After qualifying, everything was set up for the perfect ending. All weekend, Norbert Michelisz had proven his pace as a front-runner, but was still without his first win of the 2018 World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) season. Now, this seemed like the perfect opportunity; lining up on pole position in front of his home fans, all Michelisz had to do was stay at the front. But with Gabriele Tarquini alongside him on the starting grid, that’s easier said than done.
Indeed, Michelisz’s time in the lead of the race was very short-lived. As murky clouds closed in on the track, it was Tarquini who made one of his trademark good starts, and so the Italian out-dragged Michelisz as the cars headed into turn one. In the mid-pack, Mehdi Bennani span out on the entry to turn two after contact with another car; possibly the Munnich Motorsport Honda of James Thompson. Luckily, no physical harm was done to either car, and Bennani was able to rejoin the race (albeit at the back of the pack). Pepe Oriola and Mat’o Homola also ran side-by-side through the tight turn four and then around turn five, with Oriola coming out of it in front.
As Nathanael Berthon shot off wide at turn eleven, Thed Bjork was on the up. The reigning world touring car champion had been disadvantaged throughout Sunday after he ‘dropped the ball’ in qualifying, but by the end of the first lap he wasn’t too far away from the top ten. Oriola was in the mix once again, though this time the Spaniard would be the one losing out as Bjork edged ahead of the Cupra into twelfth position. Norbert Nagy then got the better of Oriola too as the cars completed their first lap. At the front meanwhile, disaster struck for Esteban Guerrieri who had been handed a drive-through penalty for jumping the start.
Mehdi Bennani was keen to regain the places that he’d lost at the start of the race. Having passed Denis Dupont and Frederic Vervisch, the Moroccan then edged his way ahead of Zsolt Szabo to move up into 21st place. The yellow flags then came out as marshalls attempted to retrieve the stricken Audi RS3 LMS of Aurelien Panis, which was parked up with broken suspension.
As the race got back underway, Guerrieri came into the pit-lane from third place in order to serve his penalty, and in doing so held up the likes of Yvan Muller and Yann Ehrlacher behind. As a result, Tarquini and Michelisz had a healthy gap back to the rest of the field on the restart. In the mid-pack, Gordon Shedden and Aurelien Comte mirrored the sequence of events that had occurred earlier between Oriola and Homola. Once again, it was the Peugeot driver who lost out, with Comte having to concede thirteenth position to Shedden.
Back with Bjork, the Swede’s crusade up the order continued. With rain beginning to fall, Bjork overtook Jean-Karl Vernay for ninth place on the inside line through turn eleven. Then, just as the winner of race two, Rob Huff, was about to overtake James Thompson for seventh place, the race was halted as the track stewards deemed the weather to be too dangerous for slick tyres (which all cars started on).
Once the brief intermission had passed, Huff wasn’t finding it quite so easy to challenge his compatriot, Thompson. Largely, that was due to the fact that Thed Bjork had closed right up to the pair of them, and was looking eager to attack. At the front, Michelisz ran bumper to bumper with his team-mate in the final stages, but ultimately nothing would change and Tarquini took his third race victory of the season so far.
Elsewhere, another honourable mention goes to 18 year-old Benjamin Lessennes. Acting as a stand-in for Tiago Monteiro (who is still recovering from injury), Lessennes has had to learn very quickly amongst the world’s elite touring car drivers. In this race, the youngster put in his best performance yet. Sticking with the lead quartet throughout the race’s entirety, Lessennes secured a highly commendable fifth place finish. A further detail to add is that Pepe Oriola and Mat’o Homola were given ten second time penalties, after the race, for exceeding track limits too many times.
In this new Hyundai i30N TCR, 56 year-old Gabriele Tarquini appears rejuvenated as a driver, and is currently in some of the best form that we’ve seen from him in years. As the championship now heads to the infamous Nurburgring Nordschleife circuit for round three, it is Tarquini who leads the drivers’ championship.
Full race result:
[table id=2945 /]