Girolami emerges from the carnage to win a frantic reversed-grid race

by James Bowers

In contrast to the pleasant weather on Saturday, the second World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race of the weekend got underway in much damper conditions. Reversed-grid pole-sitter, Jean-Karl Vernay, bogged down off the start and was swamped by Daniel Haglof, Augusto Farfus and Thed Bjork.  Vernay managed to fend off Farfus, but the other two drivers went through into the lead of the race.

Behind them, amongst the expected furore at the start of a wet race, Nestor Girolami shot up into contention and found himself in second place by Turn 4. Chaos continued to unravel on the exit of turn 5. Having tried to go all the way around the outside of Vernay, Mikel Azcona was pitched sideways. The sliding Cupra of Azcona forced Vernay and Bjork onto the grass before a secondary impact between the Spaniard and the Frenchman sent Azcona sliding into the Hyundai of Augusto Farfus.

Half the field were then forced to cut the chicane. Within the midfield melee, Mehdi Bennani fell victim to broken rear suspension, while yet more contact between Farfus, Azcona and Vernay saw the Audi driver return to third place.

Right at the front, Haglof then ran wide at Turn 11, gifting the lead of the race to yesterday’s race-winner, Nestor Girolami. Haglof then fell further back, this time having to relinquish second place to Jean-Karl Vernay. With five or six cars abreast along the start finish straight, the frantic racing wasn’t about to end after just one lap either.

Amidst the carnage, championship contender Thed Bjork dropped out of the race, as did his Swedish compatriot, Johan Kristofersson. Home favourite, Norbert Michelisz, dropped as low as sixteenth before trying to work his way back up the order, while Andy Priaulx and Tiago Monteiro also retired to the pit-lane. As if that wasn’t enough, Frederic Vervisch, who had become something of a pinball in the mid-pack, was handed a drive-through penalty for jumping the start.

As the cars headed onto lap six, Nicky Catsburg shuffled past the Honda of Esteban Guerrieri. Guerrieri then came under slightly more forceful attack from Gabriele Tarquini further around the lap, which also allowed Yvan Muller to follow through. Up ahead, Catsburg then pulled off a carbon copy of the manoeuvre he used on Guerrieri, but this time to pass Yann Ehrlacher for sixth. Tarquini again came sniffing for scraps, but ended up pitching Ehrlacher’s car sideways at Turn 1. Muller and Guerrieri capitalised and sped past the pair of them.

Catsburg’s hard work then all came undone. After running wide at Turn 11 on lap 8, the Dutchman lost the positions that he’d gained from Muller and Guerrieri just a few laps ago. Tarquini also went by his Hyundai colleague, as did the feisty Rob Huff.  At the tail end-of the points-paying positions, there was then heavy contact between Aurelien Panis and Norbert Michelisz. Panis came off the better of the two, but even still dropped down to 16th position. Michelisz, meanwhile, retired due to soaring engine temperatures.

Meanwhile, Muller, Guerrieri and the rest of the on-rushing hoard now had the Hyundai of Augusto Farfus in their sights. The Brazilian’s car was hobbled from earlier events and was a sitting duck in truth. Yvan Muller got a run on him on the exit of the final corner, but by the time the cars reached Turn 1 on lap 9, it was Esteban Guerrieri who had dragged past the pair of them. Guerrieri ran wide however, but managed to hold onto that fifth position while Tarquini then made his move on Farfus at Turn 3.

Farfus’ battered Hyundai then picked up more battle scars from the likes of Rob Huff through turns 4-5, while Attila Tassi also made his way past. Having left Farfus behind, the pair of them continued their own barging match on the following lap. Huff was turned sideways at the chicane on lap 10 after having conceded the inside line to Tassi, but the 2012 World Champion still managed to emerge in front.

While all of that was going on, Gabriele Tarquini then added himself to the list of retirements from this race; his Hyundai succumbing to a right-front puncture.

Gordon Shedden had done well so far to stealthily pick his way up through the order into 12th place. At least until he came under threat from Niels Langeveld, that is. Having fiercely fended off the Dutchman at Turn 1, Shedden then pushed the limits of defence too far. With Ma Qing Hua close behind, Shedden turned across the front of the Alfa Romeo, leading to his own demise into the outside barriers at Turn 2. Shedden got going again, however Langeveld’s race was over as a result of the damage picked up from the Scotsman’s overly defensive driving.

In relative peace at the front though, Nestor Girolami kept his cool and drove cleanly to pick up his second race victory of the weekend, and in doing so, becoming the first double-winner of the season. Jean-Karl Vernay would have to make do with a runners-up medal having started from pole position, while huge plaudits must also go to the PWR Racing team. The fledgling Swedish outfit brought both of their cars home in third and fourth position, with Daniel Haglof taking his maiden WTCR podium.

Saturday’s race had been incredibly tame to say the least, but the same certainly couldn’t be said for this absolutely frantic reversed-grid encounter.

Full Race Result

PositionDriverCarGap to Winner (Seconds)
1stNestor GirolamiHonda -
2ndJean-Karl VernayAudi+2.527
3rdDaniel HaglofCupra+3.509
4thMikel AzconaCupra+5.260
5thEsteban GuerrieriHonda+12.822
6thYvan MullerLynk & Co+14.721
7thRob HuffVolkswagen+15.245
8thAttila TassiHonda+15.766
9thAugusto FarfusHyundai+18.979
10thNicky CatsburgHyundai+19.522
11thMa Qing HuaAlfa Romeo+19.751
12thBenjamin LeuchterVolkswagen+20.676
13thAurelien PanisCupra+21.739
14thTom CoronelCupra+24.699
15thFrederic VervischAudi+25.086
16thKevin CecconAlfa Romeo+36.000
17thGabriele TarquiniHyundai+1 lap
18thTamas TenkeCupra+3 laps
DNFGordon SheddenAudiRetired
DNFNiels LangeveldAudiRetired
DNFNorbert MicheliszHyundaiRetired
DNFYann EhrlacherLynk & CoRetired
DNFAndy PriaulxLynk & CoRetired
DNFThed BjorkLynk & CoRetired
DNFMehdi BennaniVolkswagenRetired
DNFTiago MonteiroHondaRetired
DNFJohan KristofferssonVolkswagenRetired

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