The first race of three for the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) at the iconic Macau street circuit provided a great deal of intrigue, as the championship battle took another twist.
Off the line, both front-row starters – Rob Huff and Esteban Guerrieri – succumbed to the cars behind them as they struggled to get a strong getaway from the standing start. Indeed, Yvan Muller swept past the pair of them immediately to take the early lead of the race, but the most impressive starts came from Jean-Karl Vernay and Gabriele Tarquini. Having dealt with Guerrieri who sank like a stone, Vernay lined himself up behind Muller’s Hyundai and managed to follow his compatriot past Huff too.
Meanwhile, after his less-than-positive time in qualifying, Tarquini knew that he’d have to make the most of this opening race to keep his championship challenge healthy. Starting from seventh place on the grid, the Italian – who is known for his swift starts – surged up into fourth place right away to keep rival Muller in his sights.
As Guerrieri fell into the mid-pack of the top ten though, disaster struck. The Argentine made contact with the rear of Mehdi Bennani‘s Volkswagen on the entry to Lisboa corner, spinning it into the path of Frederic Vervisch. To rub salt in the wound, Kevin Ceccon then tagged Bennani’s stricken car and a roadblock ensued, as is typical of opening laps at Macau. In the meantime, contact between Aurelien Comte and Denis Dupont (who managed to edge their way past the wreckage at Lisboa) saw the latter’s car take a trip to the barriers. Comte’s own race was ruined too, as the stewards gave him a 30-second time penalty for his role in the incident. So, with cars littered around the place, the safety car was deployed to facilitate the recovery of the stricken vehicles.
The race restarted after a single lap under caution and Vernay wasted no time in capitalising on his Audi’s straight-line speed. Even with 60kg of ballast onboard, the RS3 TCR made light work of Muller’s Hyundai through the Mandarin bend, promoting Vernay into the lead of the race.
Once again though, things would get messy at Lisboa corner, though the safety car thankfully wasn’t required this time. Contact with Ma Qing Hua on the exit of the turn sent John Filippi spinning into the barriers, however the path remained clear for cars to pass his stricken Cupra.
Unfortunately though, yet more carnage would occur. Gordon Shedden, who had made up twelve positions since the start of the race, pushed his car a little too hard through Police bend, the site of the infamous GT pile-up in 2017. In a similar fashion to that crash, Shedden ran wide into the barriers, and the consequent impact forced his car sideways across the circuit. Luckily though, major damage was avoided as the onrushing pack – led by local driver, Andre Couto – slowed down with just enough time to avoid significant contact with Shedden’s Audi or each other.
At this point, the race was halted under red flag conditions as track marshalls began to work on unpicking yet another road-block of stationary cars.
The race kicked-off again on lap six of ten. At the front, Vernay couldn’t shake either Muller or Huff, but due to the tight nature of the circuit, neither could make any sort of meaningful attempt at an overtake. Indeed, the order would remain as it stood at the front until the checkered flag was waved, with Jean-Karl Vernay taking victory ahead of Yvan Muller and Rob Huff.
Gabriele Tarquini held on to a comfortable fourth place finish, and the all-important points that go with it, as his team-mate Norbert Michelisz held off the charging pack in fifth. Esteban Guerrieri came out on top in a battle with Pepe Oriola for sixth place, just ahead of Timo Scheider who did well to pick up his first championship points since taking over James Thompson’s car mid-way through the season.
Also scoring his first points in only his second event after replacing Fabrizio Giovanardi, Luigi Ferrara brought his Alfa Romeo home in ninth place, just ahead of Mat’o Homola in the Peugeot.
Full Race Result:
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