With the grid reversed for the second World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race at Suzuka, Pepe Oriola had the advantage of starting from pole position after qualifying in tenth. However, the Spaniard didn’t remain in the lead for long. Not wanting to close the door on the car next to him, Oriola left himself vulnerable to attack from the fast-starting Volkswagen of Rob Huff. Sure enough, the British ace swept by to claim first place as the cars descended into turn one.
A few rows back, Esteban Guerrieri attempted to overtake Mehdi Bennani on the outside line through the turn 2-3 complex. However, the Moroccan ‘failed to see’ his fellow racer, and promptly turned into the corner anyway. As a consequence of the resulting contact, Guerrieri was pitched into a spin and found himself unceremoniously dumped into the gravel trap.
The safety car was deployed, but once it had been withdrawn again, Norbert Michelisz seemed keen to make progress in the hope of preventing his championship hopes from wilting any further. At the penultimate bend, the Hungarian made a swift move on the inside line to pass Denis Dupont for third place.
In the middle of the top 10, two battles occurred in tandem. The one furthest up the order was between Comtoyou Racing team-mates, Denis Dupont and Aurelien Panis, as Dupont tried to act against falling any further than fourth. A few cars behind, Kevin Ceccon and Aurelien Comte (the stars of qualifying) were also bumper-to-bumper.
Ceccon eventually passed Comte on lap 7, and Panis would find a way by Dupont in the latter stages of the race too. However, as a result of his pace being compromised after being overtaken, Dupont then fell victim to the attacks of Gabriele Tarquini and the aforementioned Kevin Ceccon.
From then on, Oriola and Ceccon huffed and puffed but neither could overtake the cars in front of them. The order stayed as it was, meaning that an absolutely delighted Rob Huff would take his second race victory of the season. Despite a very strong start to the 2018 campaign, Huff and the Sebastien Loeb Racing team have struggled for results since the infamous inter-team crash at Vila Real. Therefore, this win would prove to be a timely reminder of their quality as the championship heads to Macau next time out – where Rob Huff has won the most races of anyone in touring car history.
Pepe Oriola’s second place keeps his title hopes alive for now, while Norbert Michelisz’s third place ensured only his third podium result of the entire 2018 season – a rather barren return for a driver of his quality.
Full Race Result:
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