of the best overtaking opportunities around the circuit. Indeed, Nathanael Berthon was the first to strike, sweeping past Pepe Oriola‘s Cupra.
The story of the race however, was at the front. Frederic Vervisch has kick-started his WTCR career this weekend; his Audi RS3 TCR seemingly having come to life after the recent changes in the TCR Balance of Performance regulations. With Bjork leading, the main question was whether or not Vervisch could hold onto the back of the Hyundai for long enough throughout the Nordschleife circuit in order to take advantage of the slipstream along Dottinger Hohe.
Onto lap two, Gordon Shedden’s difficult weekend was getting tougher. Running in twelfth place, Mehdi Bennani launched a late assault on the Scotsman at the Grand Prix hairpin. With contact made, Bennani drove by Shedden and so too did Tom Coronel and Aurelien Panis. The Moroccan would pick up a five second time penalty for his role in the incident, while Shedden picked up damage leaving his car rather hobbled. Onto the Dottinger Hohe for the second time, the cars ran three-wide in the mid-pack. Aurelien Comte was a sitting duck in his Peugeot as Denis Dupont flew by on one side and Fabrizio Giovanardi attempted to do likewise on the other.
Again, Vervisch was unable to get an overtake done along the straight, but he had managed to close up enough to apply real pressure onto the back of Thed Bjork at the beginning of the final lap. Side-by-side through turn one, it looked as though Vervisch may well have had the job done, but contact was made which slowed both of them down and Bjork managed to hold on to the lead. Meanwhile, Yann Ehrlacher’s Honda succumbed to a terminal mechanical failure, dropping him out of fourth place.
Esteban Guerrieri then made light work of getting by Rob Huff, who by this time was reporting a loss of power in his Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR. Benjamin Lessennes was the next to take advantage of Huff’s misfortune, while Mat’o Homola barged his way past the equally hobbled Audi of Gordon Shedden (earning him a five second time penalty). Inevitably, Huff dropped like a stone, right up until the point in which Norbert Michelisz closed up to the back of him. Eager to get past the Brit as quickly as possible, Michelisz dived into a gap that closed rapidly as the track tightened. Piling into the back of the Volkswagen (which slammed into the barriers), Michelisz’s Hyundai ploughed into the wall and rebounded back across the track; debris flying everywhere. Miraculously, Tom Coronel and Aurelien Panis zig-zagged their way through the carnage without any further contact being made.
That proved to be the final action from the World Touring Car Cup at the Nurburgring; Vervisch didn’t quite manage to dethrone Bjork for the race lead, but second place would signal his best result of 2018. Thed Bjork took the chequered flag and claimed his first victory of the season; the Swede putting himself right back into contention in what is proving to be a hard-fought championship battle. Crucially, Yvan Muller brought his Hyundai home in third place which means that he leaves Germany as the leader in the championship points table.
The World Touring Car Cup is back again next week, this time heading to the Dutch coastal race circuit, Zandvoort.
Full Race Results:
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