Bennani holds on for first win of 2018 after last-lap tussle

by James Bowers

With the starting grid for race two decided by reversing the top ten drivers in qualifying, Mehdi Bennani and Ma Qing Hua found themselves on the front row. However, it was Aurelien Comte who got the quickest start, which allowed him to draw alongside the Moroccan.

Bennani held off the Peugeot into turn one, resulting in slight contact between Comte and Ma. The Chinese driver slid out wide, and so too did Esteban Guerrieri in avoidance of his fellow Honda driver. As Ma rejoined, he found himself on the outside of a four-car sandwich through turn three. The other three cars collided in a ricochet fashion; Aurelien Panis hit Rob Huff, who in turn hit Gordon Shedden who suffered an immediate puncture and narrowly avoided contact with the wall.

At the front, Bennani began to sprint away from Aurelien Comte who in turn was under fire from Pepe Oriola. In fact, the Spaniard briefly made his way into second place, but ran too deep into turn one and allowed Comte to get back past.

In the mid-pack, John Filippi found himself battling the pair of YMR Hyundais. However, it would all end in tears. Having hugely miscalculated a pass on Yvan Muller, Filippi failed to slow down in time for turn one and speared into the back of Thed Bjork‘s car; both of which would retire immediately with terminal damage.

Frederic Vervisch, Denis Dupont and Aurelien Panis had an inter-team battle in the lower reaches of the top-ten, with Vervisch being the one to come out on top after getting by Dupont at the hairpin. At the same corner, Rob Huff fell victim to a rough move by Ma Qing Hua, which also allowed Yvan Muller to find his way past the Brit.

As the race progressed, Nathanael Berthon was eager to make the most of his Audi’s pace advantage over the Cupra of Pepe Oriola. Having closed up rapidly, the pair went side-by-side through the long radius turn nine. Berthon’s bravery paid off though as the track curved back in his favour, allowing him to move up into third position in a rather spectacular manoeuvre.

Up ahead, Comte had begun to reel Bennani back into his sights with just a handful of laps to go, and it wasn’t long before Berthon was within striking distance either. The shift in pace between the three cars culminated in an attention-grabbing last-lap battle for victory. With contact having been made, Comte barged his way past into the lead of the race with only two corners to go, but karma bit the Frenchman immediately as he ran too deep into the hairpin thus allowing Bennani back through.

Berthon couldn’t quite take advantage of his compatriot’s mess-up though, and so the order remained as it was at the beginning of the lap.

Mehdi Bennani crossed the finish line to secure a well-deserved race victory; his first of the 2018 season, and first in a long time for the Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR. Aurelien Comte can be proud of another impressive display in the Peugeot, while Nathanael Berthon’s third position was his first podium finish of the season.

Full Race Result:

1stMehdi BennaniVolkswagen18 laps
2ndAurelien ComtePeugeot+0.478
3rdNathanael BerthonAudi+0.618
4thPepe OriolaCupra+5.115
5thJean-Karl VernayAudi+5.516
6thFrederic VervischAudi+5.988
7thAurelien PanisAudi+6.489
8thDenis DupontAudi+11.585
9thYvan MullerHyundai+12.176
10thRob HuffVolkswagen+12.482
11thKevin CecconAlfa Romeo+13.814
12thMa Qing HuaHonda+15.229 (after penalty)
13thEsteban GuerrieriHonda+15.373
14thNorbert MicheliszHyundai +16.025
15thYann EhrlacherHonda+16.664
16thFabrizio Giovanardi Alfa Romeo+26.507
17thZsolt SzaboCupra+41.252
RetNorbert NagyCupraN/A
RetGabriele TarquiniHyundaiN/A
RetTom CoronelHondaN/A
RetThed BjorkHyundaiN/A
RetJohn FilippiCupraN/A
RetTimo ScheiderHondaN/A
RetMat'o HomolaPeugeotN/A
RetGordon SheddenAudiN/A

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