Will Zandvoort prove to be a landmark event for Esteban Guerrieri?

by James Bowers

Munnich Motorsport have arguably been one of the surprise packages of the 2019 World Touring Car Cup season, with both of their drivers thoroughly involved in the early stages of the title hunt.

Perhaps it was fairly obvious that Esteban Guerrieri would be a challenger, but few would’ve predicted that Nestor Girolami would’ve returned to the series with such a flourish.

Indeed, before the season got underway, all eyes were on the likes of Hyundai and Lynk & Co. In the South Korean ranks, the reigning WTCR champion, Gabriele Tarquini, had been joined by returning heroes, Nicky Catsburg and Augusto Farfus, as well as existing team-mate Norbert Michelisz.

Meanwhile, at Lynk & Co, the driver line-up was announced to be equally as star-studded, if not more so. Thed Bjork and Yvan Muller would’ve been an incredibly strong pairing on their own, but a homecoming for triple world touring car champion Andy Priaulx, as well as the signing of hotshot Yann Ehrlacher, really indicated the seriousness of the project.

It was all too easy then for Honda’s representatives to be overlooked. But while Hyundai have cried about Balance of Performance, and while Lynk & Co threatened to self-destruct at Zandvoort, the Civic Type R duo at Munnich Motorsport have positively gone about their business, quickly becoming the team to beat in 2019.

Indeed, the camaraderie between Guerrieri and Girolami has been an interesting narrative in itself. Not only are they Argentinean compatriots and team-mates, they’re good friends too. But, elite level sport sometimes isn’t the best environment for friendships to survive – especially when something big, like an FIA World Cup, is at stake.

Nevertheless, there aren’t any signs of cracks between the two just yet, although for the first time all season they’re no longer quite so evenly balanced in the standings.

Zandvoort proved to be a tricky event for Honda; the sort of event where making the most of a bad situation is paramount for title success. It’s perhaps quite significant then, that while Guerrieri salvaged victory, Girolami faltered.

Of course, the event could easily have panned out very differently. In qualifying, for example, Girolami was a mere four thousandths of a second away from reversed-grid pole position in Race Two. But it wasn’t to be.

As a result, two average points scores for Guerrieri in races one and three were bolstered by the large tally picked up from winning that reversed-grid second race. For Girolami though, it was a case of ‘what might have been’. At the end of the day, whether it’s down to marginal gains or just sheer luck, it’s these fine margins upon which championship titles are hinged.

So, while the pair were neck and neck heading into the Netherlands, Guerrieri leaves the coastal Zandvoort circuit with a sizeable 26 point gap over his team-mate. In fact, the Munnich pair are now split by the ever-impressive Swede, Thed Bjork (who picked up a pair of race victories, which catapulted him up the standings).

Of course, there’s plenty more twists and turns yet to play out in this championship battle, but could this be the moment that the Munnich Motorsport pecking order is established for good? Only time will tell.

Guerrieri was evidently jubilant to have made the most of his machinery at Zandvoort. The Argentine said, “I’m leading the championship, which is great, and it’s thanks to a really amazing team effort on a weekend when we haven’t had the fastest car.

“We put everything together when it really counted; in Q2 this morning, got the reversed-grid pole and won the race, which helped us maximise what was possible. Winning here at Zandvoort is special for me because it’s a fantastic circuit, but it’s not somewhere I’d had many good results in the past. We need to work really hard to stay on top at the Nurburgring.”

Girolami, meanwhile, wasn’t quite so chirpy about his time in the Netherlands. Clearly ruing the missed opportunity which Guerrieri seized, the behaviour of the midfield would’ve felt like salt being rubbed into his wounds.

“Sometimes you have good luck and sometimes you have bad luck and today I was unlucky by four thousandths of a second in Q2.” said Girolami. “That was the difference between the reversed-grid pole position that Esteban got and the 11th place I got.”

“I scored some small points in Race Two, but at the start of Race Three I got hit hard from behind at the first corner and lost many positions, so the result is I’m now third in the championship and not where I started the weekend. I’m not impressed with that kind of racing and I think it’s something the officials need to start looking at very hard.”

Munnich Motorsport Team Manager, Dominik Greiner, was pleased with the damage limitation efforts implemented by his team, and now has his sights firmly set on a strong performance on home turf.

“The guys have done a tremendous job today.” said Greiner after the races at Zandvoort. “The compensation weight situation and some other things mean we haven’t had the fastest car, so we had to try and maximise the reversed-grid situation, and we did this very well with Esteban. We’ve now won five races; more than we did in the whole of last year, and we’re leading the Drivers’ and Teams’ championships as we come into our home race at the Nurburgring.”

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