For the first time since recovering from a horrific injury, Tiago Monteiro has won a race in the World Touring Car Cup (WTCR), and has done so in front of his home fans in Portugal.
It was Monteiro’s team-mate though, Attila Tassi, who would start this final Vila Real race from pole position. As the lights went out, both he and Monteiro made a strong getaway. The same couldn’t be said, however, for Nicky Catsburg who bogged down in the midfield.
In an attempt to regain those lost positions, Catsburg made a brave move on the outside line at Turn Six, but collided with the rear of Esteban Guerrieri‘s car as a result. Both cars were left with terminal damage, meaning that the championship leader and one of the team-mates of his nearest rival were now out of the race. Cynics were likely to call foul on this one, however it’s hard to see how the incident could’ve been avoided.
The safety car was deployed for a lap to recover Catsburg’s Hyundai, but once it had been withdrawn, Tassi seemed to have lost a lot of pace. Sensing an opportunity, Monteiro took the lead at Turn Nineteen with a tidy move up the inside line. Tassi gave him space but was then compromised on the exit of the corner, leaving him vulnerable to Yvan Muller who drove past for second place.
Tassi’s car then suddenly got even slower, and midway through lap four he had given way to Yann Ehrlacher, Jean-Karl Vernay and Rob Huff.
At the front, Muller had closed up to the back of Monteiro, but chose to serve his mandatory joker lap at the end of lap four. Luckily for him, the gap to Ehrlacher behind was enough for the Lynk & Co driver to rejoin the standard circuit layout and still remain in second place.
At the end of lap five, with Yvan Muller closing in once again, Tiago Monteiro dived in to serve his own joker lap. The move was left as late as possible, as when the Portuguese ace rejoined from the alternate route, he was only narrowly ahead of Muller. As for the other KCMG Honda, an inherent technical issue saw Tassi plummet down the order and into retirement in what had been a cruel turn of events.
Later on in the race, Yvan Muller dropped way off the pace of Monteiro, and was now under threat from Yann Ehrlacher and Mikel Azcona. In a similar battle, Norbert Michelisz and Frederic Vervisch had closed right up to the back of Ma Qing Hua for ninth.
However, Vervisch suddenly retired with just a lap to go. After hitting one of the chicane curbs too hard, Vervisch’s Audi broke a driveshaft, which then released Michelisz onto the back of Ma.
But with very little time left, nobody could do anything about the cars directly in front of them, and nobody could do anything to stop Tiago Monteiro from completing a fairy tale.
Having embarked on a truly remarkable recovery from injury, it’s taken a while for Monteiro to return to the front of the grid. But now, he’s done it, he’s won a race – and what a race to win. In front of his family and home fans on the streets of Portugal, the sheer elation and relief within himself and those around him was plain to see.
Undoubtedly, this will be one of the most popular race victories all year.
Result – Top 15:
|2nd||Yvan Muller||Lynk & Co|
|3rd||Yann Ehrlacher||Lynk & Co|
|8th||Thed Bjork||Lynk & Co|
|9th||Ma Qing Hua||Alfa Romeo|
|13th||Kevin Ceccon||Alfa Romeo|