Argentine WTCC aces shine in the China rain
"It was very tough"
Esteban Guerrieri was the star performer at FIA WTCC Race of China with a virtuoso performance in the Opening Race, before heavy rain forced the Main Race to be stopped on the fourth lap.
Néstor Girolami was leading at the time and takes his maiden World Touring Car Championship victory, while his Polestar Cyan Racing team-mate Thed Björk moves to the top of the title standings by half a point following the WTCC’s first visit to the all-new Ningbo International Speedpark.
Yann Ehrlacher and Nicky Catsburg completed the Opening Race podium with Norbert Michelisz from the Castrol Honda World Touring Car Team and Björk doing likewise in the shortened second counter for which half points were awarded.
Guerrieri and Tom Chilton were the winners in the WTCC Trophy with Guerrieri claiming the TAG Heuer Best Lap Trophy for his effort in the Opening Race. Honda continues to lead the FIA World Touring Car Championship for Manufacturers, while Tom Chilton has moved into the outright WTCC Trophy lead having been tied on points with Mehdi Bennani and Rob Huff before the start.
Competing cars carried #GoTiago18 stickers in support of Tiago Monteiro, the erstwhile championship leader who was forced to miss the race on medical grounds following his testing accident in Spain last month.
Guerrieri shines for second WTCC win
Esteban Guerrieri lined up fourth on the grid for the Opening Race, but after the dreadful conditions forced the start behind the safety car he moved quickly up the order once the drivers were unleashed to race. The Argentine demoted Polestar Cyan Racing’s Nicky Catsburg for third, Sébastien Loeb Racing’s John Filippi for second, then passed leader Yann Ehrlacher of RC Motorsport on lap 10 immediately from a restart after a second safety car period while the stranded cars of Tom Chilton and Rob Huff were recovered following a collision between the Britons. From there, Campos Racing-run Guerrieri was able to open a gap to win the 15-lap encounter by 2.8s. Gabriele Tarquini marked his return to action with fifth place behind title-chasing Honda team-mate Norbert Michelisz.
WTCC personal bests and DNFs in China
Several drivers claimed personal bests in China. John Filippi took a career-best sixth in the Opening Race. Kevin Gleason also bagged a personal best in seventh, as did eighth-placed Dániel Nagy, Ryo Michigami in ninth and Filipe de Souza in P10, the Macanese bagging his maiden WTCC points on his championship return. Zsolt Dávid Szabó missed practice and qualifying due to technical gremlins but finished both races, bagging the outright fastest lap in the day’s finale, despite his absence of circuit knowledge. But there was frustration for a number of WTCC aces. Mehdi Bennani retired from the Opening Race with right-rear suspension damage following a brush with Thed Björk, who reported a lack of visibility due to misting. Néstor Girolami retired from the Opening Race with electrical issues, while Rob Huff retired early in the Main Race after damage inflicted in an Opening Race collision with Tom Chilton couldn’t be repaired. Mechanical problems accounted for Tom Coronel in the first counter.
RACE WINNER QUOTES
Esteban Guerrieri (Opening Race winner): “It was very tough but first I want to congratulate Nicky and Yann for their podium. After such as tough race, it was extreme conditions, all the time raining heavily. It was aquaplaning in the straights. You never knew where to brake, where to be safe and which was the safe line. I tried to take my references in the beginning to see what was the biggest problems for the car on the track. After that I got profit from Nicky’s mistake in Turn 1, his car was quite slow in the first sector and I could overtake him and straightaway I could also overtake [John] Filippi. Yann was a bit far away but I was lucky with the safety car. My car was feeling okay overall, in the slippery conditions it was difficult but it was okay for driving. Then I saw Yann wasn’t on it onto the straight and I was catching him on the straight line and I had two choices: to lift on the straight because I was aquaplaning everywhere or keep it flat and keep catching him to try a move into the first corner. I chose the second one and it paid off because I could overtake him and then I had a clear track. I could do my pace and altogether it was good. I’m very happy and proud of my team because they gave me a great car. It was perfect, I’m so happy. David, which is one of the guys in the team, it’s his birthday so especially for him and to my mum [Ester] because in Argentina today is mother’s day so she is there in Argentina. She missed me a lot and I miss her too so this is for her. I’m really happy, it came in a good moment.”
Néstor Girolami (Main Race winner): “It was difficult. When you are leading you want to race. We did a fantastic job yesterday, which gave us the chance to fight for the victory today. But the weather you cannot control it, it’s impossible. It was getting worse and worse and dark. Even though I don’t like this decision I have to accept this decision because the conditions were really bad and I also have to say we have to trust in the officials because they are taking care of us. For P1 I could restart but for P15 I am sure it must have been very difficult because you could not see anything at the back. The first race was complicated for me again with electrical problems because of the wet conditions. But a fantastic job from the mechanics allowed me to race in the Main Race. They replaced some parts, some electronics and we get the speed again to start the Main Race and do a good job, so nothing to say. I have half points and this is good for Thed for the championship. We keep fighting for Japan because the important thing for me is we came back to the best level possible. I am looking forward to the coming races. In history it can be good to win in the WTCC but I want to win a normal race. Of course I know I will have the opportunity to win in the future a normal race because we are back to fight for the races, we had the level yesterday. This happened but in Japan it would be very nice to be back in the top five.”
More on WTCR