The final race of the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) at the Slovakiaring was filled with drama. Midfield chaos and good fortune for a select few has had a big impact upon the shape of the championship points standings, as the WTCR heads into a lengthy break before restarting again in China.
Hungarian superstar Norbert Michelisz had secured pole position for this race, which would very quickly prove to be an advantage in more ways than one. Safely holding onto the lead, Michelisz was joined at the front by the fast-starting Yvan Muller who had made his way up into second position. Luckily for them, the leading quartet all managed to avoid the carnage that took place behind them at turn three.
Gabriele Tarquini appeared to miss his braking point and slammed into the rear of Benjamin Lessennes‘ Honda as a result. Tarquini’s Hyundai continued straight on into the corner, collecting Esteban Guerrieri, while Lessennes’ spinning car tagged the Cupra of John Filippi. All four cars would be immediate retirements, while further chaos ensued directly behind them as the pack darted around in avoidance. Norbert Nagy, Jean-Karl Vernay, Pepe Oriola, Nathanael Berthon, Yann Ehrlacher and Gordon Shedden were all involved in the second and third stages of the incident.
Naturally, this brought out the safety car, but even under yellow flag conditions there was more drama to be had. Heading onto the restart, a wheel disconnected from Yvan Muller’s Hyundai, pitching the championship contender off into the gravel trap for an early retirement. All of this meant that once the race was properly underway, the order had been well and truly shuffled in comparison to everybody’s starting positions.
The big winners were the likes of Fabrizio Giovanardi, Thed Bjork and Kevin Ceccon. Having started the race way outside the points-paying positions, they now found themselves in a battle for fifth place. This turnaround in fortune was particularly welcome for reigning world touring car champion, Thed Bjork. Having started from a lowly 19th, this race had evolved into a fantastic opportunity to maintain his title defence as the likes of Tarquini, Muller and Ehrlacher would all fail to score any points.
Wildcard entry, Petr Fulin, was another driver to have benefited hugely from the misfortune of others, and was clearly in the mood to maximise his points tally from this one-off appearance at the Slovakiaring. Dispatching with Tom Coronel at turn one after the restart, and then Kevin Ceccon a few laps later, the Czech racer found himself up as high as sixth place.
A little further back, Pepe Oriola and Yann Ehrlacher were doing their best to recover any sort of result from this race. Thus far, Oriola’s quest had been a more successful one. Having got ahead of Aurelien Panis‘ Audi, the Spaniard was quick to pass Mat’o Homola‘s Peugeot for a place in the top ten. Still though, this would only be good enough for a solitary point. Ehrlacher, meanwhile, was having an intense battle with Rob Huff and Denis Dupont for thirteenth position. It would all end in tears though. Dupont braked too late into one corner, causing him to spear off into the gravel trap, while Huff would eventually be brandished with a drive-through penalty after being a little too aggressive with Ehrlacher for the stewards’ liking.
The battle of the race up until this point, however, was going on between Thed Bjork and Fabrizio Giovanardi. As Giovanardi constantly pondered attacking Frederic Vervisch for third place, the faster car of Thed Bjork was visually ready to pounce at any given moment. Although Giovanardi left himself vulnerable on multiple occasions, and although Bjork launched several attempts to pass the Alfa Romeo, the battle would continue for many laps as Giovanardi just about did enough to stay in front. Eventually though, the tide finally turned in the Swede’s favour, and Bjork moved up to fourth place on lap nine.
Sadly, Petr Fulin’s attempt to pass Giovanardi was far more clumsy and spur-of-the-moment. The Czech seemed to take an opportunity on the inside line into turn three quite late on, and as such, contact between the two cars meant that Giovanardi would drop behind his Team Mulsanne team-mate Kevin Ceccon.
Not content with fourth place, Thed Bjork now had his attention set on the Audi of Frederic Vervisch. The Belgian made a mistake on the final corner of the penultimate lap, allowing Bjork through on the inside line. However, a few seconds later, Vervisch pulled off a brilliant manoeuvre around the outside of turn one to reclaim third place. The battle descended into a drag race to the finish line, but Vervisch managed to hold on by the smallest of margins.
Up at the front though, Norbert Michelisz was relatively untroubled, and got his championship bid back on track with a comfortable race victory. Aurelien Comte had a quiet race, not that he’d be complaining with a very strong result in second position. Another noteworthy performance was that of Kevin Ceccon. As a last-minute replacement for Gianni Morbidelli, the 24 year-old Italian’s sixth place finish meant that he scored points on what had been a very promising debut weekend, and a very promising weekend in general for the Team Mulsanne crew and their pair of Alfa Romeo Giulietta TCRs.
Full Race Result:
|1st||Norbert Michelisz||Hyundai||13 laps|
|6th||Kevin Ceccon||Alfa Romeo||+9.150|
|7th||Fabrizio Giovanardi||Alfa Romeo||+9.382|
|14th||Rob Huff||Volkswagen||+46.026 (after penalty)|
|16th||Denis Dupont||Audi||+1 lap|