Having stunned everyone by securing pole position for the third World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race at Suzuka, Kevin Ceccon‘s lead of the race didn’t last particularly long. At the start of the race, Gabriele Tarquini, Yann Ehrlacher and Aurelien Comte all got past the Alfa Romeo driver.
In a similar fashion to Esteban Guerrieri‘s crash in Race Two, Denis Dupont found himself spun out of contention through the turn 2-3 sector. The theme of contact continued as Yvan Muller and Pepe Oriola came to blows. The latter then dropped back and smashed into the rear of Norbert Michelisz‘s Hyundai at the penultimate bend. Both cars cut the chicane as a result, gaining an unfair advantage over Rob Huff (who was seemingly disgruntled by this due to his car’s subsequent body language).
At the front, meanwhile, Ceccon had worked his way back into second place. Having dealt with Comte’s Peugeot at Spoon curve, he then made light work of overtaking Ehrlacher’s Honda on the inside line at turn one.
Esteban Guerrieri would then be a source of anger for Yvan Muller once again this weekend, as he barged his way past at the hairpin. Pepe Oriola was quick to follow through and pass the Frenchman too. While this was all taking place, Huff took a literal punt at getting by Michelisz for tenth place, and promptly scraped past the Hungarian.
At the front of the pack, Kevin Ceccon had begun to rapidly close in on Gabriele Tarquini for the race lead. However, the battle for the race win would be prematurely ended by the race stewards. As a result of lining up in an incorrect position on the starting grid, Ceccon was handed a five-second time penalty. So, unless Ceccon could create a gap that large between himself and his compatriot, his efforts to overtake Tarquini would be rendered futile. Eventually though, Ceccon did manage to sweep past Tarquini at turn one, and would set out on trying to extend the lead gap by that crucial five-second margin.
At this stage, the already frayed tempers of the drivers in the lower reaches of the top ten threatened to boil over. At the penultimate corner, Oriola would once again straight-line the chicane, as would Michelisz who was subsequently overtaken by Frederic Vervisch. As Guerrieri appeared to lack the outright pace of the cars around him, a huge train of cars had lined up nose-to-tail from sixth place all the way down to around eighteenth.
Oriola then made a firm move to pass Guerrieri at Spoon curve, while Rob Huff then overtook Yvan Muller just behind. A drive-through penalty would then be awarded to Pepe Oriola as he cut the chicane for a fourth time in this race.
Behind him, Huff hurried by Guerrieri at the hairpin. Muller then tagged the Argentine and passed him at Spoon curve, but both drivers subsequently fell behind Vervisch. Then, sheer chaos ensued. Contact on the entry to the high-speed left-hand corner known as 130R left Guerrieri sliding sideways, but he did fantastically well to avoid spinning out entirely.
A corner later, Michelisz hit Muller, punting him into a half-spin. Cars scattered in avoidance, but once things settled down again, it was Thed Bjork and Jean-Karl Vernay who found themselves at the front of the group. It was then a mass free-for-all along the straight as cars ran four-abreast for a couple of rows. As they all piled into turn one, Muller was once again on the receiving end of contact, and he was turfed out of contention for points as Guerrieri had been earlier.
At the front of the field, Mehdi Bennani and Aurelien Panis engaged in a battle for fourth place on the final lap. The Moroccan would come out on top, passing Panis at the hairpin.
Kevin Ceccon would hold on to take the chequered flag, but crucially, he had failed to open out a five-second gap between himself and Gabriele Tarquini. As such, Ceccon’s aforementioned penalty would hand victory to Tarquini instead.
With title contenders such as Yvan Muller and Thed Bjork scoring either zero or minimal points in this race, Tarquini’s hopes of becoming the 2018 World Touring Car Champion have been handed a boost. Going into the final round of races at the legendary Macau street circuit, there is now a 40 point gap between Tarquini and his nearest challenger, Muller. However, on the unpredictable and unforgiving streets of Macau, anything can happen…
Full Race Result:
|1st||Gabriele Tarquini||Hyundai||11 laps|
|3rd||Kevin Ceccon||Alfa Romeo||+2.024 (After Penalty)|
|19th||Esteban Guerrieri||Honda||+39.948 (After Penalty)|
|DNS||Luigi Ferrara||Alfa Romeo||N/A|