Ningbo, Race 1: Guerrieri beats Ehrlacher
In dreadful conditions
Esteban Guerrieri splashed to victory in the Opening Race of FIA WTCC Race of China after a virtuoso drive in dreadful conditions as the FIA World Touring Car Championship made its debut at the new Ningbo International Speedpark on Sunday.
The Campos Racing Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 started fourth for the reverse-grid encounter, but the Argentine was on a mission as soon as he was free to race. The weather forced a safety car start, but once the race went green on lap four Guerrieri was on the move.
He passed Polestar Cyan Racing’s Nicky Catsburg on lap six for third, demoted John Filippi for second the next time around and then made a brilliant move on leader Yann Ehrlacher following a safety car intermission.
“It’s a great day even if it’s raining,” said a delighted Guerrieri after his second WTCC win. “I was patient in the beginning to understand the difficulty of the conditions, then once I understood what it was like I could attack and went for it. Once I was in front I tried to build a gap and cruise, but it wasn’t easy and I had some moments.”
Ehrlacher’s RC Motorsport entry started from pole position and seemed secure in the lead once the race went green on lap four, heading Filippi, Catsburg and Guerrieri before the eventual winner began to make his progress.
The safety car reappeared on lap seven following a collision between the two British drivers Rob Huff and Tom Chilton, who had been battling for fifth position. The ALL-INKL.COM Münnich Motorsport and Sébastien Loeb Racing Citroën C-Elysée WTCCs both needed to be recovered from the circuit.
Meanwhile, Sébastien Loeb Racing suffered a double blow as Mehdi Bennani broke a wheel in a clash with the Polestar Cyan Racing Volvo of Thed Björk. Bennati retired to the pits, but Björk returned to the track to eventually finish 13th – little consolation to the Swede who was hoping to make significant gains on absent championship rival Tiago Monteiro.
To add to Polestar Cyan Racing’s woe, Néstor Girolami was forced out of the race with a problem at this stage, too. The Argentine is due to start the Main Race from pole position, so the team will be working flat out to rectify the trouble in time to make the grid.
At the restart on lap 10, Guerrieri was determined to make his bid for the lead immediately and put a great move on Ehrlacher. Once he was in front he built a gap and finished the 15 laps a comfortable 2.8s ahead of the Frenchman.
Catsburg completed the podium finishers, ahead of the two Castrol Honda WTC Team Honda Civics of Norbert Michelisz and Gabriele Tarquini, the latter continuing to do a solid job as substitute for Monteiro, who missed WTCC Race of China following a testing crash in Barcelona.
Filippi dropped from second to an eventual sixth place finish, ahead of RC Motorsport’s Kevin Gleason. Dániel Nagy secured eighth and some reward for Zengő Motorsport after a difficult weekend for the team, with Ryo Michigami ninth in his Honda Civic WTCC and Filipe de Souza rounding out the top 10 on his series return with RC Motorsport.
Zsolt David Szabo was 11th despite having zero experience of the circuit following problems on Saturday in his Zengő Motorsport Honda, while Tom Coronel’s ROAL Motorsport Chevrolet RML Cruze TC1 was classified 12th despite finishing the race in the pitlane.
The Main Race takes place at 16.30pm local time.
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