As race two of each World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) event incorporates a reversed starting grid, Pepe Oriola and Rene Rast were the drivers lining up on the front row of the grid. On his home soil in the rejuvenated Audi RS3 TCR, Rast was the early favourite for victory pre-race. However, on the warm-up lap, it was discovered that the German’s car had a clutch issue. The odds were now swung back in the favour of pole-sitter, Oriola and the Campos Racing Cupra team.
As the lights went out, Rast did manage to get away at least, however Esteban Guerrieri moved up ahead of him from behind. With the pack jostling its way around turn one and then down to turn two, Rob Huff overtook Rast’s hindered Audi. But just as it looked as though the manoeuvre had been completed, the two cars locked wheels and promptly span out across the track. Rast’s car took to the infield and came to rest in the gravel trap. Huff wasn’t so lucky though; totally out of control, the Brit’s Volkswagen came back across the circuit and collected Benjamin Lessennes‘ Honda. Rast would be an immediate retirement, while Huff and Lessennes took to the pit-lane, but failed to re-emerge.
Still on the Grand Prix section of the Nurburgring track layout, there was more hard-fought battling in the mid-pack. This time, contact between Tom Coronel and John Filippi left the latter with a right-front puncture, forcing him to return to the pit-lane too.
At the front meanwhile, Guerrieri had managed to overtake Oriola for the lead of the race during the shenanigans of the first few corners. Once onto the Nordschleife circuit, the whole pack remained nose-to-tail. Gordon Shedden (who had qualified disappointingly after showing promising pace early on) was on a charge up the order in his quick Audi. With Gabriele Tarquini in his sights, Shedden drew up alongside amongst the depths of the Nurburgring forest. As the Scotsman passed the Italian, accidental contact was unfortunately made. At the speed in which they were travelling, this fired Tarquini into the barriers with a great deal of force. Luckily, his Hyundai didn’t rebound into traffic, but this would make it two races out of two at the Nurburgring without the championship leader scoring any points. The Green Hell was certainly living up to its nickname from Tarquini’s perspective.
As the cars worked their way around to the mile-long straight, Dottinger Hohe, the speed of the Audi RS3 TCR in the slipstream of other cars became plain to see. Frederic Vervisch sped past Yann Ehrlacher for fourth place, while his team-mate Nathanael Berthon moved up into ninth position after an audaciously timed overtake on Thed Bjork right at the very end of the straight. An issue with his Hyundai then forced Bjork into the pit-lane not long after, rendering his race pretty much over in terms of scoring any points.
An interesting dynamic then played out in the remainder of the race whereby the tightly packed cars would work hard to position themselves best for getting a slipstream along the Dottinger Hohe; one of the best overtaking opportunities on the circuit. On lap two, Vervisch made use of his Audi’s grunt once again, this time passing Yvan Muller for third place. Aurelien Panis also made a similar move along the vast straight on Aurelien Comte‘s Peugeot for thirteenth place.
As the cars re-entered the Grand Prix track, Jean-Karl Vernay and Gordon Shedden were now hot on the heels of Norbert Michelisz in sixth place. Neither could quite pull off an overtake just yet though, unlike Yvan Muller. Getting a better exit from turn one, the Frenchman managed to re-pass Vervisch for third place.
Again, once onto the lengthy Nordschleife part of the circuit, positioning for the Dottinger Hohe was key. It may sound easy to just run nose-to-tail for the best part of twenty-five kilometres, but when you combine high speeds with massive elevation changes and plenty of tight, blind corners, it is anything but easy. As an on-looker you could also watch where the cars were stronger and weaker than each other. The Hyundai, for instance, had the measure of the Audi through the twisty parts of the track, but as soon as the cars could unleash their speed the Audi came into its own.
Onto the Dottinger Hohe for the third and final time, it was now or never for Frederic Vervisch. With Muller up ahead, the Belgian pulled off a carbon-copy of the overtake he produced on the previous lap, and this time, he would manage to hold onto third place for good. Just behind, Norbert Michelisz picked up a massive slipstream and flew past Yann Ehrlacher for fifth. He closed right up to the back of Muller too, but ran out of time to make any further progress up the order.
So, for the first time this season, Argentina’s Esteban Guerrieri took victory for Munnich Motorsport, while Pepe Oriola produced a great drive in his Cupra to grab second place. A massive shout out has to go to Frederic Vervisch though. Due to either poor reliability or a lack of pace in his car, Vervisch had yet to score a single point in the championship, and failed to finish most of the races up to now. With that in mind, it must’ve been a feeling of pure relief to score his first points of the season – and claim a podium finish nonetheless – in a car which now at last seems to be working to its potential.
Elsewhere, Nathanael Berthon drove well and scored his first points in the World Touring Car Cup; again seeming to be far happier with his Audi now that the TCR Balance of Performance regulations have been updated.
Crucially, Yvan Muller’s fourth place and Gabriele Tarquini’s retirement means that the championship battle had become very close indeed. The two drivers were inseparable in fact; both with 118 points after the second race here at the Nurburgring. For Tarquini and the BRC Racing team, the more immediate battle was with the clock, however. His car wrecked after that slam into the barriers, Tarquini was a doubt to even make the start of race three.
Post-race, it was decided that Gordon Shedden was at fault for Tarquini’s crash. Consequently, the Scotsman was handed a thirty second time penalty, dropping him from eighth to eighteenth. James Thompson was also disqualified from the race due to a technical infringement by his team.
Full Race Results:
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