As the first World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) race of the weekend got underway at Zandvoort, Thed Bjork made a good start from pole position, fending off team-mate Yvan Muller for the lead.
Andy Priaulx – the third of the Lynk & Co Cyan Racing drivers – was overtaken by the fast-starting Mikel Azcona however, while Johan Kristoffersson also passed him on the outside on entry to turn one. Priaulx wasn’t about to go down without a fight though, and ran side by side for the next few corners into sector two, eventually taking fourth place back from the Swede.
Benjamin Leuchter went backwards, meanwhile, and was narrowly holding onto a place in the top ten after a poor getaway from the grid. Fellow Volkswagen driver, Mehdi Bennani, had worked his way up from eighth to sixth, by contrast.
At the front, the Balance of Performance revisions placed upon Lynk & Co were beginning to tell. Mikel Azcona was right on the back of Muller from the get go and would continue to relentlessly apply the pressure in his spritely Cupra. Priaulx, meanwhile, was having to work hard to fend off the Volkswagen duo for fourth.
By lap four, the Lynk & Cos who had been the class of the field in qualifying were now something of a road-block, with the top ten all having bunched up once again.
Tyre wear was always going to be an issue at this high degradation Zandvoort circuit, but Norbert Michelisz seemed to lose confidence in his set of rubber very early on. The championship contender consequently plummeted down the order. Heading onto lap six, ‘Norbi’ conceded defeat and came into the pit lane for a tyre change.
Gabriele Tarquini, meanwhile, had been handed a five second time penalty for a jump start. It wouldn’t make too much difference however, as the Italian was outside of the points-paying positions anyway.
The woes continued for Hyundai as Augusto Farfus then followed Michelisz into the pit lane with a missing front splitter. Rob Huff then added his Volkswagen to the list of retirements, joining Farfus in the paddock with a mechanical fault.
At the front, Lynk & Co began to look more comfortable as leaders of the race as it drew on, but by no means had shaken off the cars around them. In fact, on the final lap, Johan Kristoffersson moved ahead of Andy Priaulx up into fourth place.
The top two, however, did manage to hold on. Thed Bjork claimed his second victory of the season with Yvan Muller in second place. Mikel Azcona can be proud with third position – another podium result in his debut year as a WTCR racer means that he’s right at the sharp end of the points standings.
Johan Kristoffersson secured Volkswagen’s best result of the season in fourth, just ahead of Andy Priaulx. The driver from Guernsey may be disappointed not to be on the podium, but fifth place is still one of his better results as the former world champion continues to become accustomed to front-wheel drive.
Mehdi Bennani and Benjamin Leuchter completed a promising race for Volkswagen in sixth and eighth respectively, split by the Lynk & Co of Yann Ehrlacher. Frederic Vervisch was the top Audi in ninth, while the top ten was rounded out by local hero, Nicky Catsburg, for Hyundai.
In the championship battle, Jean-Karl Vernay, Esteban Guerrieri and Nestor Girolami would finish 11th, 12th and 15th, ensuring that they would score a handful of points between them.
Guerrieri would therefore take the lead of the championship by just a single point from Girolami, while Bjork’s race victory catapults him up into third. Mikel Azcona’s podium result also takes him above Gabriele Tarquini into fifth behind Norbert Michelisz.
Full Race Result:
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