Magnus converts pole to victory in action-packed Spa opener

by James Bowers

Despite Santiago Urrutia‘s best efforts, Gilles Magnus scored his first race victory in the TCR Europe Series on home turf at Spa Francorchamps. The Audi duo were the quickest cars on the track, but the Peugeot contingent gave them a run for their money too.

Against all the odds, Josh Files was able to take the start of the race after a heroic performance by his Target Competition team mechanics. A huge shunt in qualifying had rendered the Hyundai severely damaged, but despite this, the car had made it onto the circuit. Files still had a mountain to climb though in order to protect his championship points lead, as the qualifying crash meant he’d start from 33rd on the grid.

But, while there was good news for one British driver, there was frustration for another. Ashley Sutton was meant to line up from fourth on the grid, however a technical issue meant he couldn’t get his Volkswagen started on the formation lap. The Golf was therefore pushed away into pit lane to retire, all before the race had even gotten underway.

As the lights went out, Magnus held off Urrutia for the lead, while Maxime Potty was swallowed up by a hoard of Peugeots for third. In fact, once onto the Kemmel Straight, Aurelien Comte had his eyes on Urrutia in second, drawing up alongside the Uruguayan on the outside line into Les Combes. However, a nudge from Julien Briche sent Comte wide. Comte and Briche both rejoined the track ahead of Urrutia, but those positions would have to be returned.

Behind them in the midfield, there was more trouble at Les Combes. Olli Kangas and Teddy Clairet made contact, resulting in the pair of them finding the wall. Julien Briche then dropped out of the race entirely just after Bruxelles.

With Kangas and Clairet stranded at Les Combes, the safety car was deployed after a rather frantic opening lap. The race got back underway with just 11 minutes left on the clock, and many of the drivers appeared keen not to waste any of the time they had remaining.

Maxime Potty was the first big mover. The Belgian glanced past Mat’o Homola‘s somewhat bruised Hyundai to reclaim fifth, while Davit Kajaia and Luca Engstler were looking to pick up any pieces.

Josh Files’ race came to a premature end with just over eight minutes on the clock. His hastily-rebuilt Hyundai sadly couldn’t survive the distance.

Up ahead, Santiago Urrutia launched an attack for the lead on entry to La Source. Urrutia locked up his brakes, however, forcing him wide and therefore allowing Magnus back through. A few seconds behind, Davit Kajaia and Mat’o Homola ran side-by-side for about half a lap before Kajaia eventually stole sixth place at Les Fagnes.

The man to watch in the latter stages of the race, however, was Maxime Potty. After a dreadful start, the young Belgian was giving everything to fight his way back up the order. Having passed Homola for fifth, Potty rapidly closed in on Jimmy Clairet for fourth, taking that position with two laps to go. Next in line was Aurelien Comte in third place in the other Peugeot. The podium beckoned.

With time running out, Comte found himself on a compromised line on the entry to Campus, giving Potty the opportunity to make a brave overtake on the outside line, moving up into third place just before Stavelot. It eventually boiled down to a drag race on the start-finish straight, but Potty held on to secure a place on the podium.

Further down the order, Lilou Wadoux suffered a remarkable accident in the final stages of the race. Contact with Martin Ryba‘s Honda and Abdullah Al-Khelaifi‘s Cupra caused Wadoux’s Peugeot to roll multiple times before coming to rest on its roof in one of the circuit’s gravel traps.

Up ahead though, Gilles Magnus had a far more comfortable drive to the finish, holding off Urrutia to take his first race win of the season.

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