Having withdrawn from race two to avoid picking up any damage, Jean-Karl Vernay had put all his eggs into the race three basket. As a result of an engine change penalty, Vernay would’ve had to start race two from last place and so was unlikely to score any points in that event anyway. With his car in perfect running condition, the Frenchman lined up on pole position for the final World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race at Zandvoort.
Alongside him on the front row of the starting grid was Rob Huff. In the Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR, Huff had been rapid so far throughout the weekend. As the lights went out, Huff got a better getaway than Vernay and tried to move past on the inside line. Vernay was having none of it though, and swiftly closed the door on the British driver. Just behind, there was a change for third place as the cars headed into the Hugenholtz bend, with Frederic Vervisch brushing past Esteban Guerrieri. At the tail-end of the field, contact between Zsolt Szabo and local hero Tom Coronel saw the premature end to both drivers’ participation.
In the early stages, much of the battling was happening in the mid-lower section of the pack. Norbert Nagy lost out to Norbert Michelisz and Michael Verhagen in the battle for 19th place, meanwhile up ahead, Denis Dupont lost 12th position to Benjamin Lessennes and his team-mates Nathanael Berthon and Aurelien Panis. The pride would be short-lived for Lessennes however as the young Belgian had to return to pit-lane with a wheel issue, ruining his race. Then, on the start of lap four, Michael Verhagen completely misjudged his braking zone into turn one. Locking up the brakes, the Dutch wildcard entry narrowly missed the rear of Michelisz’s Hyundai as he shot off into the gravel trap. He would re-emerge in 23rd place.
After the opening few laps, it became evident that this had become nothing more than a testing session for the Hyundai drivers. All weekend, the quartet had struggled with woeful car performance as a result of the updated Balance of Performance measures. Clearly trialling a variety of set-up adjustments, Yvan Muller and Norbert Michelisz were in and out of the pit-lane on multiple occasions from lap six onwards.
Back on track, James Thompson got the better of Pepe Oriola in the battle for ninth after the Spaniard ran too deep into turn one. Struggling to keep pace, Oriola then deployed his ultra-defensive tactics for the second consecutive race. This time, it did allow him to hold onto his position, but caused some drama in the pack of cars directly behind him. First of all, Nathanael Berthon barged his way past John Fillipi, who in turn had been hampered by the defensive antics from his team-mate Oriola. Running out wide, the door was then left wide open for Gianni Morbidelli to pull up alongside Filippi on the run towards the Audi ‘S’ curve section of the track. Hanging on to position on the outside line, Morbidelli looked to have the overtake complete as the track curved back in his favour. However as Filippi turned harshly into the corner, Morbidelli’s Alfa Romeo was spun across the front of Filippi’s Cupra and into the barriers. The Italian would eventually recover but would lose a lap to the leaders in the process.
Up at the front though, Jean-Karl Vernay controlled the race comfortably and took his second victory of the 2018 WTCR season. Rob Huff followed him around to end a fruitful weekend with a second place finish in race three, while Frederic Vervisch rounded out the podium positions. The biggest news of all, however, was that after finishing in sixth place Yann Ehrlacher has overthrown Yvan Muller as the leader in the drivers’ championship standings. A dismal weekend for Hyundai has thoroughly changed things in the title race. With his victory in race three, Vernay is one the beneficiaries after having moved up to fourth place in the standings, just behind the Volkswagen-equipped Rob Huff.
Full Race Result:
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