Lined up on the grid ahead of the start of the race, the front row was locked-out by two white Hyundai i30N TCRs. With Thed Bjork on pole position, and team-mate Yvan Muller alongside, the YMR team had looked ominously quick up to this point. A victory for Bjork would’ve been just what the doctor ordered after a dreadful weekend in Hungary last time out, but unfortunately for the Swede, Yvan Muller had other plans.
With Zsolt Szabo stranded in pit-lane, the race got underway and it was Muller who got the best launch. Drawing alongside Bjork on the inside line, the Frenchman had taken the lead pretty much immediately. For Bjork, this would feel all too familiar after he lost a potential race win to Gabriele Tarquini due to a poor getaway back in Morocco.
Behind the leaders, the grid fanned out on the entrance to turn one. As Benjamin Lessennes ran wide and then made contact with Yann Ehrlacher, Rob Huff moved up into fourth place by passing Esteban Guerrieri. Things were about to get a lot worse for Guerrieri, however, who found himself spun out by Tarquini on the exit of turn one. Although not everyone was pointing in the right direction, all the cars were at least still going as the field pressed on.
Amongst the chaos, Jean-Karl Vernay managed to pick his way up into fifth place having started down in ninth, while fellow Audi drivers Frederic Vervisch and Rene Rast had moved up into the top ten from 13th and 15th respectively. Up at the front, Huff was on a charge. Having dispensed of Guerrieri, the Brit then brushed his way past Norbert Michelisz for third place as the cars left the Grand Prix layout and entered the Nordschleife circuit.
Frederic Vervisch had Tom Coronel in his sights; both of whom had been running very well so far in practice and qualifying. Utilising the straight-line speed of his Audi, Vervisch swiftly moved ahead of Coronel’s Honda for seventh place through the Schwedenkreuz curve. Tarquini’s Hyundai was the next target for Vervisch, while Rene Rast also moved ahead of Coronel. Once onto the mile-long straight, Dottinger Hohe, Vervisch used the slipstream to draw alongside Tarquini. The sheer grunt of the Hyundai was enough to keep the cars level, however, and by the time the pair entered the tight Tiergarten complex it looked as though Tarquini would hold on.
The Italian took way too much speed into the corner though, and slid off into the barrier. As Vervisch, Rast and the rest of the field raced past, Tarquini had no choice but to retire his destroyed Hyundai. In a title bid, it’s these sort of moments which can often prove to be crucial; not only had he lost a bunch of positions, Tarquini had lost a bunch of valuable championship points too.
Onto lap two of three at the 25 kilometre circuit, and Rene Rast was certainly making the most of his wildcard appearance on home soil. The reigning DTM champion made his way past fellow Audi driver, Vervisch, for sixth place with relative ease after the Belgian ran too deep into turn one. This would signal the beginning of the end for Vervisch. Tragically, bad luck struck the former GT racer once again; a catastrophic mechanical failure meant he had to pull over to the side of the track with smoke billowing from his car’s engine bay. The search for his first championship point of the season should’ve ended in this race, but unfortunately for Vervisch, it wasn’t to be.
Up at the front, the leading quartet made their way onto Dottinger Hohe for the second time. With the slipstream in effect, Rob Huff and Norbert Michelisz closed right up to the back of Muller and Bjork, with Michelisz even coming up alongside Huff to try to retake third place. Huff held his ground though, and kept third place as the cars entered Tiergarten. It had been a fantastic drive from the 2012 world champion; Rob Huff had kept pace with – and challenged – the rapid Hyundai trio for the entirety of the race in his Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR. There was even the sense that maybe he could do better than third…
It wasn’t the case however, and despite running side-by-side through Dottinger Hohe once again on the final lap, a status quo remained between the leading four cars. Yvan Muller would take his first race win of the 2018 season just ahead of team-mate Thed Bjork, while Rob Huff fended off Norbert Michelisz for third place. There was a bit of a gap to Jean-Karl Vernay in fifth place, but the Audi Team WRT squad have got to be commended for their performance in this opening race. Behind Vernay, Rast moved up from 15th on the grid to finish sixth, while Gordon Shedden moved up from 17th to finish seventh. In total, the three drivers combined had completed twenty-three overtakes.
Pepe Oriola did well to take eighth in his Cupra, just ahead of Tom Coronel and Benjamin Lessennes who completed the top ten. Aurelien Panis finished eleventh, narrowly missing out on his first championship points of the 2018 campaign.
In terms of the championship points table, the fact that neither Tarquini nor Yann Ehrlacher scored any points in this opening race means that the benefits of Muller’s race win have been maximised. Moving up into second place in the standings, Muller has slashed Tarquini’s lead by twenty-five points and is now right in contention. Can Tarquini fight back in the remaining two races here at the Nurburgring? We’ll find out in the coming days…
Full Race Result:
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