After an intensely-close finale across the Macau Grand Prix weekend, Gabriele Tarquini came out on top against long-term rival, Yvan Muller, as he was crowned the 2018 World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) Champion. With both drivers having taken a break from racing in 2017 as they appeared to enter the twilight of their careers, both made a truly remarkable comeback, and proved that youth doesn’t always trump experience.
Heading into the final race of the season, the situation looked like this: If Yvan Muller failed to score a podium result, Gabriele Tarquini would be crowned champion. But, if Muller could get into third place, Tarquini would have to climb his way into at least tenth position to hold onto his lead in the championship standings.
At the front of the field, Rob Huff and Esteban Guerrieri would be the drivers to lead the pack away from the starting grid. Having dominated qualifying, Huff had hoped to win the first race earlier on in the weekend, but was overcome by Jean-Karl Vernay. This time around, Huff once again bogged down from pole position and Guerrieri didn’t need to be asked twice to take advantage.
Muller also made a fast start, but crucially, his pathway to the top three was blocked by none other than Tarquini’s team-mate, Norbert Michelisz. Jean-Karl Vernay then found another gear and swept past the pair of them on the entry to Lisboa, while Timo Scheider and Frederic Vervisch made contact just behind. As the duo tried to rejoin the racing pack, they caused further chaos; with Mehdi Bennani, Luigi Ferrara and Gordon Shedden all emerging with terminal damage to their cars.
Further back, Tarquini also made the progress that he desperately needed, moving up into ninth position from outside the top ten.
At the front, Rob Huff appeared significantly faster than Guerrieri through the tight and twisty sections of the Guia circuit, but he couldn’t take advantage of his extra pace due to the narrow nature of the track. To make things even more difficult, Huff’s Volkswagen Golf GTi TCR struggled severely on the straight sections of the track, meaning that Guerrieri could scamper away a little bit in his Honda, while Huff himself would also at times be under threat from the more aerodynamic Audi of Vernay.
Then, on lap three, the safety car was brought out after Aurelien Panis found the concrete barriers in his Audi RS3 TCR. Three laps later, proceedings got back underway. Right from the offset, the leading trio resumed their battle royale, but not due to a lack of trying, Huff and Vernay simply couldn’t find a way past the respective cars ahead of them. Huff, in particular, seemed very frustrated to be stuck behind a comparatively slower car in the form of Guerrieri’s Honda. But indeed, the status quo remained.
On lap 7, Thed Bjork – Yvan Muller’s team-mate – then launched an incredibly brave attack on Gabriele Tarquini, managing to overtake the Italian in an area of the track where overtaking is hardly ever successful. This would not only give Muller a slightly easier task (as he would now only have to make his way up to third rather than second), but would also have a significant impact in the teams’ championship standings. In fact, that move alone would be enough to swing the results in favour of YMR.
Then, unexpectedly, Jean-Karl Vernay crashed into the Lisboa barriers on lap eleven. This sudden retirement would not only mean he’d lose a top three result in the race, but also a top three result in the championship standings. Instead, that accolade would go to Esteban Guerrieri.
Interestingly, this would propel everyone up a position, so Muller was now only one position away from the top three result that he desperately needed to stand any chance of winning the drivers’ title. Of course, it also meant that Tarquini would gain a place too, moving up into ninth. However, he wouldn’t stay there for long. Nathanael Berthon moved past the Italian, demoting him back down to tenth again. As such, only one car stood in between Yvan Muller and a fourth world touring car championship title – the car of Norbert Michelisz.
But, time was not on Muller’s side, and it wasn’t on Huff’s either. Both drivers would be thwarted in their desperate attempts to pass the cars ahead of them as the race would eventually end up finishing under safety car. To cap off a pretty horrible campaign for Zengo Motorsport, Zsolt Szabo slammed his Cupra into the barriers at the final bend, rendering it undriveable with debris strewn all over the place.
So, the cars were led round under yellow flag rules for the remaining two laps of the 2018 season, meaning that overtaking was inhibited. And indeed, it was all over. Gabriele Tarquini had done enough to win the 2018 World Touring Car Cup by just three points over long-time friend and rival, Yvan Muller. Understandably, Tarquini was ecstatic upon re-entry to the pit-lane as he celebrated with Andrea Adamo and the rest of the BRC Racing team. In fact, all faces in the Hyundai camp had a reason to celebrate. Yvan Muller may have lost the drivers’ title, but his crew of engineers at YMR were crowned the teams’ champions of 2018.
Full Race Result:
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