Norbert Michelisz won the reversed-grid World Touring Car Cup race at Suzuka earlier today, and in doing so regained the lead of the points standings from Esteban Guerrieri.
Rob Huff got a good start from second place on the grid, but Michelisz crowded him towards the pit lane and did just enough to keep the lead heading into turn one. The stewards didn’t take kindly to this, so the Hungarian was given an official warning.
Despite the close action, everyone managed to get around the first lap in one piece. Championship contender Esteban Guerrieri had a slight heart-in-mouth moment though, when Mikel Azcona launched an attack on him for seventh place as they headed onto lap two. Azcona and Guerrieri both ran slightly wide through the second corner as a result, which opened the door nicely for Johan Kristoffersson.
Further towards the front, it was as if history from 2018 was repeating itself. Kevin Ceccon in the Team Mulsanne Alfa Romeo was applying pressure to Gabriele Tarquini‘s BRC Racing Hyundai. Last year this battle would’ve been for the race lead, but this time around the Italian duo were fighting over the final spot on the podium.
Attila Tassi was running inside the points-scoring positions in thirteenth, but the youngster threw away a whole bunch of positions on lap seven when he ran way too deep into the final corner. One excursion into the gravel trap later, the Hungarian rejoined the race in 21st position, with little hope of scoring points from there.
In fact, Tassi acted as a rolling road block from then on, with Tom Coronel and Daniel Haglof constantly sniffing around for an overtake directly behind him. The youngster defended firmly though and held his position, but that ultimately bunched everyone up behind him. Unfortunately for Niels Langeveld, who was a few cars further back in the queue, this resulted in contact with Augusto Farfus which would ultimately end his race.
Mehdi Bennani was another one to lose out from the close bunching. A slight mistake from the Moroccan combined with the closeness of all the cars ensured that both Ma Qing Hua and Ritomo Miyata were able to get by with ease.
Back towards the front, Michelisz and Huff were running away in first and second, but the battle for third was really beginning to heat up. Ceccon now looked considerably quicker than his counterpart, but getting past Gabriele Tarquini was proving to be easier said than done.
With three laps to go, it was Jean-Karl Vernay who was on the move instead. A brave dive down the inside at turn one allowed the Frenchman to get past Benjamin Leuchter and Nestor Girolami for tenth place, and just a lap later he was onto the back of Guerrieri for ninth. Indeed, Vernay again launched his Audi down the inside line at turn one, and picked off another position.
That move was important in the context of the championship too. With Michelisz leading and Guerrieri now down in tenth, the projected standings had swayed in favour of Michelisz with a gap of just six points between the pair of them if things stayed as they were.
No more positions changed hands between then and the chequered flag, so Norbert Michelisz took an all-important race victory with Rob Huff shadowing him close behind in second place. Despite Ceccon’s best efforts, Gabriele Tarquini held on to complete the podium.
Thed Bjork, another title contender, came home in fifth place, while Guerrieri salvaged a handful of points in tenth.
Race Result – Top 15:
|4th||Kevin Ceccon||Alfa Romeo|
|5th||Thed Bjork||Lynk & Co|
|14th||Yvan Muller||Lynk & Co|
|15th||Yann Ehrlacher||Lynk & Co|