Aurelien Comte led the field away from pole position in the opening World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race at Suzuka, after having taken the first ever outright pole position for the Peugeot 308TCR. Behind, Kevin Ceccon fended off from the advances of a fast-starting Yvan Muller, while Esteban Guerrieri shot up from sixth place to fourth in the first few corners.
Further back in the lower end of the top ten, a failed overtake by Frederic Vervisch at the penultimate bend saw Gabriele Tarquini take to the grass and cut the chicane. When he rejoined, Mat’o Homola out-dragged him along the straight in the second Peugeot.
Having dealt with Muller, Ceccon was now focusing on taking the lead away from Comte. Sure enough, the Italian found a way past, and in rather spectacular fashion too on the exit of the legendary 130R corner.
Championship contender, Thed Bjork, then had his race go up in literal smoke. Contact with the tyre stack at the penultimate bend had ironically punctured Bjork’s front-right tyre, leaving him out of contention for points. Rob Huff also retired in quick succession, following contact with a wayward Yann Ehrlacher.
As the tyre stack had been punted into an obstructive position by Bjork, the safety car was deployed so that this could be corrected. There would be another safety car period later on in the race too. Despite starting towards the front, Ehrlacher had plummeted down the order quite rapidly. The youngster had driven a messy race in truth, and it all came to an end in the gravel trap at 130R. Sadly, this would signal another zero points score for the Frenchman, who had led the championship earlier in the year.
At the front however, Kevin Ceccon remained unphased. Comte simply didn’t have the pace to put up a realistic challenge, and so would have to settle for second place ahead of Yvan Muller. This meant that Kevin Ceccon would take his first race victory in the WTCR, in only his fourth event behind the wheel of a touring car.
The former single-seater ace had put many smiles on the faces of the Team Mulsanne crew, who have undeniably had a very tough season thus far. It will perhaps also give the likes of Gianni Morbidelli and Fabrizio Giovanardi something to think about; both of whom having chosen to quit the team due to concerns with the Alfa’s performance capabilities.
The more critical of those amongst us will perhaps point towards the Alfa Romeo’s favourable Balance of Performance for this weekend. But nonetheless, this has still been a very impressive display by Ceccon and the Team Mulsanne crew, especially considering where they were with a favourable Balance of Performance at the start of the season.
Full Race Result:
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