Esteban Guerrieri regains championship lead with Race One victory

by James Bowers

Esteban Guerrieri has won the opening World Touring Car Cup race at Suzuka this weekend, and in doing so has now overtaken Norbert Michelisz for the lead of the championship points standings.

The Argentine got a decent start from pole position, but Frederic Vervisch was even quicker off the line from third place. The Belgian made an attempt to take the lead on the outside line of turn two, but Guerrieri managed to fend him off. However, that left him vulnerable to the other Audi of Niels Langeveld, and so the Dutchman managed to squeeze past into first place at turn three.

Langeveld’s lead of the race was short-lived though, as he ran out wide on the final corner which allowed Guerrieri back through.

On lap seven, more misfortune hit the Comtoyou Racing Audi squad. From third place, Frederic Vervisch bowed out of contention with a left-front puncture. This brought out the safety car, but as Vervisch was quick to pull off behind a barrier, it wouldn’t be needed for long.

When the race got back underway on lap ten, Tiago Monteiro had dropped off the leading duo, and as such was under pressure from Thed Bjork for third place. For now though, the Portuguese driver was doing enough to hold off the Swede.

Ritomo Miyata was the highest placed wildcard at this point in seventh position. However, the 20 year-old Japanese prodigy suddenly appeared to lose pace on the start-finish straight, allowing Gabriele Tarquini, Kevin Ceccon and Rob Huff to fly by. Sadly the problem was terminal for Miyata who retired to the pit lane.

Things weren’t going much better for his Team Hitotsuyama team-mate, Ryuichiro Tomita. Running inside the top fifteen, Tomita was clouted by Aurelien Panis in sector two, which dropped him right down the order.

With only a handful of laps left to go, Norbert Michelisz allowed his Hyundai stablemate, Nicky Catsburg, to overtake him in the hope that the pair could work as a team to get by the cars ahead.

In front of them stood a trio of Lynk & Co drivers, with Yann Ehrlacher and Andy Priaulx acting as rear-gunners to Yvan Muller, who is still in the mix for the title race. Unfortunately, Catsburg was too aggressive in his endeavours, and unceremoniously fired Priaulx off into the barriers at turn one.

This brought the safety car out for a second time, and would also land Catsburg a thirty-second time penalty. Clearly fuming at what he thought was intentional foul play, Priaulx made his feelings known as he gesticulated towards the Hyundai duo as they passed him under the safety car.

The race ended under yellow flags as Priaulx’s car was unable to be recovered in time, ensuring that Esteban Guerrieri secured victory and the maximum points haul that goes with it.

In the context of the championship, this meant that the Argentine had overhauled Norbert Michelisz’s lead in the points standings, as ‘Norbi’ finished down in thirteenth place.

Despite losing the lead of the race due to an unforced error, Niels Langeveld should be hugely proud of his second place result, which lands him the first podium of his WTCR career. Tiago Monteiro, meanwhile, rounded out the top three.

Race Result – Top 15:

PositionDriverCar
1stEsteban GuerrieriHonda
2ndNiels LangeveldAudi
3rdTiago MonteiroHonda
4thThed BjorkLynk & Co
5thJohan KristofferssonVolkswagen
6thJean-Karl VernayAudi
7thGabriele TarquiniHyundai
8thKevin CecconAlfa Romeo
9thMa Qing HuaAlfa Romeo
10thRob HuffVolkswagen
11thYvan MullerLynk & Co
12thYann EhrlacherLynk & Co
13thNorbert MicheliszHyundai
14thAurelien PanisCupra
15thAugusto FarfusHyundai

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