Mikel Azcona charges to victory for the first time in WTCR

by James Bowers

Mikel Azcona has scored the first race victory of his young World Touring Car Cup (WTCR) career, as well as the first race victory for Cupra this season.

Ma Qing Hua was on pole position for this second race at the Vila Real circuit, and thanks to a new clutch having been installed, managed to avoid a poor start similar to that in Race One. Indeed, the Chinese driver pulled away well, with championship leader Esteban Guerrieri being left to fend off from the likes of Azcona and Nicky Catsburg behind.

On lap three, Guerrieri, Jean-Karl Vernay and Yvan Muller all served their mandatory joker lap at the earliest time permitted. Crucially, Guerrieri would rejoin from the alternate, slower layout of the circuit in front of Rob Huff, but behind Catsburg.

With Hyundai stablemate Norbert Michelisz in contention to challenge Guerrieri for the title this year, Catsburg was instructed to hold up the Argentine as much as possible.

This worked in Hyundai’s favour, as by the time Mikel Azcona had served his joker lap, the Spaniard had leap-frogged Guerrieri into second place overall.

However, Hyundai’s attempts to minimise the amount of points that Guerrieri would score was rather mitigated by the trajectory of Michelisz’s own race. Fighting around the lower end of the top fifteen, Michelisz missed his braking point into the chicane and clattered into the rear of Kevin Ceccon‘s Alfa Romeo. Eventually, the damage sustained would be terminal for both cars.

While Hyundai and Honda were playing a game of joker lap tactics, Volkswagen’s Rob Huff would end up an unfortunate victim of Catsburg’s leisurely pace. With Yvan Muller having served his joker lap early – and thus been released into clean air – Huff dropped back behind the Frenchman once he had taken the mandatory alternate route on lap five.

At the front, things were also beginning to get rather interesting. Despite creating a healthy gap to the rest of the field early on, Ma Qing Hua was being rapidly reeled in by the hard-charging Cupra of Mikel Azcona. As Ma had yet to serve his joker lap, a second race victory of the season for the Chinese racer was now under serious threat.

Once Ma eventually did take the joker route, the inevitable happened. Having set fastest lap after fastest lap, Azcona had caught up so much that by the time the Alfa returned to the standard circuit, the Spaniard had taken the lead by a comfortable margin.

In a similar fashion to Mat’o Homola last year, Mikel Azcona and his team of strategists at PWR Racing utilised the joker lap to its full potential, and in doing so they claimed their first ever race victory on the World Touring Car stage.

Ma Qing Hua would have to settle for the runner’s up spot in the end, and despite Hyundai’s tactical use of Nicky Catsburg, Esteban Guerrieri took the final spot on the podium.

Result – Top 15:

1stMikel AzconaCupra
2ndMa Qing HuaAlfa Romeo
3rdEsteban GuerrieriHonda
4thJean-Karl VernayAudi
5thNicky CatsburgHyundai
6thYvan MullerLynk & Co
7thRob HuffVolkswagen
8thYann EhrlacherLynk & Co
9thNestor GirolamiHonda
10thTiago MonteiroHonda
11thAttila TassiHonda
12thFrederic VervischAudi
13thThed BjorkLynk & Co
14thJohan KristofferssonVolkswagen
15thAndy PriaulxLynk & Co

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